Friday, September 18, 2015

A bit of Tartan and the Fall Fiber Festivals!

As many of you eastern fiber lovers probably already know, The Mannings Handweaving School and Supply Center has announced that they will be closing their doors after December 30th of this year.  So, it was with excitement and some sadness that I drove up to East Berlin, Pennsylvania last weekend to teach my last class for Carol & Ron.  I had twelve adventurous students for a tartan class that I developed especially for The Mannings some years ago - a Tartan Sampler that offers 15 very different traditional, historic tartans that explore the design features of this unique cloth from a simple Rob Roy red and black check right up to the very complex Clan Chattan and Prince Charles Edward Stewart tartans.

This is a challenging class for weavers of all skill levels - there is a lot of color changing and learning to look ahead and make choices about when to end a color and when to carry it along.   I also have all the looms tied up to a walking twill treadling -  the treadling sequence is 1, 3, 2, 4 for a more natural motion, but this takes some concentration to learn.  Add to that the 15 different looms and 15 different patterns to decipher and the first day feels like a lot of uphill for some students, but after a good sleep the new knowledge is better settled in the brain and muscles and on the second day there are more smiling faces in the classroom!

I have a number of tartan class options, some are round robin and in others a student weaves on their own loom on a single pattern.  The round robin classes have distinct challenges but the reward is a beautiful array of samples at the end of the weekend!  These are my samples from the weekend - clockwise from the top left: Farquharson, Grant, Munro, Barclay Hunting, Cameron, Clan Chattan and Colquhoun.

It was a great weekend!  I dusted off my History of Tartan slide lecture and now I'm all fired up to edit and improve it and - hopefully - start working on my book this winter, once my schedule settles down.

Which would be late November - because - the fall fiber festivals are coming!  I am participating in two: the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival on Sept. 25-27th right here in Berryville, Virginia and the aptly named Fall Fiber Festival & Sheepdog Trials on Oct. 3 & 4th in Montpelier, Virginia.

For Shenandoah, I am slated to teach three classes:
How To Choose a Fleece - Friday afternoon
Weaving: Warping Your 4 Harness Loom - Saturday afternoon
and Spinning With Handpainted Rovings - Sunday afternoon.
Class information is here and class registration closes on Thursday, September 24th - the day before the festival opens - so if you are interested in any of these classes, please sign up now!

At Fall Fiber, I will be teaching three classes, details here:
Handpaint Magic - Knitting with handpainted yarns - Saturday afternoon
How To Choose a Fleece - Sunday morning
Point Spinning on Spindle and Great Wheel - Sunday afternoon
The class registration for Fall Fiber closes on September 26th - one week before the festival takes place - contact Bitty Yancey at to sign up.

After Fall Fiber, I get a weekend at home and then I hop an airplane to fly down south to teach a week long class October 18 - 24 on Knitting Design: Aran & Gansey Style at the John C Campbell Folk School.  There is still room in this class, and an October week at the Folk School is a little piece of heaven, so consider joining us.  If you know how to knit and you are interested in Irish/Scottish/Arans/Gansey knitting, you will have a great week.  Don't let that D word (Design) scare you off, because this class is aimed at a wide range of knitters.  You can design something as simple as a mug cozy or scarf right on up to a whole sweater!

(Someday I hope to have a photograph of beautiful handwoven linen samples here, but I have been fighting with Blogger and iPhoto for the last two hours and I give up.  For now.)

Then, after two whole weekends at home, it's a road trip with my sister Carolyn, right back to Brasstown, North Carolina for a week of teaching weaving: 18th-century Linens for Shaker Week at the Folk School.  This class is nearly full and I am very excited to be bringing my sister Carolyn along.  She has been helping me sell yarn at the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival for about two decades and this is my big chance to pay her back a little for all that help.  We are planning to make a few stops along the way, including the Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia in Stauton, VA and probably a few yarn stores along the way.  Road Trip!

And then things will quiet down a bit.  I don't have any classes scheduled until April 2016, but there is plenty to do here at the homestead.  More on that, by and by!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

SpinQuest 2015

spinquestmosaic copy 

The registration for SpinQuest 2015 is now open! 

This is a wonderful one day spinning event in Front Royal Virginia on Saturday, August 22nd.  I participated last year for the first time as a vendor, and this year I will be teaching a mini-class about spinning with hand painted roving, demonstrating Chain or Navajo Plying and I will have a vendor table as well.

Anyone can come and visit the vendors, and for the basic registration fee of $60 you can join the circle for demos and challenges and get the SpinQuest Fiber Kit of 4+ ounces of colorful fiber.  The challenges were delightful and interesting last year and the demos were very informative.

This year there will also be one hour classes in the morning and the afternoon for a small additional fee, as well as a full day Beginner Spinning class.  No demonstrations or challenges will take place during the class times.

So, SpinQuest 2015 is a great event for spinners of every level who like to play and have fun with fiber.  Front Royal is a beautiful town on the banks of the Shenandoah River and is also the access point for the Northern entry of the Shenandoah National Park, so there is no shortage of outdoor activities available for accompanying family members or for your Sunday if you come for the weekend.

I hope to see some of you there!  Please pass the information on to anyone who you think might be interested!

There is information on the SpinQuest Facebook site and a link to the registration.

Creative Handspun Adventure
Sat. Aug. 22th 9:30a.m. - 5p.m.
Front Royal, Virginia (60 miles west of DC)

this year's theme: CRAZY FOR COLOR
Come join the spinning circle and be inspired by creative spinning demonstrations. 

Participate in activities and spinning challenges

includes all group activities PLUS a 4+ oz. Quest Kit filled with luscious fiber

Add a one-hour morning and/or afternoon class to your Spinquest experience for $18 each
or add the all day Beginner's Class for $36

shop from talented local fiber vendors (marketplace admission is free):
222 Handspun 

Avalon Springs Farm 
Caluna Farms Studio
Peace Weavers 

Three Ravens 
Unique Designs by Kathy
Wild Hare Fiber Studio

In addition to the creative group activities unique to SpinQuest, this year we are offering the option of several one-hour small group classes taught by experienced local instructors. You may choose one morning and/or afternoon class  (no group activities during classes, so you won't miss anything!)

Monet-Inspired Dyeing & Fiber Blending - Kathy Withers
Basic Corespinning - Melissa Yoder Ricks
Choices & Options for Spinning Handpainted Top - Melissa Weaver Dunning

Creating your own Colorful Textured Rolags - Candy Hargett
Plying Around: Beehive Coils & Spiral Ply Yarns - Melissa Yoder Ricks
Storybook Yarns - Elysa Darling

Christiane Knight
Event details are online at
follow the SpinQuest facebook page for the latest updates and more details
Question? email or call 540-305-6853.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

25 Years at Maryland Sheep & Wool

I find it hard to believe, but this past weekend was my 25th year as a vendor at the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival. I started this side business with my mother and many friends and family have helped over the years.  My sister Carolyn flew out from Kansas to help all weekend, my husband Peter pitched in with the set up and take down.  Sharon helped to hang yarn,  sister Sally and nephew Chris came Saturday to demonstrate puppets and sell.  On Sunday, Nancy & Kim helped by playing with puppets and Diane helped us pack up.

I owe special thanks to all my helpers and of course great appreciation to all our customers over the years.  I have so enjoyed helping the knitters to choose yarn for their projects, answering knitting questions, and watching families and folks of all ages play with the puppets.  It's been a lot of work and a tremendous amount of fun.

Sweater spotting is one of the best parts of any fiber festival!  These two ladies worked together to design their shawls.  One designed the crocheted flowers and one planned the knitted sections. 

So here is a parting shot of the 25th and final Peace Weavers booth.  I have decided that I am done with selling yarn and I am planning to do more making, teaching, singing (and wool waulking) and also playing with my first grandchild, who is expected in July!

The May meeting of the Waterford Weavers Guild is traditionally our annual Dye Day.  This year featured an indigo pot!

Here you see all the skeins I dyed sitting in a blue plastic bucket.  I dyed a variety of yarns from Henry's Attic - Texas (wool/mohair), Silky Locks (wool/mohair), Licorice Twist (all wool) and a cotton & linen blend sleeveless shirt.  I learned the hard way that mohair does not like this particular indigo bath - the mohair blend yarns are a beautiful color but they feel very rough.  I think the mohair got chemically fried and will never be soft again. 

But the Licorice Twist is lovely and soft, with a subtle striation and the shirt came out beautifully, too.

We bought a used car from a very nice fellow this January and learned that he and his brothers do carpentry on the side.  They refitted the old heavy garage door on my husband's wood shop, and they did such a nice job that we decided to go forward with another project.

They cleaned out the long unused hay loft in our barn and put in a new floor,

and they are building a deck type stair on the outside for better access.

I am going to be able to store all of my fiber stash up there!  The yarns and fabrics will all be in different types of plastic bins and the fleece will mostly be in metal trash cans, but it will be in one location for the first time and be organized and labeled. 

There is going to be quite a bit of destashing as I get everything reorganized!

I will leave you with the Flower of the Week.  This  stunning display is in several trees that grow beside the parking lot at my office, so I get to see it almost every day. 

We have had a lovely, cool and long lasting spring this year.  Some people have been complaining about the cooler temperatures but I love it when the weather is cool enough for spring to take its time and move more slowly from one bloom to the next.  The daffodils have finally faded and the redbud is just finishing up while the lilac comes on, the dogwood continues to bloom and this latest delight - wysteria.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Acadian Weaving at the Folk School

After a long, quiet winter season spent mostly at home, the spring fiber classes & events have begun!

With my friend Liz, I left for North Carolina on April 11th.  We stopped off at the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, VA - more on that in another post - spent a night in Asheville and then visited a weaver in Maggie Valley Sunday morning to look at a Toika Eeva loom I am thinking of buying.  This weaver has a basement full of looms, yarn and fleece that makes my stash look - OK, not small but well, now that I think about it we might actually be on fairly equal terms.  I'll let you know once I get my fiber stash into the soon-to-be-refurbished barn loft storage location!

Then it was on through the Smoky Mountains to lovely Brasstown, North Carolina and a week at the John C. Campbell Folk School.

I had a wonderful week.  It was full of flowers - it seemed as if every time I walked outside there was a new plant flowering.  These are two types of Trillium and both the bud and flower of a Pink Lady's Slipper orchid.  Can anyone tell me what the name of the last flowering plant is?

There was also plenty of music - I got to hear the Barralon Brothers play traditional French music twice and sat in on an Irish music session with them, too. 

But the main order of business was weaving - I had five enthusiastic students for a week of Acadian Weaving: three complete beginners and two experienced weavers.  My Acadian weaving class focuses on the types of cloth woven by the earliest French settlers in Maritime Canada as well as what their Cajun decendents were weaving in Louisiana 250 years later.  These weavers used the simplest of looms with only 2 harnesses for plain or tabby cloth but they were ingenious inventors of simple and satisfying weft manipulation to make their cloth more interesting.

We started the week with a big cone of 12/2 cotton yarn (4,200 yards to the pound) and lots of smaller cones of cotton and wool yarns and we finished up the week with five beautiful weaving samplers that included: Catalogne, Boutonnee, Linsey-Woolsey summer skirting with a la planche and twisted weft patterning and a weft faced drugget winter skirting.  Each student also wove a small sample on an extra loom of a fabric called Cordonne that has crammed warp and weft at regular intervals.

Here you see my five happy students in the studio on Friday afternoon - thanks for these great photos, Laura!

And here is our class display at the  student exhibit on Friday evening, complete with the proud teacher looking dazed but happy!


I will be teaching Acadian Weaving again at the end of May for the Sand Hills Weavers Guild in  Southern Pines, NC - their website says that there are still a few places left in this workshop!

Between now and then, I have a day at the Powhatan Festival of Fiber and then the mighty, exhaustive, exhausting Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival - this will be the 25th and last year for my Peace Weavers booth in the Main Exhibit Hall.  Then May will bring some family events - a baby shower house party to celebrate our first grandbaby who is due in early July and a trip up into Pennsylvania for my nephew Mike's college graduation.

I have lots of things to show and tell, and I will do my best to keep posting through this busy season.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

No Time to Say Hello, Goodbye!

I have been really busy these last two weeks, the usual collision of budget season & annual mailing at work, personal and home business tax prep and preparing to leave home and work for a week of teaching at the John C Campbell Folk School.

But there were a few things I wanted to share with you before I go.

One was the beautiful misty sunrise above.  I am truly delighted by all the signs of spring: the green coming up in the new grass, three new foals in our neighbor's field, and six tiny wren eggs in the nest in the weaving studio.

Yes, I did say IN my studio.  This little outbuilding was originally a chicken house.  When we moved here in 1985, my husband cleaned it up and we converted it to a play house for the children.  There have been sleepovers there and a number of people have lived there temporarily - teenage boys who came to work for the summer and a wonderful Polish man who worked on a series on renovation projects for us in the spring of 1993.  Eventually I traded the old parlor in our house for the playhouse - two of our kids got to have their own rooms and I moved my looms out to the old chicken house.

So, it's a somewhat porous space as regards the natural world - I share my studio with a variety of insects and spiders, an occasional mouse and last spring a young Carolina wren built her nest in the basket where I keep long and short lengths of rug yarn and shoelaces for tying up warps.  I don't go in the studio much in winter because it is impossible to heat to a comfortable temperature, and before I started working in there last spring, this tiny bird found what seemed to her to be an ideal location - private, quiet, cozy.  I didn't have the heart to disturb the nest, so I let her raise her brood and then cleaned out the nest when they had fledged and flown.

It simply did not occur to me that she would return, but she has built a new nest and when I checked yesterday, she had laid six wee eggs.  Oh, well.  I will be away all next week and then busy catching up at work during the week and busy with the Powhatan Festival of Fiber on April 25th and very busy with the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival on May 2 &3.  And I have my Wolf Pup in the house, so I will leave my wren in peace as long as she needs the nest.

But next year, I will hide that basket!

Then there was Easter... I baked two almond cakes last Saturday - one in a sheep mold especially for the holiday and one in a tube pan in case the sheep was a complete disaster.

 I really enjoy baking.  I like the process by which a list of ingredients is transformed into

a delicious, aromatic, edible thing - in this case, a cake -

and sometimes into a very special cake!

I was able to repair the nose with a bit of trimmed cake and then covered the whole cake with a bittersweet chocolate glaze.

My sister Sally prepared a wonderful spread for Easter dinner - leg of lamb with avgolemono sauce, ham, asparagus, a massaged kale salad and a complicated pilaf that my Father used to make called Armenian Rice.  It includes chicken livers, almonds, sauteed apples and onions, tomatoes, eggplant, bacon and it tastes like my childhood.

The sheep cake was a big hit, and was particularly enjoyed by a visiting neighbor who initially declined dessert because he has celiac and can't have wheat flour.  He was surprised and pleased to find that I am a gluten-free baker.

The last thing to share is a photo of Idgy with her boyfriend, Beaucephus.  They spent quite a bit of time together over the last two weeks and we are hoping that they finally figured out how to make puppies.  We will know in a few weeks!

OK, I have to finish my work reports and solve the problem with the balance sheet and pack all my materials and handouts and some clothes before I head off to Brasstown, North Carolina to teach a week of Acadian Weaving.  More on that in the next post.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

NoHo Trip

There are clear signs of spring in our part of the world - warmer temperatures on some days, the maple buds are growing visibly every warm day and today the mailman wore shorts!  At the bird feeders, while the juncos are still with us for now, we saw the first towhee on March 21st and today there was a mockingbird singing in the still dormant lilac.

But last week, Peter & I drove up to western Massachusetts to visit our son, Robbie.  We drove from the beginnings of spring in our Northern Shenandoah Valley right back into winter.

Northampton, Massachusetts has many local treasures.  For the knitter-weaver-spinner type person, there is WEBS, the east coast mecca of yarn and fiber - and my sister Annie drove down from Vermont for the day just so we could visit WEBS together!  Annie had never been before, and I enabled helped her choose yarn for two sweaters and bought yarn for two baby cardigans.  I had to return to WEBS two days later when I remembered that one of my guild mates had asked me to get her a temple for her current weaving project and didn't I find a skein of Madeline Tosh Twist Light in Jasper that just had to come home with me.  It will become a shawl one day.

There is wonderful local produce (more than just carrots!) and some truly great thrift stores.  The Bridge Street Goodwill had a sale on babies and children's clothes, so I brought home a big bag of clothes for Baby Won Kenobe (our first grandchild, due to arrive in July!)

There is also a fabulous array of restaurants to sample, and many of these have interesting art and decor.

 This transparency weaving is on display at Paul & Elizabeth's along with other beautiful textiles.

Spring will surely come to Northampton soon, and for those who need to be reminded of why it's worth waiting for, there is the Smith College Bulb Show.

The Botanic Garden at Smith College has an amazing group of greenhouses, and on this sunny but blustery cold day we joined a happy throng of folks to view the riot of color.

This first of the two rooms of bulbs was mostly tulips, daffodils and hyacinths.

And one of my favorites - Frittilaria.  Proof once again that Nature has infinite variety and a sense of humor!

The second greenhouse was an homage to the painter Claude Monet and featured enlargements of some of his Giverny paintings and a corresponding color theme.

The great man himself was present, brush in hand.

These black hyacinths received a lot of comment, and the tulips below look slightly carnivorous!

The greenhouses for the Bulb Show are kept quite cold to slow down and extend the bloom, so after seeing the glorious color, we headed back into the Palm House to warm up.  Here is a sampling of some of the pattern and texture from those plants:

All in all, we found much inspiration and encouragement in this visit to the Botanic Garden. 

We returned home in time for what everyone hopes was the Last Snowstorm in Virginia on Friday, March 20th, the first day of spring.  We got 6-8" of snow but it warmed up so much the next day that we went hiking on the mountain on Sunday.  Next week - Hiking around Bear's Den.