Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Lighthouse Knitters Know How to Have Fun

Most folks would hesitate to schedule car travel in Michigan in January. Not me. I am January charmed. I’ve driven to the U.P. three times in January to teach. And last weekend, I travelled to St. Joseph to teach. St. Joe is in the far southwest corner of the lower peninsula. And I’m in the far northwest corner of the lower peninsula. I drove down on Friday; the roads for the first 30 miles required slow driving, but the rest of the way was completely clear. I returned on Monday, with clear roads all the way. As I said, I’m January charmed. I’d like to add that I’m not as confident about my luck in February, March, and April, but that doesn’t stop me from scheduling trips.

I have some fans in and around St. Joe. They call themselves the Lighthouse Knitters. I was housed and pampered for the weekend at Emily J’s house. She and her husband, Andy, made me most welcome, comfortable, and well fed. The workshop was also at Emily’s house. She had cleared her living room for the activity: a perfect space with wood floors and large windows overlooking a creek. There was plenty of room for the 8 workshop participants and me.

This was a two-day workshop, Spinning Wools of North America, which features wool from sheep breeds that have evolved or been developed in North America. I like multi-day workshops because they allow for enough time to really spin, not just sample. I’d brought with me various wools and preparations. In creating this workshop, I decided to present the wools in order of how long they’ve been here: Navajo Churro, Gulf Coast Native, Tunis, Hog Island, Columbia, Romeldale/CVM, Targhee, Montadale, California Red, Polypay, and Canadian Arcott. We spun combed tops, carded rovings, and we hand carded and hand combed some washed fleece. What could be a better way to spend a weekend? Here are some of the samples I prepared; the swatches show how the different fibers felt differently (different amounts of stiffness and shrinkage). Navajo Churro shrunk the most; Gulf Coast shrunk the least.

We also discussed the elasticity – the stretchiness – of the different wools. Here I am holding up skeins of 5 of the wools, all wound onto the same size niddy noddy. From left to right: Gulf Coast, CVM, Churro, Hog Island, Columbia. The least elastic of the wools (Navajo Churro) appears to be a longer skein, while the most elastic of these 5 (Columbia and CVM) appear to be shorter skeins. But they are all the same length when held under tension.

These 8 spinners were fantastic company for the weekend. And generous too. I am overwhelmed by the gifts they gave me. Emily had a “swag bag” ready for me in the guest bedroom when I arrived. The first thing I saw was an included bag of Kilwins' peanut brittle. My favorite! (I managed to not open it until I got home, but once opened the brittle was gone in a hurry.) Emily also gifted me some lovely black combed mohair as a parting gift. (I know just the project it’s going in to.) Kallie gave me a carded batt of a blend of Tunis and Dorset wool. Christine gave me a set of single pitch Louet hand combs – perfect for de-hairing various downs.

In addition to the physical gifts were the bits of information shared among the group. Emily mentioned a nearby source of both Polypay and Suffolk wool: Shady Side Farm in Holland, Michigan. They have an etsy shop.

Kallie mentioned a source of dyed Cheviot combed top, Curly C’ewes. This vendor has a weekly Thursday night sale and is on Facebook.

I know of several good sources of Targhee combed top (Raven Ridge Fiber Arts, AbstractFiber, Mountain Colors). I can’t remember who it was that mentioned another source: Greenwood Fiberworks. I’ll have to check it out. Targhee is one of my current top 5 favorite wools.

When we did some hand carding, I shared my strategy – largely based on the technique I learned from Carol Rhoades. And then Suzy shared hers. I was delighted. It is so fun to compare techniques. And there are so many ways to card wool! Suzy is an RN (I think), and she was also able to answer some of my questions about blood donation – something I used to do on a regular basis until I had surgery for breast cancer. Thanks to the info from Suzy, I will investigate donating again.

On Sunday, Kallie brought several of her hand knitted shawls and cowls to show. It was a “Shawl-and-Tell”. They were all lovely. I was especially charmed by the shawl with cream, rusty orange, and natural beige stripes/chevrons.

Ann gave me her phone number. Why? Well! If you spend any time with me you’ll likely hear me mention my previous dogs: Taxi and Toby. Both were Dalmatians. I’m rather crazy for these spotted dogs. Ann mentioned that she knows a lady in Allegan who raises Dalmatians. Holy Cow! When I’m in a position to get a new puppy, you know who I’ll be calling…

Did I mention being well fed? We had a potluck lunch on Saturday, featuring lasagna and garlic bread. Everyone was scheduled to bring some one thing to go with. Everyone brought more than one thing. We had side dishes and snacks galore. I tried my best to be restrained. Sunday’s lunch was Chinese take-out. I had pork lo mein. And I tried dumplings for the first time. Christine ordered them to share with the group. I will most certainly have them again.

What a great weekend. I can hardly wait to visit this group again. Maybe support spindling? Maybe more on silk? I’ll have to come up with some good ideas. What fun!

One more thing. Here in Lake Ann, we have loads of snow; we are in a lake effect area. But in St. Joe, very little snow. See?


  1. Spinning workshops with you are always a joy Amy! Can't wait till we get together again!

  2. Thanks, Christine, for helping make my weekend so fun!

  3. Thank you, Amy, for sharing this great workshop with all of us who were not there. From the look of the pictures everyone had a wonderful time.

  4. Sounds like a lovely way to spend a weekend. And thanks for the shout out for Shady Side Farm. :)