Little Yarn School on the Prairie

Two hours outside of Kansas City, a rural school house stands on the plains of tiny Harveyville, Kansas, Population 237. Entering the school, you can hear the excited voices of the students from outside the gymnasium doors gathering for the assembly. But these aren’t children, and this is definitely not your regular public school. This is Yarn School.

The gymnasium still has the original shellacked hardwood floors. The scoreboard and basketball hoops are still hanging from the metal rafters, but all around the room are dozens of spinning wheels, carding machines and baskets full of spindles. Giant tumbleweeds of wool litter the gym floor.  During this four-day retreat in a converted rural public schoolhouse, these (mostly) women are here to take their crafts — knitting, crocheting, weaving — to the next level. And in particular, they are here to learn to make their own yarn.

“Once I became a more experienced knitter, I was curious about the process of making yarn,” says Asheley Van Ness, a two-time visitor to Yarn School who came to Harveyville from Chicago. “Spinning is a welcome challenge.”

Learning to spin your own yarn gives a knitter, crocheter, or weaver complete creative control. The quality of the wool used, the blend of fibers (wool, alpaca, or even camel), the thickness of the yarn, and the color (natural dye, synthetic dye, or no dye at all) are all under control of the spinner.

If you are serious about your craft, learning all the aspects lets you fine-tune the end product. And most important, learning these techniques in person offers a communal experience you can’t get by just reading books and watching YouTube videos. At Yarn School, you’re right there with expert crafters, sharing your progress with enthusiastic students of all skill levels.

Participants get a chance to try new techniques and use equipment and supplies without having to buy it all themselves. A four-night stay at the school starts around $400 and includes your supplies, lodging, and meals. Students learn production techniques from spinning with a spindle and a spinning wheel, to carding and dying wool. Specialists lead each class.

The whole experience is a bit like an Etsy-fied version of grade school. The hallway lockers are scribbled with the students’ names, but there pounds and pounds of wool inside, instead of books. The upstairs science lab has been converted into a dye room stocked with a rainbow of acid dyes, crockpots, microwaves and a washing machine.  

And just like any school, there are field trips, too. At Yarn School, that means heading to the local alpaca farm.

Founder Nikol Lohr and her partner Ron Miller are the creative forces and owners of the Harveyville Project which hosts the biannual Yarn School. Lohr and Miller started the Harveyville Project in 2006 to provide an inspiring, energizing environment to foster creative output. Yarn and knitting enthusiasts alike have been flocking to the school since then to experience the creative community and bring their craft to the next level.

Students stay in classrooms that have been converted to bedrooms. The spaces still have their original schoolhouse charm. They eat their meals together in the old cafeteria kitchen. There is a community here built around a shared love of yarn and crafting.

“I love the social aspect of knitting,” says Van Ness. “Going on a retreat (like Yarn School), I really get to know other people who share this passion.”