Have Ewe Any Wool?

Friday, January 30, 2009

First Snow and Spinning Progress

This past Tuesday into Wednesday, we had our first real snow. Tuesday evening was beautiful! The snow was falling with just a little bit of sleet mixed in. My doggie LOVES the snow! She was beside herself with joy when we set off for the 2+ mile walk in the snow. She's absolutely fascinated by the smells when it snows and always has a dusting of the white stuff on her nose (double click on the right picture).

Since all plans for both Tuesday evening and Wednesday were put "on hold" due to the weather, I took advantage of this time to finish off some of the projects I started at the retreat.

I plied the several yards of "lumpy" Angora that I'd spun. I like how the bright pink and deep pink blended during the plying process. Unfortunately, the "lumpy-bumpy" singles produced a "lumpy-bumpy" yarn. I did a little research on spinning Angora and found that some folks have better luck spinning smooth yarn by carding the fiber and making punis for spinning. I think I'll try that method next.

Next, I finished spinning the hand-dyed Merino. Who'd have thought it would take me a year to finish spinning a 4.6 oz. bundle of such gorgeous colors! I then tried my hand at Navajo plying - careful to keep the colors as separate as possible. The first skein was a bit inconsistent (foreground). The second skein was much more even (background). Wahoo! I think I've mastered it!

By Wednesday morning, the lovely snow had turned to ice. It had been topped by sleet and freezing rain. It was beautiful to look at, but treacherous to walk or drive on!
Even my "porch hedgies" were frozen!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fantastic Fiber Retreat - Part III

Bird-in-Hand and other towns in Lancaster County have a number of Amish and Mennonite farms making it a very picturesque and quaint venue (double click on the photos for a closer view). There's just something about the simple lives they lead that relaxes you just by being here. Perhaps that's why my hobbies all tend to be rather "low tech" and relaxing.

Our next stop on Saturday morning was the Mount Hope Wine Gallery. They had some very interesting wines on display...including a chocolate one. The Gallery offered a large number of wines in their wine tasting, however, I found that most were rather sweet. I tried a couple of the drier reds - "The Knight's Reward" and a merlot. I didn't find either one to be exceptional. I think they're focused on the sweeter wines as the crackers for cleansing your palette between tastes were rather sweet as well and reminded me of "animal crackers". If you're a lover of sweet wines, this was definitely the place to try out a number of them.

Finally, it was back to Bird-in-Hand, PA to Labadie Looms (2572 Old Philadelphia Pike Bird-in-Hand, PA) - a yarn, rug hooking, dyeing, weaving, and spinning shop. It was quite cute and jam packed full of everything fiber related! There were a couple of looms setup in the shop and a number of spinning wheels in the front room window. I loved the silhouette the spinning wheels made!

Evidently, Labadie is a family name....thus the name of the shop. Additionally, I believe someone said that the name actually means "Weaver"....how cool is that? Very few people get to name their shop after a family name AND have the underlying meaning match the focus of the shop! My significant purchase here was a pattern for a rug hooked sheep - I'm guessing that the breed represented is a Leicester Longwool or a Lincoln.

The remainder of Saturday afternoon and evening was again spent spinning and knitting. Here, you can see the fabulous Great Wheel that Sue and Sarah just acquired. It's their first time using it! It was so cool to watch. This prompted a big discussion on spinning cotton. Evidently, at the "American Textile History Museum" in Lowell, MA, you can try your hand at spinning cotton directly from the cotton seed! Audrey has tried it and said it was definitely a lot of fun.

There were some machine sock knitters at the retreat as well. The operation of the sock machine is quite interesting...and in my opinion, a bit challenging. I had mistakenly believed that you could only do tube socks on these machines. However, I found out that you can do short row heels on them and then for the toes, you kitchener them shut. Stephanie, on the left, has been buying and restoring these machines for quite a few years and had one for sale at the retreat. She can make a pair of socks easily in an evening The machines are quite costly, so I wasn't even tempted.

I finally tried spinning some angora. Ellen(left) (a wonderful spinner and rabbit farmer) tutored me on the finer aspects of spinning angora. First, I tried spinning on my drop spindle. I was quite pleased with the the few yards that I'd spun, so I moved on the the spinning wheel. I think I did pretty well, though I had a hard time keeping the fibers even. As a result, I seem to have rather "lumpy" singles. Hopefully the lumps and bumps will be less noticeable after plying.

I had flick carded the angora since the dyeing process caused the fibers to stick together quite a bit. I also tried "floofing" the fibers as well. ("Floofing" seems to be a common description in how to prepare the angora for spinning.) In both cases, my singles were still a bit lumpy. I think it will take me a while to properly spin angora. It's definitely going to take quite a bit of practice!

After breakfast on Sunday, we all continued to knit, spin, and weave throughout the morning. I spun the hand dyed roving that I started spinning last year at the retreat. I almost got it all finished. Hopefully I'll finish spinning it later this week. Then I'll try my hand at Navajo plying - a skill I learned last year but haven't tried since.

During the retreat, I also made some progress on my "Cherry Kissed Justin" - the mohair I'd purchased from Colleen last fall. I finished the second bobbin and plied one skein so far. My spinning was definitely not consistent. This was the first time I've tried spinning pure mohair, so it's been somewhat of a learning experience. I think I'm going to try "floofing" the mohair a bit before spinning to see if I can be more consistent. However, that will be on my next batch - I'll need to finish spinning Justin the same way so as the first skein so I'll have a consistent yarn.

I did buy some additional fibers during the course of the weekend. Ellen had some fabulous Icelandic with shades of grey throughout. I believe this will be PERFECT for the rug hooked sheep! Pam had some very pretty alpaca as well - the white is "Audrey" and the nearly black is "Benson Touch of Violet".

The only knitting I worked in was doing a few rows each morning on my socks while I waited for us all to gather for breakfast. I was too busy spinning and fondling fibers to knit!

On the ride home, I passed by several frozen ponds and lakes. On one, I saw someone sitting on a milk crate with a hole cut in the ice doing some ice fishing. That's something I've never seen in real life. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to capture a picture of the fisherman, but I did get a shot of the lake. Whew....the ice on the lake definitely didn't quite look solid enough - I sure hope he/she made it off the ice OK!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fantastic Fiber Retreat - Part II

We didn't just spin and weave our way through the weekend - we also enjoyed several other attractions of the region. We trekked out to go shopping, try some wine, explore the countryside, and visit an Amish weaver's studio.

I had never seen an Amish bicycle before last weekend. This particular bicycle was parked by the door of the restaurant. I found it's construction to be quite unusual - there are no pedals and no seats. You have to stand on the platform between the wheels and "ride" it like a foot-powered scooter - standing on one foot and pushing off the ground with the other. It's amazing to watch...but VERY difficult to ride up hill. The one brave soul I saw "riding" one uphill had to finally get off the bicycle and push it up the hill.

Breakfast Saturday morning was huge! All kinds of goodies to choose from! They even had scrapple (which I haven't had for years!) and fried corn meal mush. Yum! Now that I've been reminded about how good it tastes, I'll have to go dig out the recipe for corn meal mush that I got from the Smith's in Ohio. I definitely need to make some - it's so good with butter and syrup! As you can see, we were well fed!

Our first task after breakfast was to try out a lace pattern. We were given a small piece of the pattern so we could practice reading charts. Once we got through the "practice piece"...or got tired of knitting, Tina provided us with the full pattern. It's perfect for a doily or you can make a placemat or table runner by repeating the same pattern multiple times. Once we'd tired of that, it was back to spinning and/or "tuning" our spinning wheels.

On the left, Dave it trying to "tune" Cyndy's wheel.

In the early afternoon, several of us traveled to Intercourse, PA to visit the studio of an Amish weaver, Stoltzfus Custom Weavers. The young man was very personable and genuinely enjoyed telling us about the loom and demonstrated its operation. There's something magic that happens when you get a group of fiber folks together- the enthusiasm is contagious! The weaver graciously allowed me to photograph the loom and various points of interest in the loom room. The Amish do not like their photographs taken, so out of courtesy, I did not take any photos of the weaver in action.

The loom itself was absolutely fascinating! It was built by the weaver's father and the young man has carried on the family weaving tradition. The loom is air powered. The weaver stands on a platform with pedals. The weaver then gently touches one of the pedals and raises one of the heddles. The shuttle is then sent between the threads.

It should be noted that the Amish do not use electricity. However, they do use generators and gas. Based on the large propane tanks in the farmyard, I'll make an educated guess and say that the "air powered loom" is driven by propane.

Another fascinating aspect of the loom is that it is a continuous warp. The loom is only warped one time. The spool rack you see here has spools on BOTH sides that feed the warp on the loom. There is a sandpaper like roller that helps keep the thread tight as it feeds. The weaver must check for spools that are nearly out and replace it with a fresh spool when there are just a few yards left. The use of a continuous warp was an ingenious idea - what a time saver!

The warp threads come from BOTH sides of the spool rack.

The rugs they weave are similar to "rag rugs". They purchase barrels of selvedges from textile mills and use these fabric strips for the weft of the rugs. The rugs then vary in texture and color depending on the fiber content of the selvedges. What a great way to be green!

The selvedges are wrapped around the shuttles. The weaver then raises one of the heddles by pressing on the foot control to activate the air hose and then passes the shuttle between the threads. It was absolutely fascinating to watch the weaver in action. Although the loom is air powered, there's still a lot of manual work that must be done as well. The other catch is that you have to stand the entire time you're weaving.

This shows the "rug-in-progress". I just love the color!

The studio mainly produces rugs, placemats, hot pads, and mug rugs. I bought a couple of purple placemats (I couldn't resist the color!!!), 4 blue placemats, and a hot pad that I intend to use as a mug rug. The prices were very reasonable as well. Some of the others bought rugs or other Amish made items they had for sale - like cake testers and brooms. They also carried the decorative tin stars and wooden benches. This is definitely a "must stop" if you're ever in the area.

More tomorrow...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Fantastic Fiber Retreat - Part I

This past weekend I went to Lancaster County, PA to attend a fabulous fiber retreat with a bunch of folks from the Lancaster Spinners and Weavers Guild as well as a few other interested parties. Luckily, the weather cooperated, so the drive both ways was picture perfect - sunny with no snow! I passed through some lovely pastoral scenery, rolling hills, and had great views partially frozen waterways and the bridge over the Susquehanna.

This year's retreat was held at the Bird-in-Hand Family Inn in Bird-in-Hand, PA. It's a lovely town nestled in amongst several farms - a very peaceful and serene setting. Right across the street from the motel was a horse farm....and more scenic farms down the road.

We all had a fantastic time! Tina, the organizer, did an absolutely fantastic job. Everything was perfect...right down to the last detail! There was even chocolate and door prizes!

Our group had the "Robin Room" as our "retreat room" and promptly filled it with various spinning wheels, fibers, and two tables of snacks. The room was right across from the indoor pool. Our breakfasts and dinner were at the on site restaurant, smorgasbord style. Lunches were sandwiches and some fabulous homemade soup (made by Tina). I must say that no one went hungry this weekend!

We ate, spun, shopped, and chatted the weekend away. The variety of people and skills really made this a fun retreat with lots of opportunities to purchase fabulous fibers and learn new skills.

Several of the spinners and weavers also raise alpacas and/or sheep, so there were plenty of opportunities to purchase fibers from "named" animals. Somehow, the fibers from "named animals" seems extra special to me. The entire weekend was absolutely jam packed with inspiration and lovely fibers. You can see some of the bags and baskets of "fibery goodness" on the tables behind these folks.

The Robin Room was quite full once we got all our spinning, weaving, and knitting gear inside. (We're hoping to get a larger room next year.)

In the foreground of this picture, you can see an interesting work in progress. She's weaving a rug out of strips of plastic bags. What a great way to recycle! On the table to the left, you can see some of the door prizes that were given out during the course of the weekend.

Kathy is an Alpaca farmer....don't you just love her shirt? She had the most incredible fibers. Of course, I "had" to buy some. the white is an absolutely luxurious blend of angora and Alpaca (25% angora/75% Alpaca..if I remember correctly). The second was an incredible roving entirely of natural colored Alpaca with 3 different colors - a rich brown, a deep brown, and black. The color combination is absolutely stunning! I do believe she sold out of both her white fiber and the tri-colored!

More tomorrow....