30 June 2012

Fibre Week Wraps Up, Tour de Fleece Begins

Fibre Week wrapped up yesterday for those doing the Master Level classes, though I was home on Tuesday. As always, it was a great week!

The class on Spinning as Meditation was much more work than I expected – though as the instructor said, meditation is not relaxation spelled differently, so I suppose I should’ve been able to foresee that it’d take some effort to remain focused and mindful for a whole day!

Sunday evening was the spin-in, hosted by the Alpaca People, and I managed to fill one spindle with lovely purple singles that evening and a second the next night. Those got wound onto a storage bobbin after I came home, and then I spun up the fawn coloured rovings and plyed the two together to make a ball of lovely squishy heathery softness.

Oh yes, that’s Anne, the Norwegian wheel I acquired in trade for fibre (!) from a Fibre Week Friend (the young spinner who brought all the spindles for our Spindle Party). The wheel spins so nicely, and is happy to ply (which most of my antiques are not particularly thrilled to do). She’s a vintage wheel of some kind … I hope to do some sleuthing into her history soon, but right now I’m just enjoying her beauty and how well she spins!

Monday evening was the silent auction and the fashion show. We were so busy having fun that I have no pictures, but there’ll be some on the Fibre Week website soon, I’m sure. I entered all the shawls from Just Keep Knitting in the fashion show, though I ended up not modelling any of my own work myself … I did get to wear all kinds of gorgeous things made by other people, so that was fun! One of the truly amazing things I got to model was a red felted jacket made by Karen Workman – this jacket hung in an art gallery for several months, and *I got to wear it!*

Tuesday I meandered home, stopping at a roadside turnout for a power nap along the way (power naps are very comfortable when you are travelling in a motor home), and then spent the next few days enjoying the chance to sleep in a very dark room (note to self: must make dark curtains for the motorhome windows, since Fibre Week happens right around solstice and it is light at 4 am).

I’ve also managed to take inventory of all the yarn for Flannelberry Fibre, sort out some paperwork, send out several orders, and visit with some friends. I haven’t yet got all the fibre inventory complete, but that’ll happen soon.

Today is the start of the Tour de Fleece – which is an event for spinners that coincides with the Tour de France.

Spin every day the Tour rides, if possible, from Saturday June 30th through Sunday July 22nd. Days of rest: Tuesday July 10th and Tuesday July 17th. (Just like the actual tour.)

Spin something challenging on the challenge day (usually the toughest high mountain stage: Challenge Day will be announced before the Tour starts).

It’s a fun way to focus on your spinning: for me, I’m going to work on spinning as much as possible of the alpaca fleece that I’ve been slowly working on for the past several months … it’s time to get this turned into yarn!

Here’s where I’ll be spending some of my time:

The big bucket contains the fleece that hasn’t been combed yet. The gray Ikea bag has combed stuff, the blue bucket is combing waste (which will eventually be carded and either felted or spun, it’s good enough for spinning, I just need to ask my customer what she’d like). The apron is there because combing makes a mess – on the table you can see the spray bottle of conditioner and water that helps keep the static down when I’m combing, as well as the corner of the new set of combs I acquired while at Fibre Week (yippee! Now I can return the ones I’ve had on loan from another generous fibre friend for way too long.) One of my spindles is on the chair, and the others are in those round containers or assorted other places around the house. And of course, hawk Bait the cat is there to supervise. I’ll be spinning singles on the spindles and plying on the wheel, but my focus is to get singles spun – I don’t think I have enough storage bobbins to just spin singles and not ply at all during the Tour, though I’ve emptied as many as I could. 3 ply yarn takes a lot of spinning.

Speaking of which … time to get going!

And they’re off!

23 June 2012

Spindle Party at Fibre Week

RenatePetra (her Ravelry name) brought most of her spindle collection (contained in a little suitcase that was her grandma’s!) with her so that I could try them out. We had a spindle party in the motorhome – I spun on all her supported spindles, and she tried out all of mine and then Flannelberry tossed hers into the mix too so we had all sorts of thing to experiment and play with.

And yes, if you think she looks like a very young spinner, you are right: this girl is a year older than The Boy, has been spinning since she was 13, and is one of the most talented natural-born spinners I’ve ever met. Plus she is a cheerful, courteous, thoughtful and generous young person who inspires me and gives me hope for the future of the world. Her family must be awfully proud of her.

We had fun playing with spindles and talking about fibery things. I discovered that the exotic wood phang felt ‘grounded’, like they say in yoga, like it was reaching down to the floor. The lighter wood, though nearly the same shape, danced in my hands. The Bristlecone Glindle absolutely sang the moment I gave it a twirl. The unknown maker spindle with the funky rounded base spun much like a Russian. My hands prefer a narrow flicking point and a light weight spindle, and I gravitate towards cherry wood. Absolutely fascinating. (If you aren’t a spinner, just trust me, this was all extraordinarily cool.) Most supported spindles have to be mail ordered, so you don’t get a chance to try them out ahead of time. Having someone share their collection with you so you can see what works in your particular hands is extremely helpful and highly educational.

There was also the trade of a spinning wheel for fibre (!) … a lovely vintage Norwegian wheel that was not getting much love at RenatePetra’s house has now joined my household and will be getting lots of love here, and a pretty rooed Icelandic fleece has gone to RenatePetra’s house. :) Pictures of the wheel (her name is Anne, I am told) tomorrow, as she is coming to class with me.

Tomorrow’s class is Heart Like a Wheel, a class on spinning as meditation, with Debora Behm.

Fibre Week is a great experience. I’ve met such wonderful people here, and it’s really fun to hang out with people who enjoy the same kinds of things I do. :)

Olds Fibre Week: Day 1

Yesterday was my first whole day at Fibre Week (Thursday was spent finalizing the packing and driving from home to here, which, in the motorhome, takes quite awhile).

I took a class on Designing Your Own Lace Patterns from Donna Druchunas, which was really good. Donna is so friendly and relaxed and encouraging – all qualities I especially admire in a fibre teacher – and we played with charting and swatching and coming up with ways to translate ideas and inspiration into patterns on paper and then on the needles.

In the evening the Merchant Mall opened, and we had to do some shopping for a friend who is 9 months pregnant and unable to be here … oh, how awful to have to find presents for someone else at the fibre market! :) We did locate a beautiful supported spindle, and I spent quite a long time standing at that particular table watching Caroline Sommerfeld work her magic with the spindles and the spindlers. Caroline is the Ollivander of supported spindles – she can look at your hands, watch you spin once or twice, and know which spindles will be happy in your hands and which will resist you. It’s quite amazing, actually, how different a spindle in the same design but a different wood will feel. My hands like cherry wood, but not oak. I hope to learn some more from Caroline today … like how to spin silk supported.

I also met up with a fellow Raveller who was interested in a trade, and swapped a bag of Icelandic fleece for a Tabacheck Russian spindle out of bubinga wood. It’s a little heavier, but comfortable to use and absolutely beautiful. She was all excited to have a bag of fleece, and I was excited to have a new spindle, always the sign of a good swap.

Later in the evening another friend managed to drop a very sharp supported spindle onto her sandalled foot and impale herself. We made a hasty exit and provided first aid and tea at the motorhome (no serious damage done, though even a quickly applied ice pack didn’t stop the bruising) and sat at the table spinning and knitting and drinking tea until bedtime.

Today I have no classes but will be working at the registration/information desk for the morning, then I have some interesting things planned for the afternoon and there are evening events tonight. I’ll update more tomorrow!

18 June 2012

History in my hands

More than two years ago, I bought a couple of lead spindle whorls from eBay, listed as Roman era artifacts. Old. Really old.

These are found quite frequently by metal finders, and there are a lot of them for sale. They are very tiny, though, much smaller than I expected. Most are only a centimetre or two across, making them more like beads than whorls on the kinds of spindles we use now, and after puzzling over it briefly, I set the whorls aside for ‘someday’.

Then I discovered supported spinning. You can actually get a pretty decent spindle out of a bead and a bamboo skewer: the skinny shaft with a thicker bead at the base gets enough centrifugal force going to give a good long spin. Aha, I thought, that’s how those whorls were used, as supported spindles!

One of the supported spindlemakers on Ravelry offered to try making a shaft for the whorl, and she did come up with a beautiful teeny tiny spindle:

The whorl slips on and off, which is good, because the whorl itself is unbalanced and makes that gorgeous tiny spindle wobble. I can use the spindle without the whorl, though, which I think is amazingly cool. A spindle in my pocket!

It occurred to me that if the whorl is unbalanced, what I needed was an unbalanced shaft … a stick, in other words. A plain, ordinary stick from outside.

So I went outside and broke a couple of branches off the dried poplar trees that are serving as my (in need of repair) garden fence and got the Dremel tool out. Sitting on the step with the wind blowing the dust away from me, I sharpened one end of the stick into a twirling point and fitted the whorl over a knot in the wood that seemed to counterbalance the spot on the whorl where it was missing a little piece. I kept sanding and shaping, holding the stick up and turning it slowly, looking for areas that stuck out to one side, twirling it in a dish to see if it was balanced yet, taking off more and more until it finally turned reasonably well. Then I sanded it and smoothed it and twisted the whorl a few times until it was balanced. A bit of wool wrapped around the shaft to help hold the whorl in place, and voila: a working spindle:

It likes my wooden salad bowl (found at the thrift store for about 75 cents) better than the glass dish I use for most of my spindles. You can see that it works just fine:

The second whorl is smaller and lighter, so I made a shaft for it too. The second one only took me about half an hour.

It’s thinner at the tip, and doesn’t spin quite as long because it is lighter, but it also works just fine.

It was pretty neat to be sitting out there, shaping a stick to fit an ancient spindle whorl. People did this centuries ago. They used a knife, and a file, and a stone to rub the wood smooth, so it would’ve taken them much longer. I’m not particularly skilled with a carving knife, but I do like the Dremel’s easy maneouverability and light weight (as well as the speed).

It’s amazing to hold history in your hands like this. I thought spinning on a century old wheel was cool (I still do) … spinning on a whorl that’s from the time of the Romans … wow.

It’s really quite something.

17 June 2012

For the Reluctant Farmer on Father’s Day

For my dear Reluctant Farmer,

Thank you for willingly choosing to be my kid’s real father. The Boy doesn’t even remember the father he had until he was six, though he knows that his Dad loved him very much, and thankfully he seems not to carry any scars from all the drama that happened with the brain cancer and all the mess that followed.

The Boy has seen you with your own kids, seen how you love them, how you care for them, how you have fun with them. You’re a good dad to all your kids. You brought The Boy siblings. They’re still Small People, but they have fun together despite the age differences.

The Boy also knows that you were willing to pay for the privilege of being his guardian, that you were willing to adopt him if he preferred, but that you gave him the choice. He knows that you accepted both of us when you chose me.

You are his real dad. You are the one who’s been here for most of his growing-up. You’re the one teaching him to drive, you’re the one who helps me deal with the inevitable episodes of testosterone-poisoning-stupidity … in fact you’re the often the only one who can get through the fog of hormones to help the kid see sense.

Even if you are teaching the kid your warped sense of humour and how to eat half a piece of cake in one giant bite, I’m grateful for all you do for us.

With love,

your Frazzlehead

15 June 2012

So pretty.

That’s 398 metres of gorgeous.

Bright polwarth plyed with black suri alpaca/mohair.

And I’m only halfway through the fibre!

I’m gonna go spin some more.

14 June 2012

More acts of fibery kindness

I got another amazing surprise package in the mail yesterday … this one all the way from Georgia (the one in the US, not the one across the ocean).

A member of the Support Spindler’s forum on Ravelry sent this awesome package to me: in the centre there is a really adorable little spindle that has a clock face for the whorl, and boy oh boy does it spin! I was able to start it spinning and take both hands off to work with the fibre, and it just keeps going! This is an amazing trick that I’d tried before, but never had success with … this little bamboo-skewer-and-clock-face spindle made it possible.

The gorgeous bright roving in the front is polwarth, and there’s blue merino, silk caps, and silk rovings – and I’ve just recently decided that I want to try spinning some silk thread for my mom to use as embellishment on her quilting projects, so perhaps I’ll be able to use some of this for that adventure. The little pink and purple rectangle in the back is a felted bag holding a little box of Japanese incense, which smells so beautiful. The sender didn’t know that I went to Japan on a youth exchange after high school and fell in love with the country … the smell of Japanese incense reminds me of being there. I burned some today and breathed deeply of the wonderful cleansing scent as I spun.

When I opened the box I felt like all the blessings and good wishes of the sender burst out into my house. I am now surrounded by her kind thoughts, and I feel so honoured and grateful and happy.

Today, I was in need of a bit of quiet time so I sat and filled that clock spindle with bright fibre, then plyed it with some of the black suri alpaca/mohair that my sister and brother in law gave me for my birthday last year. This is the result:

It’s even brighter in real life, it’s just gorgeous. I think it probably wants to be A Dash of Colour when it grows up.

What a wonderful surprise. It came just when I needed a bit of cheering up, and I feel so blessed and fortunate to be part of the fibre community.

I think I’m gonna go spin some more. Those bright colours just sing as they spin into yarn, it’s pure magic.

13 June 2012

If it isn’t working, try something else

The online course that I created awhile back to teach people how to knit lace seemed like a great idea.

Until a student tried to register, and the whole thing went to pieces. It took multiple emails and several days to get things ironed out, and what I discovered is that the software I’d chosen to use wasn’t even ready for beta, not really.

So, if one strategy isn’t working, try something else.

I still had all the material, so today I’ve published Demystifying Lace Knitting: the basics as an eBook.

It’s essentially a step by step guided workbook that will take you through the very basics of lace knitting: making holes in your knitting on purpose, using decreases to balance your work, and a quick look at chart reading. You’ll knit a swatch and practice all the necessary stitches, then have a guided knit-along of the Dash of Colour shawl.

The pattern is included in the price of the course, so if you’ve always wanted to try lace knitting but been scared to try, maybe now’s the time to give it a go!

12 June 2012


Okay, the biggest fish *I* have ever caught.

I’ve only been fishing for about two years, but still, it was exciting.

My husband had to get the hook out of his mouth, and we needed to get the big guy back in the water quickly as he’d been out for much too long, so I didn’t take the time to pose with him.

But really, I did bring him in all by myself!

Jack are fun to catch. They’ll bite on an old fork if you toss it in the water, and they give you a good battle on the way in. Great entertainment.

I’m so glad my husband taught me how to fish and convinced me to take some time this afternoon to go out to the lake! He’s good for me, that man. I’m so lucky.

11 June 2012

Flannelberry Creek opens the doors to the world!

We’ve officially opened the doors at Flannelberry Creek.  Come on in and look around – there’s a lot to see!

We are still in the midst of sorting out inventory and unpacking boxes, and then there’s Fibre Week at Olds at the end of June, so orders won’t be shipped until the first week of July. But you’re more than welcome to come in and shop – there’s a Wish List feature so you can tag your favourites and come back to them later on, or if you’d like to order right away and get a surprise in the mail in July, go right ahead … use the coupon code CELEBRATE at the checkout to save 10% on your order.

Welcome to Flannelberry Creek … a fibre store in your mailbox!

08 June 2012

Market stall: what would you want to see?

Flannelberry Creek will likely attend some events with a market stall: a 10x10 foot space (or thereabouts) with yarn and fibre and fun things all set up for purchase.

If you were shopping at a market stall for yarn or fibre, what would you want to see?

I figure it’s important that you be able to see the wide array of colours and yarns from outside, that you be able to touch everything, and yet at the same time, things need to be reasonably well attached to the display racks so they don’t blow away (or, ahem, wander off).

All the gear for the stall has to be highly portable – no big shelving units or heavy tables, as it’s gotta fit into my van (along with all the stock). Ideally the gear isn’t too expensive, either, we do have a budget to stick to.

I’ve seen a really neat stand made from a cut down tree trunk about 4” around with dowels and wires fixed into it at angles to hold hats and mittens for sale, and I’m contemplating something like that to hold skeins of yarn or baskets of fibre. A couple of them would fit into the van without too much trouble.

Everyone uses those wire snap together crates, and they are practical but … well … I hate putting them together and I was hoping for something a bit more aesthetically pleasing, preferably made from natural materials.

So … any ideas for me?

07 June 2012

Using the Large Weaponry

If I ever want to get this beautiful alpaca fleece spun and knitted (and I very much want to do both) then I have to get moving on the fibre prep. The fleece has already been washed and dried, and I’ve done several samples of various spinning techniques with some that I’ve prepared. However, I still have a 5 gallon pail full (a very full five gallon pail) of raw fleece that needs to be readied for spinning, so tonight I got a bit of a start on that project.

This fibre belongs to Diablo, a prize-winning alpaca from Tail Spin Alpacas. I intend to spin most of the fleece during the Tour de Fleece – which is an event put on by spinners all over the world that takes place during the Tour de France. Basically, it’s an excuse to focus on our craft for a whole month, to set challenges for ourselves and to share our successes with one another in a supportive forum. My challenge is to spin as much of this fleece as I possibly can during the tour (which runs June 30 to July 22). It’s absolutely gorgeous and my favourite alpaca colour, and with the supported spindle it’s portable, easy to spin, and relaxing.

But to spin it, I have to prep it. Enter the Large Weaponry.

I had a set of minicombs, and they work very well on alpaca and other open and airy fibres like Icelandic wool. A friend loaned me her big combs, though, and whoa … wow. I can do so much more at once, I just love them. Combs are dangerous things – with big long sharp tines stuck into handles they look like some sort of medieval torture device or weapon. Hence the terminology – the small combs are the Small Weaponry, and the big combs are the Large Weaponry.

Tonight I got out the Large Weaponry and combed up a bunch of fibre. It works like this:

Attach the combs to a solid surface (today I used a stool, but this does work a bit better on the table, I just didn’t feel like working over there tonight) with a c-clamp. Mount one comb with tines pointing up, and load it with fleece by dragging a handful of fleece down over the tines over and over until they’ve snagged a bunch of the fibre. Give it a squirt with the spray bottle of water-and-hair-conditioner so that it doesn’t frizz all over the place, and start combing with the other comb, held sideways. The locks will be combed out and gradually transfer onto the comb in your hand, with the short bits left in the upright comb.

The short bits get thrown in the ‘waste bin’ (though they can be carded and spun or used for felting). The combs then swap positions, the full one going on the stand and the empty one being used to comb out the fibre a second time. More waste will be left behind, and that again gets thrown in the waste pile. What’s left is all the long fibres, smoothed out and straightened, with most of the VM knocked out in the process of combing.

I just pull the entire poofy bit off the combs, as I will separate it into smaller pieces and spin from the fold, but you can pull it off with a diz and make top if you want. Since I generally spin woolen, I don’t bother with the diz, it adds more work and doesn’t give me anything I particularly need … and with two pounds of this to prep, no extra work is going to be done!

The poofy bits of fibre are then dropped into a bag and they’re ready for spinning. I’ll peel them apart into smaller layers and spin from the fold, but I’ve also taken the whole poof and just spun from the end … when you get to the top part that was caught in the tines, you can just quit spinning and toss what’s in your hand if it has too many lumps (that happens sometimes), or spin the whole thing and then just move on to the next piece. The Large Weaponry tends to produce too big of a poof to hold comfortably for spinning, so it needs to be divided into smaller bits – the Small Weaponry works great though for ‘just one handful’.

Combs are awesome: they do three jobs at once. They separate out your fibres by length, leaving second cuts and shorter lengths behind; they remove a lot of VM; and they separate and align the fibres for spinning. If you can only afford one fibre prep tool, most people would say get hand cards … I’ll suggest you consider combs instead (unless you are working with extremely short staple yarns most of the time, that’s different). They are also superb for blending fibres. Combs are awesome.

(And yes, we carry minicombs – both single row and double row!)

06 June 2012

Giveaway results!

The month of May has ended, and we are into June … so it’s time to announce the winners of our book review giveaway!

The Random Number Generator lists Cathy as the winner, for her Goodreads review! Thank you Cathy! Send me an email (there is a contact us link at the bottom of the website, here) with your address so I can mail out your prize package! As I see from your blog that you’re a knitter, I’ll include some handspun yarn for you to add to your stash. :)

And the second prize goes to Terri, for her Goodreads review. I can deliver yours when I see you next!

Third prize, believe it or not, goes to my very own Mom. It’ll be in the mail soon, Mom!

Thank you all so much for participating in the draw!

03 June 2012

A beautiful, breezy day

It’s a gorgeous day, with a steady breeze – not too strong, though it might blow your hat off when it gusts up a little.

I’m headed out to the garden to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air!

01 June 2012

A Big Cool Awesome Thing Has Happened

My friend Colleen (Flannelberry) has been running an online yarn and fibre store for the past couple of years, a place called Flannelberry Fibre. Recently it became obvious that much as she loves the shop, it takes too much out of her life right now … she actually started talking about letting it go. When I heard her say she was thinking of moving away from the shop, I volunteered immediately to adopt it.

It’s the perfect partnership: Coleen’s already got a great business up and running, she just hasn’t got the time to make it really grow. Me, I have nothing but time … but I haven’t got the capital to get anything new up and running. Thus, we’ve become partners: I’ll take what she’s started and see that it flourishes, and together we’ll enjoy the fruits of our shared labours.

Thus, it gives me great happiness to announce the launch of Flannelberry Creek – the new joint venture of Flannelberry of Flannelberry Fibre and Frazzlehead of Apple Jack Creek.

Work on the new infrastructure has been underway for the past week and in the next week (or perhaps a bit less), the store should be up and running … complete with a sale to celebrate our grand opening!