Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas Stocking Request

My nephew, Ben, got married in early December. His mom, my sister-in-law, Elaine, asked if I would knit a Christmas stocking for the new bride, Brandy. She wanted a stocking that matched all the other family members’ stockings. Without hesitation – or knowing anything about the pattern – I agreed.

Elaine then sent me a copy of the pattern and her old stocking. It’s an old Bernat pattern, one with which I’m sure many of you are familiar: “Jumbo Santa Claus Stocking”.

The pattern that Elaine sent was an updated rendition, posted with permission by Ruthless Knitting. It is available as a free download through Ravelry

The pattern suggested using Cascade 220 or a similar worsted weight yarn. I took a quick trip into Traverse City to stop at Lost Art Yarns. I knew Gerhild would have appropriate Christmas-y colors of 220. I got some green, some red, and some white. And a ball of Angora yarn for Santa’s beard.

The pattern indicates that most of the bits of color should be worked in intarsia. Not my favorite type of knitting. Instead, I worked all the color bits in duplicate stitch, which I’m particularly fond of.

It was hard to get the full name, BRANDY, on one side of the stocking; I had to make the letters on the small side, and the “B” doesn’t look quite right. But I’m pleased with how the Santa head came out. And I like the postioning of the jingle bells. And I’m pleased with the red-green-white twisted cord for hanging the stocking.

I hope Brandy likes it and that her first Christmas as a member of the Tyler family was a good one.

I’m now in the mood to make more Christmas stockings. I’ve got ideas for using handspun, and incorporating loads of cables. Next year!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Message in a Towel?

Last year my friend, Marty F, gave me four towels that she’d woven. They are hand towels, made of cotton, and woven in Monk’s Belt patterns.

I have been using these beauties in my bathroom. They have gotten regular use and regular washing. And I love them. When I’m sitting on the pot, I stare right at my hand towel, so I’ve gotten plenty of time to examine these towels and their patterns. From the start, I’ve been quite fascinated by the designs. I wonder how Marty made decisions about the width and length of the patterns, and when to change colors.

I stare at these patterns and let my mind wander. Lately, I’ve been thinking that the weaving pattern is a code and I wonder what message has been woven into the towel. I don’t really want to figure it out. I like the puzzle, the mystery. I hope to continue to be entertained by the puzzle of Monk’s Belt. Thank you, Marty!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Spring Retreat and Summer Festival, Michigan Style

Last week I got my contract to teach at the Michigan Fiber Festival, August 13-17, 2014. This will be my eighth year of teaching at this delightful Michigan event. I can hardly wait!

I’m scheduled to teach Creating the Yarn You Want, Mechanics of Your Wheel, I Heart Duplicate Stitch, Beginning Spinning on the Wheel, Seams to Be, and The Surprising Yarn-Over. Wednesday through Saturday. So, I’ll have time to shop and sight see on Sunday.

The festival’s website does not have the full line-up of workshops listed yet; that information ought to be available by April 1. If you are interested in knowing a bit more about my workshops, you can read all my workshop descriptions on my website.

In the meantime, Michigan Fiber Festival, Inc is also hosting a Spring Retreat. And I’ll be teaching at that event too. I’m scheduled to teach Pull, Pleat, Curl and Bias, and Spinning & Knitting Goat Fibers. Other instructors include: Suzanne Higgs (felting), Ann Niemi (weaving), and Patsy Zawistoski (spinning). This retreat will be held at the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute in Hastings, Michigan, Saturday and Sunday, March 29-30, 2014. This is a small event, allowing a maximum of 40 participants. Registration is open now.

Michigan is a good place for fiber action!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Trouble With Take-Up

The past ten days have been filled with baking, cooking, roasting, and dog sitting. Cakes, pies, sauces, turkey, potatoes, salads, and the regular dog walks. A fabulous way to spend time.

I spent the earlier part of November spinning and knitting. I finished spinning 2 pounds of wool/mohair roving that I’d purchased in October. I spun 6 skeins of 3-ply yarn. That means I filled 18 bobbins with singles. A marathon, of sorts.

As I spun the last 3 bobbins of singles, I noticed that the drive band on my trusty little Reeves upright wheel was looking ragged; it was fraying and going to break any second. Before spinning the very last bobbin, I took the pre-emptive step of changing the drive band. I cut off the old cotton band, and replaced it with a linen string. Now, I’ve changed bands on this wheel many times without mishap. But I’d never used linen before. Just cotton.

I merrily started spinning the last of the fiber for this large project. The first few minutes went as smoothly as always, but then I started having trouble with the take-up tension: the singles were not going on to the bobbin. How annoying.

Take-up tension – how hard the wheel is pulling on the yarn you are spinning – is simply a matter of friction. If the take-up tension isn’t right, then one of two things is wrong: either you have too much friction where you shouldn’t have friction, or you don’t have enough friction where you should have friction. Solving the problem is just a matter of friction trouble-shooting.

Because I’d just – just – changed the drive band, I assumed that it was the likely culprit. My first step was simply to tighten the drive band (thereby increasing the friction of the drive band on the whorl and bobbin). That did not work. No amount of tightening had any effect on take-up tension. How could that be?

I then considered that the linen string was not a good choice for the drive band (insufficient coefficient of friction, perhaps?). So, I changed the drive band again, using a cotton string instead.

Still, the take-up tension was wimpy. Sheesh! I had only one more bobbin to fill. I was so very close to finishing this spinning project. How frustrating.

Since it appeared that my problem was not the drive band, I considered the possibility of there being friction where there shouldn’t be friction. I removed flyer, unwound the whorl, removed the bobbin, wiped off the shaft of the flyer, and re-oiled the flyer. I was about to put the bobbin back on the flyer but decided to examine the bushings on the bobbin. Nothing obvious. I then got out a q-tip cotton swab and poked it into the ends of the bobbin. Whoa! I cleared out a gob of grimy fiber out of each end of the bobbin!

After I re-oiled the bobbin and put the bobbin-flyer back in place, all was right with the world . . . and with my take-up tension.

In all my years of spinning, I’d never had this happen. This gob in the bobbin. In my assumption of the guilt of the drive band I overlooked a simpler problem. Here’s hoping I won’t do that again. Systematic trouble-shooting is better than assuming.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


It’s finally happened. I now own more looms than spinning wheels. On Wednesday, I picked up an old Nilus Leclerc inkle loom, the “Cendrel”. It’s a large, floor inkle loom. I’ve wanted one ever since I saw my friend, Marty F, weaving on hers years ago. I got mine from another friend, Gerrie M.

This is not my only inkle loom. I also own a Schacht inkle loom that I love and have used to make bookmarks, belts, purse straps, and dog leashes. It was the very first loom that I got.

The advantage of the Leclerc loom is that it is more physically comfortable to use. It also can be used to make bands up to 6 inches in width. And! It can be used as a warping board.

The other looms in my “family”?

I used to have an Ashford rigid heddle “Knitter’s Loom” with a 12” weaving width. I used it a lot to make scarves. But I wanted to make other, wider things like placemats and table runners. So, I sold my Knitter’s Loom. And I bought a used Schacht rigid heddle loom  with a  25” weaving width. This is an older version of their rigid heddle loom and is no longer made, but this one came with 3 reeds (8, 10, and 12 dent) and a trestle floor stand. I wrote about this acquisition earlier this year.

Many of my weaving friends absolutely hate weaving on a rigid heddle loom. They are certain I will lose my enthusiasm for this loom soon. I am equally certain they are wrong.

A few years ago, I was gifted a Schacht frame loom. This is a simple loom used for tapestry weaving, something I’ve long admired and only recently tried. I haven’t used this loom yet. This winter is the time. It’s got a respectable 15” weaving width. And I think it might even be possible to use it with the trestle stand that came with my rigid heddle loom. That would be very nice.

In late August this year, I drove down to Midland to have lunch with my oldest friend, Julie P, and another friend of hers. Julie’s friend, Janet Y, had a loom that she wanted to find a new home for. Well, it’s now in my home. It’s a Schacht table top, four-harness loom. Janet had used it for many years, but not recently. It’s got a 25” weaving width. Quite versatile. I’m planning to have a loom party sometime this winter to get my weaving friends to help me warp this loom.

One challenge with this loom is to find just the right table for it. The loom is 30” wide and 23” deep. I thought I’d found a good adjustable height table at Staples, but it turned out to be not quite deep enough. (However, this table will be just right for my drum carder). So, I’m in the market for a table. The height of the Schacht stand for this loom is 21”. As nice as it would be to get that stand, I’m hoping I can find something suitable for a bit lower price. Does anyone have a suggestion?

Are you counting? That's five looms.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Surprised by the Yarn-Over

There’s nothing like a deadline to provide inspiration. This weekend, I’ll be teaching at the 4th Annual Fall Fiber Retreat  in Boyne Falls, Michigan, a relaxing weekend get-away.

On Saturday, I’m teaching Mechanics of Your Wheel and Plying Balanced Yarns. On Sunday, I’m teaching The Surprising Yarn-Over. This’ll be the first time I’ve taught the yarn-over workshop. I’d had the idea in my head for quite awhile, but having a “due date” required that I go from theoretical to concrete.

I enjoy the process of preparing workshop handouts because it prompts me to arrange my thoughts on a topic. What should be said first? How are subtopics related? Which explanations need a swatch or a stitch pattern? How might the notions that I present be translated into knitted designs and projects?

I started preparing the handouts on Saturday, and I finished them yesterday. Over those few days, my brain was occupied with the fascinating little yarn-over. I daydreamed about them. I nightdreamed about them. I wrote about them. I read about them. I rummaged through my knitted pieces for examples. And, of course, I knitted swatches.

As it happens, my current knitting project – a shawl – incorporates yarn-overs in more than one interesting way. It’ll be a perfect example to show workshop participants. I’m close enough to the end of that project that I might well finish knitting it during the retreat.

Preparing the notes sparked ideas for future designs that take advantage of yarn-overs. I have an idea for a camisole. Wall hangings. More shawls. Collar. Cuff.

I love it when this happens!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

SOAR and More

SOAR  is over. I’ve been home for nearly a week. Most of my catch-up chores are now done. My head is still spinning with memories. (“spinning”? Really? Did I really write that?)

I roomed with the delightful Loyce Erickson. She lives in western Oregon where she creates wonderful felted art and felted clothing. We got along fabulously (I was happy to gush over loads of pictures of her new puppy). She works with wool, of course. But she also incorporates silk into her felting. She generously gifted me with some silk hankies that she’d dyed black (!) and a sweet pink and grey silk-wool felted scarf.

My workshop and retreat sessions were great fun. I saw many old faces (I mean: they were folks I’d met before), and many new faces (new to me!). There were folks who’d just begun spinning (less than a couple months), and folks who’d been spinning for innumerable years. It was delightful to meet some who’d attended more than 25 of the 31 years of SOAR. I do love the variety of people: different tastes, different enthusiasms, different experiences, different cultures, different ages. Yes!

SOAR is not only a wonderful place for teaching and learning, but for having surprise conversations. At each meal, I tried to sit at a table with at least a few folks that I’d not yet met. Fascinating conversations ensued. Same thing at some of the social gatherings (mentor meeting, vendor meet-and-greet, fashion show, evening spin-ins): conversations went in all directions. I wish I could remember every single word. At least I remember some.

In no particular order:

Teri Drouin-Guerette. She’d taken my workshop last year, and this year she was in my silk hankies retreat session. We got to chat about fiber events and teaching spinning. She gifted me some lovely stitch markers. Thanks Teri.

Deb Menz. She was in my silk hankies retreat session. Now, Deb is a renowned color expert. I was so excited to tell her that I am proud to be a “color dunce”. That sounds so confrontational, but she took it for what it was: a silly little moment.

John Mullarkey. A pleasant young man who does remarkable tablet weaving. He also has done some intriguing work with pin looms. In fact, he help Schacht Spindle Co update the pin loom for their new Zoom Loom. John also had a retreat session dedicated to silk hankies. Where I was teaching how to spin them, he was teaching how to weave on a pin loom with them. His students made adorable silk flowers.

Gayle Vallance. Another SOAR mentor, Gayle is from British Columbia, and she knows her bast fibers! We had chats about flax, hemp and cotton. She inspired me to spend more time with these fibers. I look forward to those adventures!

Andrea Mielke Shroer. Andrea’s workshop room was right next to mine. So, I got to peek in on her regularly. She focused on using Corriedale wool. We had chats about variations within the breed, where to get good Corri wool. In one of her classes she had the most beautiful raw fleece spread out in the middle of the room. A delight to see and smell. I also got bits of advice from her about using a tahkli spindle.

Patsy Zawistoski. We sat next to each other during the final night’s “farewell” gathering. And we shared some wine. We talked about travels, great wheels, flax, tahklis, wine, knitting, and undoing knitting.

Carol Desrochers. Carol roomed with my sister, Meg, when they were in school at the University of Michigan. It was great to catch up with her at SOAR. The last time I’d seen her was at the Michigan Fiber Festival in 2004. I’m hoping that I see her more often!

Robin Russo. Robin is a wiz. I took her 3-day silk workshop several years ago at Convergence. It was a marvelous and memorable experience. Our paths cross every now and then, and we usually get in a word or two about silk. This time, we happened to be in a vendor booth together. I was fondling a silk form that I’d not seen before: a silk “lap”. I grilled Robin on it’s properties. As always, she was kind, generous, and informative.

Marilyn Wright. Marilyn is from the UK. I met her last year at SOAR. It was a pleasure to see her again. This year she taught short workshops in blackfoot spindles and spinning. In one of our chats, she gave me the background of this intriguing spindle. She wrote an article for Spin-Off, Summer 2013. I am smitten with this spindle. I must get one! (The Woolery sells them.)

D.Y. Begay D.Y. taught classes on Navajo spinning. I enjoyed meeting her and chatting about the southwest. It’s been a very long time since I lived in Arizona.

Chris Pappas. Oh, wow. Did you read her article in the Fall issue of PLY magazine? It was great! We sat next to each other at lunch one day. I had no idea who she was. After a few exchanges we started talking about academia, and her work as an archeologist, specializing in textiles. Then someone mentioned PLY. I got very excited. I told her I thought her article was the best piece in the magazine. A few days later, she said I had the best haircut of anyone at SOAR. Funny.

Kate Larson.  We didn’t get much of a chance to chat. Too bad; Kate is a delight. But I did get to see some of the work that her students had done in her workshop on spinning for Norwegian mittens. Fabulous detail. I want to make some! Really. I do. And I will. And I’m now more interested in spinning 3- and 4-ply yarns.

Lynda Walker. I met Lynda last year at SOAR. We just hit it off. This year she bought me drinks on Friday night. We chatted and chatted and chatted about dance, peanut butter, and other important topics. And we laughed a lot!

Anita Osterhaug. Anita is the editor of Handwoven magazine and Weaving Today . She has been given the task of guiding a conversation and gathering thoughts about the future of an Interweave spinning event. We sat next to each other one night and I commended her for taking on such a daunting task. Many folks do not like change, so Anita has a lot of persuading to do. I will be hoping for the very best for her and for whatever spinning event evolves from SOAR.

I regret that I had other conversations that were equally touching, inspiring, and surprising, but I don’t remember everyone’s names. I’m bad that way.

I drove home last Sunday. As much as I love teaching, I also love going home. As my car gets closer to Lake Ann, I grow calmer. I was pleasantly surprised at how much autumn color still lingered. The blazing colors of maple are past, but the oaks are now coming into their own. I will now get some time to relish northern Michigan late fall, do some cool weather cooking, and work on fiber projects. Maybe work on my tahkli and Navajo spinning. And play with my looms. And rug hook. And spin. And knit.

Life is good.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Am I Ready for Ravelry?

Ravelry is a free website for fiber folks, mostly knitters and crocheters. It’s been around for awhile. I signed up years ago, but was never active…..until now.

With the invaluable help of my friend, Elizabeth K, my knitting patterns are now available for purchase on Ravelry. I’m “atyler”, and my designs are under Amy Tyler, Stone Sock Fiber Designs.

My most recent pattern is for an afghan that I designed earlier this year. It incorporates stitch patterns that are combinations of ribs and welts. The pattern name is direct: Rib Welt Sampler Afghan. Here’s a picture (courtesy of Briar Rose Fibers):

The patterns have been up for just a couple days and I’m already making sales. I think that’s good. Am I ready for this?

I’m curious to see what happens while I’m away next week at SOAR

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Hankie Heaven

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. Busy, and productive. Since I blogged last, I’ve finished and submitted two articles that are scheduled to be published in the Spring 2014 issue of Ply Magazine. I taught workshops at Yarn in the Barn. I’ve submitted proposals for workshops for Michigan Fiber Festival 2014. And I’m putting the finishing touches on preparations for teaching at Spin-Off Autumn Retreat.

My recent blog silence is not due to a lack of stuff to share. Just a lack of time!

For the past month or so, I have spent most of my creative time with silk hankies. That’s the topic of my two articles for Ply: one article on technical issues of spinning silk hankies, the other article presenting a design and knitting pattern for fingerless mitts.

I spent nearly three weeks spinning silk hankies every day. Now, hankies can be a physical challenge, so I had to be very conscientious about not overdoing it. I limited myself to no more than three hours per day. I made several yarn samples, mostly experimenting with the amount of twist I was using. I find this type of systematic activity to be very informative. And, reiteration also sparks my creative thoughts.

Here are some pictures of samples:

And here’s a picture of the mitts I designed. (I’m very pleased with them.)

These articles coincide nicely with one of my SOAR workshops, “Spinning With Silk Hankies”. So, I’ll have several new samples to show workshop participants.

And, at Yarn in the Barn, I discovered that Chris Roosien (Briar Rose Fibers) has started dyeing silk hankies. Of course I got a bundle. Her colors are dreamy.

I recall a line from the old TV show, Designing Women. One character said, “A lady should never be without a linen hankie.”

Here’s my take: A spinner should never be without a silk hankie.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Recipe for Deliciousness

It’s been a week since I returned from the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival. I had a wonderful time.

It’s a great event for fiber shopping. I got lots of wool, but I also got other fibers: silk, yak, angora, and some lovely kid mohair. Mmmmmm….

I always enjoy teaching at WSWF. It’s a very well organized event, and the folks there are so enthusiastic!

This year, food was high on my list of delights. One night I went out to dinner and had a beef brisket sandwich with BBQ sauce. Quite good.

On the last day of the festival, I tried a lamb brat. Wow! I think it was the best brat I’ve ever had. I can hardly wait to attend next year so I can have another. Maybe two.

Interestingly, lamb recipes were a major topic of chat in some of my workshops. I mentioned to the students that I’d be taking home some ground lamb from Carol and Paul Wagner (Hidden Valley Farm & Woolen Mill) . And I also mentioned that I planned to make lamb meatballs. One workshop participant suggested I post my recipe on my blog. Good idea!

(I know some readers might find the idea of eating lamb to be off putting. For those of you who eat meat but avoid lamb, just remember that when the lambs go to market in the fall they are no longer babies; they’re teenagers.)

Amy’s Lamb Meatballs

1 medium onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil
½ c. apple cider
2 lb ground lamb
½ - 1 c. fresh bread crumbs
¼ c. plain yogurt
2 eggs
½ c. grated parmesan cheese
¼ c. chopped fresh parsley
2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
2-3 tsp lemon zest (I used all the zest from 1 lemon)
Lots of fresh ground black pepper
1 ¼ tsp. salt
1 ¼ tsp cumin
1 ¼ tsp coriander
½ tsp fennel seed
¼ tsp cayenne
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
3 Tbs. Tahini

Saute the onion and garlic in a little olive oil until tender. Add cider and cook until most of fluid is gone. Let cool.

Mix well all of the rest of the ingredients (except olive oil) plus the cooled onion mixture.

Shape into approximately 1” meatballs (relatively small). Add some olive oil to a large fry pan. Cook the meatballs over medium heat until done, turning them frequently. I like to cook them until they are browned a bit.

When I remove them from the pan, I put them on a paper towel-covered plate to soak up excess grease.

Here’s how I serve them: in a pita bread sandwich with cucumbers, tomatoes, and yogurt. Oh so very good!

Note that the amount of each ingredient is pretty flexible. The only ingredient I personally would be wary of increasing is the cinnamon.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Let's Dance the Last Dance

Two weeks ago, Amy Clarke Moore, editor of Spin-Off magazine, announced that this year’s SOAR (Spin-Off Autumn Retreat)  will be the last SOAR.

So, in my mind I’ve been boogie-ing to the Donna Summer 1978 disco classic, “Last Dance”

Last dance, last chance for love
Yes, it's my last chance
For romance tonight
. . .

So let's dance, the last dance
Let's dance, the last dance
Let's dance, this last dance tonight

Last year I was a first-time mentor at SOAR. And they invited me back for this year. I’m quite thrilled!

For the three-day workshop, I’m teaching Spinning With Millspun Yarns. I’ve spent a good amount of the last few months playing with re-spinning yarns and combining re-spun yarns with fiber. This exploration has really struck a creative nerve which has got me quite psyched.

Here’s a picture of some of my yarn samples for this workshop:

And here is a picture of some scarves that I knitted from energized re-spun yarns.

There are still spots available in this workshop. Care to join me?

I’m also teaching two half-day workshops:  Mechanics of Your Wheel and Spinning With Silk Hankies.

One very nice thing about SOAR this year is that it is close: it’s being held at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Illinois, close to Chicago. It’s about a 6-hour drive from my house.

Dates for SOAR workshops are October 21-26, 2013. In addition to the workshops, there is a fabulous hall of vendors, a fashion show, and ample time to commune with fiber and fiber folks.

Are you interested in a last chance for this fiber love? Then join us!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Getting Ready for Wisconsin

I’m ramping up for the Wisconsin Sheep &Wool Festival (September 6-8). I have only a couple more days to get ready. My notes are prepared, but not copied yet. I still need to gather samples and supplies.

I’ll be taking some of my favorite knits as samples. On Friday morning I’m teaching I Heart Duplicate Stitch.

I really do “heart” duplicate stitch. One of the first times I used it was on a sweater I knitted long ago: a very sweet Pam Allen design in an old isse of VogueKnitting, Spring/Summer 1995. I was smitten when I saw a cute, short cardigan with cherries all over it.

By the way, I live in the Cherry Capital of the World. The Grand Traverse region produces more tart cherries than anywhere else.

So, I had to have the sweater. My dilemma: it was designed to be knitted using intarsia techniques. Now, I can do it, but I don’t like it. Instead, I decided to duplicate stitch all the cherries. I’m so very glad I did that because in the process I learned to love duplicate stitch.

Here’s a close up:

I’ve got several other wonderful knitted examples of my use of duplicate stitch. I’ve also got examples of when I didn’t use duplicate stitch and I wish I had. Lots to look at and think about.

Friday afternoon’s class is Spinning Marl Yarns. I know there are many spinners out there who try to avoid “barber pole” looking yarns. I’ll admit that the skeins of yarn may not look exciting, but I really like how such yarns knit up: all speckled and natural. I’ll be taking several sample skeins to show folks, and I’ll be taking one shawl that I created a couple years back, “3 X 3 = 10”. I spun ten 3-ply yarns, using 3 different colors. Here’s a picture of the shawl, modeled by Vivenne K. I wrote an article about it for Spin-Off (Fall, 2011). You can find the pattern in the article.

On Saturday, I’m teaching Shaping With Stitch Patterns. I’ve really got to come up with a better title for this workshop. It’s mostly an exploration of how different knit stitch patterns behave. Some pull in, some pull up, some curl, some bias, some are stiff, some are stretchy. And you can use these different characteristics to help shape your knitted garments. I’m taking several sweaters and dozens of swatches as examples/samples.

On Sunday, I’ve got Blending Colors at the Wheel. I’m taking a jacket/sweater that I designed some years back. The sweater now belongs to my friend Sylvia VM, but she lets me borrow it. Here she is wearing it. The pattern is called “Right Side Up?” because it can also be worn upside down.

And I’m taking a shawl that I designed long ago. The shawl now belongs to my friend Becky McD who also lets me borrow frequently. Here’s a picture of the shawl as modeled by Gladys Strong, who passed away earlier this year.

The festival takes workshop registrations up to the day workshops are taught. Not only are there wonderful workshops, but the festival is an awesome event for all things sheepy.

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?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Cold Front

After a string of very hot, very humid days, a cold front went by. What a difference the decrease in temperature makes to my mental state! I feel better. Not great, but better.

These past few weeks of grieving have been accompanied by some fiber activity. Mostly, I knitted socks. (And I watched a lot of TV, and I drank a lot of alcohol.) The movements of my hands over such a familiar structure helped soothe me. And, besides, I ended up with a pile of new socks, all summer worthy.

I knitted two pairs out of the “CoBaSi” yarn that I’d purchased earlier this year. The turquoise socks are knitted in my pattern, “Summer Socks”. The lime green socks are knitted in a modified version of a free sock pattern, “Crimple” , by “knitpurlhunter”.

The denim blue socks are knitted from a long ago discontinued sock yarn, “Fortissima Cotton”, 75% cotton, 25% nylon, from my pattern, “Jog-in-the-Rib Socks”. (I have several pairs of socks out of this yarn. When I realized it was being discontinued, I scoured the internet and purchased several colors. It’s a nice yarn for summer socks. Too bad it’s not made anymore.)

The multi-colored socks are knitted from a yarn I picked up awhile back. Can’t remember where or when. It’s “Sockina Cotton” by Schoeller & Stahl. 55% cotton, 25% nylon, 20% acrylic. I designed these socks on the fly, using stitch pattern “III.3” from the old Harmony Guide to Practical Knitting Stitches (page 41).

I’m wearing these socks right this very minute. Grief is good for something.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


I’ve been encased in grey. On July 2, I put down my dog, Toby. Always a tough decision, I struggled for the weeks leading up to that day, and I’ve been in mourning since then.

It is the peak of the summer season here. Sunny, warm, swim-worthy days. Farmers’ markets everywhere, with delicious Michigan blueberries and cherries. Every lake and every beach is beckoning. Art, theater, and music events are everywhere. But I am grey.

Toby was far from perfect. She rarely came when I called. She would run off given the slightest opportunity. She insisted on having her spot on the sofa. All these behavior faults were entirely due to my inability to be the boss.

But Toby was a happy dog. And she loved me. And I loved her. I was in love with her. I was her slave, her doorman, her doormat.

Several dozen times a day I would lavish words of affection: I love you the most. You are my all time favorite girl dog ever. My lovest bugest. Tubbs. Squiggly wiggly giggly biggly diggly duggly. Sweet pea. Sweetums. Heart bug. Love bug.

I was a total fool for her. And now I am grey. I expected her demise to trouble me, but I imagined more drama. I know this fog will lift, but I hope not too soon. For now, I want to be grey.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Workshops, Workshops, and More Workshops

I’ve had a pause in my teaching travels. Now it’s time to get back on the road. Let me share with you a listing of my travels this summer and fall.

I leave tomorrow for Scranton, Pennsylvania. I’m teaching a three-day workshop, Spinning With Commercial Yarns, at the Mid-Atlantic Fiber Association conference, June 21-23.

On July 9, I will be teaching a one-day version of the same workshop, this time for the Sunrise Spinning Guild, in Comins, Michigan. Shelia Robbins is the contact person. She is also the proprietor of a yarn shop in Alpena, Spruce Shadow Farms Yarn Shop. You can contact her by email,, or by phone, 989-356-9434.

August means only one thing: MichiganFiber Festival. This is always one of my favorite events. Workshops start on Wednesday, August 14, and continue through Sunday, August 18. Vendors and other activities run Friday – Sunday. I’ll be teaching every day. Spinning With Commercial Yarns on Wednesday, Beginning Spinning at the Wheel on Thursday, Spinning Super Stretchy Wools on Friday, Shaping With Stitch Patterns on Saturday, and Variations on Long Draw on Sunday morning.

September is the month I take the ferry across Lake Michigan to get to the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival, September 6-8. I’m teaching all three days: I Heart Duplicate Stitch and Spinning Marl Yarns on Friday; Shaping With Stitch Patterns on Saturday, and Blending Colors at the Wheel on Sunday. I hope I get some time to shop; the vendors at this event are fabulous!

I’ve got two events in October. First is Yarn in the Barn, sponsored by Briar Rose Fibers, and held in Caledonia, Michigan, October 3-5. I’m teaching Shaping With Stitch Patterns on Thursday, Plying Balanced Yarns and Plying for Texture on Friday, and Seams to Be on Saturday morning.

Next is Spin Off Autumn Retreat, aka SOAR. This year it will be held at Pheasant Run Resort, in St. Charles, Illinois, October 20-26. Last year I taught at SOAR for the first time. I was delighted to be asked back this year. The three-day workshop I’m teaching is Spinning With Millspun Yarns, Monday – Wednesday. Then I’ll be teaching two half-day retreat sessions, Mechanics of Your Wheel on Friday and Saturday mornings, and Spinning With Silk Hankies on Friday and Saturday afternoons.

This schedule ought to keep me plenty busy. That’s a good thing.