30 June 2011

Fibre Week 2011

I am fortunate to live within reasonably easy driving distance of Olds, Alberta and to have a supportive family who cheerfully send me off to spend several days each summer at Fibre Week. There, I can be surrounded by beautiful fibre, meet interesting people who share my love of wool and wheels, visit friends I don’t see often enough, and attend classes that expand my knowledge and improve my skills.

This year, the first class I took was titled “Coils With a Twist: Beehives and Seashells”, by Caroline Sommerfeld. We made funky art yarn in bright colours: randomly spaced bumps shaped like beehives or seashells, depending on your technique (and your perception), strung between lengths of thinner yarn. Caroline is a fabulous teacher – happy to share her knowledge with the students, encouraging of all your efforts (“it’s art yarn! you can’t DO it wrong!”), and cheerfully dismissive of ‘conventional wisdom’ when it doesn’t apply. The dyed rovings have colour repeats that are too close together? Well, okay, so they won’t work well if you spin them up for a knitted item … but they are perfect for seashells and beehives, where short colour repeats give you really interesting effects. The yarn isn’t perfectly even? Well, go look at your local yarn store and find the most expensive wool yarn in there … chances are that it’s been made with a really funky construction technique involving uneven singles put together to produce textured yarn. See? You made the expensive stuff! Cool.

By paying attention to the things that matter (the finished yarn needs to hang together and not fall apart, and the little bumpy bits need to be tight enough that they don’t pill and fuzz) while otherwise throwing caution to the wind, we were able to create sturdy, mostly-balanced (or completely balanced, depending on a few variables) colourful, fascinating yarn.

I knit mine up into a headband.

The next two days were spent in a class titled “Designing Your Own Yarn”, by Dora Mushka. Dora is an Olds-certified Master Spinner who created this class to help those spinners not pursuing the master spinner levels (or not pursuing them at the moment) to build on the skills they have and learn to create different styles of yarn. Our class was provided with the most amazing array of colourful fibres and we experimented for two whole days, discovering what happens if you spin different colours together without blending them on carders first, then what happens if you do card them; played with dyed and blended batts and rovings and discovered the different results you can get when you spin them in different ways; used thick and thin yarns to create texture; and (my favourite of all), added bits of ‘yarn shrapnel’ to our fibre and made “garneted yarn” and “wild yarn”. Our garneted yarn started as a lovely soft grey batt, over which we sprinkled handfuls of cut up yarn bits of various colours, carded it all, then spun and plied the usual way. The resulting yarn was a lovely grey with specks of colour throughout – an effect that varies from subtle to stunningly bright, depending how generous you were when adding yarn bits! We also used shredded sari silk (plus more bits of coloured yarn) to make “totally overboard and bright” yarn, which was a lot of fun. By the end of the second day, our classroom looked like a bunch of kindergarten students had thrown a party in there – bits of coloured wool were all over the floor and skeins of bright and beautiful yarn were draped over every table.

The best part of the class was the fun and excitement of experimentation. As I so rarely work with coloured fibre I found the experience especially thrilling … my instructor and my classmates were generously tolerant of my frequent outbursts of “ooooh! it turns green!” or “whoa, coooooooooool … ” I am definitely going to be dyeing more batts and rovings, just because the process of spinning from multicoloured fibre is so much fun. I mean, yes, spinning is always fun, but when you get to watch the transformation of “lump of weirdly coloured stuff” into “beautifully patterned yarn that I couldn’t possibly have predicted based on the look of the batt” … well, that’s just too much fun to pass up.

Really organized students take index cards and attach little samples of each thing they made with a label explaining how it was done. I’m  never going to be that organized, and I’d probably lose the cards before I got home anyway. What I did was knit up a sampler scarf out of all the neat stuff we made in class – the completed one in the picture is the “What I learned in Design Your Yarns class” scarf, and the one on the needles is the coils & beehives headband pictured previously. From the yarn itself I can tell which technique I used, and our instructor kindly provided a handout with explanations of how, precisely, to do each thing we tried, so I can reference that if I end up being vague on the details later on.

Here’s another yarn photo – all of this is stuff I made in class:

Left to right we’ve got some beautiful stuff made from a blended batt that included silk (so very soft), the garneted yarn (subtle rather than wild), a cabled yarn (two 2-ply yarns plied together – it ends up looking like lucet cord, and is very strong), and some more seashell-and-beehive yarn.

Of course, just being here at Fibre Week you see all sorts of neat things. The level 4 instructor makes spinning wheels and assorted spinning tools as well as teaching – and he made this spinning chair. Enlarge the picture so you can see the carving in it … it’s stunning.

Coming here is a wonderful experience, and I am truly grateful that my family makes this possible for me every year. I’ve improved my skills and been able to visit with friends (I stay with my good friend Flannelberry who lives too far to visit easily, and we really enjoy having this week to hang out!).

I also discovered that I have an inner magpie longing for expression through colour and sparkle.

Who knew?

It’s been a blast, and I have thoroughly enjoyed myself. If you are a fibre artist and there’s an event like this near you, do yourself a favour and go for a visit. I was really  nervous the first time I came here – what if everyone else is really amazing and talented and I’m this useless rookie who can’t keep up? what if I get lost? what if my wheel isn’t the right kind? What I discovered was that everyone is here to learn – even the experts – and everyone is willing to share their ideas. I am glad I took the risk that first year, I’ve learned so much and met so many great people. Try it, you’ll be glad you did!

22 June 2011

Still here

I’m still here – and thank you so very much to those who pinged me to ask if I was all right and to check on me after so long without a blog post. You make me feel so special, truly, you do. Thanks. :)

This whole recovery thing is very challenging: I still have chest pain, though nowhere near as bad as it was to start, and I either have a lot of energy (but don’t know what to do with it) or I’m suddenly very worn out. It’s an odd place to be for someone who has spent most of her life being very driven, always going from one thing to the next, refusing to take a break until “all the work was done”. Clearly that wasn’t a healthy way to live and now I’m going to have to figure out what a reasonable pace looks like. So far, I’m still floundering, but I’m floundering more slowly, so maybe that counts as progress.

Regardless, the world continues it’s circuit around the sun with no attention paid to the status of my mental health. The pasture grass is growing: we had a lot of hay this past year, so we were able to keep the sheep off the pastures a little longer in the spring and let the grass get a good head start (which, after two years of drought, was needed). They’re now out there happily mowing the knee-high grass, and identifying all the weak spots in the fences that we haven’t yet patched.

The garden is off to a slow start – the battle against the quackgrass continues, and I’m making headway but it takes a lot of persistent tilling and weeding. I did get the tomatoes transplanted outside and they lived comfortably under the hooped row cover The Boy made for a week – a week of steady rain. At least they didn’t bake to death in the heat, there wasn’t any heat. The peppers are still inside, but we have a few sunny days forecast, so they will go out shortly. Maybe tomorrow.

The corn is poking it’s head up, but the beans are still sulking underground. The cranberry bushes that I uncovered when removing the last traces of quack grass from that corner of the garden seem to be doing quite well – maybe if I can keep them clear, they’ll actually give us berries in a few years! The grape vines have new leaves as well, as do the raspberries, and that’s all very encouraging.

My big focus the last few weeks has been getting ready to go to Olds for Fibre Week: I’ll be taking classes Sunday through Tuesday, but staying the entire week. I figure I’ll probably pace myself better if I stay for the entire time rather than try to fit all the fun into a few packed days, and since I travel in the motorhome, I have a comfortable, peaceful place to rest. Last year I had one day between my classes and I spent the day working on a new sock pattern: it was like a self-directed workshop and I really enjoyed it. I may do that kind of thing again … I’ll certainly be taking a lot of raw materials with me, just in case I am overcome with the need to start another project.

In the meantime, I have been knitting a lot: I finished a large lace shawl (the Midnight Stole), which was made in black bamboo/silk for a friend’s wedding. I did the whole thing in seven weeks, which felt like a lot of time when I cast on, but the pattern was much more complicated than I anticipated and as a result I was much slower at knitting than I usually am. Still, I made the deadline and the shawl will be at the wedding this weekend. Yay! The recipient is very special to me, and I am honoured to have been able to make something that suits her so very well for such a wonderful occasion. I’ve got a few other projects on the go as well (don’t I always?) and I’ve been spinning up the fleeces that have been hanging in my fibre room for much, much too long. I needed to give my wheels a test run before Fibre Week, which was the initial incentive to spin, but I’m finding it really enjoyable just now, so I think I’ll be doing more of it. I am dyeing the resulting yarns as I spin, so I just keep the crock pot going and add a skein when I’m done, trying different things to see what I can do for colour variations and so on. I discovered a fun trick the other day: skein up the yarn, then twist it into a long snake (like you would if you were going to store it) and tie it in an overhand knot after it’s twisted. Put it in the dyepot just like that: no tangles, for one thing, and you get really neat tie-dye effects on the finished yarn! I’m thinking this could be a fun trick for overdyeing: do it once with a light colour, reskein it, and do it again with a darker colour. That could be interesting!

So, stay tuned for more wooly updates – the next week or so is likely to be heavy on spinning content!