Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Broken Bowl, Broken Heart

On Monday night I was watching TV and knitting swatches for a workshop I’m teaching in January .  My sweet-and-arthritic dog, Toby, jumped up onto the sofa to join me, and in the process she knocked my knitting bowl off the sofa and onto the wood floor.  The bowl broke.

This is not just any bowl.  At least to me.  It was the very first thing I ever bought at an art fair, in the 1970’s while I was a modern dance student in Salt Lake City.  I was a very poor college student, so parting with money for something other than food or clothing or books or dancewear was not easy.

But, I was smitten by the bowl from the first.  I like to be slightly mystified by art, and the glaze on the bowl mystified me.  Were they butterflies?  Angels?  Folded up coats?  Were they connected with a ribbon?  Or a river?  Or the wind?  I loved the colors:  muted, mostly grey, with blues and greens.  Dreamy.

It was a shallow bowl, about 10 inches in diameter and only 4 or 5 inches deep.  Since I bought that bowl, I have moved more than twenty times.  And that bowl has always gone with me.

For many years, I simply admired the bowl.  I hardly ever put anything in it, until I started knitting.  Then I found this bowl to be a perfect knitting accessory.  My yarn would tumble nicely in the bowl, undoing any inadvertent twist I may have added to the yarn while knitting.  And:  I could look at and admire the beauty of the bowl.

Now, I’ve showed this bowl to many people over the years.  And no one has thought it as delightful as I.  This used to disappoint me, but then I came to treasure the bowl even more because I was the only one who thought it was exceptionally beautiful.  My feelings about this bowl were definitely more about me than about the bowl.  And I came to value that.

So, when I watched the bowl fall in slow motion toward the floor, I didn’t think it would break.  After all, the bowl has been with me and remained unscathed for over 30 years.  When it broke, I was stupefied.  I was so shocked that I couldn’t move.  My roommate took pity and swept up the debris.  She suggested I try gluing it back together.

I went to bed, supremely depressed and not a little bit ashamed of myself for having such strong feelings for a thing.  It’s just a bowl.

I did buy super glue yesterday.  Perhaps later today I’ll put the pieces back together.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Socks Undone and Done

For my travel knitting, I took socks to SOAR.  I decided to try one of the patterns from Ann Budd’s book, Sock Knitting Master Class.  It has been quite awhile since I knitted something from someone else’s pattern.  But I thought it’d be a nice task for travelling.  My goal was to stick to the instructions as written and avoid imposing my own opinions upon them.

I chose the pattern, “Slip-n-Slide”, by Chrissy Gardiner.  I do like slip stitches so this pattern spoke to me.  The yarn used in the pattern was indicated to be fingering weight (#1 super fine), with 450 yards per 100 grams.  The gauge specified was 16 sts per 2 inches.

Ann chronicled her own experiences with all the patterns in this book in her blog.  You can find some of her comments on this particular sock in her blog entry, February 19, 2012.  

I selected from my stash some yarn that had been a birthday gift from my friend, Sylvia VM:  Lorna’s Laces, “Shepherd Sock” (80% superwash wool, 20% nylon), in a mix of berry pink and medium-light blue (color 501 argyle, dye lot 6662).  I thought the colorway would be especially effective for the slip stitch patterns highlighted in the sock.  approximately 215 yards per skein, suggesting a gauge of 7 sts per inch (also #1 super fine).  I figured I could get gauge with this yarn.

In fact, on US size 1 needles (2.25 mm), I got ever so slightly more than 8 sts per inch.  So, I figured this yarn would work for this pattern.

I confidently headed off on my trip with yarn, pattern, and needles.  I happily knitted the leg of the sock, then started the heel flap.  I was concerned with a minor error in the heel flap instructions.  How handy was it that Ann Budd happened to be at SOAR too, so I could ask her about the sock!  I did modify the heel flap to suit my “urge”.  And I’m happy I did.  After I knitted the heel turn, I tried on the sock.  Or, I tried to try on the sock.  No way was it ever going to fit me.  Just too small.  Honestly, I didn’t think I was off that much in gauge.

Three possible solutions that I could think of:  1) adjust the pattern by adding stitches,  2) knit at a looser gauge, or 3) knit the pattern with a different, thicker yarn.

I did not want to knit at a looser gauge; it has been my experience that socks tend not to last very long if they are flimsy.

I thought about adding more stitches.  In fact, that is exactly what Ann Budd had done when she knit the socks.  But for what ever reason I was disinclined to this solution.

I opted for solution #3:  using a thicker yarn.  I knew I would be able to find an appropriate yarn in my stash at home, but I did not have such yarn with me.  Thus the socks remained undone at SOAR.  Instead, I worked on a sock of my own design (see my previous blog entry  for that sock).

When I got home, I rummaged through my stash and found just what I was looking for.  A yarn that was also a gift from my friend Sylvia VM.  And, interestingly enough, in a similar but darker colorway!  It was a yarn that called out to be knitted into slip stitch patterns.

I regret that I do not have the tag for this yarn.  Sylvia had already wound it into a ball and its tag was long gone.  I am confident that the yarn is wool.  Superwash perhaps.  Perhaps not.

I got a gauge of 7 sts per inch on US size 2 needles.  Not the gauge called for in the pattern, but I liked the firmness of the fabric and thought it would be better for the sock to be a bit too big than too small.

Success!  Now the socks are done.  Here is a picture of the socks, with a bit of the yarn I used, and a ball of the yarn I didn’t use.

The socks were fun to knit.  The stitch patterns were easy to memorize and perform, yet interesting enough to entertain me.  I mostly followed the directions as put forth in the pattern.  But I did make a few very minor changes:

1.  I modified the toe to be longer and more graduated of a wedge shape.
2.  I used a cable needle to perform the twisted slip stitches (as opposed to just letting the live stitches hang free), and I worked until 18 sts remained, instead of 14.
3.  On the heel flap, I worked even rows starting with “Sl 1 wyf” instead of the suggested “Sl 1 wyb”.

I’m happy to report that the socks fit!  All in all, a nice sock experience.  I can’t seem to stop knitting socks right now; I’ve got another pair on the needles….

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Socks Ahead of Schedule

On May 16th,  I blogged about a trip I took to Minnesota.  My friend Judy McL and I had a wonderful series of fiber adventures, including a trip to her local yarn shop, YarnHarbor.

Judy and I both bought the same yarn, a sock yarn in Christmas-y colors of green, red, and white.  And we agreed that we’d only buy the yarn if we promised to knit up the yarn into socks by Christmas.

Well!  I’m actually ahead of schedule!  The yarn in question is a Swedish yarn, J√§rbo Garn, “mini raggi”, in color way 68104 (and lot 43066).  Approximately 100 grams, and 420 meters.  That was plenty of yarn for a pair of socks.

I took the yarn with me to SOAR  in October as backup travel knitting.  I’d started a pair of socks from some other yarn, but the yarn  wasn’t working out with the pattern (more about this in a future blog post).  So, on my last day at SOAR, I started swatching my “mini raggi”.  Ideas for cables and seed stitch came to me.  I incorporated both into the sock design.  I placed a horse shoe cable down the back of the leg, and two cables that are half seed stitch and half stockinette stitch along the front of the leg with a section of seed stitch in between the cables.  When I got to the foot, I started to narrow the band of seed stitch so that the cables got closer together.  When I got near the toe, I stopped the cables, and continued the remaining seed stitch to the tip of the toe.

Here’s a side view picture (in yesterday's pale sunlight with snow as a backdrop).  You can’t see the horse shoe cable very well.  I’ll need to have someone model these socks for a better picture of front and back.

I rather like the result.  These socks have an alligator vibe to them.  A Christmas alligator?  I plan to knit this pattern again in a different yarn, then write up the pattern for publication.  What do you think?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

SOAR Report 3: Giving

Despite having no money to spend in the vendor hall at SOAR, I did return home with many new items.  All gifts.  All from gracious and generous folks.

Upon arriving, we all got “welcome bags” which included samples of fibers, coupons, and so forth.  And a beautiful bag handwoven from alpaca fiber from Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco.   Lovely!

Many attendees used their bag throughout the week.  I would have if I hadn’t just gotten a beautiful new bag from my friend Becky McD.  I’d asked her to sew me a bag using some Dalmatian fabric (see an earlier blog post  about the fabrics involved).  She finished the bag the day before I left for SOAR.  I was so very pleased with the result, and I was very pleased to debut it at SOAR.

Another Interweave gift was this terrific mug.  I’ve had many a cup of tea from it since.  I do like its shape and size.

A number of the participants in my workshops surprised me with gifts.  MarySue French  quickly picked up a few bits of information about me and incorporated them into a sweet little Christmas tree ornament.  On day 1 of my Spin-Knit Nexus workshop, we spent some time spinning wool from two of my favorite sheep:  Lucy and Lonnie.  We also spent time talking about slip stitches in knitting, one of my central knitting passions.  And, of course, I managed to make it known that I adore my dog, Toby, a Dalmatian.  The following day, MarySue gave me this ornament in the shape of a bag, spun from Lucy and Lonnie, with a cabled, Dalmatian-y strap, and showing a bit of the woven stitch (one of my favorite slip stitches) at its base.  She got my number alright!

Deb Behm  sat to my left during that workshop.  At the end of the 3rd day, she shared with me a booklet that she’d written.  In it she presents her thoughts on the use of spinning as meditation.  It is an intriguing treatise on what is and what isn’t meditation.  I share many of her notions of mindfulness, practice, and focus with regard to spinning.  It has been a delight to read, as is her blog.

One of the exercises that I have participants do for the Spin-Knit Nexus workshop is to try to spin a yarn that will match one that already exists.  Part of the idea is to examine the effects of spinning-then-dyeing versus dyeing-then-spinning.  One of the participants then knitted a wine bottle cozy from these “before and after” yarns.  I think it was Nancy, but I’m not sure…..I wish I were better with names!

Terri Guerette took the Mechanics of Your Wheel workshop on the last day of SOAR.  She gave me some beaded stitch markers that she’d made.  I think I will use them as embellishments on a hat.

On SOAR’s last evening, Jane Wadsworth, who had been in the Spin-Knit Nexus workshop, and her husband treated me to wine before dinner and excellent conversation during dinner.  It was a perfect way to relax at the end of six days of teaching.

Then, my roommate, Joan Ruane  gave me a copy of her DVD, “Cotton Spinning Made Easy”.  This may be just the inspiration I need to attack the several pounds of cotton that are “maturing” in my fiber stash.

All these gifts tell me that I am one lucky so-and-so.  Fiber people share.  Fiber people give.  Fiber people are good people.  I am truly thankful to all for the things and stories and ideas that folks shared with me at SOAR.  Really.  Thank you!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

SOAR Report 2: People

The people make the event.  Spin-Off Autumn Retreat  draws folks from many walks of life.  All have a love of fiber and spinning.  This was only the second time I’ve attended SOAR – and the first time as a “mentor” – so I was a bit on the reserved side when I first arrived.  But it didn’t take long to warm up to all the warm people.

I met so many fantastic people in the workshops that I taught.  Many were from the western parts of the country.  All were cheerful, engaged, open, enthusiastic, and interactive.  I couldn’t have had a nicer teaching experience.  (In addition to the fabulous workshop participants, I was in a terrific teaching space, the Aspen Room:  excellent light, plenty of room, windows, nearby bathroom and kitchen.  I felt like a queen.)  At the end of my 3-day workshop, I did get an earful from a few wonderful participants who chastised me for under-pricing my handspun yarns.  Lesson learned!

One of the very nicest things about SOAR is the opportunity to have meals with other attendees.  I got to have extended chats with some very interesting folks.  We talked about the weather, the World Series (as a Detroit Tigers fan, I had to take a lot of guff from a few very enthusiastic Giants fans), living out west, evidence-based practice in medicine, publishing, internet retail sales, socks, tablet weaving, Japanese quilting, felted lace, the creative process, dyeing strategies, raising chickens, the cost of hay, apple cider, dogs, and more.

By the way, the food was marvelous at each and every meal.  I will reminisce often of the Eggs Benedict, the salmon, the scallops, steak, roast duck, fresh tomato soup, sweet sweet sweet pineapple, chocolate mousse, tiramisu, and the cash bar!

It was especially nice to get to know a few of the other mentors a bit better.  My roommate was Joan Ruane.  She lives in Bisbee, Arizona, and she specializes in spinning cotton.  She gave me some pretty good advice about how to “revive” some older cotton that I have in my spinning stash (by putting it in a steamer for a bit).

I had a couple of very interesting conversations with Michael Cook.  He was teaching workshops on reeled silk.  And he knows his stuff!  He lives in Dallas, Texas, and had some fun stories to tell of his life there, including some wonderful chicken stories.  I now have a strong urge to try reeling silk.  It is so beautifully shiny!

Kate Larson  taught in the classroom across the hall from mine.  She’s from Indiana and she raises Border Leicester sheep.  It turns out that we’ve taught at other events at the same time, but this was the first time we’d actually met.  She’s a delight!

I had a couple of sock chats with Ann Budd.  She’s the editor of Sock Knitting Master Class.  As my travel knitting, I’d chosen a pattern from that book, “Slip-n-Slide”.  And I had a question about some of the instructions.  I mentioned this to Anne Merrow (editor of Sockupied), she passed on my concerns to Ann.  The following morning, Ann stopped by my breakfast table to, as she put it, “take the bull by the horns.”  Essentially she suggested that I follow my instinct.  I did.  Ann, by the way, has a wonderfully dry sense of humor.

I had a few conversations with Diane Gonthier.  She’s from Montreal, and she is a felt artist.  She’s recently started felting with yarns to make lacey looking art.  Amazing stuff!

If only SOAR lasted for two weeks!  Then I would have had the chance to chat with even more people.

This event went so swimmingly in large part due to the staff from Interweave Press:  Amy Clarke Moore, Liz Good, Anne Merrow, and Maggie Reinholtz.  They were fantastic to work with, so very helpful and gracious.

Gracious, too, were the staff members of the Granlibakken Resort, from the front desk, to shuttle service, to food service, room service.  It was all good.

Yes.  People make the event.  And what an event!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

SOAR Report 1: Trees, Snow, and Fire

Before I left Lake Ann on October 20th to head to Tahoe City, California for SOAR , there were leaves on the trees.  The maple trees were just past their peak, and the oaks and aspen were nearing theirs.  It was a beautifully colorful autumn.

I arrived at GranlibakkenResort  on a gorgeous day.  The aspens were at their peak there, too.  And I saw Ponderosa Pines for the first time.  Their pine cones are enormous; they looked so perfect I wondered if they were fake.  I was later told that Ponderosa pines are special in that they smell like butterscotch (some say vanilla).  I wanted to sniff a tree to find out, but had this nagging thought that someone would take a picture of me smelling a tree.  That might be weird….

I also saw Sequoia trees for the first time.  My!  But they’re tall!  Here’s one picture of the top of a Sequoia:

Here’s a picture of Sunday sunrise at SOAR.  The sky was lovely.

The following day, it snowed.  And the next day.  And the next.  I heard a report of over 20 inches total.  I loved it.  Here are two snow pictures:

The snow may have made walking a bit more of a challenge, but it certainly was a positive addition to the ambience.

Most of the snow was long gone by the time SOAR was over and all the wonderful fiber folks headed home.  The day after I returned home I heard the news that Judith Mackenzie’s studio had burned down while she was teaching at SOAR.  She lives in the Pacific Northwest, and her studio is in Forks, WA.  Some other buildings were also destroyed, but no one was hurt.

It is impossible to appreciate the full extent of the lose that Judith has suffered:  notes, equipment, fiber, yarn, books, finished items.  What a heartbreak it must be!  As you might imagine, many fiber folks are jumping right in to help her.  Please take a look at the website, Rebuild Judiths Studio, to see how you can help.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Hurricane Sandy is currently covering most of the U.S. east of the Mississippi river.  We here in northwest lower Michigan are not immune.  We have rather strong winds today.  And, weirdly, it’s been raining and snowing at the very same time.  I’ve never seen that before.  I’ve seen plenty of sleet, freezing rain, hail, wet snow, dry snow, and so forth, but never distinct snowflakes and raindrops simultaneously.

And like the weather, my life is a whirlwind too.  I got home late Sunday night from a most fabulous experience at Spin-Off Autumn Retreat.  I want to make a full report, but I cannot today…because…I’m headed off tomorrow morning for Livonia, Michigan.

I’ll be teaching two days of workshops for the Michigan Handspinners Guild.  My friend, Dianne Little, helped organize these workshops.  She lives in Livonia, but she often visits up north and attends the spinning group meetings here in Benzie county.  I will be staying at her house.  She has a significant number of spinning wheels and I look forward to seeing her collection.

On Thursday I’ll be teaching “Creating the Yarn You Want”.  It’s a workshop about controlling the thickness and twist of yarns as well as learning practical strategies for matching the thickness and twist of already existing yarns.

On Friday I’ll be teaching “Blending Colors at the Wheel”, where we cover a variety of strategies for mixing rovings and tops to create unique yarns without the use of cards or combs.  My hope is that participants will look at their fiber stashs with fresh eyes.

When I return from this trip I’ll do a Tell-All about SOAR and MHG.  For now, it’s packing time.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Makin' a List...

...And checkin’ it twice.

I leave for SOAR on Saturday.  Am I ready?  Nearly.

A few weeks ago, when I was at my most anxious about being ready, I made a list of things to do in preparation for SOAR.  I am pleased to announce I’ve checked off all but two items.  Those two items:  1) buy a pair of black travel pants, and 2) practice packing my wheel in my new suitcase.

Today is dedicated to packing.  Tomorrow I go into town to hunt for pants.

Other items already checked off:  Finish dyeing yarn and fiber.  Done.  Buy airline ticket.  Done.  Buy suitcase.  Done.  Gather materials, tools, samples.  Done.  Ship materials.  Done.

And, get hair dyed.  Done!  By Sharron May, hair stylist extraordinaire, and proprietor of Beyond Salon Holistic Lifestyles

Alright, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

And, Besides, It's Purple!

The next few weeks are going to be filled with preparations for SOAR.  Spin-Off Autumn Retreat is the premier annual spinning event in the USA.  It is sponsored by Interweave Press, and this year is held in Tahoe City, California, October 21-27.

I’ll have 80 workshop participants in my 6 days of workshops.  That’s a lot.  I’ve got to make sure I have sufficient supplies and all the needed equipment, including a spinning wheel!  Earlier this year, I decided to get a Lendrum folding wheel for traveling.  I’ve spent a good amount of time spinning on this wheel, and I do love how it works.  It’s a fine wheel and does all the things I want it to do.

But it’s big.  Folded up, it’s 29 inches long, 19 inches wide, and 7 inches deep.  When I flew to South Dakota last month for the North Country Fiber Fair, I shipped this wheel in its original box, which worked just fine, but that cardboard box isn’t going to last forever.

I needed a suitcase.  A hardshell suitcase.  One that is big enough for my wheel.  Over the past few months, I have come to realize that the size of the Lendrum is a bit of a limiting factor.  I had friends who were confident they had an old suitcase that would be big enough.  Regrettably, no.

I had to resort to actually shopping for a new suitcase.  Perhaps you can tell that I’m not an enthusiastic shopper (unless of course the shopping is for fiber stuff).  I had to build up the courage to go from place to place.

First stop, Goodwill.  No hardshell suitcases at all.  Then, to TJMaxx:  Some hardshell suitcases, but the biggest ones were ever so slightly too small for the wheel.  Macy’s led to success.  They had a wide array of hardshell suitcases, but only one brand was large enough for the wheel.  The case was available in three colors:  silver, blue, and purple.  Of course I chose purple.

Now I need to practice packing my wheel for best, safest effect.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Is It January Yet?

A few years back, I had the very good luck to teach some spinning workshops at Fiber Whims, a fiber shop in Chassell, Michigan.  That’s just south of Houghton, in the Keweenaw Peninsula of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  I was especially lucky because the workshops were in January!  I was so excited to go to a place that averages 250 inches of snow per year.  January in the UP.  January in the Keweenaw.  Ahhhhh…..

It was a great trip.  And since that trip I’ve longed to revisit the UP in winter.  This coming January, I get my chance!  I’ve been asked to teach two days of workshops for the Country Spinners and Bridge Shuttlers, a fiber guild in Sault Ste. Marie.  I’ll be teaching “Spinning With Commercial Yarns” on Saturday, January 12, 2013, and “Shaping With Stitch Patterns” on Sunday, January 13, 2013.

Lois Robbins is the person to contact.  906-632-3689,

Lois asked me to create a new knitting workshop for this visit.  What I came up with, “Shaping With Stitch Patterns”, really evolved out of one of my most recent new spinning workshops, “Spinning Super Stretchy Wools”.  I taught that workshop a few weeks ago at the Wisconsin Sheep &Wool Festival.  To prepare for that workshop, I had knitted up a number of swatches that I thought would make the most of highly elastic yarns.

When I swatch, ideas come to me.  Thus the idea of exploring how different stitch patterns behave.  Here’s the description I’ve written for the workshop:

Many knitted pieces, such as a sweater, require shaping.  Most often, that shaping is accomplished by increasing and decreasing the number of stitches you are using.  In this workshop, we will cover how to shape the structure of a knitted piece by selecting the right stitch patterns.  We will cover stitch patterns that shape by pulling in, pulling up, biasing, curling, pleating, twisting, and more.  In the process, we will explore the importance of both stitch gauge and row gauge to understanding how these stitches work their shaping magic.  We’ll also cover issues and techniques of blocking your knitting, and how yarn selection can influence shaping.

So, I’m headed to “The Soo” in January.  Wanna join me?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dog Tending Apples

It feels like fall.  There was frost on the ground this morning.  After walking Toby at Ransom Lake Natural Area, I made some applesauce.  A very Michigan morning.  I’d purchased a ½ peck of Cortland apples and a ½ peck of Jonagold apples from Marvin’s Garden Spot.  They've combined to make a delightful sauce.

I saved a few apples from the sauce for eating later.  I decided to put the apples in a bowl I bought at the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival earlier this month.

You may recognize the bowl as a piece by Jennie the Potter.  She does great work.  In the past, I’ve purchased charming earrings from her, as well as a delightful coffee mug.  This year I really treated myself with this bowl.

It’s nice when my love of fiber intersects with my love of Michigan.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Temporary Trauma

In 2004, I left my academic job to become a fiber artist.  I have had very few regrets.  I believe I’m now doing the work I’m best at:  teaching spinning and knitting, creating handspun yarns, knit designing, and writing about my fiber adventures.

Earlier in my life, I had trained as a dancer.  And I still fundamentally value dance art, and all the performing arts.

Then I trained as a scientist and taught and did research in an academic setting.  And I still fundamentally value science, evidence, and clinical support for health and wellness.

But, now, yarn is my medium of expression and creativity.  And I truly and fundamentally value this work.

I say all this as preface to a short period of anxiety I experienced last week about my current career path:  When I got back from my trip to South Dakota, there was an email from Del, the festival coordinator for the Michigan Fiber Festival.  He was sending me the evaluations he’d received from folks who’d taken my workshops at MFF.  Here’s the text of that email:


here is numberical data from MFF Workshop evals with 5 being excellent

Begin Spin

Petoskey Stone...
2/4       4/5

Mechanics Wheel

Spinning w locks


I need to say that I read this email late at night upon just having returned from being away from home for a week.  I was tired.  When I read his email, I was mortified, shaken to the core.  I interpreted his email to mean that I’d received abysmally low scores of mostly 1s and 2s.  How could this be?!!  Many of the folks who’d spoken to me directly had said very nice things.  What did I do wrong?

I lost sleep that night, worrying that perhaps I was not really meant to be working in the fiber arts and sharing through teaching.  The following morning, I emailed Del:

Hi Del,

The extremely low scores are a surprise to me.  I got a great deal of positive feedback from the participants of my workshops.  Were there any written explanations for the low scores?

To which Del very quickly sent this response:

Scores not low ....

1/5 means you got one check of the 5 (excellent block) for that workshop... 

note that you had nothing below a 4 on the scale of 5 with 5 being exc.

now go have a good day


What a relief!  The trauma was over.  All was once again right with the world.  And I did have a good day.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

That's My Brother!

Finally.  I think I’m mostly recovered and caught up after my trip to South Dakota.  It was a great trip; I had a great time.

My flight to Sioux Falls went without a hitch.  I flew out on Thursday.  The weather was perfect, flights were on time, no luggage was lost, Marty Davidsohn was there to greet me.  Marty was the coordinator for the workshops at  North Country Fiber Fair and she took really good care of me over the next few days.  Thank You Marty!

We stayed at Marty’s house on Thursday night, after a delightful dinner at a local Chinese restaurant.  On Friday morning, Marty drove us up to Watertown, where the Festival was held at a local state extension service.  The building we were in was quite large.  There was one very large space for vendors.  Another equally large space which contained a kitchen, eating area, registration desk, some more vendors, and what is referred to as “the spinning circle”.  Another section of the building was dedicated to workshops.  I was given an honest-to-god classroom for my workshops:  real walls, a door, lots of space, good lighting, an airconditioner, plenty of nice tables and good chairs.  I was in fiber teaching heaven!

And I thoroughly enjoyed all the workshop participants.  On Friday afternoon and evening, I taught “Blending Colors at the Wheel”.  At the beginning of the workshop, I introduced myself, saying where I lived and so forth, then I asked participants to introduce themselves.  One of the last folks to do so was a woman named Cheryl.  She first mentioned where she now lives in South Dakota.  Then she said she grew up in Midland, Michigan.  That’s my home town!  “Cool!”  Then she said she had gone to school with a boy named Bogey Tyler and she wondered if I was related.  “That’s my brother!!”  Turns out she lived about a block from where I grew up.  We attended the same elementary school, the same junior high, and the same highschool.  We did a quick series of common reminiscences, and we later caught up some more.  How absolutely delightful.

One more thing about that:  After I said, “That’s my brother”, Cheryl replied that she was wondering if he was my father.  I do look young, dontchaknow!

Things at the festival really got hopping on Saturday.  One of the interesting events is a fundraiser called “the fiber sandwich”.  Anyone can donate about 4 ounces of fiber.  Then volunteers layer all the donated fibers, like a sandwich.  Then the sandwich is cut up (so to speak) into 4 ounce chunks.  Volunteer spinners then spin their chunk of fiber.  The resulting yarns are auctioned off to raise funds for the festival.  Here’s a picture of the fiber sandwich being built:

I mentioned earlier a “spinning circle”.  When festival goers are not shopping or in workshops they gather in a large circle to spin or weave or knit or whatever.  The circle is always in flux, changing shape.  And these folks can be found gathered and fibering late into the night.  Here is a partial view of the spinning circle:

I was delighted to see a number of sheep skins and beautifully hand made items covering chairs.  One hand knitted piece really struck me.  It’s constructed of squares that are knitted from the center out, starting as a circle, then ending as a square by means of short rows.  Clever!  Here it is:

Another fundraiser that the festival has is a spinning wheel raffle.  This year, the wheel was a SchachtLadybug.  Nice wheel.  I wanted it.  I bought one raffle ticket ($5).  I did not win.  You can imagine my disappointment.  Here’s the wheel:

My shopping was selective because I was travelling by air and I didn’t want to pack too much.  The spinning fibers I purchased included camel down, dyed bombyx silk top, and some ColumbiaXRambouillet roving.

I made one impulse buy.  One of the workshops was taught by Tracy Kellen on rug hooking.  She had the nicest rug hooking frames available for her students, and available for purchase.  They were so well designed and built that I had to buy one.

Now, I am not currently a rug hooker, but over the past several years, I have purchased a few books on rug hooking as well as a hook.  I have had every intention of hooking with my handspun yarns.  Well.  I guess I’d better get started!  Her business is called “On the Prairie” and she has an etsy presence.  

Sunday was the last day of the festival.  Before driving back to Sioux Falls, a small group met for dinner at a really good Mexican restaurant.  Yum.

Normally, I would have flown home the following day.  But the Sioux Falls airport is under construction and was closed for departures that Monday.  So I stayed with Marty.  We took my packages to the post office to send home.  We ate out for lunch and dinner.  She took me to a swell gallery that specializes in Turkish rugs:  Rug& Relic.  The owner gave us a thorough tour.  A great afternoon.

So, on Tuesday, Marty first took me to the local yarn shop, Athena Fibers, where I was smitten with a number of Habu  yarns.  I bought 3 cones.  I crammed the yarn into my already stuffed suitcase and we headed to the airport.  Marty dropped me off.  Another day of lovely weather.  All seemed so good….

But my flight was cancelled because a bird had collided with the jet and damaged a jet engine.  The soonest available flight back home was the next day.  Marty came to the rescue and graciously let me stay one more night at her house.

Wednesday’s flight home went without a hitch.  I touched down in Traverse City near sunset.  It was raining in the distance, and the sun was shining, and I was greeted with a double rainbow.  The perfect ending to a delightful time at the North Country Fiber Fair.  I want to go back!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

WSWF Was Memorable

I returned home very late Monday night from Wisconsin.  It was a terrific trip.  The Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival is always a terrific trip.  I am especially impressed by the very good organization of this event; they are so kind to the workshop instructors, taking care of many of the details so we don’t have to.  So I offer a gigantic “Thank You” to all the volunteers at WSWF.

This festival is one of the very best places for buying high quality fibers.  This year I came home with exceptional Coopworth wool from Hidden Valley Farm & Woolen Mill, and equally fabulous Bluefaced Leicester wool from Red Oak Farm.  They don't have a website; their email address is  They share a booth with Riverwinds Farm, my go-to source for Cormo wool.

My workshops were all tremendous fun.  This was the first time I taught “Spinning Super Stretchy Wools”, and I hope to do this workshop more in the future.  Right now I am totally crazy for highly elastic wools.

Food highlights for me came from one booth whose name I cannot recall:  I had a refreshing shaved ice with lemon and raspberry syrup on Saturday, and an awesome iced mocha with loads of whipped cream on Sunday.  Yum!

I did take my camera, but was way too busy to take pictures until after the Festival was over.  On Sunday night, I stayed at the home of Carol and Paul Wagner, owners of Hidden Valley Farm & Woolen Mill.  They took me out on Monday morning to see “the girls” (the ewes).  Here’s one picture:

As I was departing the Wagners, Carol gave me a bag of fresh picked tomatoes and bell peppers.  And a couple bags of roving that she said she’d probably never get around to spinning.  One bag contained some roving from a sheep that was a cross of Jacob and Scottish Blackface.  Lovely dark wool!

And the other bag was of some Corriedale roving dyed with natural dyes by Stefania Isaacson, from Handspun by Stefania.  Always a treat to spin (or use in my classes)!

It was only a short drive from their house to Manitowoc to board the SS Badger.  The ferry ride was great as always.  Here is a series of pictures of Manitowoc disappearing over the first 30 minutes or so of the 4-hour voyage:

I had planned to take another series of pictures at the end of the trip of Ludington appearing, but I was too caught up in my knitting to do so.  I was working on a new mitten design that uses a very cool slip stitch pattern that looks like seed stitch.  Here’s what I got done:

I’m expecting to finish this mitten and it’s partner by the time I return from North Country FiberFair.  I fly out for that event tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Lo-gis-tics … the managing of the details of an undertaking. (Webster’s New World College Dictionary)

I’m working on getting supplies, samples, and equipment together for two fiber festivals:  Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival, and North CountryFiber Fair.  Because I’ll have very little time between the two events, and because I’m traveling by air to the second event, I need to be pretty much ready for both events before I leave for the first.

I’ve been reviewing and editing my handouts, and making sure that I have the right fibers for each of 7 different workshops.  My preparatory work is nearly done.  Here is what I’ve got packed for Wisconsin:

Yes, I’m taking 2 wheels.  But I’ll be in my car, so no problem.

The trip to South Dakota requires a bit more finagling.  And I’m not done.  I’m trying my best to ship everything in a cost effective and secure way.  Here are some pictures of the collecting and packing in progress:

This’ll be the first time I’ll be shipping my relatively new Lendrum folding wheel for a teaching gig.  I’ve got its original shipping box, which seems sturdy enough.

I still have to get all the handouts ready.  I’ve got them copied.  Up to now, I’ve put handouts in thin, poly notebooks.  They’ve worked reasonably well.  I do like letting workshop participants keep notes and samples together in one place.  But these notebooks are not rigid, so they slip and slide on a bookshelf.  In addition, the price of these notebooks, and the pockets I put in them, has gone up considerably.   I’ve been trying to figure out a better solution, but one that still allows for notes and samples to be kept together, and one that maintains reasonable materials costs.

This time, for the first time, I’m going to use expanding folders that can be closed with an elastic cord.   They’re made from paper (partly recycled paper, and recyclable), and I think the price is reasonable.  Let’s see what kind of feedback I get at the next two festivals.

For now, it’s back to “the managing of the details of an undertaking”.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

September Festivals: Wisconsin & South Dakota

I hit the road again next week.  First up is the WisconsinSheep & Wool Festival  in Jefferson, Wisconsin, September 7-9.  I always look forward to this event.  I’ll be teaching all three days.  That’s good – I like teaching, I really do!  And it’s bad – I can’t take advantage of all the cool activities that are part of this festival.  I wish I could watch the fleece judging.  I wish I could watch the crook & whistle stock dog trials.  I wish I could take Letty Klein’s rug braiding workshop or Kathy Krause’s class on llama & alpaca fiber preparation.  I really wish I could watch the “Cooking With the Chefs” event on Sunday afternoon; the Festival magazine lists Indian Spiced Lamb Ragout and Handmade Ravioli with Sheep Cheese as on the menu.  My mouth is watering….

I’ll be teaching Spinning with Locks (this class is full), Spinning Super Stretchy Wools, Plying Balanced Yarns, and Plying for Texture.  So much spinning fun, I can hardly stand it!

The following weekend, I’m flying to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  I’ll be teaching at the North Country FiberFair  which is held in Watertown, SD, September 14-16.  This is a new event for me, but NCFF is celebrating its 20th year.  I’ll be teaching all three days, but I do hope to find some time to see the other activities associated with the Fair.  I certainly will be able to go to the banquet and fashion show on Saturday night.

My workshops there include Blending Colors at the Wheel, Spinning with Locks (full here too!), Variations on Long Draw, and Diversity of Wool.  I expect this trip to be quite wonderful.

With these two events essentially back-to-back, I’ve got a lot of preparation to do.  Let me get on with that!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sweet Stories from Michigan Fiber Festival

This year’s Michigan FiberFestival was especially nice, in part due to the fantastic weather.  I did not melt as I usually do.  I even got to wear jeans one day!  I’d like to share three very short stories with you.

Vignette #1:  It was delightful to see many familiar faces in the workshops I taught.  It’s nice to know that folks want to take more than one workshop from me.  I think it’s the best evidence that I’m doing the work I’m supposed to be doing.

And it’s also delightful to see a knitted up version of one of my patterns.  Emily J. had taken workshops from me before.  This year, she was in my Beginning Spinning at the Wheel workshop.  And, this year, she had a finished “Dream Shawl” to show me.  It looked marvelous in a lovely red.  Makes me want to knit another version of the shawl.  Here’s Emily and her red dream:

Vignette #2:  I’d met Cadice W. a number of years ago at the Fiber Event in Greencastle, Indiana.  It was nice to see her in my Spinning with Locks workshop.  She “blamed” me for encouraging her to get some Finn sheep.  I do love the silky feel of Finn wool!

As a gift, she gave me nearly a pound of raw fleece from her Finn sheep, “Gabe”.  I haven’t spun Finn in quite awhile, and I am so looking forward to the experience again.  Here’s the bag of fleece:

As another gift, Emily gave me a charming bar of goat milk soap in the shape of a sheep.  It’s almost too charming to use.  But I’ll use it anyway!  Here it is:

Vignette #3:  At the end of teaching on Friday, I packed up my stuff and prepared to move some of it to the space where I would be teaching on Saturday morning.  Ann Niemi of Kessenich Loom Company  had been teaching a 2-day weaving class in the space that would be mine on Saturday.  As she was packing up her equipment, I asked if she’d mind if I put my stuff along the wall and out of her way.  “No problem!” she replied.

The next morning, Saturday, my fourth and final day of teaching at MFF, I showed up in my assigned space to start setting up for my Slip Stitch Knitting workshop.  The coffee was only beginning to kick in.  It took me a few minutes to realize that all the stuff I’d left in the space the evening before – workshop notebooks, swatches, samples, tools, and books – were not there!

This had never happened before.  I’ve stored supplies in workshop spaces at many a festival and nothing had ever disappeared.  No panic yet.  I went to the Festival office to see if my things had been moved there for overnight.  No, my things were not there.  Del, the festival coordinator, got rather more anxious than I.  Then it occurred to me that perhaps Ann had packed it away with her weaving things.  Del quickly found a brochure for the Kenssenich Loom Company in their vendor booth.  I called.  It was about 8:30am by this time and my workshop was scheduled to start at 9:00am.  Bruce Niemi answered the phone and said Ann was in the shower.  Could she call me back?  Yes, please!  A few minutes later, Ann called.  She knew exactly what had happened; she’d had some assistance in packing the night before and those who helped her had also helped pack up my stuff!

It is very fortunate that Ann lives rather close to Allegan, so she was able to rush my things back to me.  She, and my stuff, arrived just a very few minutes after 9:00am.  In the meantime, Del had photocopied a couple of sheets from my handouts (I had my own copy), and Nancy Shroyer had lent me some yarn to knit with.  Thanks, Del!  Thanks, Nancy!

The workshop went off without a hitch.  The following day, Ann approached me, thoroughly mortified by the incident, and she offered to let me pick out something from her booth as a gift.  Wow!  I thanked her and said, “Now I’m glad you mistakenly took my stuff!”  It’s important to point out that Bruce makes very lovely weaving tools.  Really lovely.  I selected a small belt shuttle that I know will make me want to get back to my inkle loom very soon.  Here it is:

It’s happenings like these that make teaching at fiber festivals so very rewarding!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Which Sheep Are You?

I had a most wonderful time at the MichiganFiber Festival  last week.  I was kept pretty busy for four days teaching workshops.  I so enjoy sharing my spinning and knitting enthusiasm with the workshop participants.  Here’s a big Thank You to all of you who joined me.

I stayed one extra day, Sunday, to shop and to just soak in all the fibery vibes.  I got a good chance to wander through the barns where the animals reside.  I was struck this year by the wide range of sheep breeds that were attending.  I gave my camera a workout.

Not all the sheep pens had signs identifying the sheep breed.  Fortunately, my friend Letty Klein was there and she very quickly identified the sheep for me.  Letty, by the way, was this year’s fleece judge.  She chose a dark brown merino fleece as the best in show.  And she showed me the fleece.  Very very lovely!  Right next to the table with that fleece was the pen with sheep from the same shepherd.

Without further ado, here is the sheep breed line-up.

Those lovely Merinos:

Letty’s Karakuls:

I was most surprised to see Scottish Blackface sheep:

A picture of Icelandic sheep (I’m pretty sure these are Icelandic…):

A picture of a Shetland sheep (I’m pretty sure this is a Shetland…)

Lovely Lincoln.  Look at those locks!

The very distinguished looking Bluefaced Leicester:

Some very very big Columbia crosses:

After I took these pictures, I put away my camera and met Letty for lunch.  She then pointed out a couple of breeds that I missed.  So, I have no pictures of Clun Forest sheep or Targhee sheep (although I did buy some Targhee top from the shepherd).