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.

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.

Friday, March 20, 2015

My Fibery Year, Part the Third, in Which We Weave More Tartan!

I did promise some more tartan, didn't I?  Here are some photos from the Tartan Weaving class I taught in September 2014 at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC.  Here we see the intrepid students, pausing en route to lunch.

Before the class began, we communicated by email and each student chose a tartan pattern for their project.  The sequence of different colored threads for a tartan warp is called a sett.  We used The Scottish Register of Tartans website to locate and identify the specific tartans.  This is a very useful tool for finding and sharing tartan designs and setts.  Anyone can search the registry website or you can join to have access to thread counts, notification of new tartans as they are registered or to register your own tartan design.  When I first started teaching tartan weaving I would mail color copies of tartans from a particular book, but now students have thousands of tartans to choose from.

For the class, each student planned a scarf using a fine yarn set at 30 ends per inch - three students used Jaggerspun Superfine Merino 2/18 and one student opted to go with the Jaggerspun Zephyr 2/18 which is 50% wool and 50% silk.

Here are the warps in the process of being wound on warping boards. I teach my students to wind their warps with 4 or more threads at a time, using a spool rack to hold the spools of yarn.  I love to see the clear colors of the warp threads, side by side on the board.

Here they are on the loom - clockwise from the top left these tartans are MacPherson, Burns, Royal Stewart and WRNS (Womens Royal Naval Services Association).

And here we all are on Friday afternoon with three of the scarves off the loom - Royal Stewart was still in process.  I am sporting my most toothsome grin - this reminds me of the line in John McCutcheon's song, Kindergarten Wall - one of the things you are supposed to learn in Kindergarten is "how to smile for a picture without looking like a dope".  I guess I was absent for that lesson!

Kit, Norman Kennedy, Nancy & Liz

This class took place during Scottish Week at the Folk School and we were very fortunate to have Norman Kennedy in residence that week as a cultural commentator.  Norman is originally from Aberdeen, Scotland and was my first weaving teacher in 1980.  One of the phrases we coined during this week of class was What Would Norman Do - thus the acronym on the white board in our class photo - WWND?  One of the students also started a list of Oh My God (OMG) moments.  We had a lot of fun together!

Once I got my students busily working, I wound a warp for a pair of small tartan blankets in a variation on one of the tartans that appears in the Outlander mini-series.  I wove this on one of the big Swedish countermarche looms and by spending several evenings weaving I had my blankets woven and off the loom by Friday morning.  I basted this long warp together at the ends into a big loop and finished the cloth with a waulking at the Waterford Fair in October 2014.

Here is a collage of the tartans woven during our week of class.  If you are interested in having a tartan sett prepared and/or purchasing a yarn kit for a small blanket, a scarf or a dance stole, leave me a message in the comment section.  (To protect your privacy, I will not publish your comment if it contains an email address.)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

In Which Winter Takes a Welcome Turn

The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia finally got a proper snow storm last week and while it kept me from my regular Friday morning lap swimming, I can't complain because I got to go cross country skiing! 

I love cross country skiing.  It is one of the things I missed most when I moved back to Virginia after 7 years in Vermont.  For me, a good winter is one in which I get to ski out my back door at least once.  We have lived in our old farmhouse for over 30 years now and there have been some good winters and some that only had a little decorative snow, and there were times when we had snow but I was not well enough to ski.  This year my immune system issues are well in check and I have been very excited to be able to exercise regularly again after a few tough years.

Our dog Idgy is just the right size for 8-10" of snow - she is like a little snow plow!

I got up extra early on Saturday morning so that I could ski one more time before the temperatures rose above freezing and still get to my class on time.  I took a weekend class through the Blue Ridge Spinners & Weavers Guild on Needle Punch Rug Hooking.  Kathy Donovan of Checkmate Farm was the instructor.

Kathy started raising Karakul sheep ten years ago and has been learning the shepherding business and looking for just the right outlet and product for her wool.  She took a Dyeing to Hook a Rug class at the John C. Campbell Folk School last spring and then went on to study with Amy Oxford and now Kathy is all about turning her beautiful fleeces into colorful rug wool for needle punch rugs.

Kathy does all her own dyeing, and she has a wonderful eye for color.  This is a perfect application for the Karakul fleece; there are lovely natural colors and the wool takes dye beautifully.

Each student chose a pattern and traced the design onto tissue paper with an iron-on transfer pen.

We transferred the pattern to the monks cloth backing with a dry iron.

I selected a Dresden plate pattern and picked out  a color wheel palette of twelve colors to fill the segments. 

I decided to use neutral greys, browns and off white for the border and a natural true black for the edging.

We punched all Saturday afternoon and I worked for an hour or so that evening.  This is an Oxford Punch Needle - it's a terrific tool, very well designed and comfortable to use.

On Sunday we returned to class and punched, talked and learned more about finishing our rugs and the many possibilities this technique has to offer.

Here are all the projects!  

With needle punch, you work from the back, and the front will look messy until you trim the beginning and ending yarn and tidy up the design.  The top two hearts are shown from the front - the top left is ready for finishing.  The lower two hearts are shown from the back.

These are the three other designs we had to choose from.

I did the finishing at home on Monday night - I trimmed and tidied up the loops and outlining, steamed my rug with a damp press cloth & a dry iron and then trimmed the backing, ran a gathering thread around and drew it up and pinned & then stitched the backing in place.

Here is the back of one of Kathy's round samples.   See how the backing is gathered?

This design  features both yarn and wool fabric strips.

Nice squirrel! 

My finished rug fits a bar stool very nicely, but it also looks good on my chair at work.  I am already planning my next rug project!