Crafts Crafts

Summary of Learning to Spin & The John C. Campbell Folk Art School

This past weekend, as I posted previously, my sister and I flew down to Atlanta and drove about 3 hours to North Carolina to the John C. Campbell Folk School where I took a weekend course in learning how to spin yarn and my sister took a class on learning how to turn wood bowls on a lathe.

My instructor told us that one day when she was teaching a week-long class in spinning at the school a woman showed up the first morning in full spandex spinning (the bike kind of spinning) attire! You can just imagine the scenario surrounding this mistake — her husband probably wanted to go down there to take some course and he said “look honey, they have a course in spinning”, and she just assumed that it was the bike kind of spinning. A lot of people don’t have the faintest idea what spinning wool into yarn even is. By the end of the week though she was spinning wool into yarn, but probably hadn’t gotten a lot of exercise.

While I was sort of middle of the road as far as the quality of spinning I was producing, I was the only one that moved on to something other than the brown wool roving the teacher had provided us with. I’d brought down some beautiful alpaca roving. The instructor said that alpaca could be a little “wonky” to work with (a favorite term of hers), I didn’t find it that hard to work with and it was so much prettier than the brown wool roving. I got the whole batch of alpaca roving spun during the saturday night session from 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.

What was really interesting was how different everyone spun. Now none of us had ever spun yarn before. There was one college girl there that spun so beautifully I swear you could have made socks out of her woo. Another woman there just didn’t seem to be getting the hang of it and ended up with yarn that looked more like Rastafarian dreadlocks. She got a lot of attention from the teacher, and if she sticks with it she will eventually become a beautiful spinner. Everyone learns at their own pace, and spinning really isn’t that easy.

We took a field trip to a local yarn/fiber store. Clearly they did a booming business just from the people taking classes at the school. They don’t have stores like this around here. There were spinning wheels, yarns, wool roving, sheep fleece, and all kinds of fibers for weaving. I could have spent hours in there just photographing and feelings things. Delish.

A Rainbow of Weaving Fibers on a Wall

Sunday morning we learned how to “ply” the yarn, which is essentially taking the spun wool and putting it together with other spun wool in the reverse spin that you spun it in which is what creates yarn. It’s a little hard to explain. That was pretty straightforward.

With the alpaca fiber I’d spun I only had one ball, so I had to ply that together from the one ball using each end and plying them together.

We had a quick lesson in how to examine a sheep’s fleece for quality, and then learned how to wash it, which is several-step process.

And we got a quick lesson in how to use a drum carder, which is a machine that you use to create your washed and “picked” wool into the wool roving that you spin.

At the end of the class, around 11:30 Sunday morning, we all went up and had a “show and tell” of what everyone had done in the school. They liked to call this “Happy Happy Clappy Clappy”. Now some students had been thee for a week-plus-weekend combined course, and some were just the results of other weekend courses like the ones my sister and I took. All of the things there made me feel like our tiny balls of yarn looked pretty insignificant compared to what else we saw.

First I’ll show the wooden bowls carved on the lathe, since that’s the class that Lisa took. Now none of these people had ever turned a bowl on a lathe before. Pretty beautiful results for one weekend’s work I thought.

And this is what my sister did! She included the piece from the first bowl that blew up on her because even the piece was still pretty.

There was a weekend class on woodcarving of indians into sticks. None of these people had ever carved anything in their lives. I thought they were great.

The pottery was done by a class that had been there for the week plus weekend and they were all clearly experienced potters. Pictures cannot possibly show how beautiful some of these pieces were.

Then there were the weavers. Now that is something I know I’ll never have the patience for. Again, pictures cannot possibly do justice to how intricate and beautiful these were or properly show the pattens in them!

There was a weekend class in metal forging. Again, I don’t think these people had any prior experience in metal forging and look what they made!

There was a weekend basket weaving class.

And a weekend course in fabric collage.

A weekend drawing class which was explained to us was how to draw your sketches before you paint. I’m not a painter but it sound like a good idea to me.

You can see why my little balls of yarn felt pretty insignificant compared to some of the other things on display. But I loved my class and definitely think spinning is something I could really enjoy doing for the rest of my life. If nothing else it forced one to sit down and be peaceful, which is something I’m not very good at these days.

My Finished Spun & Plied Wood & Alpaca Yarns

Lisa and I will definitely be making this a yearly trip. There are so many choices that it could take years before we run out of things to take there. If you’re interested in learning a new skill, I would highly recommend looking into the place.


  1. […] travel trailer from Wyoming to Connecticut. Last year we journeyed to North Carolina to attend The John C. Campbell Folk Art School; I took a class on spinning (wool, not bicycles), and she took a class on turning wood bowls on a […]

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