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!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Snow Days are for...

Baking, quilting, reading, maybe even catching up on finances... tax day is coming!

You will have to wait another week for more tartan talk - today we have a snow day.

I am baking a variation on a traditional Italian Almond cake.  I am starting with a recipe that I tasted at a house concert that my early music vocal trio, Sine Nomine performed for a local Italian conversation club last month.  The recipe was transcribed by one of our hosts from her Italian mother-in-law as she prepared the cake - Parrozzo alla Maria Alboini Pascali. 

Parrozzo or Pane Rozzo means a rough or coarse bread and this cake imitates the dark bread Italian peasants used to eat, but it is a rich, flavorful cake with a bittersweet chocolate icing.

I am creating a gluten-free version today and also using coconut sugar rather than a more refined sugar.  The original baker used some Italian ingredients - a powdered vanilla called Vanillini, a leavening agent called Lievi di Angelli and bitter almond extract.  I found all of these available online and ordered them but only the Lievi has arrived so far.  I decided to go ahead and try it out today with what I have on hand and then later I will make a more authentic version.  I think the bitter almond extract will make the most difference in flavor.

Apparently bitter almond has a small amount of cyanide naturally occurring in the nut and for that reason it is not widely available in the US.  My recipe also says that if you can find bitter almonds, only 2 or 3 will flavor a whole cake.  These can be parboiled, skinned and then grated to replace the small vial of extract.

This cake is supposed to taste better a few days after baking, but here at The Burrow we are going to make the ultimate sacrifice and taste it today!

I have made some progress with my first quilt - I finally decided how I wanted to piece the back, cut & stitched it up and then made my fabric/batting/fabric sandwich on the floor of the upstairs bedroom and safety pin basted it all together. 

I wasn't sure if I had enough of the special curved safety pins for basting - guess how many were left when I finished?

This afternoon I am going to start the quilting!