Teaching teens to spin

How to light a spark

Amy teaching in 2005 at the Interweave booth at Stitches West.

Liz Gipson teaching spindle spinning at Interweave booth at the Estes Park Wool Market in 2007.

Once a month this spring, I’ve been visiting a local school to demonstrate and teach spinning—so far I’ve done two sessions. The first one was great—the ten kids (ages 13 to 15) were engaged and asked lots of questions—they all managed to make a bit of yarn in the hour that we had—filling their CD spindles with lumpy, bumpy yarn and asking for more fiber so that they could do more after I left.

The second visit was with a new group of students, the same ages—but the kids were very quiet and didn’t seem to pick it up as easily, even though it was a smaller group (just seven kids) and so it was easier for me to give them one-on-one attention. They tried it, but as soon as they were allowed, they left without a backward glance. Clearly, the spinning bug hadn’t bitten. With the second group, it could be that they were just a bit tired as it was the first day back after a long weekend, but I was wondering about your teaching experiences—do you have tips for teaching kids this age? Please share them in the comments below.

My experiences teaching spinning are actually pretty limited. I’ve mostly taught bead embroidery and tapestry classes. Most of my teaching-spinning-experiences have been at festivals when I was handing out free CD spindles at the Interweave booth—I’d spend about 10 minutes teaching people one-on-one as they came into the booth. Sometimes they would come back later with more questions or looking for suggestions for what kind of fiber they should purchase to keep going. But they came to me wanting to learn. In this case at the school, I’m in a situation where the teacher is excited and enthusiastic about learning spinning, but it isn’t clear that the kids want to learn. What would you do to engage them?

My dad (a teacher of teachers) has always stressed that a student learns the material, and the teacher learns the student—so in other words, it is important for the teacher to observe the students and understand how they learn and then provide the best learning experience for them. This has worked pretty well for me in workshop situations—but again, the students have come to me to learn something—they are already engaged and interested in the material. I arrived early at both sessions and spun on my wheel in the back of the classroom while the students finished up their projects. I laid out examples of handspun garments, yarns, fiber, tools, magazines, and books in both classes. The first group came over to look at them before we got started—and in fact it was their questions that got the ball rolling, the second group didn’t even look at the things I brought—and didn’t seem interested when I passed them around and explained what they were. With the first group, their questions were fired so quickly, it was hard for me to keep up and answer them all—I found myself going into greater depth of explanations than I anticipated, following their lead.

With the second group, my excitement about spinning and making yarn and the connections it creates to the natural world, the history of humanity, and between people fell on ears overcome with ennui. I would have felt less silly talking to myself without an audience. My next visit to the classroom will be with the second group of students again—so I would really appreciate any tips you have for waking up these sleeping beauties from their spinning-wheel-induced sleep.


Happy Spinning!

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