PLY Away: The Student Perspective

Today we are so lucky to be visited by Devin Helmen, who won the scholarship to attend PLY Away 2016! If you weren’t able to attend but you wondered what all the fuss was about, keep reading as Devin shares his experiences from PLY Away!


I literally could not believe it for a few moments when I got the notification that I had been awarded the scholarship to the inaugural PLY Away.  I was full of anticipation and eagerness and had no idea what to expect. I am glad I came into the actual experience without solid expectations, because nothing could have prepared me for the amazing time I had. Imagine almost three hundred people all sharing the same passion, all excited, and all ready to enjoy themselves. Sounds awesome, right? The reality was a million times better.

From the moment I came up to the registration tables, everyone was uniformly kind, helpful, and excited! I received my packet of information with helpful name tag, schedule, banquet pass, and booklet along with an amazingly generous swag bag filled with samples from vendors. Spinners had already taken over the lobby and were spinning on wheels and spindles, knitting, chatting, and sipping beverages. Everyone had grins on their faces, and I am sure they matched mine.

I have learned to spin in mostly isolation, and have not been exposed to the wonderful atmosphere that can come about with the concentration of fiber folk in one area. I saw many new techniques, new tools, new patterns, and everyone was happy to talk about them, to show the pattern, to teach the new technique. This was the biggest surprise, and the most exciting thing, for me: the learning continues outside of classes.

The classes I took were wonderful, and I was lucky to have the chance to learn from Deb Robson, Abby Franquemont, and Stephanie Gaustad. I had so much fun discovering the intricacies of Shetlands and Leicesters, how to MacGuyver a sparkly toy baton into a spindle with a paperclip and some ingenuity, and exploring the uses and history of both distaves and flax. As mind-blowing as these classes were, it was equally mind-blowing to see teachers in their element, and to have the example of how to teach.

The spin-in was a tremendous gathering, a large ballroom filled with people spinning and chatting and exchanging knowledge and information. I saw many exchanges of information, many offers to try new tools and fibers. Teaching and transmitting information seems to be innate in a gathering like this. Living immersed in fiber and textiles for days at a time made for a far different experience than taking a class and then going home. The buzz, the conversations, the practicing of new techniques continued well after classes.

It is my goal to become a spinning and textile teacher. It is such an important part of our civilization and such a fundamental skill. I watched closely how teachers responded to questions, demonstrated, and taught and I am glad to have such people to use as models for when I teach. PLY Away brought together a group of passionate and talented people whose excitement and knowledge (and thirst for more knowledge) made it a life-changing experience for me. I came away from it with a complete dedication to doing what I can to continue and expand this community, to preserving and passing down the fiber and textile knowledge which underpins civilization, and to doing what I can to pay back and pay forward the generosity of material, knowledge, and spirit I encountered. I am happy to say that I will be able to make a start this fall, when I will be teaching my first beginning spinning classes.

I want to thank Jacey and Levi, all the wonderful and dedicated people at PLY, the teachers and participants at PLY Away, and all the generous people who donated to the scholarship which made it possible for me to attend.

Devin H headshot


Cubicle Monkey by day, Fiber Fanatic by night, Devin Helmen has been feeding his fiber obsession since he taught himself to spin at age 8.  He spins, knits, and is learning to weave in beautiful Minnesota. He has a passion for spindles and everyday textiles and blogs, intermittently, at



3 replies
  1. Sara Lamb
    Sara Lamb says:

    So happy to hear of your grand adventure! You are already a teacher, you share what you do so well in print and in person. May you continue to thrive in this community of spinners :)!

  2. Maja Siska
    Maja Siska says:

    Great article! It refelcts a lot of my experiences at PLYaway! It was amazing, especially for the feeling of community and sharing of know how! …. And all the happy people!! See you next time!


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