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!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tour de Fleece rides again!

I am participating once again in the Tour de Fleece, a group of international spinners who form teams and spin daily during the Tour de France. Last year I began working on my 50 Breeds Fleece study, and while I had hoped to continue this study over the winter, it has languished since the end of the 2011 tour.

So I am back at it, and we will see how much progress I can make in these three weeks. This is particularly challenging as I often work 7 days a week in the summer months, but I have managed to fit at least a little spinning in every day and have been pleased with what I accomplished during the last two Tours.

So, I pulled down the box of fleece samples and took stock. I washed all 46 of the original samples last year, along with 4 or 5 that I added to the original Fleece Study kit from Jackie Bland. This is a 50 Breed study much in the spirit of the 4 member Dixie Power Trio. It's a good title and I'm sticking with it.

Last year I spun up 10 sample skeins - Brecknock Hill, California Red, Cheviot, North Country Cheviot, Clun Forest, Columbia, Coopworth, Cormo, CVM. I had the Debouillet started on a spindle at the end of the tour, and I know I finished plying it while teaching a workshop in October. I found the Corriedale and Cotswold picked and ready to card and all other samples clean in their labeled bags.

Day 1: I spun and plied the Corriedale and the Cotswold.

Day 2: I spent two hours looking for the paper copy of my spreadsheet with all the notes from last year. I found lots of other things and tidied up a very messy corner of the den, but no spreadsheet. Yet.

I made a space for the drum carder, brought it in and got it set up, then ran out of time before work.

Work on this day was helping run an outdoor concert. In spite of the 100 degrees F and about 85% humidity, everything went smoothly except for the power supply. I spun a little on some silk/merino that I already had going on a spindle but my hands were really too sticky for spinning.

Day 3: a wee skein of Horned Dorset carded, spun and plied after a long workday. I also carded the Polled Dorset and picked & carded Finn and Gulf Coast Native. Picked a tiny sample of brown Finn and some grey Gotland, but I have decided to card my way through the white samples before turning the drum carder over to colored fleece. Or possibly hand card them, depending on logistics.

Day 4: I spun and plied the Polled Dorset and Gulf Coast Native. Two very different types of wool, the Dorset is a down type, short and springy. I much preferred spinning the Polled Doset sample, it was easier to draft but both had lots of second cuts. The GCN is a longer stapled wool with a light crimp and more sheen. It carded to a light, fluffy batt and drafted very smoothly in a long draw. I look forward to seeing the skein after washing!

Day 5: I went to Gretchen's and got her started on a suspended spindle - a Bosworth Midi to be precise! I spun a little on the white Finn and she gave me some Solitude Cotswold lamb top to try, so I started that on the wheel when I got home, after spinning up the tiny sample of Brown Finn. Gretchen said that the mill found the top spun up thick and thin, and I am finding it very slick and quite a challenge to draft smoothly.

I also picked the Hampshire, Hog Island, Blue Faced Leicester and Masham samples, and I sorted the bags of fleece into those for combing and those for carding. Once I got to I for Icelandic, there is a whole group of long wools and primitive double coated fleeces that will be better combed than carded. So here is where I gave up working in alphabetical order.

So - it's still a big project, but it's also still very interesting! I will try to blog every few days to keep up with all the action here at the Burrow. I am going to be very busy this weekend as I am performing with the Flaming Shillelaghs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, but I will try to get a little spinning in.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Spring Redux!

We had a mild winter here in Virginia with almost no snow. This is the oak tree in our back yard on an unusually foggy spring morning.

I have been teaching a lot of classes this winter and spring. I counted eight weekends out of twelve since the end of January when Norman Kennedy came for a visit and we conducted a weekend spinning seminar.

We squeezed 19 students and spinning wheels into the newly opened Barefoot Weavers Studio - thank you, Beth!

A great weekend and if Norman sticks to his guns, one of his last out of town classes. He told me every day of his visit that this was his last winter teaching tour. I may have to visit Vermont next winter.

I drove Norman partway to his next gig at the Campbell Folk School and we spent a day exploring and cataloging part of Roddy Moore's textile collection. Roddy is a prodigious collector of broad tastes, and his primary textile collection is of handwoven blankets.

This is an under appreciated category of weaving and I was amazed to see his armoire filled with blankets on my first visit to his home. I had been thinking about them for a year and was very pleased to spend a day analyzing about two dozen, recording enough information for reproduction and taking a lot of photos. One of the blankets has already turned up in my 18th c. Household Textile classes!

February began with a local warping class to help six weavers prepare for a 3 day Tartan class held President's Day weekend for the Blue Ridge Weavers & Spinners Guild. We had 12 weavers for this tartan round robin - a colorful delight!

I also delivered a program on the History of Tartan for the Potomac Fiber Arts Guild, accompanied by a brand new slide show that was great fun to put together, and finished up the day with a mini class on tartan design.

In March I drove down to Nashville TN to teach Acadian Weaving for the Handweavers Guild of Nashville - we met in the club house of an apartment building, a very nice space for classes.

This very useful caddy is made to fit on a Dorset loom, but one could be made for any loom without a castle. See the bead counter and the cork strip for attaching your draft? Very clever and handy!

From Nashville, I drove over the mountains to Brasstown NC to the Campbell Folk School where I took a weaving class with Laura Fry called The Efficient Weaver. I have wanted to meet Laura since the first time I saw her Magic in the Water book on wet finishing handwoven fabric, and this was a great opportunity to meet her, learn about her production techniques and enjoy her teaching style. Laura has honed her skills to weave very, very quickly and she shares the details of her approach with calm, patience and very precise language.

Pam Howard, Resident Weaver at JCCFS on the left, Laura Fry on the right at the Friday afternoon student exhibition.

A week of work from twelve very efficient weavers!

I missed the blooming of my favorite old weeping cherry tree at home, but the Folk School provided me with a suitable replacement.

To finish out March and start into April I taught a weekend class on 18th c. Linens for the Waterford Weavers Guild (Sorry, no photos!). Then I spent five days in Charlottesville with the Albemarle Handweavers Guild,

offering a two day Acadian Weaving class

and then three days of 18th c. Household Textiles. I have a copy of Norman Kennedy's Acadian textile slides along with a tour of Acadian museums in Canada to go with the Acadian class, but I premiered another new slide show for the HT class, including some of Roddy Moore's blankets and some of Bill Leinbach's antique textiles.

My last teaching day for the spring was spent at scenic Graves Mountain Lodge in Syria VA at the Dog House Yarns Spring Knitting Retreat.

I gave about sixty ladies an hour of traditional songs and stories and then gave a talk on Knitting Traditions in England, Ireland and Scotland: Ganseys, Aran, Fair Isle and Shetland lace knitting.

I am still trying to find a really good title for this group of traditions - I don't think British Isles or UK Knitting Traditions is broad enough but Northern Islands seems too vague, and really should include Faroe and Icelandic traditions. Maybe I should just expand to include those as well? Traditional Island Knitting - sounds tropical. The Armchair Traveler Knits Again? Suggestions are welcome! I will be teaching this class at the Campbell Folk School in March of 2013 again and I'd love to have a better title.

I am now neck deep in preparations for the Peace Weavers booth at Maryland Sheep & Wool, our front hall is full of boxes and I am programming my iPad to be our new cash register. My sister Carolyn is flying in from Kansas on Wednesday - here it comes!

The day job gets very busy in the summer months, but I am hoping to make more time for weaving and spinning this summer. One of the things I took away from my week with Lara Fry was the knowledge that I need to weave more. And I am already looking forward to the Tour de Fleece in July!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Distaff Day - January 7, 2012

I like the concept of Beginning As You Mean To Go On -

and in this spirit I organized a Distaff Day event this year for friends from local guilds. Distaff Day is traditionally the day after Epiphany and the first day of returning to work after the twelve days of the Christmas holidays. Women would return to their spinning chores on this day and the men would tease and distract them, trying to extend the holiday spirit. You can read more about Distaff Day or Roc Day on Wikopedia or in greater detail here.

My friend Beth Wilson had just opened her Barefoot Weaver's teaching studio and she graciously hosted the event. We did not confine ourselves to spinning! Some friends volunteered to demonstrate various fibery skills:

painting skeins with dye,

spinning cotton on the charka wheel, crocheting spinning wheel drive bands, wool combing,

warping a rigid heddle loom,

warping a floor loom.

I gave a great wheel spinning lesson and then a rigid heddle warping demo which included measuring the warp right across the room and creating a yarn barrier that inspired some folks to show off their limbo techniques. I put a warp on my own Flip loom with Crystal Palace Merino Stripes. I wove a similar scarf for my husband for Christmas this year. I love the way the color change in the yarn works with the length of the warp.

About 30 people came and went in the course of the day and participated in one of the stations or just sat to spin and chat for a while. It was a great day and I think a good time was had by all who joined us!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Recap of 2011

I'm sure that I am not the only person who is unprepared for the new year when it rolls around every twelve months. I am always impressed by those who are ready with their plans, intentions and resolutions, but I am generally trying to recover from the annual challenge of family time and holiday preparations vs. running one or two major events on New Year's Eve. For the past twenty five years we have run one and often two First Night events and for all that I love the event itself, it's a tremendous amount of work and energy at a time when I long to just hole up at home and bake and enjoy time with my family.

So the turn of the year always seems to take me by surprise, and it's somewhere towards the end of January before I find the perspective to make plans on a twelve month scale. This year is no different.

But before I launch into visions of the future, I would like to look back at the year behind me. This is my 100th blog post and I would like to recap 2011 and talk about the classes I've been teaching.

I have been beginning the last 4 or 5 years with a trip to the John C. Campbell Folk School - not a bad way to start the year - to begin as you mean to go on. My long time friend and mentor, Norman Kennedy often comes to visit me in January to begin his winter teaching tour. Sometimes we have a project to work on together or a class to teach, and then I drive him down to Brasstown, North Carolina and sit in on the spinning class he has been teaching with Martha Owen for the last several years.

In January 2011, I focused on color work in spinning and spun up several braids of hand dyed roving in various combinations: fractals, chain plyed to preserve the color sequence, randomly plied for hit & miss color, etc. This helped me prepare to teach two days of spinning for my local Blue Ridge Spinners & Weavers Guild in February. We did Traditional Wool Preparation, Point Spinning on spindles and great wheels and Handpaint Magic - spinning with hand dyed rovings. The class was held at the Round Hill Arts Center just ten miles from my home.

I returned there 2 weekends later to teach a class in Acadian Weaving.

In March I returned to the Campbell Folk School to teach Modular Knitting to a group of enthusiastic knitters.

I spent much of late March and April ordering yarn and preparing for the my Peace Weavers booth at the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival but the last weekend before the festival I had the privilege of taking a 2 day Kumihimo class from Rodrick Owen, a renowned Kumihimo master who literally wrote The Book on the subject. I am delighted to have had the opportunity to meet and get to know Rodrick a little and to be introduced to the possibilities of braiding on the Japanese Marudai stand.

The Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival has been one of the highlights of my year since I returned to Virginia in 1980, and I have had a booth at the show since 1991 with considerable support from my family. My sister Carolyn comes from Kansas every year to help set up the booth and sell non stop for two days, my sister Sally comes down one day from Philadelphia with her sons to help and when she can my sister Annie joins us from Vermont. My mother & I ran our Peace Weavers business together for the first fifteen years or so until my Mom's energy level no longer made that possible, and my three children have helped every year, demonstrating puppets and helping run the register. Maybe someday one of them will knit some samples, but I'm not holding my breath!

We had a very good year at MS&W once again, and I look forward to another exhausting but satisfying weekend this year.

The big family event this year was a double matriculation for two of our kids from Smith College: our Robbie graduated with a B.A. in The Study of Women & Gender and our Hannah earned a Masters degree in The Art of Education. We had a wonderful weekend celebrating these great milestones and eating and drinking with great pleasure and abandon. Robbie has stayed on in Northampton and is teaching at a wonderful preschool there; Hannah was offered a teaching position in Virginia and moved home in August to our great delight.

July found me teaching at my first weaving conference - MidAtlantic Fiber Arts or MAFA runs a biannual conference and for 2011 this was held at Gettysburg College. I was invited to teach a class on 18th Century Linens. My summer work schedule has prevented me from participating in any summer weaving conferences until now, but I decided that with enough advance planning I could manage one weekend away this year. I'm very glad I took the plunge - it was a wonderful event with primarily weaving classes, there were lots of friends from my two guilds, fellow teachers and former students, and I had a large class of excited students who squeezed into the narrow classroom and learned to enjoy weaving some lovely old patterns in linen and cotton.

At the end of July I pushed my work schedule completely out of shape and took a four day weaving class from Jason Collingwood on Two Block Weft Faced Rugs. The class was presented by the Blue Ridge Spinners & Weavers and was held at the old Depot in Purcellville, just one block from my office, but it was very challenging to spend even four half days away from work in the busiest part of our summer concert season. Nonetheless I am very glad I took the class and got to meet Jason, who is an excellent teacher and shares his knowledge with great patience and good humor. I will confess that the warp from that class is still on my Baby Wolf loom, but I hope to weave off some samples very soon.

August was entirely given over to work and running concerts, and we nearly made it through the summer season of 50 concerts unscathed. A few days before the last concert weekend my husband Peter dozed off while driving down to visit his mother in the Northern Neck of Virginia. His van veered off the road, rolled nose over nose three times and landed askew but right side up in a concrete culvert. He was very fortunate to survive the accident with just a broken arm and a nasty contusion on one shin and he will be ever grateful that he didn't hit another car and harm anyone else.

He was also lucky that someone saw the accident and called it in right away so that help arrived promptly. He was airlifted to MCV in Richmond and spent three days there; our Lily was still living in Richmond then and got to him quickly while Hannah & I made it down later that evening. It was an anxious time, but mostly we counted our blessings. It could have been so much worse. Hannah & I drove out to see the wrecked van and reclaim Peter's briefcase and tennis bag; the man whose shop the van had been towed to said that Peter was spared because he was on his way to see his Mama. Whatever the reason, should there be such cause & effect, we are all grateful.

A few weeks later I left Hannah in charge of the patient and headed down to the Campbell Folk School once again, this time to teach 18th c. Household Textiles. This was a big class and we sampled a dozen or more different fabrics: rugs, coverlets, napery, towels, linsey-woolsey and blanketing.One of my students took some video footage of warping with multiple ends, beaming and winding bobbins - these can be found on YouTube if you are interested. I was very impressed by the quality of the video produced by an iPhone, even the sound is very clear.

Autumn brings the return of the fiber festivals, and this year I taught spinning classes at Berryville's own Shenandoah Fiber Festivals well as the following weekend at the Fall Fiber Festival held at Montpelier, Virginia. Then I participated in the Waterford Fair with the Waterford Weavers Guild.

The following weekend found Peter & I down at the Outer Banks in North Carolina where I taught an 8/2 Towels class for the Outer Banks Guild while Peter relaxed at the shore.
We also celebrated our 29th wedding anniversary at the beach, enjoying wonderful local seafood at Basnight's Lone Cedar restaurant - we liked it so much, we ate there twice!

I had two weekends off in a row - a welcome break - and then flew up to Cleveland, Ohio to teach Acadian Weaving for the Medina Guild. This was a return visit as I had done a Tartan workshop for them four or five years before. My favorite hostess, Laura Enoch carried me around to a record number of local thrift stores and her own antique store where I scored some antique Venetian carpeting along with a hat that Laura had knitted from yarn she spun from her own sheep. This hat is the warmest hat and everyone's favorite for carrying in firewood. I'm hoping to tempt Laura to visit me in Virginia sometime, I am luring her with the promise of a Structo loom that has been taking up space in our barn for too long.

The following weekend I flew off to Kansas with my little Mama to surprise my sister Carolyn on the occasion of her 60th birthday. She was expecting her youngest daughter to visit, but that daughter - Above & Beyond Jodie - arranged for Carolyn's mother, all three sisters, all three children and all five grandchildren to happen to drop in for the weekend. It was too soon over, but so much fun. Next time we get together we need to try for a whole week!

A few weeks later I finished my teaching year with a two day Modular Knitting class for the local Blue Ridge guild. Another large class and a whole lot of fun as we worked our way through mitered squares, entrelac, bubble wrap short rows and log cabin squares. The ongoing Knitters group from the BRSWG is under my direction again this year and we have been working our way through an informal small shawl Knit-A-Long while visiting various topics at our monthly meetings - lace, shawl shaping, two color knitting and for December we started Julekuler or Christmas Balls.

I worked up 7 or 8 before the Christmas holidays, making steady progress as I knit through a long afternoon at the hospital on December 21st when Peter finally had surgery to repair his broken arm. The surgeon had hoped it would mend and for a while it seemed to be coming together but by the end of November it was clearly not going to heal unaided.

We had our family together for the Christmas holidays and while First Night Leesburg was cancelled for 2011, the First Night Warrenton celebrations were saved by some very vigorous last minute local fundraising. I helped Peter to run the event, but also was able to perform in Warrenton, singing in the lovely old wooden chapel of the Presbyterian church. What a privilege to be able to sing out the old year and welcome the new year on the steps of the historic courthouse with Peter and our old friends Nicolo and the Queen of Whimsey. For many years I have been helping to run the Leesburg event while Peter was in Warrenton, so it was a rare pleasure to be together on New Year's Eve.

Whew! That was a busy year! Forty days of teaching or taking classes or selling yarn; I taught a dozen classes and took three.

Looking forward, I'm fairly busy with teaching in the coming months but the fall is not yet booked up - we will see. I am hoping to do more spinning this year. I did manage to Buy No Yarn for personal use in 2011 but I'm dismayed by how small a dent I made in my yarn stash. But I worked on a lot of WIPS - works in progress. I am hoping to buy only a little yarn this year, and to cut way back on my fiber buying. I'm making no promised about books!