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”.