Saturday, August 28, 2010

Fiber festival reunion and destash strain

Meeting up with Alice Field of Fox Hill Farm in Lee, Mass., was the highlight of my visit to the Michigan Fiber Festival last weekend.  I purchased my first fleeces from her two decades ago back when she raised lots of Romney--Rosalie, Blanche and a cross named Alecia.  These lovely fleeces have long since been spun up and knit into projects--though an odd or end of leftover yarn may haunt a corner of some storage bucket somewhere. A picture of part of her booth is shown above.

Fox Hill Farm is now better known for truly lovely Cormo fleeces, that have been skillfully covered.  Now, many of you know that I generally don't like covered fleeces--this is because I have seen some lousy ones.  However, Alice Field knows what she's doing.  For one, she makes her own covers from cotton fabric, which breathe and allow the fleece to dry out after a rain. Her covers have modifications that allow for better fleece--more air circulation etc.   Second, she is selective about which breed is covered--that is she covers her Cormo which responds well to covering.  She's found that not all fleece should be covered--for instance a luster wool like Romney will lose its character and loft under a cover.

I enjoy talking to a thinking shepherd.  I'm a little tired of blanket assumptions like "a covered fleece is a spinners fleece."  A spinner's fleece is a fleece from a shepherd who knows what they are doing. I've washed, handpicked, carded and spun dozens of fleeces both covered and not covered. I'm sick of hearing about "VM" (vegetable matter) as a scourge because skillfully raised sheep won't have this problem.  But I can go on with this topic forever.  Let's just say I am picky and don't make assumptions.  When I buy a covered Cormo, it will be from Alice Field.  I will have to put this treat off until next year as I still need to make room in my stash closets.

Another mission at the Michigan Fiber Festival was to have a look at Kessinich looms which are made right in Allegan.  You can see a picture of the booth above.  This is a lovely loom crafted of sturdy wood with lots of thought going into the detail.. Someday, I would like to replace my 36" counterbalance loom with a 36 inch eight harness jack type loom.  But not right away.  I have to get a little better at weaving first!

 Going to a fiber festival and not coming home with something is a strain on one's self-restraint.  I did pretty well, I think.  I purchased a pound of fiber.  One was 11 ounces of raw alpaca in a light shade of brown that I don't happen to have from Meadowsong Alpacas.  I want to make an Andean motif sweater in pure alpaca, so I can justify an extra color plus I have room in my Alpaca storage bin.  Later, I purchased five ounces of alpaca silk blend roving which I might use for socks.    I also stopped a Susan's for an extra large bobbin for my Lendrum--I love Susan's because she has EVERYTHING.  I also found some size 0 knitting needles I was looking for.

The Michigan Fiber Festival was a lot of fun.  My husband and I made a weekend of it, and stayed near Granville and then explored down along the Lake Michigan coast on our way home.  I think I'll go back next year--especially if I haven't already picked up a Fox Hill Farm fleece.

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

A compendium of weaving errors

Diving into weaving with gusto, I soon found myself tangled in any number of warping errors. Warp, for those of you uninitiated in weaver’s lingo, are the strings that go across the loom and form the structure on which you weave. In the accompanying photos, the warp is white. Warp needs to be threaded carefully, because if it isn't, you will have trouble that lasts and lasts and last.  And that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

The olive green weaving above is my latest round of warp troubles. As you may recall, I had some threading errors with this warp earlier when I was weaving with the dark orange colored yarn. To refresh your memory, I add a picture of that here: I had a gap due to missing a dent in a reed (those are the verticle slats the white thread passes through) and to the far left, I’d made a mistake threading the heddles creating a pattern mistake.  Heddles are shown right here from the back of the loom:

To fix my first mistakes, I wove for about 18 inches and then cut the piece off the loom. My intention was to rethread the warp so I’d have a nice perfect looking bit of cloth.  That wasn't happening though and after long painstaking rewarping, I started weaving and more errors hidden in my threading jumped out and tweaked my nose.

Yes, you see the bundled threads  in the close up? What on earth did I do? It took time to get up the courage to investigate my mistake. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to know. Or maybe I was sure I’d made the same stupid mistakes. I wove on doggedly thinking to my mantra: These are dishtowels. I will use them myself and they will be worn out in a few years. After a foot of weaving, I was ready to have a closer look.

I am proud to say, I’ve discovered a whole new class of weaving mistakes! I discovered the tangled web and Shakespeare’s reference gained fresh meaning. All my heddles were threaded properly (I pat myself on the back), but somewhere between the heddles and the reed I had managed to cross the warp threads —I’m showing you a close up of this area just to give you an idea what I’m talking about.

Anyhow, as I weave and create patterns by lifting and lowering groups of threads, the crossed/twisted warp holds some of the threads down creating the odd ugly bundles of improperly unwoven, not in pattern thread.

Warping fine threads at twenty threads per inch is a daunting prospect for a new weaver. I should probably have done something easier. But had I done this, I’d never have found all these interesting ways to mess up the warp. I expect my journey from apprentice to master weaver will be a long and interesting one.

Thank you for visiting my blog. Please visit my website at in my soon to be published tell-all about the trials of a new weaver: “The Dark Tangled Side of Weaving.”

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Snacks, Ice and Wool: A Road Trip Find

Villa Grove Trade is my kind of general store. I knew as soon as I stepped inside and saw a big bag of Karakul roving, along with the softdrinks, snacks and ice one expects at a roadside store out in the country. I won’t use the cliché “middle of nowhere” because Villa Grove Trade is definitely somewhere. It is in the hamlet of Villa Grove, Colorado, in the San Luis Valley and the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Beautiful country.

I spied the store on our way to a hike in said mountains as we sped down Highway 285. We’d been camped near Poncha Springs and we were looking forward to a nice hike through pinyon juniper woodlands up to a spring. It was an enjoyable outing, complete with a packed lunch. On our way back to our camp, we stopped at Villa Grove Trade.

Besides having roving, they sold lovely jewelry, and art objects along with the chips, soft drinks and icecream one associates with little stores. The best was in the back—a restaurant complete with homemade pies! We bought a couple of slices of their apple pie and it was delicious. The buffalo chili smelled good too, but we’d already had lunch. The restaurant also offers live music and dinner specials on the second and fourth Sunday of each month and you can learn about this at their website They also rent western style rooms and we are thinking of checking in the next time we pass through.

I had a nice chat with Amber Shook, a spinner and weaver, who owns the business with husband Jeff. The roving I purchased come from her own Karakul/Rambouillet sheep, which are naturally raised nearby. At first I was just going to buy a little, but you know how it is! My eye caught site of firt the light brown and then the lovely gray shown above. Despite all my stash busting resolutions, I couldn’t resist. I hope to be spinning it soon.

Karakul is a primitive breed with a double coat with kemp blended in with the finer fiber. When I purchased two pounds of grey roving and about a half pound of the light brown, I was kind of thinking of a sweater, but now I’m thinking weaving. I have some chocolate brown Navajo Churro in my stash and that would be a great complimentary color with the other shades. I don’t know for sure yet, but I’m really glad I found this fiber. Once I clear out my current projects, I’ll be spinning it.

Unfortunately, I took no pictures of this cool little restored Western store, but my husband did buy the T-shirt, which is what I’m using to give you an idea of what it looks like. It is a nice place and definitely worth a stop for lunch and a little shopping if you are vacationing that way. They also have espresso, if you just need a perk up on your road trip.

Thank you for visiting my blog. Please stop by again. You can also visit my website for tips and ideas on all things fiber related. I keep a collection of things found here on my blog.