Saturday, February 28, 2015

My Fibery Year, Part 2

I am clearly still working on fitting a weekly blog post into my schedule!  I had all the photos loaded on Thursday morning but then work was a steady blur, so the lunch hour I had planned to spend writing the post did not take place.  As with most things in life, I will continue to do the best I can!

Tartan Blankets

Today, I am revisiting a few more of my fiber adventures from 2014, starting with a Tartan Blanket class at The Mannings Handweaving School and Supply Center in East Berlin, PA.  If you are a weaver living within a few hours of The Mannings you have probably heard of the school and shop and possibly been there to browse and purchase and/or take a class.  Weavers and knitters come from farther afield once they have been there - it's a great shop with a wonderful array of yarn and tools, patterns and books but also one of the best weaving schools in the country.

Tom Knisely has been working at the school since 1977; he began working at The Mannings as a teenager and served his apprenticeship under Mr. Manning.  I like to tell my weaving students about the mentors and teachers who have contributed to my journey as a weaver and a weaving teacher.  The illustrious list of names and stories always begins with Norman Kennedy but it also includes Tom Knicely.  I recommend that any weaver who can should take a class from Tom - he is extremely knowledgeable, kind and patient but also explains techniques in the clearest possible language.  It is little wonder that he was Handwoven Magazine's Weaving Teacher of the Year in 2011.

I have had the pleasure of taking a number of classes from Tom, mostly as weekend guild retreats.  I have taught a number of classes for The Mannings, too - most of my different Tartan classes and my Tweeds & District Checks class, too.  In May 2014 we offered my Tartan Blanket class for the first time here and the class went forward with a full compliment of 12 students.

Each of the students chose the tartan pattern for their blanket; some were family tartans and some were chosen for color or simplicity.  At least three were recolored to suit the weaver.  The warps were all Jaggerspun Maine Line 2/8 set at 12 epi - it is a challenge to weave a balanced cloth at this open set but after wet finishing the wool really blooms!  We basted three or four blankets together in a long loop, wetted them thoroughly and held a wool waulking at the end of class.  I'm really sorry that I don't have any photos of the waulking - it was a rollicking good time and the end results were lovely.

Shameless Commerce - I sell Jaggerspun yarns at an attractive price!  I provide yarn for many of my classes so I have a lot of colors in stock in the Maine Line 2/8 and the Superfine Merino 2/18, but I can order any yarns that are not in stock.  I also provide wind offs for tartan weaving kits as well as prepared tartan drafts.  If you are interested, leave your email and "Jaggerspun Prices" in a comment for this post and I will send you my price list.  To protect your privacy and your in-box, I will not publish comments that contain an email address.

50+ Breed Spinning Study

Any long time readers of my blog have probably read some posts about my Breed Study in previous years.  I have devoted the three weeks of the Tour de Fleece spinning event to this study since 2012.  It began with a kit from Jackie Bland, who gave a presentation at a Waterford Weavers Guild meeting many years ago.  At that meeting I bought a kit which contained about an ounce of raw fleece from more than 40 different sheep breeds.  It also included a binder with a worksheet for each sample including the source of that fleece and one or more pages of general information about the breed.

This was long before the wonderful Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius was published, not to mention Beth Smith's The Spinner's Book of Fleece.  There were a few resources for spinners interested in breed study, including In Sheep's Clothing by Nola and Jane Fournier (now happily back in print) but the fleece study notebook and all those little packets of fleece were a real treasure trove!  But life intervened, I was raising three children and working part time and many years slipped by. 

And then came the Tour de Fleece!  I think this event began in 2006 and moved to Ravelry in 2008.  It is an opportunity for spinners to challenge themselves in their handspinning during the annual Tour de France bicycle race.  Participants can join a team or teams and compete for prizes or just share their daily progress.  I fielded a team beginning in 2011 through my yarn business, Peace Weavers in cooperation with Solitude Wool; one of the team members christened our team Team Peace & Solitude.

For the past three years I have worked on my breed study during the Tour de Fleece.  I made a spreadsheet of all the breeds to keep track of weights and measures and how each sample was prepared and spun.  I washed all the samples in the original Fleece Study kit the first year.  I won a prize that first year from Spirit Trail Fiberworks which added to my breed list and let's just say there has been a little online shopping... it's amazing what you can find on the internet!  My current count is 39 breeds spun out of 69 breed samples.  I need to catch up a little before any new acquisitions.

In July 2014, I focused on long wool breeds and combing, working my way through ten breed samples.  I prepared and spun Hebridean, Icelandic, English Jacob, Karakul, English Leicester Longwool, Lincoln Longwool, Navajo-Churro, and Romanov, as well as two non-longwool breeds: Southdown and Arapawa.  Some of these were, of course, more satisfying to work with than others but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the Karakul and the Navajo-Churro in particular.  There is something magical about these dual coated fleeces, the yarn is surprisingly springy and somehow greater than the sum of it's parts. 

So, all you spinners out there who are happily addicted to ultra soft wools - give yourself a challenge this year to spin something really different!  You may find some new breeds to love!

 This is a photo of my favorite new fiber tool - the Nina Soft Spin Dryer - a spin dryer that removes most of the water from fleece and wool items or whatever you place in the drum.  It beats all heck out of the roll-it-in-a-towel-and-stomp-on-it method, the washed fleece dries very quickly after a quick spin in the Nina!   It is also wonderful for dyeing as it reduces the amount of rinsing needed if you give your yarn or fiber a spin before rinsing. 

At the end of the 2014 Tour de Fleece, I won a prize from Team 4 The Sheep! - a team hosted by Spirit Trail Fiberworks and The Spinning Loft - I won three packets of fleece from The Spinning Loft!  And while I was choosing I added a few more samples to my cart and added a few European breeds to my study collection: Gra Trondersau, Norsk Spelssau, Ouessant, and two Americans - Polypay and Santa Cruz.  The list keeps growing!

More Spinning!

I got to take a two day class with Deb Robson at the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival in May 2014 - her 3 C's and 3 L's class.  Deb is a terrific, enthusiastic teacher with a wealth of knowledge about sheep and spinning and I felt very fortunate to be able to participate in the class.  I took her Spinning Rare Breed Wools class at MS&W in May 2013 and was delighted to have a second opportunity.  If you get a chance to attend one of Deb's class, sign up right away!  You will be amply rewarded.  Meanwhile, you can read her excellent blog, The Independent Stitch.

 And in August 2014, I participated in SpinQuest 2014 as a vendor.  This is a spinning event that is held in Front Royal, VA in August each year and features teaching demos, creative exercises and juried vendors.  It's a small event for up to 45 participants and the vendor fee is to provide 45 small bags of spinning fiber that fit in with the theme for the event.  Vendors also receive a fiber goody bag and are invited to join in with the exercises and challenges.

The theme for 2014 was Au Naturelle - Focus on Natural Fleece, and I got all the processed fleeces out of my attic and set about weighing out small samples for the participants goody bags and then larger packets of roving for sale.

My relationship with my attic and other hidden stores of treasure is best defined as If I Can't See It, It Doesn't Exist.  Which is my excuse for continuing to acquire exciting and inspiring fleece, yarn, fabric, etc.  My roving for sale includes Coopworth, Border Leicester, Merino, Ramboiullet and Ramboiullet crosses, Shetland some other really nice spinners flock crosses as well as one or two mystery fleeces.  I have bagged these up in 6-8 ounce bags and labeled them as Private Stock - Hand Selected Fleeces for Handspinners and I sell them for $10 each.  The weight is marked on the bag and depends on the cost of the original fleece.  I will have plenty of these at my Peace Weavers booth at the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival this year.

See you next week with more tartan weaving!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Shaker Textile Adventure

My friend Liz and I set out a few days early for the John C. Campbell Folk School last March.  
We made a side trip to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, to visit the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.

I have been several times to the Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire and to Hancock Shaker Village in western Massachusetts.  I have visited the Shaker Museum & Library in Old Chatham, NY, the site of the New Lebanon community and the Shaker Historical Society Museum in Shaker Heights, Ohio, but I have wanted to visit Pleasant Hill for some time.  It is the only Shaker village museum in the south and there are overnight accomodations in the village.  

We met another fiber friend, Lucy and stayed two nights in a lovely set of rooms in the East Family Sisters Shop.  This is Lucy's room with a double bed - Liz and I had twin beds in the adjoining room and each room had an en suite bathroom.  The rooms were beautifully furnished with simple reproductions and beautiful original built in cupboards.

There are some domestic beasts on the grounds, and it is pleasant to wake to the sounds of lowing cattle.

The Village runs a restaurant in the Trustee's Office which serves breakfast and lunch, and we had several meals there.  The service was excellent, the kitchen accommodated our various dietary requirements  and the setting was gorgeous.


But what we really came for was the old textiles.  I arranged in advance to visit the archives and study some of the textiles.  I teach a class on Shaker Linens and include a Shaker rug in my 18th c. Floor Coverings class.  A few years ago I went with Nanette Davidson of the John C. Campbell Folk School to spend a day in the textile archives at the Hancock Shaker Village - that experience was like opening Pandora's box - it was so exciting so be able to handle and examine these old textiles and there is so much to learn from close examination.

I am very interested in the handwoven linens and rugs, of course, but also in clothing and in knitted and novelty rugs.  I was delighted to find the knitted rug you see above and I hope to eventually reproduce it in some form.

This beautiful little apron was sewn by a 7 year old girl as a gift for another Shaker Sister.   The fabric is handwoven cotton with crammed threads creating the windowpane pattern.  It is elegant in it's simplicity.  
We looked at bonnets, chair tape, braided straw tape for making bonnets, cotton, silk and wool kerchiefs of all sizes and patterns, pen wipers, aprons, socks, sewing boxes, mittens, several dresses, a red wool cloak and a very unusual pair of pajamas in mint condition.

After several hours, we staggered out into the daylight, replenished ourselves with lunch and then returned for more examination, note taking and photography.

On our second day, we toured a textile exhibit and explored the village grounds and buildings.  I was surprised to see signs encouraging visitors to take photographs and share them on Facebook and other social media, as the rules for photography vary widely from one museum to the next.

I had the good fortune to take several weaving classes from Mary Elva Erf when she was still teaching; I took her Shaker Linens class twice and her Shaker Rugs class, too.  At that time she encouraged her students to weave a reproduction of a towel or a rug to donate to one of the Shaker museums, and I eventually wove a fine cotton towel which is at the Canterbury Shaker Village.  It is really exciting to see these reproduction textiles in situ around the museums - as a weaver, I feel it adds so much to the feeling that the living residents have just left the scene.

We spent some time exploring the displays in the Center Family Dwelling and found the permanent weaving exhibit at the back of the first floor, with several looms, a lovely towel display and a number of volunteer weavers busily working away but happy to chat.

The volunteers were weaving blue rag rugs on this old frame loom, using donated hospital scrubs for the rags.  The rugs will be sewn into room size carpets to be used in various buildings in the museum.

Many of the textiles found in Shaker communities were brought into the community by those who joined the movement, and other textiles were woven by Shakers.  The Shakers had 2 and 4 harness looms and wove relatively simple plain weave and twill cloth.  They wove for their own needs but also made items for sale to what they called The World's People.

A free standing warping frame with a skarn or spool rack mounted on the wall

Today, most people know the Shakers for their chairs and possibly other furniture and architecture, but weavers prize the woven tape that was used to weave chair seats, the lovely patterns of cotton and linen towels and clothing fabric and the wonderful ingenuity of their rugs.

The Shakers used cloth strips to weave simple rag rugs, but they also made many rugs with a weft made of several colors of wool yarn twisted together, sometimes in combination with fabric strips.  The yarn and/or fabric would be twisted on the great wheel or walking wheel, turning the wheel clockwise for some of the weft and counterclockwise for some of the weft.  The direction of the wheel creates either an S or a Z twist in the yarn, and when these are used together in a rug a chevron pattern results.

This rug has slightly different colors of wool yarn in the S twist section and the Z twist section, with two different colors of rag strip separating the yarn chevrons - do you see?  There is an inch or so of S twist, an inch of Z twist, a black rag strip, an inch of S, an inch of Z and then a yellow gold rag strip.  I have many photos of rugs from the Hancock Museum archives as well as samples from my classes.

I mentioned the chair tape - here is a Shaker chair with the seat woven with tape.  It looks like a blue and red check from a distance, but when you get up close -

 You can see that the blue tape is a solid color but the red tape is striped red and yellow. 

Some of the chair tapes are plain, but some are quite fancy.  I love the dichotomy of the spare beauty in the lines of the chair and the subtle complexity of the fancy chair tape.

There is something about that simple plain weave checkerboard that I find endlessly satisfying in so many aspects of weaving - it is the basic binary of woven structure,
over and under, over and under,
light and dark, yes and no.

Original handwoven Shaker chair tape, woven into a chair seat

I will leave you with just two more images - a classic Shaker flax wheel and distaff,

and one of the many pairs of staircases that are found in Shaker buildings.  Men and women lived entirely separately in Shaker communities, to the point of having separate entrances and staircases.  I love the lines in these staircases - more S and Z!