Saturday, April 26, 2008

Fiber Fun

Thought I'd share just a little of what I've been up to recently, spinning-wise.

Yesterday I decided to try spinning up some cultivated silk sliver that was in my stash, that I'd purchased from Jennifer of Spirit Trail Fiberworks at the 2006 Knitters Review Retreat. I had originally thought I'd knit with it, sorta like people knit with unspun silk hankies. But in the interim I have learned how to spin, so decided to try it on one of my Golding drop spindles:

It was a lot easier to spin than I thought it would be. Drafting the silk sliver is sorta like drafting a fairly long staple-length wool, in that you need to keep your fingers/hands fairly far apart to allow the fibers to slide past each other and draft.

Now I'm wondering what I'll do with the singles once I have more of them spun up -- will I two-ply the silk to itself? Ply it with something like a merino? I don't know. But I don't really worry about those things when I spin. I spin for entertainment value alone. The yarn end-product is icing on the cake. I guess that makes me a process spinner, which is a good thing, since the process is slow-going on a spindle.

Here's a more recent fiber purchase:

That's about 8 oz. of Polwarth wool (an Australian breed that is a merino-Lincoln cross), in the "Summer Garden" colorway, purchased from What you see above is one long strip of roving, starting with the blue end on the left, dyed with large sections of single colors that graduate into the next color, ending with the purpley end on the right. I'm not exactly sure how this should be spun to its best advantage, but I have some time to consider that, as I most likely won't be spinning this until I get a wheel. is a Canadian company that is breed-specific to Polwarth, and they import the fiber from Australia. I decided I needed more of their fiber after receiving a little sample of it:

with one of my drop spindles. (Incidently, the spindle shown above, a Cocobolo spindle purchased from The Spanish Peacock, is not the spindle which came with the Polwarth sample.) Anyway, after spinning the sample, (in the "Brick" colorway), I was immediately hooked. The fiber is incredibly soft (as soft as BFL or merino, I think), and the bonus is that it has a longer staple length -- 4-6", making it quite lovely to spin. So, about a month ago I talked a few local spinning friends into going in on an order with me, and we received our fiber last week. Nice stuff.

And now I, along with thousands of others, are counting down the days (hours, minutes) until Maryland Sheep & Wool, where we'll get to fondle fiber and yarn to our heart's content. Can't wait! Hope to see you there!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Mad Town Mania

Wisconsin capitol building

Last week I was back in the greater Madison, WI area again for work, and since it will be my last trip there for the foreseeable future, I took full advantage of my time there, and hit not one, but three yarn shops. (Because apparently I can't get yarn at any of Richmond's wonderful yarn shops, nor online, nor at any upcoming fiber festivals?)

But I think most knitters will agree that common sense often flies out the window when we walk through the doors of a yarn shop.

First stop on my itinerary was Lakeside Fibers, and behind this unassuming entrance:

was room after room of tempting lovelies:

In that last room, way in the back, is a great cafe and knitting spot with a wall of glass that looks out onto this view:

winter is officially over

Can you imagine a better place to buy yarn, sit & knit, sip coffee and eat a cookie? Neither can I.

Downstairs they have a weaving studio, and upstairs in the cafe they sell quite a few finished woven items. Needless to say, I did not leave the place empty-handed.

I looked at this scarf over and over, and almost left without it until I overheard one of the shop owners tell another worker that the weaver is selling her loom and quitting the craft. How could I not get it?

But that's not all that came home with me.

I also could not resist this Prism Kid Slique in the "Smoke" colorway:

(this photo is more color-accurate)

which is for Prism's long-tailed wrap:

They had a store sample in a pinkish colorway that was quite lovely. (I've since found a free pattern on Prism's website that's very similar to the one I purchased, in case anyone reading this is interested...).

I also couldn't leave without this lovely Claudia's Hand Painted sock yarn, in her "Teal Party" colorway:

Again, how could I not?

Next stop was The Knitting Tree:

Smaller than the first shop, but still quite nice, and I had a fun discussion with the owner on the addictive qualities of Ravelry. Oh, and I picked up some Dream in Color "Classy" in a gorgeous new colorway called "Pansy Golightly":

Shop owner Margaret said the iridescent colors reminded her of a shimmery oil slick, and I admit I must agree. I also grabbed Yarn Harlot's latest book. [I didn't even know she had a new one out, I'm so behind on hers (and everyone's) blogs.]

Last but not least, I made a return visit to The Sow's Ear, and was seduced by the siren song of this Colinette kit:

Hey, I'm nothing if not consistent -- I like what I like, and what I like happens to be teal. It's just a good thing that they don't make Rolex watches or Mercedes Benz in teal. And if they do, please don't tell me.

Wisconsin weather was quite spring-like last week -- we had a couple days in the low 70's -- and if it weren't for the bare, leafless trees and lack of pollen, I would have thought I hadn't left Richmond at all. Now that it's been raining buckets here for three days, I'm wistful for last week's Wisconsin sunshine.

The rain does has its advantages, though. Besides the obvious benefits of watering the plants and trees and replenishing aquifers, the giant puddle in front of my porch is keeping me out of yarn shops.

It's a good thing.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Saturday with Bess

Last Saturday I drove 90 minutes north-eastward to Champlain, VA, near Tappahannock, to visit my friend Bess.

I came to know Bess via blogging. A couple years ago, our mutual knit-blogging friend and TNK founder Jane recommended that I read Bess' blog, and so I did, and became quickly enchanted by her fanciful writing style. A short while later, after exchanging blog comments, Bess & I discovered that we'd both attended the same high school, (although not at the same time). A friendship was born. Since then, we've met in person on many occasions, and usually at some fiber-related event, activity or location. Bess gave me my first drop spindle lesson (and ultimately created a monster). Bess is the adoptive parent of my first digital camera, and I freely admit it was given with a selfish, ulterior motive -- I wanted to see more photos on her blog! More recently she's surprised me with spinning fiber - a pound of a beautiful (teal!) merino-tencil roving. Last Saturday I contributed another drop spindle to her collection. You see how it goes -- that's what friends do.

Since my spinning classes last fall, and my more recent Wisconsin spinning retreat, I've been casually, unhurriedly window-shopping for wheels. Knowing this, Bess, as the owner of three beautiful wheels, invited me to come to her place for lunch and to test-drive her equipment. So, off I went.

As I arrived, I rolled down her mile-long rustic driveway through fields of ... something, (soybeans? winter rye?), and came upon this ruin:

Oh, how I loves me a good ruin. I took this as a good omen for the day. I could insert the obvious joke here -- "she told me her home was rustic, but I didn't realize it was this rustic!" -- but I'd rather just do as I always do when I see an abandoned building, which is wonder about all the history behind it. When was it built? Who lived there? When did it become forever-empty? How long did it take for vines and decay to take over? How long will it take before it collapses? I'm inexplicably fascinated by the evolution of decaying architecture.

You know, in 16th through 19th-century Europe, it was considered the height of fashion to have a ruin (also known as a "folly") in one's garden. But those ancient poseurs with their intentionally-constructed ruins had nothing on Bess. Her ruin came by its rot honestly, over time; there was no fakery involved. Didn't know you were so fashionable, did you, Bess?

As I got closer to her actual house, I was greeted by Bess and her sweet dogs, and after parking and hugs (Bess) and sniffs & pats (dogs), I was introduced to Bess' "Big Darlin'" (BD) husband, Ed. Every bit as tall and charming and deep-voiced as Bess has advertised, Ed was the one who built their lovely home in the late 70's/early 80's, and the home is as charming as its builder. As I was walked in the front door I was greeted by the smell of something delicious cooking in the kitchen. Bess gave me a tour of the place, which reminded me quite a bit of Robin H.'s house down in Clarksville, which was built in the early 1700's. I love old homes, and newer ones, too, that just hearken back to an older era.

After the tour we had a delicious lunch of sandwiches and homemade soup, and then set about the business at hand, which was wheel and fiber play:

L-R: antique wheel; Ashford Elizabeth; Golding

I was given the opportunity to spin on two of Bess' wheels -- her Ashford Elizabeth and her gorgeous, triple-flyer Golding, the Rolls Royce of spinning wheels. Bess feared that I might be spoiled forever for other wheels after spinning on the incredible Golding, and I must admit it is one smooth ride. But I know my limitations, and know I'm a fickle enough hobbyist that I won't be bringing such a precious thing into my house, where it would likely succumb to a cat knocking it over and breaking off something important. But, oh, it was very good to get to test drive a Golding. Now I can die happy.

I'm still leaning towards a Lendrum, at this stage, but am also keeping an open mind. After all, Maryland Sheep & Wool is just a few weeks away, and I'm very excited to be attending it this year as a new spinner. I will be looking at everything with new eyes, test driving lots of wheels, fondling all kinds of fiber, and I can't wait!

In between lunch and wheel play I helped Bess get her laundry off the line before the rain came, and got to see the yurt where she and Big Darlin' (Ed) and Little Darlin' (son William) lived during their early years. Such hippies! ;-) Seriously, such romantic images that lifestyle conjures in my mind! Little House on the Prairie, as Bess referred to it, but perhaps more accurately, Little Yurt on the Rappahannock River. (I know Bess has a photo of the yurt somewhere on her blog, but for the life of me, I couldn't find it to link to it, so you'll just have to imagine...). Also while we were outdoors, we got to see Mama Bald Eagle carrying some kind of prey in her claws back to the nest high atop a tree on Bess' property, near the water's edge. There's definitely something magical and precious about Bess & Ed's place there. I hope the entirety of it always stays in their family.

Back inside, here is Bess snuggling with one of her super-sweet doggies, Miss Priss, while seated in front of her one-of-a-kind Golding:

Here's Tom Golding's inscription on the bottom of the wheel:

And here is all that gorgeous hand-carving in a whirling blur of motion:

I still recall reading Bess' post after she acquired this lovely wheel, at the 2006 MS&W. It's quite a little thrill for me now to not only have seen it in person, but also to have actually spun on it. That Tom Golding - he's a master.

In fact, it was Bess who first introduced me to his spindles, way-back-when. (I've since purchased three of them, and have set my sights on more, when I hit his booth at this year's MS&W.) And it was Bess who told me about the John C. Campbell Folk School, a place I've since visited, an experience that is one of the highlights of my life. With tongue-firmly-in-cheek, I believe at the time I called her an evil temptress for her shameless enabling, but that's an unfair description, even in jest. Bess has actually enriched my life quite a bit, and I'm blessed to call her a friend.

Thanks for a lovely Saturday, Bess!