Saturday, July 30, 2011

Washing Fleece and Ice Fishing

What do ice fishing and washing fleece have in common?

The punch line: a “Bucket Seat”.

I don’t wash a lot of fleece….maybe one or two whole fleeces a year. Last year, I washed a fleece from “Lizzy”, a Romney/Corriedale/Suffolk X Ile de France sheep.

There are so many successful strategies for washing fleece. I live in the country and have a septic system; I don’t want to dump the lanolin-rich water down the drain, so I use a bucket system. (Then I dump the lanolin-rich water in my compost bin.) My strategy is to use two 5-gallon buckets, a colander, a wooden spoon, lots of hot water, Dawn (usually, but not always), and vinegar. And I do most of this (except heating the water) outside on my back porch.

One common bit of advice for washing fleece is to keep the succeeding buckets of water (pre-soak, wash, rinse, rinse again…) at a similarly hot temperature. When I first started washing fleece in buckets, I struggled with some sort of top to put on the bucket so that the water wouldn’t cool too much. All too often, my make-shift top would get blown off by the wind….even if I used a heavy rock to hold it in place.

Then one day, my friend, Becky McD, offered me the perfect solution: A “Bucket Seat”. This is a cover for a 5-gallon bucket that you can sit on! It’s really meant for fishing, especially ice fishing, but it does the trick for keeping the water hot during fleece washing.

Since then, fleece washing has become a reliable production for me. I highly recommend a bucket seat.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Blast from the Past

Last week an old college chum visited me. We hadn’t seen each other since 1978 when we graduated from the Department of Modern Dance
at the University of Utah. Cynthia is still part of the world of dance and she is now a Full Professor in the Dance Department at Hobart & William Smith Colleges. She was in this neck of the woods because she was delivering her daughter to Interlochen Arts Camp for a 2-week stint in a rock music program.

Cynthia and I had a brief but delightful visit. As a gift, she brought me 8 ounces of lovely fiber from Mapleton Farm in the Fingerlakes region of New York.
Here’s a picture:

The grey is an alpaca (“Hershey”) – Corriedale wool blend. It has a sturdy feel to the fiber that matches the heathered color. The black is an alpaca (“Hester”) – Shetland wool (“Violet”) blend. This roving is rather softer than the grey.

Oh, and the rock is also from Cynthia. Turns out we’re both big fans of interesting rocks. So, I let her take a bucket full of rocks from my gardens (I have loads and loads), and she gave me this lovely specimen from Lake Ontario. (So, now I have rocks from all the Great Lakes except Lake Erie.)

Back to fiber: I got an idea for the future of this fiber pretty quickly. I want to knit a pair of lined mittens – which I could really use!

I think I’ll spin both yarns into similar thickness 2-ply yarns (DK or worsted weight). I will review the nice article by Mavis Adams that was in Spin-Off magazine, Summer 2008 (“Teresa’s Lined Mittens”) for overall mitten architecture. I’ll use the grey for the outside of the mitten which I’ll knit in a slip-stitch pattern. I’ll use the black for the inside and stick with stockinette stitch. I’m not sure yet what to do with the cuff.

I’ll post more about this project as it progresses.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Varsity Blue

Many years ago at the Michigan Fiber Festival, while I was perusing the vendors, I stopped in a booth of mostly Targhee wool. I love Targhee. You just can’t beat its elasticity.

Anyway….In this booth I spied some balls of carded roving. The colorway was an immediate turn-off: longitudinal stripes of black, medium green, and yellow. The wool looked like a moldy bee. Yuck!

So, I turned my back on the roving and looked at the vendor’s handspun yarns. My eyes were promptly drawn to a lovely speckled green yarn. I picked up the skein and said, “This is pretty!”. The vendor then told me that the yarn I was admiring was spun from the roving that had so recently turned my stomach. Wow!

Moral of the story: you can’t judge a handspun yarn by its preceding roving. Or, at least I can’t…..

So, I bought 1 ½ pounds of the moldy bee roving. The vendor put the roving in a large, clear plastic bag. I then walked around the rest of the vendor area for a couple hours. On more than one occasion, a passer-by would stop and “comment” on the roving in my clear plastic bag. I couldn’t help myself; I had to respond that I knew the roving was ugly, but it would spin up into a charming yarn. Really.

And I did indeed spin some lovely yarn from that roving. I named the yarn “Green Granite”.

Fast forward to the present. At the Midwest Weavers Conference last month, I bought another striped roving. This time in 3 colors of blue and a greenish yellow. It didn’t repulse me at the time….Here’s a picture of the roving:

Last week, I started spinning it. The more I looked at the roving, the more it made me think of my highschool colors (blue and yellow), and the colors of the University of Michigan (maize and blue), and the colors of UCLA (blue and gold). I was fearful of spinning a yarn that would look equally athletic. Ack!

I am happy to report the yarn does not need to be titled “Varsity Blue”. The stripes turned in to subtle speckles. Here’s a bobbin of singles:

And here’s the final yarn, which I’m naming “Gone Fishin’”.

I will no longer fear rovings of weird color stripes.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


No, I don’t play golf. However, it is my understanding that the term “mulligan” is used as a “free re-do” of a poor shot – at least during a friendly game of golf.

My re-do involves knitting. In May (blog entry May 21, 2011), I started knitting an afghan from a delicious mohair boucle yarn. I had a good plan. Or, so I thought.

My idea was to incorporate zig-zag lines of eyelets on a garter stitch background. Here’s a rough sketch of my idea:

This is a big, big afghan. It’s 48 inches wide. And I’ve knitted nearly that same number of inches in length. So, I’m closer to the end than to the beginning. I took a couple pictures of my progress earlier today. Here’s one picture:

Nice colors, don’t you think? I do love this yarn, and I love knitting it. But I’ve been so attached to my design idea that I was ignoring what was right in front of my face: the yarn hide the fabulous design. I mean! Can you see it? All I see is garter stitch.

Here’s another picture which is intended to point out the pattern:

Perhaps you can see the eyelets, but not very clearly.

The problem is this. I’m designing the afghan to sell. I’m thinkin’ that no one will want to buy an afghan that looks as if it’s just knitted in plain ol’ garter stitch.

So, I’m taking a “mulligan”. I haven’t been able to bring myself to rip out the afghan yet, but I will. Anyway, July is not the time of year to knit with a giant pile of mohair in your lap.

When I do get around to re-knitting, I may go back to one of my earlier ideas for this yarn (which has, by the way, been a real pleasure to knit): an oversized pullover with a dramatic cowl collar, or maybe a flashy, versatile ruana. Maybe a cross between a ruana and a pullover…..

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Festivals on Parade

Lots of links today. The fiber festival season is well under way. Here are a few in my future:

Fiber Arts Festival at Castle Farms
in Charlevoix, Michigan, July 23-24. This festival has about 50 vendors, live animals, food, and various demonstrations; all at a beautiful venue! No workshops, however, so I’ll be attending as just a visitor/shopper.

Michigan Fiber Festival
in Allegan, Michigan, August 19-21. One of the larger festivals in the midwest, with fiber arts workshops beginning on the Wednesday (Aug 17) before the festival opens to the public. I’m teaching workshops Wednesday through Friday. See the MFF blog for details and pictures of a number of instructors.

Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival
in Jefferson, Wisconsin, September 9-11. This is a robust and growing event that is celebrating its 10th Anniversary this year. There are loads of vendors and everything lamb & sheep under the sun. I’m scheduled to teach all three days, and I really look forward to it!

Northern Michigan Lamb & Wool Festival
in West Branch, Michigan, September 24-25. Small by comparison to MFF and WSWF, this event is well known for its shearing school. This year there will be about 50 vendors. And the weather is often absolutely delightful at the end of September. I do love the Ogemaw county fairgrounds.

NYS Sheep & Wool Festival
in Rhinebeck, New York, October 15-16. One of the largest fiber festivals in the country, “Rhinebeck” (as it is typically called) is a hoppin’ event! This will be my third year teaching there. Workshops start on Thursday, October 13 and go through Sunday, October 16.

Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair
in Fletcher, North Carolina, October 21-23. A new festival for me. I’ll be driving from Michigan to Rhinebeck, then straight to North Carolina. It’ll be my longest fiber road trip yet. If you’ve attended, I’d love to hear your impressions or tips. One really nice thing about my upcoming October travels is that I’ll get to see fall colors here in northern Michigan, then in New York, and then again in North Carolina. Color, here I come!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Insinuating Influence

Most of my teaching travels are to events with either a spinning focus or a knitting focus. On occasion, the focus is on weaving. Such was the case last month at the Midwest Weavers Conference in Hancock, Michigan.

Because the conference, with pre-conference, lasted for a whole week, there was time for me to soak in a bit of weaving inspiration….without even trying! Let me share a few examples.

A number of folks who took my workshops turned out to be quite accomplished weavers. As example, Marcia Kosmerchock took my pre-conference workshop. (Then she taught some weaving workshops on Friday and Saturday.) On the third day of the workshop, she brought in a fabulous example of her collapse-weave work. The fabric had the most amazing texture and surprisingly stretchy drape! And I then saw a pillow of her's that was in the Member’s Exhibit. It had a very cool 3D textural structure to it.

All of the pre-conference workshops were held in the same building. On the second day, we had a chance to visit other workshop classrooms to see what everyone was up to. I got in a quick visit to Cameron Taylor-Brown’s class, “Natural Inspiration. Design Ideas from Nature”. I saw some very interesting strategies for refining ideas from photos of nature by using white cardboard cutouts to frame or re-frame sections of a photo. I came away inspired to play more with color and ideas for seeing texture in new ways.

Later in the week I snuck in to Robin Spady’s class for a look. In her workshop, “Fun, Funky, Fantastic”, participants try all kinds of strategies for insterting embellishments into plain weave. Hey, I thought, I can make plain weave on my Knitter’s Loom. Maybe I can do this too….!

Thursday, there were no workshops. Heather Winslow (who took my Nexus workshop, then taught silk spinning on Friday and knit/crochet edges on Saturday) and I drove to the Chassell Heritage Center to attend a fashion show of women's clothing from many decades, starting with the 1890’s. Prior to the show, we had a chance to examine some fabrics that were on display at the back of the auditorium. Many of the items were made by Finnish weavers. The Upper Peninsula was the destination of many immigrants from Finland and a strong Finnish influence persists today. I was especially intrigued by a plain weft-faced weaving that was a compilation of stripes. The technical execution of the piece was perfect, and I really admired the composition of the stripes. I wish I had a better picture...

And another piece struck me too:

Daryl Lancaster, who had to deal with illness and extreme weather-related travel challenges,
judged the Fashion show on Friday night. I was so pleased to see her give her “judge’s choice” award to my favorite piece in the show, a stupendous jacket, “Spike’s Cuddle Coat”, by Peggy Bowman. You can see a picture of Peggy's jacket on Daryl’s blog.

As it happened, Peggy took my workshop on Saturday, so I had a chance to shower her with praise on her piece.

Also on Saturday, I got a chance to chat briefly with Jane Patrick of Schacht Spindle Co
. Over the past few years, we’d chatted on the phone as part of our committee work for the Spinning & Weaving Association, but I’d never met her in person. It’s so nice to put a face to the voice! Earlier in the week, several folks suggested that I would find her book, The Weaver’s Idea Book: Creative Cloth on a Rigid Heddle Loom to be very helpful in my adventures in weaving with my rigid heddle loom. I’ve got to get that book!

With all the weaving vibes surrounding me for a whole week, I was nearly sucked in to buying another loom! Many of the conference attendees would meet in the evenings in the dorm lounge for some chatting, knitting, and usually some “grape juice” or “lemonade”. One evening, Julie A. (aka, “Chassell Tour”) put up a notice for a rigid heddle loom that she wanted to sell. I was seriously considering it. In the end, I decided not to buy it, and Julie decided to keep it!

Since returning from the conference, I’ve finished one woven scarf and started another inkle band.

Here’s a non-fiber picture that I took on my drive home. I stopped at a road-side rest area somewhere between Chassell and Baraga. This glimpse of Keweenaw Bay is what I saw.

Michigan is beautiful!