Thursday, January 22, 2015

Looking Forward, Looking Back

It's always nice to look back at the previous year and get a sense of what was accomplished.  Although my husband and I have written and sent out an annual letter for most of our 30 years together, the last ten years somehow slipped by.  But this year we got the whole family together for a photo just before the holidays and Peter wrote the letter and I spent a lot of time reconstructing our address list - people move around a lot in a decade! We had it printed, ran address labels and spent a snowy cold day signing our names, writing notes and folding/stuffing/sealing/stamping almost 200 letters.  Done!

 Ravelry, that amazing internet haven for knitters, tells me that I completed 10 projects last year with 5 others that were begun but not completed.  I knit a cowl, 3 shawls, a long cotton scarf,  2 pairs of socks, a summer cardigan, a hat, and one rabbit.   On January 1st,  three cardigans, a Rainbow Afghan and a pair of  fingerless gloves were in various states of progress.  This does not count Old WIPs, just projects begun in 2014.  I have a lot of old works-in-progress, more on some of those later.

The highlights of my knitting year would have to be the two Swallowtail wedding shawls that I knit out of Hand Maiden Sea Silk yarn - one in a natural color for my daughter Hannah and the other in ultraviolet for my nephew Miles' bride, Meghann.  A lot of positive intention was worked into the stitches of those shawls!

I'm also quite pleased with a last minute Christmas gift that I knitted for my son, Robbie.  Robbie's grey pet rabbit, Stewart passed away quite suddenly the week before he came home for the holidays and Robbie was understandingly very sad.  I knew I had seen a good rabbit pattern on Ravelry and I found it in my favorites: Henry's Rabbit by Sara Elizabeth Kellner.  I downloaded the free pattern and looked through my stash listing and decided that to have just the right yarn, I needed to buy some charcoal color Shepherd's Wool Worsted from Stonehedge Fiber Mill.  This is a soft 100% Merino yarn in a worsted weight.  I started knitting on December 15th, squeezing it in between work and all the business of the holiday season and I sewed the last seam and stitched on the eyes on Christmas Eve.  We both cried when Robbie opened that package on Christmas afternoon - he was really touched and pleased and I was delighted. 

Looking forward, I have a number of fiber related goals for the coming year.  I have a weaving related book project that I am working on - I will tell you more about that when I have made more progress. 

In the knitting realm, I will be teaching a new class at the John C Campbell Folk School in October called Knitting Design: Aran & Gansey Style, and to help me prepare for this I just started an Aran Design study with the knitting study group of the Blue Ridge Spinners & Weavers Guild.  I have been leading this group for several years and I really enjoy the opportunities for teaching and sharing at our monthly meetings.

North Sea Knitting Sampler - student & teacher samples
I have designed and knit a number of Aran and gansey sweaters over the years, and I teach a North Sea Knitting Sampler that includes Arans & Ganseys, Fairisle colorwork and Shetland lace knitting, but these are shorter classes with small projects.  One of the wonderful things about teaching at the Campbell Folk School is the luxury of working for 5-6 days on a subject but obviously this also requires more organization, so before I teach a new class there I like to do a focused study. 

For our January meeting, I brought a bag full of sweaters and a bag full of books.  We reviewed the basic design elements of traditional Aran sweaters, talked about choosing stitch patterns that will coordinate and balance and discussed swatching.  Many knitters don't like to swatch - they feel that it is time and yarn wasted when they really long to cast on for the real thing, but a good swatch will give you the information you need to plan a garment that really works and fits.  I talked about practical uses to make swatching more palatable - a swatch can become a scarf, the crown of a hat, a square for an afghan, etc.

Then I gave out a sample pattern for the knitters to take home and work.  I encouraged the knitters to look at sweaters and patterns online and in books and think about what types of cable patterns they like best, and about how they would like to put these together into a panel of stitch patterns for the garment they are designing.  I will report back on how the homework assignments went after we meet in February.

For myself, I would like to design & knit a few baby & child size Aran & gansey sweaters this year as class samples, and hopefully complete a few of the unfinished projects pictured above.  Clockwise from the top: the orange is Thea Coleman's design Dark & Stormy in Peace Fleece Worsted, color Glasnost Gold; the tan is a natural brown sheep colored genuine Aran sweater that I bought in the west of Ireland in 1980; the blue grey is Kristen Kapur's  Dr. G's Memory Vest in Peace Fleece Worsted, color Lakinka Malinka; the red is Juliet Moody's Sparrow cardigan in some Vermont farm wool that my friend Norman Kennedy dyed with cochineal and the brown is Alice Starmore's St. Brigid in Black Water Abbey Worsted, color Chestnut.

What goals are you considering for the coming year? 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

I am Unusually Coordinated Today

The weather has been unusually cold in the northern Shenandoah Valley of Virginia for the last two weeks.  We live in a 1905 farmhouse with a woodstove for our primary heat, and while we have done many things to help our house heat more efficiently in the winter months, when it gets down into the single digits we spend much of our time at home in the living room near our beloved Vermont Castings Vigilant.  Idgy is demonstrating her preferred nap location.

Today, the temperature will finally get above freezing and the sun is shining again.  I went to my closet and chose an orange corduroy dress to wear, and then I had a look at my vests.  I pulled out a vest to go with my dress that I have never worn before - I inherited it from my mother-in-law, Beryl Smith Dunning, after she passed away last year. 

Beryl's friend Marjorie Manilow made this yo-yo appliqued vest for Beryl as a gift many years ago.  I got to meet Marjorie at my in-law's 50th wedding anniversary in 1990 and we began an occasional correspondence as we both like to make things with thread and cloth.  Marjorie lives in Wales and is a wonderfully creative fiber artist.  Over the years she has sent me photos of her Twelve Days of Christmas Hat Series and the quilted pieces she has made using scraps of woven Welsh Wool coats.  I haven't heard from her in many years now but we are sending out an Annual Letter this year after a lapse of ten years so I am hoping to hear from some old friends soon, including Marjorie.

When I got to the coat closet on my way out the door to work, I grabbed my most recent thrift store acquisition - a beautiful, bright Harris Tweed women's coat that is a perfect match for the dress.

I started finding these Harris Tweed coats about twenty years ago in local thrift stores and I have never been able to pass one up.  As a weaver, the cloth is wonderful and precious and as an added bonus, many of the coats fit me.  I teach a weaving class on District Checks and Tweeds and my coat collection is a terrific addition to the class.  My daughter Hannah took two of these coats with her when she attended college in western Massachusetts, a perfect climate for a good wool tweed!  Hannah chose a great orange & purple houndstooth and a bright green tweed.  She wore out the linings and the hems came unstitched, but the tweed will last a long, long time.

 This second photo of the cloth will show you weavers a little more detail - my iPhone takes better close ups than my iPad2 - but the color is not as true.  The purple color is more dominant in the photo than in real life.  Can you see the colors of the individual threads?  The warp threads are a burnt orange and a medium brown and they go O O B O O B B B.  The weft threads are 4 picks of an orangey red and 4 picks of a magenta purple and the weave structure is a 2/2 twill.  You can see the strong diagonal lines in this cloth.  Many of the other women's coats have a variation of a broken twill.

I started documenting the cloth in my coat collection a few years ago: photographing the tailoring details and the cloth itself and writing up weaving drafts for the color & weave twill patterns.  The color selections are simply brilliant and the sequence of colored yarns along with the twill weave structure creates a stunning fabric.  I have learned most of what I know about traditional tweed from examining the fabric of many, many coats and sport jackets, and this cloth continues to fascinate me.

Next week: studying Aran sweater design!

p.s. I cut my hair.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Begin as you mean to go on

I think a lot about blogging, but as you may have noticed, those thoughts haven't been making it to my blog very often in the last year or two.  This year, I would like to do more writing about a number of topics, and my dusty blog seems like a good place to start.  So here I go!

The scene above will be a familiar one to my Facebook friends - this is the view from my bedroom window, looking east at the Blue Ridge mountains, which are a single ridge at this part of the Appalachian range.  This view is a daily delight, a sustaining pleasure and a reminder of our great good fortune of living in such a beautiful part of the world.

The other photos I share with you today are another source of gratitude and delight - my wonderful family.  This is the photo we chose for our annual family letter this year.  Here you see daughter Hannah, her new husband Joe, son Robbie, Idgy the corgi, future son-in-law Ian, daughter Lily, myself and my husband Peter.  Creative content: I knit Lily's cowl (Ptarmigan by Jared Flood in Jaggerspun Zephyr DK), I wove my tartan scarf (traditional tartan Drummond of Perth in Jaggerspun Superfine Merino 2/18) and I knit Peter's mitts (adapted from Dashing by Cheryl Niamath in Jo Sharp Silk Road Aran).

And then, to leave you with some merriment, here is what happened after that picture was taken:

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Catching Up

I have been many places since I last posted!  In June I participated in The Mannings Annual Spinning Seminar by setting up a large display of Tartans & Tweeds, including my entire Harris Tweed coat & jacket collection.  I also did two waulkings during the day - the traditional Scottish method of wet finishing cloth with many hands thumping and passing the cloth around a table to the rhythm of old songs.

If you are interested in learning more about waulking, you can listen to this podcast of a waulking I led at the Penland School in North Carolina back in 2007.

During the first week of July I drove up to Western Massachusetts to meet up with Nanette & Jan Davidson and their son, Sam.  Jan is the director of the John C. Campbell Folk School and Nanette is a fellow weaver and one of the first people I met at the Folk School back in 1997.  Nanette had arranged a day of study for us at the Hancock Shaker Village; they generously provided us with a staff person for most of the day and with her guidance we examined many of the pieces in their textile collection.

We looked mostly at Shaker rugs, but I also spent some time with the garments, tapes and linen towels.  It was very exciting to see the pieces up close, many of which Nanette and I had only previously seen in books as small black & white photographs.

We also toured the Sister's Weave Shop - Nanette wove a little on one of the looms!

And we looked around the 1830 Brick Dwelling and the Round Barn.  I have visited Hancock several times before and taken lots of photos... I wonder if I can still find them?  We were completely saturated from looking at all the textiles so we gave the gift shop a quick perusal and then refueled on salads at the cafe.

The next day I went to visit my son, Robbie in Northampton for the day and then drove up into the White Mountains of New Hampshire to spend the night at the Shalimar Resort, were Nanette & I swam in the lake and we all feasted on lobsters.

All in preparation for our Sunday visit to the Canterbury Shaker Village.  We had been unable to arrange a behind the scenes adventure here as we visited on a weekend, but Nanette & I took two tours and then explored the village on our own.  There were lots of textiles to see and a local woman demonstrating weaving in a portable band loom.  No photographs were allowed inside the buildings.  So we saw many things that I cannot share here, but it is well worth a visit.

At the end of August I drove up to New England once again to visit family and friends, but the focal point of this trip was Norman Kennedy's 80th birthday party.  It was a big bash in the huge barn at Kate Smith's house near Plainfield; where Kate runs Eaton Hill Textile Works.  There were about 150 people from all over the US and the world, one of the biggest pot luck suppers I have seen since my wedding, a waulking, contra dancing and music and songs.  My sister Annie & I were among about 35 people who had studied weaving with Norman over the years - Annie took her first class at the Marshfield School of Weaving in 1979 and I began there in 1980.
The party was a fitting tribute to a man who has given so much to so many people.  Lang may his lum reek!

There's more!  I had a number of music gigs in August and September - I sing with a wonderful group of musicians in a band called the Flaming Shillelaghs, and we did two concerts for the Bluemont Concert Series in August and then we played for the Glen Echo Irish Arts, Music & Dance Festival over the Labor Day weekend and once again for the CCE Irish Folk Festival in Fairfax, VA later in September.  I will tell you more about my Irish music adventures in another post, because there are many interesting stories and journeys to relate.

I taught three classes for the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival right here in Berryville

and then in October I did a wool waulking at the Waterford Fair,

prepared a new weaving display for George Washington's Mount Vernon and went on a vacation and research trip with my husband for two weeks in England and Ireland.  More on that later, I promise!  Photos, too.

In November I taught my 18th c. Linens class at the John C Campbell Folk School.  I was ably assisted by my friend Lucy Best and we had eight great students.  It is always a delight to teach at the Folk School and this week was particularly enjoyable with such an amiable group of weavers.

OK, coming soon - more about Irish music, touring Cornwall, researching Donegal Tweed!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Scottish Sampler class

I will be teaching my Scottish Sampler class for the Albemarle Handweavers Guild on April 21 & 22, 2013.
This is a combination of my Tartans and my Tweeds & District Checks class - a nice combination of two traditional Scots textiles.  I am posting scans here of the samples for this class so that the students can choose the warp for their loom.  The Tweeds will be woven with Jaggerspun Maine Line and Heathers 2/8 set at 12 epi, the Tartans will be woven with Jaggerspun Superfine Merino 2/18 set at 30 epi.

There may still be room for more students in this class - let me know very soon if you are interested by leaving a comment for this post!

Tweeds first:

Shepherd Check







 Barclay Hunting



Cameron - imagine this with garnet red, emerald green and chrome yellow!

Drummond of Perth


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Knit Traditional at the Folk School!

There is still room in my Traditional Island Knitting Sampler at the John C Campbell Folk School
 March 3 - 9, 2013.  This is a great class, loaded with information, techniques and tips and the Folk School is a wonderful place to spend a week, especially in early spring.

We will spend a day exploring each of these traditions:

Aran Island cables and textured stitches 
Fair Isle colorwork

 Shetland lace

 and then each student will explore further whatever techniques they prefer.

We will make a small cabled bag, a tiny fair isle sweater and a bookmark or two of lace.

Adventurous beginners are more than welcome, along with more experienced knitters!

So treat yourself to a week at the Folk School: great food, congenial company, a beautiful mountain campus and a week of cozy knitting and chatting. What could be better? For details, click the class title or go to

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Spinning, Spinning

OK, more updates on my Tour de Fleece progress:
Day 6: I finished spinning and plying the Cotswold lamb top, carded the Hampshire and the Hog Island and picked the Blue Faced Leicester sample. The BFL was a pain to pick, very clumpy and lots of short bits. I have handled better, but the fluff that remains should spin up nicely.

Day 7 & 8: I was pretty busy performing for the Bluemont summer concert series with The Flaming Shillelaghs. We played at a nursing home each afternoon before the evening concerts, and I got to do a little spindling at the nursing homes and while we were warming up before the concerts.

I mostly sing with this group, but I also play a little concertina. This is my Wheatstone English Concertina and my Bosworth Moosie spindle with the Finn sample in progress.
Day 9: I finally finished spindling the Finn sample just before our third evening concert began then came home and wound it off on the nostepinne, rewound it into a plying ball and plied it up! 90 yards, lovely stuff. I foresee more Finn in my future. A very white, smooth fiber with a lovely soft feel.

Day 10: I had no time for spinning, so I am calling this my rest day. Between the heat and giving 6 performances in three days, this weekend was absolutely exhausting.

Day 11: I spun and plied up my Hampshire sample (the skein) and re-plied the Debouillet (on the niddy noddy). Quite a study in contrasts! The Hampshire had a very short staple but spun easily into a wooly, springy yarn. The Debouillet is a very fine wool and spun into a fine, smooth yarn.

I had spun the Debouillet last fall and plied it on my Moosie spindle, but when I took it off the spindle I wound it off the end of the spindle onto a weaving spool and I took out part of the twist. Dumb. So I ran it through the wheel to add more twist. I love the way this fleece spun up, so very fine. I can’t wait to knit it up into some lace.

I am thinking about knitting up two samplers with the fleece study yarns, one of lace weight yarn worked with a different pattern for each breed, one for the thicker yarns - I think there is a lot of DK weight yarn here - maybe in gansey type stitch patterns. I may weave up the long stapled hairy breeds - I will see how they spin up.

Day 12: I spent the day sitting with a friend at the hospital, waiting for news of her husband and spindling my Blue Face Leicester sample. At home this evening I spun and plied the Hog Island sample. The Hog Island looks very consistently stained - I don't know if that is a typical color for this breed. It was a pleasure to spin, drafted easily and is a good medium grade workhorse wool.

I also wound the BFL into a plying ball. I will ply it on the spindle the next time I am away from my wheel.

Day 13: no spinning, but I picked one ounce each of four samples - Brown Coopworth, East Friesian, Isle de France and Oxford. These are all extra breeds that I bought last summer, 4 ounces of each from The Spinning Loft. Most of my samples are between one half and three quarters of an ounce, so I decided to weight out an ounce of the each of the new breeds to work up for my study.

Time for more carding!

Day 14: I was too tired to spin at the end of the day, but I carded three samples before I went to bed - East Friesian, Isle de France and Border Leicester.

Day 15: We had a very damp outdoor concert tonight, but I did get my BFL plyed. I also ordered some more fleece from The Spinning Loft: Ryeland, Teeswater, Warhill and Wensleydale.

I did a little administrative work on the project: I am trying to save a clean lock of each sample, but sometimes I forget. So today I went through most of the rest of the bags and pulled a lock for the small labeled bags. I will finish this tomorrow. I also started washing the skeins I have spun during this Tour. The yarn isn't done until it's finished! Between washing and blocking, wet finishing handspun wool can make it really bloom and settle.

Here is how I wash my handspun: I put a small amount of a wool wash in a mixing bowl, add warm to hot water and soak one or two skeins in each bowl for at least ten minutes. Then I rinse twice, squeeze out the excess water and take the skeins outdoors. I hold each skein in one hand and swing it around and snap it in the air to release more water and to snap the plying into place. Then I roll it in a clean towel and step on it and hang it up to dry. I usually hang a weight on the skeins - I use little loops of string to attach a small hand weight or a niddy noddy to help block the yarn as it drys.
Day 16: I had the day off but I was limp from the heat & humidity most of the day. I did do some spinning in the cooler evening - East Friesian and Isle de France. I finished pulling a lock from each sample for my records and I ordered a few additional fleece samples from two Etsy sellers from England: Portland, Hebridean Black, Manx Loughtan, Romney Marsh and Zwartbles. I washed more skeins and updated my spreadsheet.
Day 17: I washed four samples this morning, spun and plyed the Border Leicester this evening and then picked the Montadale and Perendale samples. Now I have 3 ready for carding and only 2 skeins unwashed. I will wait until I have four skeins and wash them in a batch. I confess that I skipped over the Merino sample for the moment - it has a lot of what spinners refer to as Vegetable Matter (vm) and looks like it will be fussy to pick.

Day 18 is a rest day on the actual Tour de France, and we spinners also take rest days. So today I went to work, ran some errands, met my daughter Lily for a pedicure and then went for Chinese food - does that sound restful? Parts of it certainly were. And when I finally got home, I caught up on my blog posting!