Friday, December 25, 2009

Homage to Tan

New! Tres elegant yarn version of tan and blue, top left! Recently I've been drinking in the beauty of a very low key color; tan. No matter where you live, you see it everywhere: fallen leaves, sand, concrete rubble, cardboard and brown paper bags, camel hair coats. Whether it's boring, serviceable, or elegant, depends on it's usage an it's surroundings. So I've chosen it as my first pick for a series focusing on color; how to look at it, how to mix it, how to use it.

Since I'm writing this mainly for dyers of wool and silk, I'll be talking about mixing color with natural and acid dyes. I'm not going to give actual formulas for mixing colors, but just talk about where they lie on the colorwheel, how they are related to other colors, what effects they have in different situations.

I chose tan because I'm surrounded by it these days. My dog
is almost lost in it. It isn't a color I wear well, so I don't use it all that often in dyeing, unless I'm using natural dyestuffs like tea, walnuts, onion skins, eucalyptus, tree bark, etc. The colors from these materials are stunningly beautiful in their simplicity. But how to mix this color with dyes? Actually, most tans are a form of muted orange, a dilute brown. If you mix orange with it's compliment blue, most of the time you'll get some form of brown. dilute the brown and tan will appear. But what orange and blue do you use? Start with a yellowish orange and add turquoise and you'll get a olive. Start with a reddish orange and add cobalt and you'll get a dusty grape. So how to arrive at Tan? Start with an orange and a blue that are closest to being true compliments, diametrically opposing on the color wheel. For instance, the copper orange in Monk's face and legs is complimented by the blue paint on the leaf above. The following photos revolve around this palette...tan that's a mixture of orange, blue. But this isn't the only way to get tan.

This photo of lichens on sandstone looks like tan from a distance but on closer inspection has very little actual tan. The eye mixes the colors present here and sees the rock as a kind of tan. Colors are olive, sage, bluish lavender and rosy brown. Orange is suggested by the yellowish cast in the sage, mixed by the eye with the rosy hue in the brown. Blue appears by default in orange's split compliment of lavender and olive, which mixed together would make a dull blue. Even though none of these colors are vivid, on close inspection they tend to enliven each other into a sum that is greater than its parts.

Continuing with the theme is an image easily found on a college campus. There is a spot of rusty orange under the beer can, a touch of blue in the label, and all is surrounded by gorgeous browns, tans, olives. Olive brown is usually arrived at by mixing yellow orange with blue or turquoise like I mentioned above. Sometimes a touch of violet softens the mix. On closer inspection, reddish rust and forest green appear in places, another complimentary pair. Mixing browns by using two pairs of compliments can give you some stunning tones.
The last photo shows compliments of muted orange (in the form of tan) and blue plus compliments of pale yellow and very muted violet...actually violet grey. The grey in the large trunks and in the reflection of the branches in the upper right hand corner of the photo can be arrived at by mixing violet and lemon yellow. The resulting neutral can be shifted with a touch of orange or blue. Anything but boring.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

New Color Combos for Starry Nite

Three Waters Farm is now offering some really cool fiber color combos on their etsy store. Here is 4 oz of Blue Faced Leicester for $14 ($2 off the usual price) in a grouping of approx 1 oz per colorway. When I saw these, I thought of Starry Nite. Great way to get a sweet group of small amounts of chummy colorways for this pattern. Then the more I looked at these, the more my ideas started snowballing. What kind of gorgeousness could you do with these little gems?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tension Tips

Holiday emails have arrived with suggestions on how to handle tension during the festive season. Since this is supposed to be a knitting/spinning blog and I've been talking about everything but, I thought I'd offer my own take on tension...the knitting kind.

As many of you know, I'm a continental knitter. This is a loose term for someone who tensions the yarn with the non-dominant hand and since I'm right handed, this means tensioning with the left hand. This method is commonly refered to as “picking”. Because I teach knitting along with my spinning classes, I've learned how to mimic other knitter’s styles so that I can speak their own “hand language” when I’m explaining certain techniques. Most knitters these days are taught to throw, meaning that they hold their working yarn in their dominant hand.

In this process I’ve learned how to knit left-handed. Funny thing is, when I knit left-handed, I “throw”, so I'm still tensioning with my non-dominant hand. It took a while to get my tension the same picking and throwing. The aha moment came when I realized the following difference:

A: When I pick, I regulate tension on the stitch I am making because I have my working yarn held under tension as I make the stitch.

B: When I throw, I regulate tension on the following stitch, because no matter how much tension I have on the working yarn as I make the stitch, I usually let go of that tension somewhat as I move along to make the next stitch. Once I wrap the next stitch, I automatically snug the tension of the previous stitch in the process.

This is really the beauty of throwing, because you don’t have to be a deft knitter to control your tension. You can let go of the yarn altogether, knowing you can snug it up as you move along. When knitting with wool or mohair this isn’t much of an issue either way, as the yarn usually stays put once the stitch is made. But if you knit with rayon, alpaca, linen, ie anything slippery, you’ll see those stitches loosening as you let go of your working yarn.

For me, the beauty of picking is that by holding a constant tension on my working yarn I can fly along because I usually don’t pause to adjust tension at all. The working yarn glides between the knuckles of my index and third fingers and I rarely have to reposition my yarn. But if I’m not mindful of my tension, it can easily tighten, especially when working stitches that tend to draw in.

I think I noticed this most when I played around with different ways to tension fair isle, or stranded knitting, with two separate yarns. I’ve tried holding two strands in my left hand, picking one, then the other. But holding tension on two yarns at once had a cumulative effect and my stitches drew up too tight. I tried throwing both yarns, but it took too long to drop one strand, pick up the other, drop that one and pick up the former and although my stitches were nice I found this way too tedious. On top of that, it was sometimes too loose. It was when I tried picking with one yarn and throwing the other that I noticed how differently the two methods affected my work. I used the tension from the thrown yarn as a guide for my picked yarn and by working mindfully was able to even the tension of both yarns and increase my speed at the same time.

After working this way for a while I came to know the advantages of both tensioning methods. But also, it took a while for my hands to assimilate what my mind had discovered. At this point, I'm more comfortable throwing with my left hand, so if I feel like knitting this way, I just turn my work around and go left to right. This helps to relieve repetitive motion pain and boredom too...pretty swuft.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

New Handspun Yarn Kit with Star Flower Pattern

I made up some beautiful handspun yarn kits for the craft fair. They include a skein of gorgeous handspun yarn spun by a member of the LV ltd collective and a printed brochure style pattern for Star Flower Neckwarmer and Cuffs. I'm posting these on both of my etsy stores, LV ltd and Handspuncentral. You can buy the pattern separatedly in pdf format if you choose, or buy the kit with the printed pattern included. The pdf is formatted in my usual style with easy to read larger print. Printed pattern included with the kit is one page, brochure style, handy for carrying with this portable project.

I love this new pattern. It's the perfect solution for small amounts of yarn. Either the gaiter (shown here in Jester) or moebius version (shown here in Cinco de Mayo) of the neckwarmer knits up from approx 100 yds of worsted or larger yarn. Matching cuffs take approx 50 yds. So these kits have skeins of between 160-200 yds. I'm especially fond of "In Your Face", one of Pam's creations. She dyed this merino/cashmere for her handspun. The colors are completely unexpected and wild. It's more than the other kits because of the cashmere in case you wer
e wondering. You'll also find some of my faves from TWF spun up in these kits, such as Black Hollyhocks, and October Fields, a combo of one ply October Celebration and one ply Fields After Frost.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sheep Apps

Nothing makes Sandy Sitzman, alias Twisted Mom, chuckle quicker than an animated sheep. There is something so silly about them that she can't help herself. The first chuckle is very quiet, followed by another and another. Soon (it must be the sound of her own laughter) chuckles built upon chuckles and she becomes infectious to herself and others. It was with the memory of her in full roll that I bought my first sheep app; Sheep Launcher. With a tap of the screen I sent my ruminant skyward to strains of Johann Strauss (the holiday version plays the Alleluia chorus) and the memory of Sandy gasping for breath. I held the animal aloft with successive taps, higher and higher, into the stratosphere, the troposphere, and finally into outer space. When I failed to tap the sheep accurately, it plummeted earthward with a long wailing scream. I wished I could have handed the phone to Sandy so she could have launched her own sheep skyward (that is if she could have stopped laughing), but we've been on opposite sides of the country since I got the thing.

This morning as I was syncing my phone to upload recent photos of Monk, etc, I discovered to my delight that there is a new sheep app; Sheep Stacker. It was on my phone with the tap of the free button and soon I was stacking sheep. You tap the sheep as it swings pendulously from a swinging suction cup and it lands on the stack of ruminants below. If you stack perfectly, you get a nickel. If you miss, you knock sheep off your stack and they bleat so sadly as they tumble. I'm going to have to hide this one from myself, as it is very addicting, and doesn't make me quite as dizzy as Sheep Launcher. I stacked all my sheep on the free version...may have to get the full-on app soon. Sandy, you need this. Life will never be the same again.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Yesterday's craft fair turned out great. Lots of people, beautiful booth. I had the corner spot in the front room with all the natural light. It was heavenly.

At this point I'll have to back up a little. SACA holds three craft fairs a year in this venue which is across the street from my house. It's really across the street, up a wide lawn and behind a large three storey stone dormitory. In the past when I've been a shopper at these fairs I've brought Monk along, as Sewanee is very dog friendly. So Monk knows about the fair, whether it's indoors or out, and at times when I've taken him home, he has returned on his own to look for me. Last fall when I had a booth outside, James brought him over to visit and left him behind. Within minutes Monk started guarding the booth!!! Agh! Aussies will be aussies. So I took him home. He got out and came back three times.

So yesterday I was very careful not to let him know I even had a booth. He saw me packing and carrying things to the car, but I never took him over. James stayed home with him in the morning and I thought I was in the clear.

Around 10:30 when the hall was jammed with people and there were about 4 people in my booth, I heard a single booming call that could only be one thing. Monk. "BOOOOOO!" he howled. Everyone rubbernecked, but none faster than I. Standing inside the doorway was a spotted dog who, if he could have put his hands on his hips, would have done so. His head was high, scanning the crowd. He had come for me, and seeing a sea of people, he had called me with a single broadcast, one meant for the back 40, not a rather small foyer. When he saw me he was all wiggles and smiles. He had everyone's attention and they were saying, "what kind of dog is that?", "I used to have an aussie, but he was a different color," and "oh, let him stay!!!". Little did they know what that would lead to. I led him to the booth and showed him where I was set up. He smiled and greeted, accepted butt scratches and pets, all sweet and light. But I knew that in 5 minutes time he would have called my corner his own, so back home he went at my heels, probably thinking he was returning me to the fold. I just wish I had had the presence of mind to grab my phone and take a picture of him standing in that doorway.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Yep, today's the day for the Sewanee Arts and Crafts Holiday Fair in Cravens Hall on Kentucky Ave, Sewanee, TN from 9-4 today. The booth is beautiful! You'll find all kinds of gorgeous handspun yarns, handdyed sock yarns (both natural dyes and brilliant colors), spinning fiber and more. Check out the gift kits for the Star Flower Neckwarmer at left. Enough yarn for a neckwarmer and cuffs with pattern included. In fact, Star Flower Neckwarmer and Cuffs patterns are included free with any $20 yarn purchase. See you there!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Underwater Treadmill

Finally took pics of Monk in the underwater treadmill. Just look at the little champion. This amazing contraption has helped so many dogs regain and maintain mobility. With the water level at hip level, 60% of the weight of impact is removed. Coupled with the fact that the muscles work harder against water the dog is able to really work out without the jarring impact of landing. I've been taking Monk for therapy for several winters, relying on our warm watered lakes for his exercise in the summertime. As long as Monk stays strong, he'll be able to be an active dog in spite of advanced arthritis with elbow and hip dysplasia. Aussies like Monk don't know the meaning of retirement, even if they can't do backflips anymore. This year I've been taking him to see Cassy Englert for added benefits of laser therapy and PT before and after his treadmill session. Just today Monk was able to flex his elbows to 70 degrees for the first time in a long time, and he can now extend his front legs nearly straight. When we started back into therapy about 3 weeks ago, he had so much swelling in those elbows and they were nearly frozen at a 90 degree angle. Now all the fluid pockets have disappeared and his elbows are much smaller and more mobile. We are so amazingly fortunate that this great therapy is available in Chattanooga, and that there are wonderful, dog loving therapists like Cassy to keep the canine member of our family happy and mobile.

Friday, November 13, 2009


My little band of spinners and I have been madly spinning for the Sewanee Arts and Crafts’ Holiday Crafts Fair next weekend. I was offered a booth due to a last minute cancellation and I grabbed the opportunity. We’ll have lots of beautiful new handspun yarns with loads of pattern support, kits with patterns included, some beautiful fiber for spinners, naturally dyed sock yarns, and handwoven and handknitted pieces. The booth will be in the front room with loads of lovely natural light so you can see all the colors. Fun will be had by all. It’s Saturday, November 21 at Cravens Hall on Kentucky Avenue on the campus of the University of the South at Sewanee, TN. I believe hours are 9-5 CST. The sampling of yarn here is my own handspun to be offered as a Justify Kit. Below is a view of a recent hybrid I knit of Justify. Yarn is spun by Daria Bocciarelli, one of the spinners in the LV ltd fold. I taught Daria to spin a year ago. I was going to sell this yarn she spun, but couldn't let it go, so I knitted it up and yep, I can't let this Justify go either. It's mine....all mine...booooaaahhh.

As I’ve been spinning for this show, memories of my mentor’s teachings have been flashing forth and I’ve been reveling in gratitude for their generous guidance over the years. What a cavalcade it has been too. There’s my Yoda, Sandy Sitzman, lover of all things fibery, former owner of Woolgatherings (now being carried on by daughter-in-law Kate Sitzman with a newly opened shop on Etsy) who is most responsible for enabling me along these lines. As I finally come into my own with long draw en point, memories of my first spinning class with Luisa Gelenter of La Lana Wools sparkle through the old brain pan. Since then I’ve been supported by generous mentorings from Rachel Brown, Kathryn Alexander, Judith McKenzie McCuin, Carol Huebscher Rhoades, Mary Spanos, and, last but most, Rita Buchanan. Last summer, Rita sat me down at her Schacht Matchless with a piece of cotton roving and had me spinning gorgeous-soft-bulky-lofty-cotton yarn in a matter of minutes. Every time I visit Rita she gives me one of these mini lessons and every time whole worlds open at my feet. But what really excites me is when I see the skills I’ve learned reflected in the work of my own students and I realize that they in turn teach me volumes in so many ways. What got me walking down this path of gratitude? Just the other day a woman who came to my beginning spinning class at Rhinebeck last year wrote to tell me she had taken Kathryn’s class this year on my recommendation and that Kathryn loved her spinning enough to want to knit with her yarn. Such a full circle…Kathryn (and Rita, Sandy, Luisa, Judith, etc) taught me the skills I passed to Sandra who took them back to show Kathryn, learn from her and hopefully pass them further down the line. Those of you who have been in my classes (especially Harrisville last summer) can see me getting all verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves and pass the tissues.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Ridin' the Incline

Recently we've been spending a lot of time in Chattanooga. With the advent of cooler weather it's back to the underwater treadmill at RIVER for Monk (he's the aussie with the frisbee on my Ravelry Avatar). And this year they are starting a new laser treatment for dogs, still in the experimental stages, in which light is used like ultrasound to increase circulation in deep tissue. Since we started treatment a couple weeks ago, Monk has gained at least a 25% increase in mobility in his elbow joints. Today he was able to bend to what looked like a 75 degree angle (he hasn't been able to flex much past 90 degrees in some time). This seems nothing short of miraculous. Monk can walk farther and faster in more comfort that before.

So after therapy, we decided to do the touristy thing and ride the Incline Railway up Lookout Mountain. It's a little pair of cable cars that climb straight up the side of the bluff from St. Elmo below. As you can see in the photo on the left, it's a steep climb. The photo on the right shows the view from the top.

Here's DH James inside the Incline car with a precipitous drop behind him. The cars were almost empty today, so we had great views. I love looking into peoples back yards on the way up, wondering what it must be like to live beside this crazy railroad. The car backs up the mountain so you can see the view as you ascend, then cinches itself against the depot building at the top of the mountain, wedged between two beautiful homes with breathtaking views and you can see right into their back yards. As an added bonus, there was a red fox in one of the yards, hunting for grubs with a million dollar view. Lucky fox. She was finding plenty to eat today too.
Of course no self respecting tourist attraction is complete without a souvenir shop. Check out these mind bending Incline mugs.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

New Yarns on Etsy

I just posted a few new yarns on my Etsy Store. I'm excited to be able to offer a group of yarns that I spun myself (this is very rare!). These soft and beautiful seawool skeins are spun long draw from the fold and plied as two ply yarns. If you've never felt seawool before, you are in for a treat. It's the softest, most inviting stuff! This grouping is perfect for Justify, even the colors are reminiscent of the original, though lighter and a little more low key. This is a one of a kind offer, so when it's gone, it's gone.
I'm also posting some of my naturally dyed sock yarns. These subtly vibrant skeins are perfect for my Spiraling Leaves Fingerless Gloves as well as for socks. Most skeins in this series are 400 yds, enough for socks of course. If you chose to knit fingerless gloves, you'd have enough left over for a small pair of wristlets. These colors are so amazingly beautiful...really hard to show on a computer monitor. I've photographed them next to other yarns in the series so you can get an idea of how they relate to each other. Each skein in the series is one of a kind and unrepeatable. The madder root was a gift from Jan Quarles from a friend's garden in Clarksville, TN. The cochineal was a gift from Rita Buchanan. Neutrals are from my foragings locally. Sweet stuff. I'll be posting these over the next few days, so if you don't see what you want now, please keep checking back.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Tomorrow (Sept 25, 2009) and again on Sunday, Sept 27 I'll be spinning in the demo booth at the TACA Craft Fair in Nashville, TN. I've been looking forward to this for a while now. I'll have a basket of beautiful handpainted fiber to spin and some needles to knit some of the active twist yarn. I'll be glad to autograph books if you bring them. If you haven't been to this fair, it's the largest in the state, put on twice a year, in Sept and May. Tennessee Arts and Crafts Association juries this show for the finest in beautiful craftsmanship in many media. It's in Centennial Park, easy to find on West End Blvd, a straight shot from I-40 (Broadway exit) or from I 440 (West End exit). On Saturday Pam Harris will be the spinning demonstrator (see post below). I'm not vending at this fair, just demonstrating, but I will be vending in Sewanee this further.

Saturday, Sept 26 you'll find me in my booth at the Sewanee Arts and Crafts Association Fall Crafts Fair on the soccer practice field behind Cravens and Quintard Halls on the campus of
the University of the South in Sewanee, TN (see map). I'll have plenty of stunningly beautiful Superfluity Kits and mohair silk boucle from TWF, my LV ltd Au Naturel naturally dyed sock yarns, a wide array of LV ltd handspun yarns. PLUS you'll find my original patterns as pattern support. Handspinners will delight at the gorgeous handpainted fibers. There will be a few beautiful handknits available for sale as well, including the jacket and scarf pictured above and these ultra soft mitts (patterns and yarns are available in multiple colorways for these items as well). This fair will happen rain or shine, so please come check us out!

Next week I'll start posting more LV ltd handspun yarns on handspuncentral.etsy.
I've been saving up a collection for the Sewanee Craft Fair so there should still be a nice selection. LV ltd has a fabulous new spinner in the ranks. If you came to Hands On Color at Dubose, you met Daria. She has been spinning some really beautiful yarns lately. My favorite skein (you can see it at the Sewanee Craft Fair) is stunningly low key. How is that possible? She spun this two ply sock weight skein long draw from City Nights merino/bamboo fiber from TWF. The colors blended so beautifully. Up close you can see them all, but from a distance it looks like a savvy, earthy neutral with a little sheen. Stunning. There is enough in this skein to knit Spiralling Leaves Fingerless Gloves or Tiny Triangle Fingerless Gloves, or a narrow scarf. So keep checking back for more.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pam, Two Pencils and Some Bailing Twine

I met Pam Harris when she took my Hands on Color class at Shakerag Workshops in 2005. At that time she didn't even know how to spin, but she came to the workshop with unbridled enthusiasm and absolutely no fear. As she put it to the group, "I ain't skeert!" That first evening of class after all the intros were over, my Yoda Sandy Sitzman and I taught Pam how to spin on a honkin' CD spindle and her world changed forever. Although her first yarn was super bulky thick and thin, the knitter in her immediately set a goal for herself to "spin skinny" and now, 4 years later, she has spun miles of yarn, a lot of it the coveted, skinny yarn.

Her enthusiasm for spinning and knitting follows her wherever she goes. Even if she is completely worn out from her day job as cook at St. Andrews Sewanee School, all you have to do is mention fibery things and she's johnnyonthespot. Last week a colleague at work wanted to learn to knit, so Pam found two pencils and some bailing twine in the kitchen and taught her how on the spot, told her what to buy to practice further, and her pupil went home that evening with newly purchased supplies and knit several inches of a scarf. Watch out folks, soon she'll be teaching the staff to spin with a potato on a skewer and dinner will have to wait!

Since I've been gearing up for the Sewanee Fall Craft Fair behind Cravens Hall, Saturday September 26, I've been seeing a lot of Pam lately. She is going to have plenty of her beautiful handspuns available in my booth that day, but she will be in person at the TACA Craft Fair at Centennial Park in Nashville that Saturday in the demo booth (I'll be there Friday and Sunday), spinning and talking to the public. This is a treat not to be missed if you are in the Nashville area.

You can also find her yarns at the new Etsy store, Handspuncentral, including the one pictured here, "Candyland". These are real knitting yarns, not "art yarns", but they certainly can transform an ordinary knitting pattern into a work of art. Use them in a Mason Dixon Log Cabin Throw (Ann Shayne is a big fan of Pam's spinning!) or my Tiny Triangle Fingerless Gloves, or just knit a scarf. The yarn speaks for itself.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Huntsville Fiber Guild: Class at the Flying Monkey

This past weekend I had the pleasure of meeting with the Huntsville Fiber Guild for a great class at the Flying Monkey Theater in Huntsville, AL on Saturday and Sunday. This was a very talented and adventurous group, with visitors from Orlando, Asheville, and Tuscaloosa. We spun active singles and knit and crocheted the most beautiful motifs with these yarns. Some were so subtle, light as a feather, some were wildly colorful. Beth B took her bobbin home on Saturday evening and crocheted this awesome composition with the samples that remained on that bobbin. As you can probably see, she started in the center with TWF Mother of Pearl and followed the colors as they came off the bobbin, changing her direction accordingly. When she ran out of Mother of Pearl, the yarn changed to a combination drafted single (looks like First Bloom and Fall Apple
Redux...Beth correct me if I"m wrong. The neutrals of this combo make for a deep, glowing background to the composition.
Vicki, our "unapologetic crocheter", had a fine time with active singles in this little ripple piece.

You can tell by the big picture that a good time was had by all. We'll have to do this again soon. Awesome work!!!!

Harrisville Spin Dye Knit

Finally sitting down to blog. Gad the time slips away. I never got around to blogging how amazing my Harrisville spin/dye/knit class was this year way back in August. Joe in the loom shop made an outside station for the dye microwaves and we had no problems in the dye class this year. All the intense fumes were outside and everyone was in the loveliest zen because of it. On Friday morning everyone spread out all their handdyes on the floor of the classroom and the beauty of the display had me verklept and begging for tissues. Yes, we'll do this again next year. To thank Joe and all the workers in the loom shop who went out of their way to make this successful, we presented a blueberry coffee cake in a box signed by the class. We all went in as a class to present it to Joe and he blushed to the roots. Thanks everybody!!!

Holly's felted scarf (above left) was a roving that she washed a little too exuberantly and it was a little too felted to spin, so she meticulously laid it out on bubble wrap, added a little cross hatching and felted it into a scarf. Beth was able to get the clear summer pastel tints she loves (upper right) and Marilla crocheted this cellphone bag (spun from a Fall Apple Redux roving) in the time it took us to have our closing talk on Friday.
That weekend I went up to McDowell to the artists open house. They had strung tons of yarn on tent poles, a work in progress, so I added my two cents with Harrisville yarn. Mine is actually knitted in place, crude as it is. Yep...I had to kitchener to do this..with my fingers no less.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Visits with Rita and Barb

So much has happened in the last month that I hardly know where to start. July 30th found me on the road again, northbound to New Hampshire. My first stop was the home of Rita Buchanan. It's always such a joy to visit Rita. She and husband Steve have the perfect artists retreat in rural Connecticut, a modest sized central home, light and airy, with two separate studios. Steve's studio (he's a nature artist and you've seen his work on the "Crop" stamps as well as many others (Vintage Motorcycles, Pollinators, Reptiles and Amphibians)) is above the garage with the entrance tucked well back into the woods. Private and quiet. Rita's studio is in the house next door! She walks there every morning, crossing a bridge over a bubbling creek and following a path through the woods. When they first bought it, the house was almost a tear-down, but Rita and Steve completely gutted it, cleaned it out and remodeled, all by themselves. It's a dream studio, with four separate working rooms, three down and one up. One of the downstairs rooms is almost all windows with a view of her lovely garden full of lovingly tended shrubs, trees, flowers and stonework. Rita always gives me a mini lesson when I visit and this year it was a cotton spinning lesson.She had me spinning cotton on a Schacht Matchless in 5 minutes! And it held together...I was speechless. Rita spins everything on either her Schacht or her electric spinner. The bowl above contains some of her handspuns awaiting the loom in silk, cotton, linen and hemp. We used her handwoven dishtowels in the kitchen (can you imagine?), woven in subtle patterns from handspun cotton and linen. Her terry handtowel above is so cushy, so utterly touchable, all handspun and handwoven from the natural colored fibers, green cotton and linen. See how the terry stripes are one fiber and the flat stripes another...and it's reversable! What an elegant asthetic! What remarkable craftsmanship. Stunning! To top it off we took the kayak and canoe out on a local lake and picked blueberries from the boats. These became sublime muffins the next morning...the ones we didn't eat, that is. Rita loved my kayak...looked like a little girl with a new toy as she paddled. Thanks, Rita, for such a great time!

On my way home I got to visit Barb Parry of Foxfire Fibers. What a treat! I had met
Barb when she took my class at SOAR in 2003. She spoke so lovingly of her animals then that I've always wanted to see her again and meet the flock. Finally this year I got to do just that. And her remarkable love for her flock pays off in the sweetest, most affectionate sheep I've ever had the pleasure to meet. The little black ram lamb snuggling against me is Cinder, who followed me when we started to leave and snuggled me for more pets all the way to the fence. Barb takes such great care of her animals that it shows in her fiber and yarn. I bought some of her cormo, alpaca and silk millspun that she had dyed because I just could not resist it's cush and cuddly softness. Those skeins glowed in the front seat of my car as I traveled south to Webs and all I wanted to do was whip out my needles and start knitting. I bought some square needles at Webs and started in on some Spiralling Leaves Fingerless gloves, altering it for the worsted weight yarn. You'll see them soon.
You can read all about Barb's life on the farm on her Sheep Gal blog. If you haven't seen her new book, Teach Yourself VISUALLY Hand Dyeing, you should definitely check it out. She covers many types of dyeing in beautifully illustrated and easy to follow format. Get your copy today!

More soon. There are stories from Harrisville and the Tennessee Museum workshop yet to tell. My LYS owner and pal Jim Warf of Decherd Needleworks got in a new shipment of Cascade closeouts and he's got a ridiculously fine sale going on...up to 75% off some nifty yarns. You don't have to be in Tennessee to check it out. You can buy online from him. More on all this soon.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Elastic Rebound Theory

Maybe I feel like being controversial for a change, but as I was sitting spinning some unbelieveably beautiful fiber (TWF "Delphiniums" on merino/tussah silk is iridescent, like Amazon butterflies) I recalled that I’d heard there was a controversy going around about pre-drafting fiber before spinning. I think (this is pure heresay) that someone said that pre-drafting is for sissies.

I don’t like to get worked up over spinning. In the first place, I spin to relax. But statements like this remind me of the elastic rebound grade school they ask you if you’ve even heard of the elastic rebound theory and when you say no they give you a wedgie and then let go, snapping you with your own underpants. Well, I feel the need to do some snapping. “Predrafting is for sissies” comes under the heading of all those other quasi-rules that may be appropriate in a small context but get taken way out of hand when repeated once the context is long gone. One of these beauties is “you can’t spin from the fold on a hand spindle”. When someone told me that I immediately picked up the spindle and spun from the fold. Good grief.

Truth is I rarely pre-draft fiber unless I have a specific reason to do so. There are as many ways to pre-draft as there are reasons to do it. To align colors or multiple strips of color, to get the fibers moving in a dyed top, to stretch the colorbands in a handpainted roving, to transform a batt into a roving to meld colors. It’s an invaluable tool to teach newbie spinners how fibers glide past each other. Most new spinners need a little help understanding this phenomenon. Once you get it...or should I say...once your hands get it, you’ve got it, and all of a sudden you are drafting automatically on your own.

Spinning is a tactile art. It’s kinesthetic. It’s all about the feel. Pre-drafting is part of that feel...pulling on a section of roving just long enough to feel the fibers let go of each other and align. How you draft, how you spin, it all shows up in the yarn. No two people can spin exactly alike no matter how their fiber is prepared, no matter how they work their hands. Once you do, you might as well be machines.

So let’s get real. All this hubbub begs the question, “Why do I spin?” Personally, I spin because I love yarn that looks and feels like it was handled by the human hand. Those of you who have knit with your own handspun know what I’m talking about. That fabric feels different than any other fabric, even one you’ve knitted from someone else’s handspun. It has your hands in the work, your very own hands. Your hands give the yarn and fabric life. I spin to feel that life.

Why do you spin?

Spin, Crochet, Knit at Harrisville Designs

There is still some room in my 3-day Spinning for Colorwork Knitting workshop at Harrisville Designs, Aug 10-12, 2009. This is a short version of my longer spin, dye, knit class Aug 3-7 without the dyeing portion of the workshop. We should really call it, spin, crochet, knit. We'll explore spinning both active singles and plied yarns from handpainted rovings by knitting and crocheting small motifs and arranging them in a free form composition. This is a great way to understand how to use handpaints, and an opportunity to just knit and crochet with little or no pattern and let the yarn show you where to go. Before long you'll be able to introduce the color sequences you want into your yarns, or just simply relish the language of the yarn. I'll provide instruction on colorwork techniques such as mosaic, intarsia and entrelac for those interested. You should be comfortable spinning at the wheel or spindle and know how to either knit or crochet or both (not required that you know both). The main purpose of this class is to provide an exciting and supportive environment for experimentation, exploration and understanding of spinning, crocheting and knitting with multicolored yarns. For more photos, see my pages at flickr and ravelry.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Chatty Cathy: Shakerag, MSSA Bazaar and Harrisville

So much is going on these days. Shakerag Workshops are over and life is back to semi-normal. I'm busy dyeing for the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly Cottage Tour and Bazaar on Wednesday July 15 in Monteagle, TN. Jan Quarles of Daily Fibers and I will have a booth again this year and a good time will be had by all. Two weeks after that I'll be heading up to Harrisville, NH for my annual workshop. I'll be staying longer this year. After our weeklong spin, dye, knit intensive is over, I'll teach a three day spinning and knitting workshop (no dyeing), ala our recent freeform feast at Dubose Center in Monteagle last May (see "Hands On Color a Huge Success"). Although the spin, knit, dye class, August 3-7, is full, the following three day Spinning for Colorwork Knitting workshop, Aug 10-12, still has a few places available. So if you have been wanting to take one of my classes, this will be a great opportunity.

Recently I had the exquisite pleasure of attending David Chatt's workshop, "Achieving Nirvana Through the Fully Realized Beaded Bracelet". Laura Shea of the "Plato Bead" and other marvelously beaded mathematical spheres was in attendance complete with an "OM" ball that droned the chant at the slightest jiggle. It's first utterance mooed forth as David bent to sit for a one on one lesson with Laura and bumped the table, sending us in to raptures of laughter. Subsequently, the orb sang at each "aha moment" and some not so "aha moments". What a great class we had. Deb from New Hampshire brought amazingly beautiful freeform beaded scarves, Marti and Shirley from Miami brought such stash (talk about Nirvana) and engineered and afternoon latte cart with my espresso machine from home. David loves his beverage. Jason from Austin and Eryn from California waltzed into class with no experience in right angle weave and waltzed out with beautiful bracelets. Alma and Judy did such beautiful work. And I stitched my first ever bracelet in right angle weave. As we all may know, beadwork
can be tedious, all those tiny holes and invisible threads and sharp pointy needles, so levity was rampant at times (the OM ball being the ice breaker), even though every time people wandered into our class we were quiet and serious, little angels that we were. By the last day of class we were watching Mrs. Miller on David's computer. After lunch that day, Shanna Leino, the teacher of the Coptic Bookbinding class, made a special appearance to perform with Eryn Talevich and I in a favorite skit from SNL, the Witches Brew originally performed by Sherri Oteri, Molly Shannon, Ana Gastheyer and Cameron Diaz. A group of three witches brew up a cauldron gone bad and try to describe the obnoxious odors that spew forth. How we managed to perform it without laughing (well, maybe a titter) was amazing. BTW, guys, Shanna is from Harrisville, NH. Think we can talk her into performing for our class this summer??? Huh, Shanna, huh??? All kidding aside, we had an awesome time with David. He showered us all with individual attention, twice daily individual conferences over our bead tables. Everyone got what they came for and more, including the confidence and knowledge to engineer our own clasps (gasp). And David brought boxes and boxes of beadwork which we all found ourselves surreptitiously carrying around the room, trying on, hoarding at our work stations and almost unconsciously walking off with. Thanks, David! Class was epic.

I only took the one class this year. There were so many others of note, one being Jorie Johnson's felting class, which Eryn took and did the best work she'd ever done in a workshop. Also there was Susan Shie, Ruby Chisti, Judy Dominic, Shanna Leino, and more and more. Next year India Flint will come all the way from Australia to give two separate sessions of natural dyeing. Sign ups don't happen till October at the earliest or I'd be on the list right now.

Tennessee State Museum

The Tennessee State Museum in Nashville, TN, is hosting a unique event August 22, 2009. The following is the official flier for the event. I'll be hosting the spinning workshop, a living exhibit. For more info or to sign up for one of the workshops described in the following,contact Elaine Aldous at the Tennessee State Museum. This is a unique opportunity indeed. Even if you don't sign up for the workshops you can come and watch.


The Tennessee State Museum and the Handweavers Guild of Nashville are partnering to offer a special day at the Museum, centered around historical techniques for cloth making and how they can be applied in modern artistic creations. Experienced weavers and spinners, school children, teachers and the general public will all find something of interest.

Specialized Artistic Workshops: From 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. there will be two concurrent workshops. One will concentrate on spinning; the other on weaving. Lynne Vogel’s workshop will focus on spinning fine yarns using currently popular fibers and combining fibers in experimental yarns. Geri Forkner’s weaving workshop will explore the different effects of historic weaves when used both traditionally and with modern interpretation/fibers (including using some experimental yarns from the spinning workshop). The interaction of the two workshops will be a unique experience, opening new vistas for participants. Vogel and Forkner are both nationally prominent, Tennessee-based master-teachers. Workshop participants may sign up for either weaving or spinning (registration form below). One place in each workshop is reserved for a Metro school teacher (scholarships available). The workshops are for experienced spinners and weavers only. Participants must supply their own equipment.

For Museum Visitors (Free Admission – 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.) Visitors may watch the artistic workshops, see the progression from fiber to fabric, and try their hand at drop-spindle spinning and/or cardboard loom weaving, while learning about the historic spinning and weaving equipment exhibited in the museum.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hand On Color Monteage a huge success

I am thrilled to report that Hands On Color at Dubose Conference Center in Monteagle, TN was a huge success for all involved this past weekend. 17 participants thoroughly immersed themselves in knitting and crocheting beautiful small motifs from active twist handspun singles spun from a sumptuous array of handpainted fibers from Three Waters Farm. I even brought a small collection of my own handpainted fiber (am dyeing a little more now) and it was quickly consumed. I am so happy with everyone's work, their courageous journeys into crochet, freeform and art fabrics, vessels and even wristwarmers. Even the most newbie spinners dove happily and unflinchingly into the project at hand with beautiful results (see the yellow circle in the bottom photo...Claire is two month's new to spinning and knit this lovely piece from her spindle spun yarn...and the green and purple garter fabric at the bottom of the same photo is by Daria, only 5 months spinning). I've posted some gorgeous pictures here and on Ravelry and flickr. Photos on Flickr have detailed descriptions. Thanks to everyone who came. It was a fantastic weekend!

I've been a fan of Prudence Mapstone and Jenny Dowde for some years now and have been wanting to try my own hand at freeform projects, both on my own and in class. I think one of the most successful aspects of our adventure this last weekend is that we all approached the work naively, teacher included. Our collective classwork provided instant gratification for all of us, because in two short days the work of seventeen fiber enthusiasts filled a table with beautiful motifs and it gave us all a palpable sense of what it would be like to do this kind of thing on our own. Each piece was lovely in its own right, but by putting our work together we could see how each piece takes a valuable and meaningful place in the whole picture. 

We all had fun composing and photographing our arrangements. I can't wait for us to try this again at Harrisville in August. What fun! Thanks to you wonderful aussies, Prudence, Jenny and company, for your awesome inspiration.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival this Weekend

It's time again for Maryland Sheep and Wool! Three Waters Farm will be there again with a tantalizing array of colorful yarns and fibers. New this year is a line, of Organic Wool in both sport and worsted weights (love this stuff!!!) in a full palette of vibrant tonals. This yarn line will make it's lovely debut at MS&W this weekend along with my NEW crochet scarf pattern "Indigo Vibe" (bottom). TWF booth will have samples of my Undulation Cuffs and Undulation Scarf knit in Organic Wool. 

Superfluity Kits are still a hit and I've designed a new pattern just for this kit. It's called Tiger Lily and it's shown here in "Lotus" (above). Tiger Lily is easy enough for a beginning knitter and can be worn any number of ways.

Also new from TWF this year is Bamberino 60% merino/40% bamboo worsted weight yarn. This comes in a 600 yd skein, enough for Superfluity, Superruffly, Justify, or my NEW Blythe Spirit Mobius Wrap (center), a combination of knitted lace and chunky crochet...very fun. Bamberino skeins are all one or two offs, all are pale to medium pastel combos.

Blythe Spirit, Tiger Lily and Indigo Vibe patterns are now available on my Etsy Shop and you can get Three Waters Farm yarns from their website or TWF Etsy Shop, or look them up if you are lucky enough to be at Maryland Sheep and Wool this weekend.

Indigo Vibe is a savvy little crochet scarf that's a snap to work up. It's bold and delicate at the same time, drapy, groovy, fun. Its asymmetrical trim gives it an unexpected flair. Skill level is somewhere between beginning and intermediate...what I like to call easy but not boring.