Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bending the rules with Carol Rhoades

“Bend the rules, play with it and have fun,” is Carol Rhoades parting advice to the Illinois Prairie Spinners who gathered in Wheaton for a workshop. Carol showed us how to “take our yarn in new directions” and we spent the whole day experimenting/bending basic techniques like carding, whether we spin S or Z, and more. She walked us through experiments with these spinning basics so we can create the kind of yarn we need for a project.

Hand outs included a big zip lock bag full of fun and interesting fibers—including cashmere! We used many of them during the workshop, and I’ll be playing with the balance for the next few weeks. This will give me a chance to carry on the experiments Carol encouraged us to do.

As for me, I might actually know how to spin cotton! And one of the keys is that she showed me how to improve my hand carding technique so I could do it in a gentler, less energetic way. I don’t card wool by hand much anymore, but I think it would be a good way to process cotton. I’m still trying to decide if I like cotton punis or rolags better.
Carol also showed us how to put more air into our rovings as we spun (as well as the opposite of putting less air). She is shown demonstrating this in the picture below. That was one technique I enjoyed trying—okay, I enjoyed ALL of the techniques.

Yes, the rumors are true, Carol Rhoades does have you CUT FIBER as part of a carding exercise. I was so overcome with shock that my hands weren’t steady enough to snap a picture of her doing this—so I can’t prove it. You will need to sign up for one of her workshops instead. Just a hint: if you don’t like scissors, you might be better off combing/flicking really long staple length fibers.

Since it was an all day workshop, we also had a great lunch arranged by our workshop coordinator Jane Plass. She ordered in from a really good deli and the food was excellent! I’m looking forward to our next workshop.
Join me next week (and for Sundays to come), as I follow Carol’s advice to “bend the rules, play with it and have fun.” Thank you for visiting my blog!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Knitting by candlelight

As I write this, I’m sitting in Rocky Mountain National Park—the sun is shining though not on me---I can barely see my laptop screen as it is! I have a lovely view of mountains and the day promises to be warm—but in the cool wear a nice sweater kind of way. We did lots of hiking up here and are completely enjoying the beauty, the peace and quiet and the fresh air. One of our neighbors is the elk shown to the right, who we named Murray. He bugled his heart out in an attempt to catch the fancy of a passing elk cow.
Our site turned out to be a regular “Wild Kingdom” with Murray and his friends, coyote’s yipping and yowling in the night (and one who came out in daylight to check us out) and numerous bluebirds, yellow rump warblers, chickadees and a band of magpies. Three magpies landed on the picnic table and squawked at me as I was entering the trailer with the Pillsbury Dough Boy. I told them no way, and put the cinnamon rolls in the camp oven. No sooner had the rolls begun to bake that we heard pecking on the roof of our trailer. This was followed by a magpie bouncing on the tent part. Another soon followed. I had to step outside to chase them off. Our dog did his share by squeezing his squeaky toy.
While in Estes Park, I stopped in at Neota Designs Studio and Gallery and this is a must see when you are visiting the area. She has lovely handwoven items, along with handpainted yarn, a sample of which you can see on the left. I know I rarely buy yarn but I couldn’t resist this. It will be perfect for a hat to go with my winter parka. Neota Designs offers gorgeous handwoven items which you need to see to really appreciate. For the knitter, there is handpainted yarn. My favorite was the alpaca and since leaving, I have an idea for using some of the handpainted yarn with some handspun for a multicolor sweater. For those of you who don’t spin, she also has natural colored alpaca yarn that would complement the handpainted selection nicely. Hmmm…. Ideas are flourishing in my head. For more information, you can visit her website at

Naturally, I continued working on fibery projects. You can see the progress on the handspun socks to the right. I did quite a bit of knitting by candle lantern as I sat up late being serenaded by a lovelorn Murray and the occasional pack of coyote enjoying the meadow near our campsite. The three candle lantern gave off just enough light to knit by and just enough heat to keep my hands warm as I sat at the little camper table.

The winter survival socks featured in the Aug. 9 blog beat out commercial Smartwools for keeping my feet toasty around the campsite. We had some frost while we were there, so these sturdy socks were tested.

Thank you for visiting my blog! Please come back next week.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Playing Tag with Chaos

Warping a loom is like playing tag with chaos. The only thing between you and a tangled mess is the cross, and between the cross and tearing your hair out are the lease sticks, which are in place for a very good reason—to keep your warp strings neat and orderly and in place—warp strings whose first tendency is to twist into a congealed snarl. This way, despite the tendency to tie itself into a knot, the warp can be wound so it is not only pleasant to weave but have at least some resemblance to those pristinely warped looms pictured in advertisements.
I am a new weaver. So I can’t begin to call myself a teacher. But what I can be is a reporter—reporting just what it’s like to have a few hundred linen threads twist around and around, snarling and snagging, while I try to wind them on in an orderly fashion. It is awful.
This is not what I imagined when I daydreamed about learning to weave, gazing longingly t all those lovely loom advertisements.
I will show you my warping progress one step at a time. The topmost picture shows the warp fresh off the warping board, all neatly tied, and draped over the loom.
They look harmless at this point. The cross is already being preserved by the lease sticks, which at this point are clamped to the warp beam. In the second photo you see the lease sticks in a better position. My LeClerc has some eye hooks especially in place for suspending the lease sticks.

In the next picture, you can see that not only are the warp bundles tied to the apron with these cool knots, but also, I’ve spread the warps through the raddle. The raddle (that’s the pronged thing) is spaced at one inch intervals, and since my sett is 5 warps per inch, there are 5 warps in each space.
This is where I learned the value of that cross, because this is where the warp is in order—every place else it is twisting onto itself over and over again. It took some untwisting to get it this neat and there were a few I missed when I took this picture.
After this, and with the help of my husband, I wound on the warp. He was in charge of holding the warp under even tension, and sat on the bench. I wound it onto the backbeam and kept an eye on the lease sticks. As I wound the endlessly twisting warp threads would tangle and get stuck in the lease sticks. I had to stop regularly to undo these tangles—which fortunately came undone. If you look closely at any of the pictures you can see twisting and tangling going on as the threads naturally turn on themselves.

I was so focused on keeping the warp flowing freely through the lease sticks that I forgot to pack the warp properly—as you can see there are no sticks separating the warp on the back beam. This is a giant OOPS! It means I have to unwind and rewind.
I'm "it."

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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Fleece O' Matic

My washing machine died last Sunday, which is not a good thing considering I have 5 fleeces waiting to be cleaned. Good thing I had washed most of our clothes, so it wasn’t too bad. The next day, I stopped in at my local Dependable Maytag appliance store to have a look at some Maytags. I avoid big box stores for major purchases because I value service and because the savings touted by box stores are an illusion.
Now washing machines have changed a lot and now have really cool features. Unfortunately, as a crafter, I have very specific needs. For instance, I can’t use a machine that senses how much I’ve loaded into the machine and then it decides how much water I need. I need to be able to fill the tub first and then add the fleece. I also can’t let it agitate. I need to soak and then spin. (For more information on how to wash a fleece in a washing machine, please visit my website at

What I needed was a Fleece O’ Matic. So I explained the situation to the knowledgeable salesman and he took me immediately to the old fashioned top loaders, because only these would fit my needs.

And here is where I must confess to a case of feature envy, because what I really wanted was one of those top loaders with the big shiny agitator free tubs and control panels suitable for steering a starship. But what I was looking at was pretty much what I’d been using all my life with the same utilitarian knobs that I’ve seen since childhood. I did what I could to dress it up—stainless steel tub, clear top, etc. but it is still your basic washing machine. Sigh.

The demands of this hobby forced me to swallow my feature envy and buy what was practical for the kind of work I do. And it is a really nice washing machine as it is. Plus for once I can tell my husband my hobby is actually saving money, because the machine I needed cost half as much as the state of the art kind.

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