Knitting designer and author Margaret Radcliffe highlights one of her favorite in-person experiences: teaching and learning at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina.
As an itinerant knitting teacher, I travel all over the country. Of all the places I’ve visited, the spot that closest to my heart, is Brasstown, North Carolina, where you’ll find the John C. Campbell Folk School.
I discovered the Folk School in 1997, taking my daughter to attend “Little Middle Folk School” in June, the one week when the programs are geared to children. Like so many before me, I fell in love. Little Middle became a tradition for my kids and myself for the next 15 years. I return regularly to take classes and to teach knitting and dyeing.
What makes the Folk School so different? It’s non-competitive, so you learn at your own pace. You aren’t earning a diploma or certification, so you concentrate on what you want to learn, not on what someone else thinks you should be taught. All the learning is hands-on, so you develop skills. The focus is on process rather than product, so that, while you do create amazing things, more importantly you take home techniques you can put to work on your own forever after.
Add to that top-quality studios dedicated to blacksmithing, woodworking, painting, cooking, glass, clay, music, fiber arts (and more!), the meals (which delight the eye as well as the palate), and the friendly, community-building atmosphere, surrounded by beautiful countryside, and it’s hard to imagine a better place to recharge your creative spirit. I frequently end a teaching gig at other venues drained and exhausted. It’s a testament to the Folk School that teaching classes there leaves me exhilarated and recharged just as much as taking classes always does.
At the Folk School you can challenge yourself to try something completely new. When I’m feeling in a rut, I’ll take a class in something I’ve never done before—pottery, basket making, woodturning, photography. Yes, it’s a challenge. Yes, it can be frustrating. But that just makes the feeling of accomplishment greater when you look back over how much you learned, admire the beautiful things you made, and realize what a long journey you completed in such a short time.
A week at the Folk School is a retreat, not in the sense that you’ll spend hours alone, quietly meditating—it’s much too social for that. But it is a retreat from the constant interruptions, distractions, and multi-tasking characteristic of our modern life. It’s a luxury to enter a studio and focus on just one thing all day, every day, with an experienced mentor to guide you and other interested students excited to share their ideas, insights, and discoveries.
When I leave Brasstown, I always feel uneasy unless I know when I’m going to return. Right now, I’m looking forward to teaching a weekend and a week-long workshop at the tail end of February and the beginning of March. With so many classes all year long in so many different disciplines, there’s sure to be something that appeals to you. Come alone, bring a friend, or bring your family. I hope I’ll run into you there soon. Be sure to introduce yourself. Sit down with me for a meal and let’s get to know each other.