Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Into Darkness

Sometimes I buy fiber just because it is unusual. That’s what happened in September at the Interlochen Fiber Arts Weekend. (Expect to see more fiber events at Interlochen in 2015.) There was a handful of vendors at this inaugural event. I did my best to buy from many of them. The vendor that was closest to the entrance is a friend of mine, Tracie Herkner. Her business is It’s Sew Ewe . She had some lovely carded rovings that were blends of Huacaya alpaca and wool. I got 4 ounces of a medium brown, luxurious blend of 85% alpaca and 15% Finn (a.k.a. Finnish Landrace) wool. Sounds like a match made in heaven. This roving may well become a cowl or scarf or hat and mitts that I will keep for my very own self. I expect to spin it up sometime in the next couple months.

I also got 4 ounces of a dark brown blend of alpaca and Babydoll Southdown wool. Now, this blend seemed unusual to me. Huacaya alpaca is characterized by a silky feel, with some crimp, a reasonable staple length, and not much in the way of elasticity. Babydoll is pretty much the opposite: not overly soft, seriously crimpy, short staple length, and loads of elasticity. Spring, sproing, sprang, sprung! My immediate urge was to make socks from this fiber blend: taking advantage of the elasticity and strength of the Babydoll and the softness and warmth of the alpaca.

A couple weeks ago, I pulled this roving out of my to-do-in-the-near-future bin. I’ve been spinning it. And, well, it is unusual. I’ve spun a lot of different fibers and fiber preparations, but this one required something new from me.

I tried to use my default short draw (worsted) technique, where I draft untwisted fibers then allow twist to enter. I was having a heck of a time getting a consistently thick singles. The roving behaved like alpaca: silky and somewhat slippery. And the roving behaved like Babydoll: super elastic. My drafting strategy just wasn’t getting the most out of this weird combination.

And, I was having trouble seeing what I was doing. I was spinning a thin singles (expecting to make a fingering weight 2-ply yarn suitable for socks). And my eyes aren’t what they once were. I’m experiencing very typical age-appropriate changes in my eyesight. But I don’t have to like it. I really don’t like it. I really don’t. I need “cheaters”, and good light. Dark fibers are just plain harder to see and spin than they used to be. D**n it.

I got out my Ott floor lamp. I turned on all ceiling lights in the room. I even started using a white lap cloth (a sweet kitchen towel that my sister had given me for Christmas one year).

But I struggled. So, I changed my drafting. I let some twist enter the fibers I was drafting, rather like a version of point-of-contact long draw. Something was still not right. I then started drafting the fibers forward instead of my typical backward. That helped a bit. Then I allowed more space between my front hand and my back hand. Way better.

Near the end of the filling the first bobbin, I finally found my groove. I don’t think the change in drafting technique was the key. I think it’s more likely that all the things I did to be able to see better helped more, especially increasing the distance between my front hand and my back hand. I realized that my front hand was casting a shadow on the lap cloth and that shadow was right under the drafting triangle. Once I put more distance between my front and back hands, the shadow was no longer an issue. I could see a bit better, and that made my drafting much easier to control.

Into – then out of – darkness. The second bobbin is half full. I expect to have some lovely sock yarn – for my very own self – next week sometime.

I am thankful. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Vest Again

Years back I knitted a vest that quickly became one of my favorites. It was a Classic Elite pattern, #632, “The Ruins of Dunstaburgh Castle”, designed by Susan Mills. I distinctly remember seeing a knitted version of this vest in a yarn shop and being smitten. I asked to see the pattern. The photo of the vest does not do it justice. But the actual vest was quite lovely. I bought the pattern. And I knitted the vest within a couple months. That was in 1996.

Here’s a picture of the pattern. (I think the plaid pants are as charming as the sweaters.)

My vest went through thick and thin. So useful, so versatile, so … me!

But nothing lasts forever. Last year, the edge of the buttonhole band started to fray. I couldn’t find any of the original yarn in my stash for repair, so I tied knots. The fraying continued. I finally had to accept that it was time to retire the vest.

I still love the pattern, so I decided to knit it again. (It is most unusual for me to knit any design more than once ... except for socks.) After rummaging through my stash, I chose a tweedy grey Annabel Fox yarn, “DK Donegal”. This yarn has been in my stash for longer than the vest pattern. In fact, long ago I’d knitted the yarn up for a cardigan but I’d never gotten around to sewing the pieces together. I finally accepted that I really didn’t like the pattern that I’d chosen, so I ripped out the whole sweater and stuck the yarn back into the dark corners of my yarn drawers.

Now the old yarn and the old pattern came together. I dutifully swatched for gauge. Good thing I did, because this yarn knitted up at a different gauge than the pattern called for. I was obliged to make adjustments. No problem; my math is good.

I finished the vest yesterday, sewed the buttons on (quaint pewter buttons designed after the old buffalo nickels), and washed and blocked. It’s drying now. Here’s a picture of the vest in the construction phase. My crappy camera and the grey weather conspired to make the vest difficult to photograph.

I plan to wear my new old vest for Thanksgiving. And I plan to save some of the yarn for repairs – 18 years from now. And I plan to felt the first version vest for some as yet decided upon future project.

Everything old is new again.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Time Flies When You're Having Fun

So, you haven’t heard from me in awhile. September and early October were packed with teaching events, travelling to Wisconsin, then New Jersey, then two events in Michigan. At the end, I was pooped but happy. I met so many delightful and kind fiber folks. It was a wonderful wooly whirlwind.

Upon the heels of this teaching frenzy, I started – and finished – a new project and article. Earlier in the year, I’d proposed to write an article for Spin-Off  magazine for their “stash busting” issue, Spring 2015. Here is my initial suggestion to the magazine’s editor:

“I've got a bin of miscellaneous bits of handspun yarn. I'd like to use these bits to do some rug hooking. I've got the equipment for hooking, and a couple books, but I've never done it before. I've always wanted to. It could turn out great, but maybe not. It would be a gamble.”

You read right:  “…I’ve never done it before.”

My proposal was accepted. I also mentioned to the editor that my September was rather full, so they gave me until the end of October to submit the article.

I got home from teaching at Yarn in the Barn on Saturday, October 4. (What fun I had!) I allowed myself two days to relax.

On Tuesday, October 7 I started the rug project.

On Sunday, October 26 I finished the rug.

On Monday, October 27 I started writing the article.

On Thursday, October 30 I emailed off the finished article. I was so very proud of myself. I was so very relieved that I actually finished on time and the rug wasn’t horrible.

All I can remember about October is hooking, hooking, hooking. Then writing, writing, writing. I know that the leaves on the trees changed colors and then dropped, but I did not witness it. Other things must have happened too, or so I’ve been told.

After a few free days, I prepared for teaching at the Fall Fiber Retreat in Boyne Falls. This annual retreat is a sweet, relaxing event that almost always coincides with the first real snow fall of the season. Friends, fiber, and delicious food (especially the French lentil stew). My nerves were mending. Since then, I’ve experienced a more comfortable pace. I’ve been cooking and baking and knitting and spinning and thinking about new classes and starting new projects. (Oh, and I’ve been shoveling. We’ve had an amazing amount of November snow. Today is the first day in over a week that I have not had to shovel the walkway. It’s supposed to rain today and tomorrow. Bleh!)

I have some blog catching up to do. I look forward to it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

September is Super Fiber Filled

It all started with the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival. That was last weekend. And what a weekend it was! I taught, I shopped, I ate, I talked. This was the first time that I had a half day off from teaching so that I could get some serious shopping done. I bought fiber, of course (Bluefaced Leicester wool, Cormo wool, silk hankies), and I bought yarn. I was pleased to see so many vendors with breed-specific yarns. I got yarns made from Lincoln, Teeswater, Border Leicester, and Tunis. I’ve added these to my large bin of breed-specific yarns at home. Very satisfying.

And I got some hemp yarn. It was in a discount bin in the Interlacements booth. It’s very very skinny yarn. I had no idea what I was going to do with it until I saw a woman with a skinny inkle woven strap for her reading glasses. That’s what I’m going to do. Yes!

Another purchase was a small beaded purse kit. It was so cute! And I’ve not done any beaded knitting before. High time, then. I also got a couple of pieces of pottery: a very large mug/soup bowl with “buttons” on it from Alison Wheeler, and a “whiskey cup” from Jenny the Potter. I’ve already used both pieces.

But there’s more! I am busy this month. Really busy. Really. Here’s the schedule:

Fiber Fallout. This is a spinning retreat in Johnsonburg, New Jersey, sponsored by the North Country Spinners, Inc. It’s held every other year. The dates this year are September 19-21. I’m teaching Variations on Long Draw, Spinning & Knitting Energized Singles, and Spinning Marl Yarns. This is my first time at this event and I do look forward to it!

September ends with a bang! The weekend of September 26-28 contains multiple events of interest to the fiber enthusiast. I will be involved in a new fiber event, the Interlochen Fiber Arts Weekend. It will be held at the Interlochen Center for the Arts. I’m teaching multiple sessions of Beginning Spindle Spinning and Diversity of Wool. These are short workshops, only 75 minutes, just enough to pique your interest. This event also includes a panel discussion about growing a regional fiber-shed, some vendors, and mini workshops on spinning, knitting, weaving, and crochet.

In addition to Interlochen, there are other events that may interest you. The beautiful northwest corner of the lower peninsula is the site of the Greater Traverse Area Yarn Shop Hop, September 26, 27, and 28. Hours are Friday, 10 am to 7 pm; Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm; and Sunday, 12 noon to 4 pm. Passports are $5, The participating stores are: Yarn Quest, Traverse City; Lost Art, Traverse City; Plover Dunes, Glen Arbor; the Yarn Shop, Glen Arbor; Wool and Honey, Cedar; Warm Fuzzy, Alden; Thistledown, Suttons Bay; and the Yarn Market in Beulah.

If that’s not enough for you, the Crystal Lake Alpaca Farm is hosting National Alpaca Farm Day, Saturday, September 27, 1-5pm. Chris and Dave Nelson have a lovely farm and fiber boutique at 4907 River Road, Frankfort, Michigan.

But wait! There’s more! This very same weekend is the weekend of the Northern Michigan Lamb and Wool Festival, at the very lovely Ogemaw County Fairgrounds in West Branch, Michigan. Vendors, classes, shearing school, and more.

If you’ve ever wanted to spend time in northern lower Michigan, and you love fiber, this is the weekend for you. Take advantage. Do!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Summer Teaching Nearby

I get to stay home much of this summer. That means more time in the garden, more time at the beach, eating more local produce, and likely more mosquito bites.

But I will be teaching workshops reasonably close to home. Here are some places within my wonderful home state of Michigan where I’m teaching:

Great Lakes Ranch  is where Brad and Jandy Sprouse raise suri alpacas and Tibetan yaks. And they have a fiber, yarn, and fashion store that is open on Fridays and Saturdays during summer months.

I’ll be teaching Knitting Petoskey Stone Medallions, Thursday, July 17, 2:00 – 5:00pm. The fee is $25. Tracie Herkner is the person to contact to sign up for the class. Her phone number is 231-642-1414, and her email address is .

In August I make my annual pilgrimage to the Michigan Fiber Festival in Allegan, Michigan. I’m scheduled to teach Wednesday through Saturday. I sure hope I have enough time to shop! You can register through the Festival’s website. Here is a list of my workshops:

Creating the Yarn You Want, Wednesday, August 13, 9:00am – 4:00pm
Mechanics of Your Wheel, Thursday, August 14, 9:00am – 12:00noon
I Heart Duplicate Stitch, Thursday, August 14, 1:00 – 4:00pm
Beginning Spinning at the Wheel, Friday, August 15, 9:00am – 4:00pm
Seams to Be, Saturday, August 16, 9:00am – 12:00noon
The Surprising Yarn-Over, Saturday, August 16, 1:00 – 4:00pm

In October (ok, so October isn’t exactly “summer”), I am headed once again to Yarn in the Barn. This weekend event is sponsored by Briar Rose Fibers. I will be teaching spinning workshops and Anne Hanson will be teaching knitting workshops. And there will be a few vendors in addition to Briar Rose Fibers. You will find workshop descriptions and registration details on their website. My workshops are:

Spinning Silk: Brick and Hankies, Friday, October 3, 9:00am – 4:00pm
Variations on Long Draw, Saturday, October 4, 9:00am – 2:30pm

These three events are confirmed. I will mention that there are tentative plans for a fiber event in Interlochen, Michigan in September. If that materializes I will let you know!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Just Curly. No Moe. No Larry.

On my recent trip to Minnesota I got to drive through Michigan’s upper peninsula. I took advantage of that route to stop and visit with Sue Kapla at Fiddle Knoll Farm near Skandia.

She showed me some of this year’s lambs. All too cute for words. And she sold me some Romney roving; one pound of creamy white and one pound of light grey. I’ve already spun 2 skeins from this lovely stuff.

The sheep have not been sheared yet….way too cold. But she did tell me that I’ll be getting a fleece from a one-year-old CVM ewe named “Eve”. A very lovely light light brown. I can hardly wait!

I was expecting all this lovely woolness. What I was not expecting was her horse. I saw the horse in an area behind the sheep. She told me she’d gotten him last fall. She’d always loved horses but she’s allergic. Then she heard of a type of horse that is hypoallergenic. They’re called Curly Horses. They have curly hair. All over. Sue’s horse, “Boris”, is a lovely chestnut color. His mane and forelock were quite short, but curly.

This is the time of year for shedding, and Sue indicated she’d saved a bit of his hair. “Do you want some?” she asked. Of course I said “Yes!” So, she gave me a bag of about 5 ounces of Boris’s hair.

Today is a lovely late May day, perfect for washing fiber. Here is a picture of the hair in a mesh bag before washing:

I did one soak in the hottest tap water with some Orvus paste. And two soaks of only hot water. The hair is right now in the second soak. I’ll spin out the excess water in the washing machine and then I’ll put the hair on a drying rack. I expect it’ll be ready tomorrow.

I’m thinking I’ll blend it with some sturdy wool and maybe make some work mittens. Or, maybe I’ll weave something.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Now...Where Was I?

How could I have gone so long without posting a new blog entry? Well, I got busy. After the mad rush to finish some writing, I took a breather. That turned into procrastination. What’s another day going to hurt? Then, my mother died at the end of April. Then, I got busy again. Then, I was on the road for 8 days, buying fiber and fleeces, and teaching workshops at Shepherd’s Harvest. (Very fun, by the way.)

My mother’s memorial service is tomorrow in Midland. Although we were never close, I do have to thank her for teaching me the knit stitch and the purl stitch long ago.

I will get back to regular fiber-related posting next week.