Sunday, November 28, 2010

Exotic Animals

My cousin, Trish, lives just east of Scranton, PA in the small burg of Lake Ariel. For the past two years, I’ve used my trip to the NYS Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY as an excuse to visit Trish. We’ve only ever seen each other three times in our lives. Our dads were brothers (Bill and Les, both now deceased). As it happens, Trish is also a fiber fiend. Only a few years ago she taught herself to knit, then she learned to spin. Now she owns fiber (and other) animals!

She has a pleasant number of alpacas. Here are three:

Two suffolk sheep (strictly “pet”). Here’s one:

And a lovely Belgian horse, Cloe (a rescue that is also a “pet”).

Now, the aforementioned animals are not exactly “exotic”, but Trish has a friend who lives down the road who does have some exotic animals. When Trish and I drove up to her establishment, we were greeted by two camels (dromedary). Here’s one:

Then we got to visit with the zebras. I’d never seen a zebra up close before. They have beautifully refined heads, shockingly stark stripes, and eye “makeup” (at least this one did). Here’s one view.

And another.

And the most exotic of all: Bella, Trish’s yorkie. Cute!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Rhinebeck Revisited: Sheep v. Goat

Two of the workshops that I taught at Rhinebeck
this year were “Diversity of Wool” and “Spinning & Knitting Goat Fibers”. I’d taught the wool workshop many times, but this was the first time I’d done the goat fibers workshop. I spent months collecting just the right mohair, cashmere, and pygora supplies and quite awhile composing the notes to accompany the workshop.

I do thoroughly enjoy the preparation stage of teaching. It’s during this preparation that a teacher really clarifies in her own mind what exactly is important about the topic in question. For this workshop, I got to come to terms with goat fibers, play with various ways to spin them, and remind myself what’s wonderful about knitting them. Because I was teaching this workshop during the same week as the wool workshop, I pondered on the similarities and differences between sheep fibers and goat fibers. This notion struck me:

Goat fibers are like bookends around sheep fibers.

Here’s what I mean: Wools range from soft and fine (e.g., merino) to coarse and strong (e.g., lincoln). The finer fibers tend to be less lustrous, the thicker fibers are more lustrous. And there’s plenty of variation along the continuum. I think of goat fibers as the outside extremes – the bookends – of these characteristics. For example, mohair from an adult angora goat is typically very strong, highly lustrous, and not particularly soft: rather like an extreme version of the longwools (cotswold, wensleydale, teeswater). On the other end of the spectrum is cashmere or pygora types B or C: very fine, very soft, not much luster; outside the range of merino.

Some of the mohair that I got for this workshop was from Sara Healy. Sara was the workshop coordinator at Rhinebeck, and she happens to raise angora goats. Her business name is Buckwheat Bridge Angoras
. In advance of my trip I ordered some raw mohair, some washed locks, some mohair top, and some mohair/wool roving. When I arrived at the fairgrounds, Sara took me to her van (she was also vendoring at the festival), and got out the huge bag of mohair supplies for me. She had to dig a bit for the mohair/wool roving. While she was hunting for it, she said, “I hope blue is ok…” Then she pulled out a pound of the loveliest roving of 50% kid mohair and 50% cormo wool. The colors were fantastic!

I used about 4 ounces during the workshop, and took the remaining 12 ounces home with me. I got around to spinning a simple two-ply yarn from the roving last week. The colors reminded me of many of the beautiful lakes in this area. So, I named the yarn “Crystal Lake”, after one of the largest and prettiest lakes in Benzie county.

Here’s a picture of the yarn:

And you can see a picture of Crystal Lake if you click here.

To give wool “equal time”, here’s a picture of some of the samples that I have workshop participants examine in the Diversity of Wool class (In this shot, you can see samples of coopworth, cvm, finn, merino, and wensleydale.):

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thick Singles

I spent last weekend at the inaugural Fall Fiber Retreat near Boyne Falls, Michigan. The retreat, nicely organized by Pip Jones and colleagues, was held at the Lake Louise Camp & Retreat Center . The lodge there is delightfully comfortable, with a good sized main room containing the requisite large fireplace. There is nothing nicer than a blazing fire on a raw and wet November evening!

On Saturday afternoon, I taught “Variations on Long Draw”. In this workshop, participants get to spin from various carded preparations, including mill carded rovings, hand carded rolags, and drum carded batts. We play with different styles of long draw and different thicknesses of the spun yarns. I especially like covering techniques for spinning thick, soft, Lopi-style singles: yarns that have just enough twist not to fall apart, but not so much twist that they bias when knitted.

I personally love spinning these yarns. They provide nearly instant gratification. You can fill a bobbin in no time, and with no plying to do, you’ve got a usable yarn right away! (Well, I do wash them first.)

I’ve had the chance to teach this “variations” workshop at several venues this year: Midwest Masters 2010
in Wisconsin (see my blog entry on Emily’s Rolags ), the NYS Sheep & Wool Festival at Rhinebeck, The Gathering 2010 in Vermont, and last weekend at the Fall Fiber Retreat.

It’s always nice to hear from students who come away with a new appreciation for spinning thick yarns. I recently got an email from one such student, Marjorie Marker, who took the workshop at Rhinebeck. Here’s her email:

“Hi Amy, I just wanted to thank you for the great long draw class. It really helped me to make stable singles. I was sitting right across from you next to the lady with the lendrum with the duct-tape. Here’s some pictures of my first attempt using some coopworth from Maple Ridge Stock Farm. Hope to see you next year.”

Here’s a picture that Marjorie sent me of her spinning success:

By the way, she got the coopworth wool from Maple Row Stock Farm, a wonderful Michigan business run by Deb and Bob Cline (517-741-7434). They do have delightful rovings. I have 2 balls of romney roving sitting on my desk right now.

And here’s a picture of the Lendrum spinning wheel that Marjorie mentioned. Would you believe that both rubber links between treadles and footmen broke during the workshop?! Duct tape to the rescue!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Silk Hankies at The Gathering

I’ve been doing more and more teaching these days. And the more I teach spinning workshops, the more fiber supplies I must buy. There are several advantages to this need to buy: I can keep up with current fiber supply trends and current costs; I get to see a regular turn-over of content in my fiber inventory; and I get to know vendors who are good fiber sources (and sometimes not-so-good fiber sources). I also get to share source information with others.

My recent participation in The Gathering 2010
in Vermont included more than teaching workshops. I also got to shop. I mean, I had to shop.

There were perhaps a dozen vendors at the retreat. My plan was to carefully peruse each booth for supplies I will need for upcoming teaching events. I’m always on the look-out for such things as good carded rovings, washed locks, down fibers, and silk hankies.

When I entered the room where the vendors were set up, my eyes were immediately drawn to the first booth on the right: Robin Russo’s The Spinning Studio (802-222-9240). Robin had two enormous boxes of brilliantly dyed silk hankies right up front. Wow! I shuffled through the first box, grabbing about 6 bags of various colors of silk hankies. I was afraid of losing control, so I stopped grabbing and paid for the hankies in hand.

I was very pleased with that purchase. I’m scheduled to teach my “Spinning with Silk Hankies” workshop twice in early 2011: first for the Manasota Weavers Guild in Sarasota Florida in March, and then at the Duluth Art Institute in Duluth, Minnesota in April. (See my website for specific dates and contact information.)

I then found a wonderful source of cashmere: Norma Bromley, who had been the workshop coordinator for The Gathering, raises cashmere-producing goats. Her business name is Boreas Farm Cashmere. I bought 1 ounce of a lovely brown cashmere, and 2 ounces of cashmere blended with silk. Norma doesn’t have an internet presence, but you can contact her by email,

My next stop among the vendors was at Vermont Grand View Farm. They raise Romney sheep and Angora goats. I bought 8 ounces of white Romney roving, and 8 ounces of grey Romney/mohair roving. Both are delightfully pleasant and easy to spin.

With my requisite shopping done, I returned to my room. That night I had second thoughts about all those silk hankies. They were so beautiful, and the price was right. I really, really should have bought some more….

So, the next day, I promptly went back to the vendors and snagged several more bags of silk hankies. In all, I purchased over 11 ounces of silk hankies. That may not sound like much, but silk hankies go a long way. Here’s a picture of my purchase triumph:

These hankies will be added to my current stash that includes wonderful silk hankies from two of my favorite sources of fiber for spinning: Bonkers Handmade Originals
and River’s Edge Fiber Arts.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Travels with Letty

Last weekend I had the great good fortune to teach at The Gathering 2010, a biennial fiber retreat sponsored by the Northeast Handspinners Association. The event was held at a delightful ski resort, Mt. Snow, near West Dover, Vermont.

I also had the great good fortune to travel with another instructor from Michigan, Letty Klein. Along with Ann Brown, she is the author of The Shepherd’s Rug. Letty raises Karakul sheep (see her website and blog) and she creates fabulous braided rugs from roving. It was a true pleasure to spend the weekend with her. We were in my trusty Subaru for two days on the way to Vermont, we roomed together at the retreat, and we travelled together for two more days back home. Letty is a nice, nice lady, with loads of knowledge about sheep and fleeces. Not only has she taught her braided rug techniques throughout the country, but she has also been the sheep and fleece judge at numerous fiber festivals.

Spending time with her has made me even more inspired to try her rug braiding technique. I’ve got a few bins full of shetland rovings that are not all that nice for spinning, but now I’m convinced they’ll work well for rugs.

Letty gave me a good close up look at some of her rugs. The one I wanted to take home was a beautiful rug made from natural colored wensleydale wool. Lovely!

Both Letty and I taught Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I was teaching spinning workshops and Letty was teaching rug braiding. And we both travelled with the supplies we needed for these workshops. Needless to say, my car was on the full side. The view out the rear window was somewhat compromised on the way to Vermont, but I had a clear view on the way home.

We travelled through Canada (Port Huron, MI to Niagara Falls, NY). This was the second time this year I’ve used my “enhanced” drivers license to cross the USA-Canada border. Despite having a vehicle jam packed with fiber, we had no customs trouble crossing the border.

It was a great trip with great company. Thanks, Letty!