Saturday, August 31, 2013

Hook, Shuttle, and Bobbin

The Michigan Fiber Festival is a great place for shopping. I went with a shopping list this year. I had very specific purchases in mind.

I want to start rug hooking. I’ve never done it before. And I want to hook with my handspun yarns, not fabric. I’ve been gathering books on the topic for quite awhile. Last year, when I taught at the North Country Fiber Fair in Watertown, SD, I bought a fabulous hooking frame from Tracy Kellen. You can find her stuff in her etsy store, “On thePrairie”

At MFF, I was on the lookout for some linen fabric to use as backing. I found some in the booth of Spruce Ridge Studios, a business located in Howell, MI. I bought a couple remnant pieces. Just something to get me started. And I bought a lovely hook. It’s a “primitive” hook made from yew wood. I adore it! Here is the frame, the fabric, and the hook:

The next specific thing on my shopping list was a pick up stick. After my recent purchase of a new-to-me rigid heddle loom, I was thinking I might try some pick up techniques. Last year I’d gotten a beautiful little belt shuttle from Bruce and Ann Niemi of Kessenich Looms. So, I thought that’d be the perfect place to get a pick up stick. Ann suggested I get one as long as my weaving width, about 25”. I selected one made from cherry wood. Lovely. She called it a “sword”. That’s a new weaving term to me. She also suggested that I get a boat shuttle, one with a low profile. I selected a beauty! It’s made from spalted maple. It carries a paper quill, not one of those plastic weavers bobbins. So I also bought some extra quills. I really like their boat shuttles. The shaft for the quill/bobbin is held in place by magnets. Very easy to load and unload. I like it! Here’s a picture of the sword and the shuttle:

Not on my list was the next item. It’s a storage bobbin. Now, as a spinner, I’ve never used storage bobbins. I like to ply. I like to finish my yarns. So, I typically ply as soon as I’ve got singles on bobbins.

But I know there are many spinners out there who would like to store their singles for plying later (or not). If that describes you, then you’ll want these bobbins. They’re large (can hold 5 oz), durable, and they’ve got a groove (whorl) so they can be used on a tensioned lazy kate. The designer also provides a “bit” so you can use an electric drill or screwdriver to wind the bobbin. This bobbin can also be wound using a double-ended bobbin winder (such as the Schacht bobbin winder). Best of all, the price is quite manageble ($5 per bobbin). And they’re made of recyclable plastic.

Debra Beadles Youngs, of Art-U-Wear in Schoolcraft, MI, created this clever thing which she calls “Bobbins Up”. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Kevin the Yarn Pet and Shrek's Cousin

I had a terrific time at the Michigan Fiber Festival. I always do. The weather was perfect. Really. Perfect. I bought almost everything on my shopping list. And I had so many wonderful interactions with fiber folks. A great week.

Immediately after returning, I did a week-long house/dog/cat sitting stint. So I wasn’t at home or at my computer. After that, I had several catch-up chores, mostly to meet deadlines for my upcoming workshops at Spin-Off Autumn Retreat.

I’ve been busy. I’ve been ignoring my blog. And I have so many things I want to write about. Let me start here.

At MFF, I roomed with Nancy Shroyer, the brains behind Nancy’s Knit Knacks. I was the designated driver for the week; Nancy had flown in from North Carolina. In appreciation for my taxi work, Nancy gave me one of her newest inventions, a “yarn pet”. It is a device to hold yarn that has been wound on a ball winder. As it happened, I was just starting a knitting project from such a ball of yarn. So, I put the yarn pet to work right away. Even though I am ever so fond of my yarn bowl, I found the yarn pet to be a very handy tool.

I named it “Kevin”. Why? The night before MFF, I had a dream that I got a kitten and I named it Kevin. I think that is a weird dream and a weird name for a cat. It stuck in my head. So, when Nancy handed me the yarn pet I was compelled to name it Kevin.

(As an aside: the very next night I had a dream that I got two kittens and I named them “Kelvin” and “Celcius”. I am holding on to those names for whenever I get a pair of pets.)

After the festival, Nancy sent me an adaptor for the yarn pet so that I can use it for knitting from cones. So very nice of her, don’t you think?

One night, Nancy and I went to dinner with Rich and Patsy Zawistoski. Patsy had recently been to New Zealand teaching innumerable spinning workshops. On her journey, she was given a lock of wool from one of those Merino sheep that had escaped annual shearing for a number of years; they called the sheep “Shrek’s Cousin”. She showed us the lock and Nancy took pictures. Very good looking wool. Very very long lock. (Sorry for the fuzzy shots; we were in the car.)

I have to admit that I felt sorry for the sheep that had to carry all that wool.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Michigan! Fiber! Festival!

I leave on Tuesday for Allegan and the Michigan Fiber Festival. In these days leading up to this event my excitement level increases with each breath. I can hardly wait!

This is my seventh consecutive year of teaching at MFF. Each year has been special. And each year I’ve become more dedicated to teaching and sharing fiber arts.

This year, I’m teaching three workshops. On Wednesday, I’m teaching Spinning With Commercial Yarns. On Thursday, Beginning Spinning at the Wheel. And on Sunday, Variations on Long Draw. There is still room in the Wednesday and Sunday workshops, but on-line registration is closed. You can, however, register on site.

In addition to teaching, I look forward to seeing fiber friends. I’m rooming with Nancy Shroyer, of Nancy’s Knit Knacks. She is great company. We will certainly be sharing our latest knitting projects! And there are many vendors who over the years have become friends. And a number of workshop participants are now regulars and I look forward to seeing them, chatting, and catching up.

Speak of the vendors! Since I’ll have some free time on Friday and Saturday, I will be able to do some real damage. I know for sure I’ll be picking up several processed fleeces. And I’d like to get some linen fabric for rug hooking. And it’d be nice to buy a dreamy sheep skin. And who knows what else.

I also plan to spend some time in the barns with the animals. Last year I took loads of photos of sheep. This year I plan to take my little cassette tape recorder and record the different sheep sounds.

I’ll get to watch the dog herding demonstrations.

I’ll get to pet some Pygora goats.

I’ll get to eat some good pork BBQ.

I’ll get to knit.

I’ll get to spin.

I’ll get to be surrounded by all things fiber. A very good time. Aren’t you excited too?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Creative Ebb and Flow

I’ve been reading about the creative process lately. I just finished a book by Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit. Tharp is a world famous choreographer. I’ve seen many of her works. Some I like, some I don’t.

Same with her book. The first half of the book bored me silly. It seemed like nothing more than a self-congratulatory treatise. As the library due date for this book loomed, I started skimming the second half of the book. And I found some interesting tidbits.

Chapter 9, “Skill” echoed some of my own thoughts on the value of technique. I was struck by her ideas on the relationship of skill to confidence, which can be summed up in this quote, “Without skill, there is no confidence.”

Chapter 10, “Ruts and Grooves” was a good one. Her premise is that you don’t actually know you’re in a groove until you lose it. I don’t buy that. But I do appreciate some advice she has about ruts. Here’s what she suggested:

1.   Identify the concept that isn’t working.
2.   Write down your assumptions about it.
3.   Challenge the assumptions.
4.   Act on the challenge.

It is always a good exercise to try to identify underlying assumptions. When I was forced to do that in an academic setting, I really came to understand my own personal values. And I am often trying to do the same with my fiber arts. Identifying problems and your assumptions can really get you moving.

Tharp’s last sentences of that chapter were, “Exorcise the rut. Exercise the groove.” Funny. Memorable.

I’ve also been reading bits and pieces from Creative Something, a blog about the creative process by Tanner Christensen. I found it by way of Facebook, where I’ve read the occasional essay. A post today, “What You Should Work On Now”, is pertinent; it’s about procrastination and the challenge of choosing what to do. He wrote, “When your path is uncertain, focus on who you are.”

I think who you are has everything to do with your underlying assumptions.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Loom Love

A few years ago I was gifted a sweet Ashford Knitters Loom with a 12” weaving witdth. It was a perfect first rigid heddle loom. I wove several scarves , some wash clothes, some table runners, and even a few mug rugs. When weaving the mug rugs, I broke the back warp stick. The loom sat unusable until June, when I finally got a replacement warp stick. But during the six months that the loom sat idle, I developed the itch to weave wider things. I wanted to make placemats. Maybe even some yardage for sewing garments.

But I also wanted to stay with a rigid heddle loom. Today, I got my wish. I drove up to Cedar and bought an older, used Schacht rigid heddle loom with a 25” weaving width. Oh yeah! It came with three reeds (8-, 10-, 12- dents), a couple of stick shuttles, warping pegs, a threading hook, the book, Hands On Rigid Heddle Weaving by Betty Linn Davenport, a notebook with additional articles about weaving on a rigid heddle loom, AND a trestle floor stand! The previous owner, Kathy K, found this loom to be just a bit too big for the space she has in her house.

Boy oh boy, did I benefit from her dilemma!

I would love to spend the rest of the day getting to know this loom, but it’ll have to wait a couple weeks. I’m right now getting ready for the Michigan Fiber Festival, and I’m trying to finish the current energized scarf to show as a sample for my workshop, Spinning With Commercial Yarns. There are a few spots left in that workshop. Join me!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Facility - Difficulty

Most of the time my knit designs go from mind’s-eye to reality pretty directly. Of course I tweak, I change, I re-design, I re-do. And I am rarely completely satisfied with a finished project. But usually my pieces come out the way I imagined. This ease, this facility, is one of the reasons I’m pretty sure I’m doing the work I should be doing.

But lately, I’ve had more difficulty than facility. I’ve been working on a series of scarves using respun yarns. I take a commercial yarn and add twist to it by “spinning” it on my spinning wheel, then I knit with this respun yarn. The idea is essentially the same as knitting with “energized singles” (Kathryn Alexander’s term). 

Years back I designed a series of six scarves knitted with energized singles (Spin Off, Spring 2006 ). And I’ve intermittently played with energized singles since then. This year, I revisited the idea using respun commercial yarns instead. And I’ve been investigating how different stitch patterns behave with energized yarns.

I knitted my first swatches from leftover singles that I had on a number of bobbins. Some stitch patterns were boring; others created very exciting three-dimensional patterns. Cool, very cool. I was on to something and I was so looking forward to creating a new series of scarves.

I just assumed that what I was getting with handspun energized singles I could also get with respun energized commercial yarns.

Things haven’t gone smoothly. It seems that needle size, weight of yarn, and the amount of twist have huge effects on how the respun commercial yarns knit up. I’ve knitted several unsuccessful scarves. Not matching up with my mind’s eye. And I’m not used to that in my knitting. This struggle, this difficulty, has caused me to slow down. I’ve been puzzled into near immobility.

It hasn't helped that I’ve been in a funk lately. I miss my dog, Toby. I miss her terribly.

Anyway, yesterday I grabbed a sock yarn from my overflowing sock yarn stash and respun it. And I started a scarf. This is a scarf design that I have great faith in. It has just got to work.

And I think it is working! Finally! I’m not at all sure I completely understand why some yarns don’t work and others do, but I’m getting closer. Here’s a pic of the scarf in progress. The background is the same pattern knitted in a respun yarn that didn’t work. See the difference?