PLYAway 2019 Scholarship Winner Experience

Words and Photos by L’ubica Noemi Kovacilova

L’ubica was the scholarship recipient for PLYAway 2019, which was sponsored by The Woolery. We asked her to write a few words about her experience.

Warning – this article might be slightly biased because as soon as I think of the visit in Kansas City, even with almost a year gone by, my heart is swept into a whirlwind of beautiful memories. It was  the first scholarship I have won, my first trip to the USA, and my first trip related totally to spinning. For the past couple of years, with no sources to learn modern spinning in my own language, I have relied extensively on English-speaking videos, podcasts, lessons, and literature. I have discovered PLY Magazine and Jacey Boggs Faulkner as well as books from Sarah Anderson, Deborah Robson, Alden Amos, Jillian Moreno, and many others – and here I was to meet many of my celebrities in person.

I come from Slovakia, central Europe, where I try to make a living with fibrecraft for me and my 3 sons. I have been spinning since 2011, gradually intensifying my learning curve. My work consists of commissions, selling handspun yarn and knitted items at markets, and teaching basic courses on hand-processing wool from raw fleece. The sweet spot of my work, however, belongs to reviving breed-specific local wool and contributing to its return to local market (the number of mini-mills that process local wool in Slovakia is actually zero), and that means a lot of propagation and education is necessary. With other wool-loving friends, we have founded a non-profit organization which tries to bring this almost lost craft back to the public.

Slovakia is a very small country of 5 million. We are quite used to the world not knowing much about us. Therefore, I was pretty amazed when at least 6 people in Kansas City told me that they know their ancestors were of Slavic origin and came from our part of the world. No wonder it felt so home-like. In Slovakia, as in many other countries around the world, handspinning has been almost forgotten for more than half a century. Although the communist regime was strong on industry and self-sufficiency of the country (which means there were several spinning factories) and there was some endeavour to keep the traditional crafts, there seemed to be no particular attention dedicated to handspinning. At the beginning of the 20th century, people in rural areas were still handspinning for factories, but I gather that once all this work was done by machinery, they were happy to get rid of the hard chores – it is indeed very different whether you spin because you must or because you want to. However, one of the unfortunate effects of the postrevolution era was the gradual decline of the spinning and wool-processing factories, which had a negative effect on the work of shepherds, the type of sheep breeds kept, and the price of wool.

Since PLYAway 2019, I have finished and published a brochure on spinning via a local traditional-crafts–keeping organization, ÚĽUV. This little publication is the first tutorial in the Slovak language about hand-processing sheep wool. It helps me greatly with spreading the word about how important and rewarding rediscovering this fibre craft is in our country, where the wool industry is almost gone. PLYAway gave me the confidence to continue, even if making a living in spinning is no easy task – but it is much more precious to me to need less and do the work that makes sense, than having all the comforts and keep losing the precious time of my life to a faceless corporation. Up to this day, all the passion and sincerity keeps me going because I saw it is possible to make a fibre craft really alive amongst the people.

There are moments I am never going to forget: The day spent in the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, where I exhausted my wonderful host and guide Teri Plemel because it was such a breathtaking walk that I just couldn`t stop watching. The first evening in the hotel, when I met Jacey and Jillian. The meeting of the attendees in the hotel‘s pizzeria, when I sat near two wonderful ladies, who after learning of my limited budget told me to pick something at the fibre market and tell them and they would get it for me (and learning to spin cotton in their hotel room one midnight). Jillian Moreno taking pictures of the members of her class as we rolled around in her hilarious stash of fibers spread on the carpet. The experienced hands of Joan Ruane, spreading flax and dressing the distaff. The piece of fluff that Stephenie Gaustad placed on carders while she told us we should never hear the tines scratch while carding. The cooperation of the whole group while dyeing wool with Jane Woodhouse. The little talk with Gord Lendrum about his wheels. The whole Shave ’em to Save ’em booth and how a little present I brought from Slovakia kept us in contact with Amy and allowed me to watch her strength during the past year.

I realize how little really I do know – of the textile industry, shepherding, sheep, wool, economic relations, trade, etc. There is so much to be done about reviving wool as a natural and sustainable material in Slovakia, and much of it is beyond my capabilities. But the big thing for me personally is that I can contribute my share to the process. With the knowledge I have accumulated overseas, with the new book published, with courses, with all the debates at the fairs and markets I attend, I can get the visitors intrigued by all the wool knowledge that almost vanished from our collective mind.

I am blessed to have been able to go. As the world slows down this year and because of the raging virus, so many events are postponed. I keep my fingers crossed for all the wonderful work around PLYAway not to be in vain.

I can hardly describe how much I have enjoyed the whole retreat. It was a delight to see how much I was able to learn in advance from all the sources in print and online, so I could cope with the pace of the lessons, and at the same time discover so many new things I didn’t even know I didn’t know 😀 But most of all – the friendliness and generosity of the fibre community exceeded my expectations by far. I was so far from home and yet felt so very much  at home – I bet you know exactly what I mean. 🙂

1 reply
  1. Donna Johnson
    Donna Johnson says:

    Ĺubica, how wonderful to read of your experiences at the Plyaway conference. You learned about so much- and now are sharing in your beautiful country’s Fiber community. There may have been breaks in the Fiber story in Slovakia, but it is an old and rich story. You are a link to that lineage of incredible fiber crafts in Slovakia. I look forward to learning more about them, and to seeing where all this will lead you!


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