Friday, May 8, 2009

An Adventure with Fiber Goddesses!

A couple weekends ago, I had another sabbatical adventure of the educational variety. I attended a three-day workshop in Indiana on knitting and spinning for Estonian lace, with Nancy Bush and Judith MacKenzie McCuin.

Now... the folks out there who read Interweave publications just got excited, while the folks who don't are probably drawing a blank. Nancy Bush is the author of at least FIVE knitting-related books, and she's the western world's expert on the traditions and techniques of Estonian lace, a special knitting genre developed by the entrepreneurial women in Estonia as tourists began coming to their country in the early 20th century to seek out the mineral baths. Here's a link so you can have a look-see at some of the beautiful work published in her latest book; scroll down to the preview box for photos of some of the pieces.

During the workshop, we learned special techniques used by Estonian lace knitters, and Nancy shared with us in person some of the pieces from the book as well as her travel photos from many trips to Estonia. I loved hearing her stories of how she happened upon this work, and what Estonia has meant to her since then... She's been there at least a dozen times in the past 10-ish years, so clearly, she loves the place!

The other half of the teaching dynamic duo, Judith, is the goddess of spinning. She has been working with textiles all her life; every few minutes, she'd share something she learned from her many experiences with fiber--as a sheep shearer, a sheep farmer (rancher?), a wool classer, a cloth and clothing designer, a weaver of huge art pieces for corporations, a textile restorer in the Middle East, a designer of carding machines, and a spinner and knitter. She's got a new book wherein she shares some of her knowledge, but seeing her in person is a treat--she has a great way of telling stories, and the most poised yet engaged demeanor I've ever seen!

So... in other words, they are fiber ROCK STARS!!! And I got to learn from their experience and wisdom, along with about 28 other people. Awesome!!!

During the workshop, our goal was to a) spin and ply different types of fiber to laceweight specifications (i.e., very THIN but crisp & tight enough not to fall apart), and b) use that laceweight yarn to make some samples of Estonian lace (which are kind of pictorial). I managed to get most of the spinning done, and some of the knitting. So the goals were a bit ambitious for my level of abilities, but I learned a LOT and am continuing the work here at home (in between other projects, of course).

The setting was also excellent: the farm of Susan, who owns and runs the Trading Post for Fiber Arts. She & her husband have converted one of their barns into a shop with a large open room upstairs. So we were able to knit downstairs in the shop, and set up our spinning equipment upstairs.

I have never seen so many spinning wheels in one place! I tried to get some photos of what that looked like:
Luckily, I managed not to drool TOO much.

Here is my new friend Anne with some more wheels on the other side of the room:
Here is Judith demonstrating (she's the one spinning on the left):
Here is Patricia (I'm sorry I caught her doing the Santa-about-to-fly-up-the-chimney pose) and her Journey wheel, which looks from this side like a wooden box, but is a spinning wheel inside! It was so cool.

And do you see that blonde beauty on the left? (I'm talking about the wheel... the one in front of the empty folding chair.) That is my new Kromski Sonata!!!! Less than a week before the workshop, I bought this wheel--my second--for travelling. It folds down into a neat package, then goes inside its travel bag. I'm hoping to take it on summer vacation with me as well as to spin-ins at friends' houses and parks and the like... (I've got the spinning bug pretty badly, to be buying a second wheel only a few months after getting my first. But I foresee using both for years to come!)

Before the workshop, I was really nervous about being able to produce a good yarn. After all, I am a beginning spinner (having gotten my first wheel in December 08) and my technique is... kind of sketchy. I didn't want to embarrass myself, especially in front of a bunch of other people (shades of junior high!). But luckily, within just a few minutes, I was spinning a really thin single.

My first yarn experiment turned out okay, but with the usual beginner's mistakes: not exactly consistent, and too loosely spun in the singles. Here's a photo (nickel included for scale):
I like it a lot just because it is my first attempt at laceweight yarn and it's not totally embarrassing. It was kind of "interesting," though, to knit with--there are thick bumps in places that make the lace... um... we'll call it "textured". (I'll share photos of the lace samples when I've got them all done!)

My second attempt was much more successful, in part because I put a lot of twist into the singles, and in part because it wasn't my first. Here is a photo:
This yarn is slightly more consistent, and if you look carefully you can see that there are more "bumps" per inch than the first yarn because it's more tightly spun--this is better for lace. I was UNREASONABLY happy whilst knitting the sample out of it. :)

(Notes for fiber geeks: the first yarn is spun from grey roving, a Rambouillet/Shetland cross raised by Judith! The second is spun from Falkland top; Falkland is a kind of Merino.)

The third sample, which I'm still spinning the 2nd single for, is a merino/silk top, 50/50 blend, which means it's softer than a baby's butt. Srsly. It's a bit slicker to spin, and therefore a little scary for me--I can make it really, really thin, but it kind of flies through my fingers and then I get scared that it's going to disintegrate because it doesn't have enough twist. I'll post again when I have a finished yarn to show (after I finish the 2nd single and ply)...

Here are a couple more photos...

Looking out the window from our spinning roost:

Donating some fiber to be used in birds' nests:
(There were gale-force winds all weekend!)

I must have gotten "camnesia" at one point, because I didn't take any photos of the animals on the farm--a horse, some wonderful big fluffy dogs, and LOTS of alpacas and llamas. (Here are some of Susan's photos of her animules...)

It was a wonderful adventure. It was great to learn not just with my brain, but also with my hands. And my heart.

Happy weekend, everyone!

1 comment:

  1. the phrase FIBER ROCK STAR is something I aspire to use in a conversation sometime soon, a phrase which I hope will spark questions, controversy and a few weird looks to which I shall reply, "I cannot BELIEVE you don't know what that is," and then flippantly proceed to block said person out of my life completely.