Thursday, April 18, 2013

Aunt Lila's First Class


The view at Cape Flattery
When I moved to the Makah reservation in Neah Bay I was 14 and had been living in arctic Canada for a few years. Moving back to America and to a small, fairly isolated town at that age was hard and suddenly all the practice I had moving and making friends didn't help me fit in. We felt like we didn't have an accent but Neah Bay gets a lot of tourists so they asked us "Are you from Canada, eh?". Mary was in the class a grade below mine and we became best friends. It didn't take long for me to start calling her parents aunt and uncle and for us to refer to each other as cousins.

Mary's mother Lila is a kind, quiet woman full of love and stories. Lila taught me how to make pie crusts (I just remember one trade secret) and made every generous meal a cooking lesson. She worked or volunteered at the head start and would send Mary and I on frog-hunting adventures. She would drive us in her yellow VW Beetle down logging access roads and spot the frogs while staying near the car, yelling at us "Oh there's one! Oh, get it get it!". She would also take us for walks along Neah Bay's beautiful beaches and take us berry picking in the forests.

A couple of years ago Lila bought a used Ashford Traveller and she told me that as a child she would sit at her mother's feet and move the treadles while her mother spun yarn for sweaters. The wheel she bought had a few small pieces missing, the flyer was a couple millimeters too short and kept popping out of the maidens, and the wheel had a chunk of wood missing.

I planned a small class at the end of January with the help of Judith MacKenzie and my friend Lynda. I had specific people in mind that I wanted to teach how to spin: Mary, Lila, and Tanya. Judith donated her time and for the first class I wanted us to focus teaching on Lila. We held the class at the Makah Marina, it has a small kitchen and large windows with a wonderful view of the bay and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I was planning on giving Tanya my first wheel, a Louet S17 kit, but Tanya was unable to attend. The wheel Lila bought wasn't working so the Louet went home with her. Mary was too sick and stayed home and my friend Marisa went to Neah Bay with Lynda and I in her place.

Lila was so excited to finally learn how to spin and when she gets excited she cooks. She made so much wonderful food: elk stew, clam chowder, tuna sandwiches, a veggie plate with dip, cookies, pie, and cake. During lunch she told us the funniest story about a rooster that would come inside for coffee at breakfast.  

After lunch we were surprised to see a new student arrive. One of my brothers, Dwight, lives in Neah Bay and works with his friend Ringo as part of the spill response team. Lila's husband told Ringo about the class and Ringo told his wife Christen. I didn't know that Christen would be interested in learning how to spin and she took to it right away and told Judith that she wants to learn because it is a part of her heritage. Dwight came by and hung out and watched us spin. He knows how to build strip canoes and I would love to convince him to help build spindles or wheel parts someday.

Judith teaching Lila how to spin on a Louet S17
 I showed Lila the long draw method that I recently learned and it was fun being her teacher. It felt like the roles that we've had for so many years had suddenly been reversed and I enjoyed seeing another side of her personality. She asked great questions that I don't have the answers for yet. She was so happy to finally get a good introduction to spinning and was excited to practice at home. I called after the class was done and she told me that her goal is to spin enough yarn for 3 Cowichan sweaters.

Marisa learning how to spin on Judith's Jensen wheel
Neah Bay and the marina would make an awesome location for a spinning retreat. Lynda, Marisa, and I stayed at a 2-room hotel that is built upon the site of the house that my family rented when we lived in Neah Bay. Our landlord told me that there was a portion of a dog hair blanket that was stored in the attic, sadly it was thrown away. Our room was on the second floor which meant we were sleeping near where the blanket was stored.

I went home excited and inspired to become a spinning instructor so that I could teach more people and offer classes to more people in Neah Bay and elsewhere. And now the obsession with Cowichan knitting begins because so far the women that want to learn how to spin want to learn to make yarn for Cowichan sweaters.

A lot has happened since this first class: I have a bulky flyer and bobbins for the Louet, I took a Cowichan sweater class, and I have a new wheel. I'll try to write about the new equipment and fiber soon, but for now Mary is finally well enough to go home and we're going this weekend. Looking forward to going back to one of my hometowns.

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