The Knit Knack's Blog

Better living through fibre


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A weekend to remember: the Sarah Swett Workshop

This past weekend was a high note.  It was Sarah Swett’s The Value of Wool” workshop in Brighton, Michigan.  The Spinning Loft brought this talented & prolific fibre artist together with 19 spinners to teach us to use the degrees of lightness or darkness of natural wool in 3 different techniques.

Sarah C. Swett having taught & inspired

It was as far back as January 2010 that I learned about Sarah’s work.  I was a new spinner (see the posts!), and grabbed a copy of America Knits by Melanie Falick from a second-hand book store.  

Taken back in January 2010, America Knits!

The chapter on Sarah Swett features her stunning Kestrel’s Alight handspun, colourwork, knit kimono.  The dead-pan description leaped off the page & slapped me in the face:

Sarah knit this sweater with her own handspun, naturally dyed, three-ply yarn (two plies from a Cormo fleece and one from a Merino fleece)… Sarah graded the colors in the original version… The name of the sweater speaks to both the birds that were the inspiration for the design and to the birds that “alight” on one’s shoulders when wearing the garment…”

Last weekend, I soaked-up every word of How.  We were all quite happy.

Kathleen, Jillian, Julia & Cynthia

Sitting to my right were Sasha & Beth.  We laughed a lot.

Also happy: Beth & Sasha

One of the best things about attending a good workshop is meeting hugely interesting people & seeing friends.

Greg, Marilyn, Janine & Sandi

There was also She Who Shall Not Be Named.  Cracking me up, and taking each joke in style.

Handspun colour gradient in the wild!

The work path followed an internal logic, and was both highly disciplined, and free-form.  We learned to blend 4 colours from a single California Variegated Mutant (CVM) fleece.

CVM wool 5-value progression

The pop of white as it leap-frogged to the lightest value from the grey blend was a huge revelation.  The degrees of darkness blended far more easily in the 5-steps.

Second blending pass: combed CVM spun 2-ply

Sarah asked us to change our blending tools.  For me this meant taking out my new Valkyrie extra-fine handcombs.  The 3-value skein now includes Sarah’s indigo-dyed ‘mystery fleece.’

Fair isle swatch – when is yardage not my problem?

This is an exercise that I will revisit.  Having run low on yarn, I couldn’t complete the gradient change as charted.  Nor could I cast-off all the stitches!

Now’s a good time to show you some of Sarah’s work 

Sketchbook by Sarah Swett: embroidery

Our second (Second!) task for Saturday was to embroider linen.  Again we tackled blending but specifically for a smooth 2-ply yarn with aligned fibres.

Needlepoint in progress by Sarah Swett

On Sunday, Sarah used the top small tapestry to show how changing the contrasting values affects our perception of an object.

Tapestry & needlepoint by Sarah Swett

Sarah uses cartoons in her tapestry work.  She shared that you need to draw the actual coffee stain or splash or else it always looks contrived.

Sewn needlepoint comic “Slow Literature” series by Sarah Swett

The marriage of the comic book form and needle arts tells the reader a story.

More classwork & fellowship happened

Quietly embroidering a hummingbird on linen cloth was centering.  I sewed its outline during class.  The green satin stitch uses Sasha’s handspun (left on my bobbin), and was homework.

Handspun hummingbird embroidery

All around the room people re-connected with their childhood craft.  I did too.  Sarah graciously allowed some of us to work outside of the classroom (it was too loud for me).

Oh, the fleeces!

On Saturday evening, Beth had an open house & pizza party for everyone.  All of the raw wool is organized!

Sasha, Julia & Jillian at Beth’s

There was spinning, knitting, and lots of stories.  Almost everyone came, and it was grand.  Beth’s family was especially charming, and you know that I love Maggie!

Bye, bye wool

Resisting wool was one thing.  Sitting at Beth’s floor loom was another!  Her Schacht Mighty Wolf has amazing patina & history coming as it does from Jillian originally.

Many thanks to everyone who helped me make the big decision!

Sarah teaches key & value

We got back to work on Sunday with more information about creating mood with fibre & colour.  Using our selfies, we all started our needlepoint self-portraits.

Needlepoint portraits by Sarah Swett

The exercise was fun, and really instructive.  I enjoyed finishing mine at home.  N thinks it is a very good representation of President Obama!

I have come away with many creative sparks – indigo, linen, embroidery, weaving!  Sarah’s Artist Statement begins with these powerful words:

Frankly, there is no point in making anything unless one is thoroughly attracted both to the subject and its form.  There are too many ideas and too little time for anything else.

Now, I know how she would sound saying those very words.  Thank you, Sarah Swett.  May there be many more panic sweaters!


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New look, and happy yarns

 

Welcome!  It’s been a long time in coming – I changed the blog’s theme.  Hope you enjoy the new look & also the better compatibility with your small-screen devices.

Also sporting a new look: purpleheart Bossie

I also updated the About page to better reflect what I do, and also give some co-ordinates.  Over the past 4+ years of writing this blog my interests have evolved but the TKK format/skin has stayed largely static.  Here’s to getting more function, and also to letting readers in on the secret that I do now take spin/ knit commissions.

 

This uber-bright handspun yarn is really & truly natural dyed.  The yarn was cream Finn top from Louet that I dubbed the Sweater-in-Waiting in this post.  I used 25g of ground, dried cochineal. This was my 1st (and only) cochineal experiment.  The mordants are alum & cream of tartar.

Here is how I got the surprising fuchsias.  With a dried weight of the whole 1,529 yards at 547g, I had under 5% dyestuff.  The label said as little as 3% would give medium shades.  Pro-tip, friends: medium shades of cochineal?  That would be your fuchias!  I decided to go for a tinted gradient.  This meant dyeing in thirds through the successive exhaust baths.

There’s a subtle tint.  If anything about this yarn can be called subtle?  I am gathering courage, and will let you know when casting-on happens.  EvilMichelle says that I really should.

 

Far less eventful yarns

Just so you know that it’s not all fluorescent all the time, here is a much calmer spin.

Caribbean clouds Polwarth

This 356 yds of Polwarth 4-ply handspun started out life as 8 0z of Miss Babs’ “Cloud #9”.  I broke each braid at the mid-point, and spun from the break out using Martha in DD.

Both the singles and the ply are high-twist.  It was one of those early March weeks when I needed that kind of a spinning workout.

Equally swift and satisfying is this Columbia pin-drafted roving spin on the CPW.  It’s spun long-draw, and I have 8 oz total from Morgaine who had Harvey’s fleece prepped by Morro Fleece Works.  The roving is a real pleasure – next to no VM, and light as a feather!

Bleeding heart in bloom

When I return, there will be big news of the loom variety.  I am still processing this & the wonderful Sarah Swett workshop weekend that I went to in Michigan.  They go hand-in-hand!


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String Thing 2013 – my hat trick, continued

hat trick n. 1 the scoring of three goals, points etc. by one person during a game. 2 three successes

◊ Paperback Oxford Canadian Dictionary, 2004

It hit me that in this 3rd of 3 years of attending this Stringtopia event, I was most at ease.

Plain weaving with the Tanka design

This simple band or jakima represents this for me.  The length of kata, plain weave is where I re-learned how to weave.

The first ray of light was learning the Quechua term for lease cord – sonq’opa.  It is derived from the word for heart, “son”.  This drove a truth home to me.  It is what Nilda Callanaupa Alvarez says in “Textile Traditions of Chinchero:  A Living Heritage” on p. 85:

In the process of making textiles, the weaver devotes part of her life to her weaving.  That is why a weaver can tell stories about happy or sad times, and different life events according to the time it took to weave a certain textile.

This was the best devotion of my time.  To answer the US border agent – no, you cannot just learn this on Youtube.  I am the case in point.

Mahogany, folks.

As I suspected my backstrap loom management was awkward, and therefore, flawed.  Working with my waist as the front warp beam & my shod foot as the back beam, Abby gently corrected my process.

“Use both swords,” she said.  “You will need them both for the next step.”  With Abby’s help, and intense focus, I turned the first ideas on their heads.  The solution was less taxing, and completely elegant.

Friends in class had different problems, and revelations.  We walked the cliff edge of adult learning.  No-one fell into the gully of frustration.  I was very grateful when a more experienced backstrap weaver, Janie Yates pointed out that I was sawing my shed open with the yllawa or string heddles.  Janie helpfully guided me back to tensioning the warp open.

Where our spirits soared was after lunch.  We had hit the objectives.  Abby spoke to her identity as a Chinchero weaver, teacher and studio owner.  It was pure heart, and so very moving.  My culture is also rooted in the oral transfer of knowledge.  It’s something I deeply respect.

Abby knows what this means for me because I had to tell her, thank her.  I will practice and build on this foundation.  It was my best takeaway of any Stringtopia.

With thanks, Abby.

Studio, what studio?

Walking through Stringtopia’s doors the next day made me want to click my heels, or tear-up.  Or something.

Bricks & mortar matters for carrying textile arts forward.  It’s a lifetime achievement to create such a space in this day.

A spindle was removed before taking this shot

Canadian Production Wheels get around.  This one is safely out of the direct sunlight!

Frederic Bourda CPW

Having taken Abby’s backstrap weaving class the day before, I walked right up to the hanging jakimas.

They are pretty.  Carol told me that the jakima de kata on the left was woven by Abby’s son.

Back to the fun & games

How much of a textured batt can you spin on a drop spindle in 2 minutes, you ask?

This is our friend, Janet in the foreground helping Mandie pace out her yarn.  Taking classes & hanging out with them both was super fun as usual!

Beth was happy

Respect due to each & every long-draw competition team on Saturday night!

Win! Jane, Erin & Michelle

They used an e-spinner!  Other brave teams were…

Kathy, Lisa & Martha

Amy, Kim & Caroline

Serious kudos to Enting, Laura & Tracy who competed with a drop spindle.  I bow to the prowess!

Proof of concept: sideways draft on a drop spindle

I am now home, and rested.  I miss being able to rush to classes, hang out in Morgaine’s space, turn around & speak with spinners.

If you live close to Stringtopia then I am a touch green with envy.  Support them!  Until next time I have skills to practice and yarn to make.

New wool combs doing what they do

For example, this 1.6 oz of luxurious Muga silk will also keep me happy and engaged.

Thing of beauty: Muga silk for spinning

 

 

 


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Celebrating String Thing 2013

Hello, morning of String Thing!

With Sandi on the first morning of String 2013

This year Sandi and I overnighted with my family in their lovely Toledo home.  It broke my drive but was much more – a chance to visit & laugh with some of my favorite people.  

Sandi graciously agreed to this plan.  She survived us talking at full speed!

I like the fine print

The Golden Lamb was just 3 hours away, and we made it just in time for afternoon classes.  Gotta love how the Lamb has operated under its 1803 licence as a “house of public entertainment.”

Still enjoying mine.

To wit, this year’s warm welcome!  I sensed a certain craftiness with the glue gun there… sure enough 2 hotel staffers bought 1st spindles at the event.

Enting!

The 2nd welcome pack went to my most excellent roommate, Enting!  Finally meeting an online friend is so cool and I loved getting to know her.

Traditional Andean Textiles

Abby’s Friday class was given in partnership with Charles H. Gerhardt of Tribal Art, a local collector/ dealer.  We were able to examine each pre-Columbian textile closely.

Ancient Peruvian spindle

These artefacts were found in graves.  They took our breaths away.  I ran to take pictures for you.

Works in progress.  The spinner’s fibre and her tools.

The shell in particular moved me.  I also use large shells to spin cotton on supported spindles.

Andean chuspa – purse or bag

What better way to begin to learn about Andean textile traditions? A backstrap woven chuspa was juxtaposed with a slit tapestry panel & much more.

Pre-Columbian slit-tapestry

Doesn’t the geometric design look very modern?  It incorporates both camelid & cotton fibres.

L – Belt with finger weaving

My hope is that Abby will run this workshop again for Stringtopians.  In addition to these and more items, Charlie made 2 Incan Quipus available for our class.

Multi-coloured Quipu

We saw not only colour but opposing twist, coils, knots and plies as the sophisticated system of record that it is.

The other Quipu that we examined was shorter with no header, undyed, and had less vertical yarns.

Mounted Incan Quipu

Spinners’ Social Nights

As you may have guessed, there is quite a lot of spinning in public at String.

Shelly aka Baking Goddess to the Spinners

Shelly was trying out cute Turkish spindles.  We loved her sweater & laughed at its story.

Fran, Anne, Karen and Stacey – local Stringtopians

Ohioans never fail to impress me with their friendliness.  We had a great time together over dinner.

Kristen, Knittin9Dra9on

This was all only after we made Mandie show us her gorgeous Iron Maiden shawl.

Mandie and her Mithril Maiden

She used 1 skein of her Sheepy Time Knits Silkie yarn.  Before I leave the subject of Mandie’s super talents, look at what I scored as a String prize this year!

Luck of the draw!

So thrilled to have won this awesome prize!  It’s 50/50 merino silk, and will be as lace-weight as I can make it.

And the contest rules are…

This year, Morgaine donated batts for sundry spinning competitions.  Not surprisingly my speed-spinning on a spindle was not competitive.

Devin won. He is a spindle speed demon!

On Saturday night to kick-off Longest Thread, Abby, Beth & Carol schooled the crowd.  My mind was suitably blown by the hilarity.

While this was all going on, I was enjoying having a New Glarus with Woolwine.  T is a super-favorite String friend, and she makes me giggle in class too!

Woolwine in her awesome handspun Paulie

New Glarus is a thing of beauty & deserves blog space.

Notice T’s bottle opener? Mad skills.

Competition fun aside (I might get to that in another post), Carolyn gave Abby a challenge she couldn’t walk away from.

We laughed OUT LOUD

Yup.  Boat anchor.  As someone said, “The jokes just write themselves!”

There is more I want to say but this post is already long.  Lebanon, Ohio is beautiful this time of year inside & out.

Spun in the best company

These classes teach me so much each year, and Abby’s community creates such a giving space.

Thank you, friends.