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A weekend to remember: the Sarah Swett Workshop

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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!

Author: iriegemini

Lara is originally from Jamaica, living in the Greater Toronto Area with N, and a cat, Melvin. She knits, spins, weaves, and is a chatterbox on all of the above. Lara's journey began as a young girl with her Grandmother's cross-stitch embroidery stash & blessing.

One thought on “A weekend to remember: the Sarah Swett Workshop

  1. Pingback: One thing in common | The Knit Knack's Blog

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