Monday, December 28, 2009

Salish Spindle Whorl

It has been a busy Christmas season, hence a lack of blogging. However, we purchased a special item this year, a drum made by Richard Aiscaican who makes superb drums. His attention to detail marks him as a master drum maker. Check out the photo of the sides and back of the drum where you can see the patterns created from the even application and pressure between the sinew and the drum skin.

The image on the drum is painted by Joel Good a Snuneymuxw member. It is based on a Salish spindle whorl, a crouching naked figure (needing warm fabic?) with two sea serpents wolves facing each other at the top (edited to reflect Joel's correction -thanks Joel). This is from the Snuneymuxw creation story. Apparently sea serpents are more common in the Nanaimo area than elsewhere. The mouth of the human would be where the spindle shaft would be inserted.
Below is a picture of a similar whorl design from the Canadian Museum of Nature. The Snuneymuxw First Nations Band Council uses the spindle design as a logo as can be seen in the photo of the Band Office window on the web page describing spindles.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Coast Salish Wool Dog - What did it look like?

As promised, I am adding answers, or at least more information, about the Salish wool dog as I find it. So what did it look like? In Paul Kane's painting "A Woman Weaving a Blanket" now at the Royal Ontario Museum, he paints a small white dog, almost poodle like. However, the painting is based on some sketches and his sketches of dogs look different.

Susan Crockford, an expert in archaeological analysis of bones, has done extensive research on the indigenous dogs of the Pacific Northwest Coast, has a sketch on that accompanies her monograph on 'Osteometry of Makah and Coast Salish Dogs' that, knowing her expertise, is probably a good likeness (the dogs on the right).

On a side note, on the Snuneymuwx First Nations web site, the Salish Spindle is discussed, and they mention that Cameron Island was one of the islands used to keep the Salish Wool dog breed separated from other dogs. This makes sense as Cameron Island (which is no longer an island) is very close to where the Solexwel village was, allowing easy access to care and feed for the dogs. There is also on that page, a close up of a diorama that shows two dogs, that may be more accurate than the Paul Kane painting. These dogs also look like the sketch on the right.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The oldest known fibers in the world

The oldest known spun fibers in the world has been found in a cave and they are dyed black, grey, turquoise and pink AND they are over 30,000 years old! Here's an article on it.

Image of microscopic fiber samples courtesy of Science/AAAS

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Totem Raising and unveiling

A Totem pole was raised this week at VIU in the library. I am not sure how they got it into the library and then raised once in the building. An amazing feat of engineering. Apparently there will soon be a video showing how they did it on youtube. I'll link it when I find it.

Gary Mason performed a ceremony and Jimmy Johnny the master carver told the story of Thunderbird and Killer Whale.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

S'abadeb - The Gifts

Cedar, cedar bark, paint, abalone shell and operculum shell
Private Collection

Barbara Brotherton, curator at the Seattle Museum of Art, and the curator of S'abadeb exhibit at the Royal BC Museum gave an interesting talk today. It was a very informative introduction to the exhibit. If you have a chance to see it, do.  

S'abadeb is a Lushootseed term for gifts and conveys the theme of reciprocity of giving and receiving gifts. Gifts both tangible and intangible such as songs and names.
I was lucky enough to have a few minutes chatting with her about Salish spinning, weaving spindle whorls and the wool dogs. She said that George Gibbs, a surveyor and a witness for the signing of the Point Elliot Treaty 1855 in Washington State, was given a wool dog 'Mutton' (he, that dog that is, liked to chase sheep) whose pelt was given to science and currently is in the Smithsonian Museum. She also mentioned a man who claimed he had a dog that was genetically very similar, a Japanese breed.  
My mother mentioned that when she worked with the BC Lands Title Office, where she often had to refer to surveyors records (organized diaries) she thinks she read that an island/s off Gabriola (Flat Top Islands?) was used to keep the dogs separate from non-wool dogs. 
So there are a few tips to follow up on. 
Googling, I came across an article,  'Wolly Dogs' by Elizabeth Flower Anderson Miller who has obviously researched this topic in detail. She suggests that the wool dog is the result of the recessive gene which causes the soft down hair (wool) to grow longer than the guard hair -- the Malamute factor, a lethal flaw for dogs that need to survive in very cold climates where guard hairs are needed to shed water, sleet, snow and ice. However, for the Gulf Islands/Salish Sea area, where snow rarely lasts two weeks of the year, this factor wouldn't be so lethal, rather it would provide much valued thick, long spinnable fibre. I'll do up a blog entry just for questions and answers about the Coast Salish wool dog.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Coast Salish Woven Fabrics - More questions than answers

I am curious to know more about traditional Coast Salish woven fabrics, especially those collected pre 1830s. Coast Salish weavings can be incredibly complex. Techniques include twining (double, simple, three-strand), openwork, overlay, tapestry and twill. Some of the patterns were very intricate and made of fibres from dog wool/hair, nettle and mountain goat wool. There is even reference to one that included down. 
Paula Gustafson in her book Salish Weaving writes that she has examined most of the blankets in North American museums and has only seen one of dog hair. So how come so many descriptions and records of wool dogs by some of the early explorers of the area? And where are all these rugs, blankets and other fabrics made from dog hair?

Grant Keddie, from the Royal BC Museum tells me that UVic is getting an electron microscope and there is an expert there is working on analyzing the hairs to try and figure out if they are goat, dog or a mixture. He suggests it is time to re-examine some of these treasures using newer technologies to help solve some of these mysteries. Grant has been interested in the wool dogs for a long time (see Keddie, 1993, Prehistoric Dogs of B.C. Wolves in Sheep Clothing, the Midden, 25 (1)3-5, February. Grant is currently researching the history and use of Coast Salish spindle whorls. He also tells me that Susan Crockford is the local authority on doggie DNA and included archaeoloigal material from RBCM collection and Tatlan Bear dogs in her research. Check out her books and publications. And here is an article on the wool dog.
Some of my questions:
  • What was the Salish wool dog? What did it look like? There is one painting by Paul Kane but is it an accurate likeness? Were wool dogs found up and down the coast of North America? Is there similar breed still in existence? What type of fibre was it? How long, how thick and how much crimp did it have?
  • Many of the blankets were made from mountain goat wool. I don't think mountain goat existed on Vancouver Island, so they must have traded for it. So how common was weaving if the wool came from dogs or mountain goats. Was there enough wool to make this a common activity or a rare activity? If it was common, well, that's a lot of mountain goat and a lot of trade. Was there enough mountain goats? Or was dog wool more common? If weaving wasn't common, then that could explain why there was such value placed on blankets. But then, what was the common fabric?
  • Where did the dye colours red, blue and black come from?  Yellows, tans. browns, oranges, greens come from a variety of possibilities (eg. wolf moss, oregon grape roots, alder bark) but a good black (salty mud?), blue or red (can alder bark really get the traditional reds?) is hard to come by.
Feel free to post any answers.
Speaking of the Royal BC Museum, they have a great exhibit which opens on Nov 20th. S’abadeb – The Gifts: Pacific Coast Salish Art and Artists. 

Edited to add a couple of related books.
Here are a couple of books you might be interested in: 
Working with Wool, a Coast Salish Legacy . Although it looks at the history of the Cowichan Sweaters, it covers the history of the wool too. And Paula Gustafson's Salish Weaving .

From the Bizzare world of Knittied Nerds - frog dissection

Here's an interesting knitting project - dissected frogs and rats!. Check out the Knitting 101 Photo Gallery from Discovery Magazine. here's a rat in the dissection tray and here's a frog. These are made by a student who is trying to make a living from her art. Help support her. Check out her Crafty Hedgehog Etsy store for more bizzare creatures.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

3Ply - not your average handspun

Last weekend I took a workshop with Diane Cross on 3Ply Yarns. I always thought 3ply was 3 ply. Put 3 strands of singles together and ply them in the opposite direction. Well, we did that in the first minute and then left plain ol 3ply behind while we learned there was a lot more to it. There is a lot of theory behind and beyond 3 ply. Thick and thin; high twist, low twist; Z twist, S twist, and then there are combinations of colour, texture, handspun and commercial. Encasement, core, slub, diamond, spiral, composite. By the end of the day we were designing yarns.  

And that inspired me to start blending more fibres for spinning. But first i had to make some basic batts in preparation for blending. today was a blue day.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Another weekend to dye for

I am fiendishly trying to get to the end of my ongoing assignments for the Masters Spinners Course. My goal in to have it all finished by the end of December. So this weekend was hopefully, the final weekend for my ten natural dyes (and counting) project. I managed the Horse Chestnut and the walnuts although I forgot to throw in the chrome mordanted yarn.

So this picture on the left.......< produced these colours on the right .....-> Note: add a greenish tinge to al the colours.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Last weekend was a dye weekend. I took a one day workshop with Ursa of Gaia's Colours . A fun day spent learning different dye techniques including splatter/speckle/sprinkle, space dying, immersion and kettle dying.
From this:

to this:

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Colour Tools

I've recently found a few colour resources on the web to help design colourways and palates. The first one is colour palette generator, a great program for analyzing an online image and producing a colour palette from it. Here's the results of my Blog header image (see the top of the page).

Colour blender lets you input two colours and the number of midpoints (colours) you want between the two and it will output the colours needed to blend colour #1 with colour #2.

Peter Piper's Color Palette Picker is another great tool. I can see weavers flocking to this one for summer and winter weaves.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Portugese Knitting

I am working away on my ten sheep breeds project (somehow I have increased it to 15), where I spin a woolen and a worsted sample of each breed, plus knit up a sample of each. Therein lies my challenge...knitting. I can knit and purl and that is about it. I thought I should take this opportunity to better my knitting skills and embarked on journey to find out how to knit continental style as many say it is more efficient. I tried it and found it better but the purl was a challenge. And then I discovered Portuguese Knitting. I had seen pictures of Spanish knitting where the yarn is wrapped around the back of the neck and thought that strange, but after learning Portuguese knitting I know why, and why it makes it so much easier for knit and purl! Check out this video:

Spider silk

Photo and article at

1million spiders, 70 people, 4 years, 80 million feet of silk = an amazing piece of fabric. Check out this article from Wired: 1 million Spiders Make Golden Silk for Rare Cloth

And here is a CBC interview an interview with Nicolas Godley, the man that milked the spiders and wove that tapestry of spider silk.

And, another article along with a video interviewing the visionary behind the spiders.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Good God, it is September

So much to write, so little time. so much has happened, so I will try to get more up here to cover the past couple of months. This will take time to catch up. In the meantime, here is a great video on creative herding sheep.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Summer included a trip to Iceland in search of our family roots. We not only found a family tree, we also found cousins we didn't even know we had! The 'Quest' for this trip was to find a fleece from a 'Leader Sheep' to bring home. I didn't manage to find a complete fleece, not one that was guaranteed to be from a leader shepe but the shepherdess and weaver thought the fleece prpbably was made of fibres from regular Icelandic moorat (reddish brown - here's a picture) fleece and her leader sheep which is the same colour and she cards them together. Close enough I decided.

So what is a leader sheep?
According to a few web sites like this one:
The Icelandic leader sheep is a separate line within the Icelandic breed of sheep. As the name implies these sheep were leaders in their flocks. The leadership ability runs in bloodlines and is equally in males and females.

Sheep of this strain have the ability, or instinct, to run in front of the flock, when it is driven home from the mountain pastures in autumn, from the sheep sheds to the winter pasture in the morning and back home in the evening, through heavy snowdrifts, over ice covered ground, or across rivers. Sometimes the Leaders would take the whole flock of grazing sheep on winter pasture back to the farm, early in the day, if a blizzard was on its way.

The Icelandic sheep are a very interesting breed having evolved in isolation for over 1000 years. They are a triple purpose breed: excellent meat (some say the finest taste and texture), milk (for cheese), fibre and pelt. And the fibre is somewhat unique having two types of wool: the tog - the long fibre of the outer coat that helps shed the rain, and thel --a fine inner down wool for warmth. These can be spun together to make lopi or separated into two different fibres to produce different types of yarn.

Icelandic sheep were central to their economy for hundreds of years. This picture is a replica of the interior of a turf house. Note the spinning wheels and spinning tools.

Here are a few more pictures of very old spindles

A picture of an old style loom (apparently floor looms were developed sometime after the 16th Century (sorry I can't remember exactly when, it could be the 17thC).
and a replica of a viking boat. This one sailed from Iceland to Canada to prove that it could be done.
While they used handspun, handwoven sails in 800-900, they didn't in the 20th C as you can see.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Reef Party

We had a two hour window in which to set up a party, have it and begone, before the tide came back up and covered the party grounds. This was the challenge that Jurgen had to deal with in organizing the first annual Satellite Reef party. The loest tide of the year fell mid-day on July 22, 2009 the next tide that low to expose the reef would be midnight sometime in December. He wisely chose the July date. The barge boys, Will and Gonzo his trusty helper, loaded the barge with a piano, BBQ, table and a few lounge chairs, filled the space with people and off we went. It was a lovely party. The Gabriola Ferry had been warned to slow down when passing the reef, else we might have been awash. We sand, some danced, we ate and drank and two hours later packed it all up just before the tide once again covered the reef, and all signs of a party vanished into the sea.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Nanaimo River Estuary Dig

I was lucky to be able to spend a day on the Snuneymuxw archeological dig in the Nanaimo river Estuary helping to find old fishing weirs. They have found many many stakes indicating many fishing weirs. Two of the stakes have been found to be over 1000 years old. We had to work between the low tides. It was hard work as you can see from Gary's pose!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Master Spinners Level 1 Course
I survived the level one week. The Master Spinners program is offered through Olds College out of Alberta but this cohort was held in Victoria. There are six levels, so I have five more to do. The course was great fun but I didn't expect so much homework. I am not complaining. In fact, it is great to have some projects outlined to do after the course. So the next few months (year?) I'll be busy completing my assignments.
Here are some pictures of the commute. I took my bike and peddled the Galloping Goose trail which took me to one block of the course location right downtown Victoria. Note my spinning wheel on the back of my bike! Another first.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Busy, busy, busy!

It has been a very busy few weeks. I've been to Ottawa ---took a new spindle and learned to navajo ply--got caught in the midst of the Ottawa marathon and 50,000 runners--and saw Leonard Cohen.

Went on two hikes to see Gary Oak meadows with various people involved in restoration of these ecosystems.

Piloted a boat so Mark could take pictures of the start of the Van Isle 360. Watched something like 50 fiddlers fiddle away.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

From Fleece to Loom
Things have been happening very fast. I bought a fleece. $25 for the whole fleece. I figured it would keep me busy for a year. Th store I bought it from were not sure what breed of sheep but it had lots of crimp similar to a merino and they thought it was lambswool which it could very well be,being fine and soft. Hard to believe but it is white.
I rushed around figuring I needed to clean it now while the sun shone and before I headed down to Victoria to see a loom I had read about for sale. I threw the whole fleece into hot tubs of water and headed out to Victoria. On the way i read about how to clean a fleece. Step 1 - carefully layout the fleece and skirt it by throwing away the not-worth-the-bother-of-cleaning sections. Step 2 - categorize and separate the various qualities. So much for that.
Which brings me to my new loom. 45" Leclerc-look-a-like counterbalance loom. It fit in the car! I just needed a new brake. So now i have to figure out my first project.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

I love Judith MacKenzio McCuin.  She taught me to spin, weave and dye 25 years ago.  She continues to inspire me with her books and articles.  Others obviously feel the same way as there is even a 'Daughters of Judith' fan group on Ravelry. More recently, she has helped to remove my guilt about my boxes and bags of wool hidden in the loft.  Nay, she encourages stash. 
Stash g- put by or away as for safekeeping or future use, usually in a secret place (usually fol. by away: The squirrel stashes away nuts for winter.
2.a stash of gold coins buried in the garden.
3.a place in which something is stored secretly; hiding place; cache.
4. a supply of hidden drugs.

Hmmm, note the reference to hidden drugs.  They might as well have said '...or fibre both of which provide a high.  A sign of addiction.'
Right up front in her book, Teach Yourself Visually Spinning, she actually devotes a chapter section, and I quote "Start a Stash - Every spinner has a stash--that wonderful collection of fibres that are just waiting for inspiration." 
So.  I continue to collect more stash.  Yesterday I bought 1/2 lb of washed mohair from a lovely woman who raises a few angora goats and recues and fosters greyhounds, endangered San Clemente goats, mistreated goats, and even a great granddaughter.

I have noticed that spinners and related fibre people have developed a mass of acronyms.  A whole new language.  Here's a sample from ravelry's list, just the u,w & y's:
UFO UnFinished Object (usually a WIP that has been abandoned or neglected) 
WIM Work In Mind 
WIP Work In Progress 
WoTA Wool of the Andes (yarn) 
WPI Wraps Per Inch (number of times yarn will wrap loosely around ruler or similar tool in one inch; more wraps indicates thinner yarn)
yarn barf (yarf?) a big lump of yarn that accidentally gets pulled out of a new centre-pull ball, when you’re trying to find the end 
Yarnie independent dyer or spinner with a small business 

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Shellfish Fibre
Thursday we launched the new Centre for Shellfish Research boat the Cheltlo - Chinook jargon for Oyster.  The Chetlo is being blessed by Ray Peters, a Quw'utzun (Cowichan) elder. Uncle Ray (as he is known) is using cedar and introducing the boat to the water.  In the Coast Salish culture, it is important that boats and people are introduced to the water.  On the Tribal Journeys, a 12 day canoe paddle, we, and the canoe, were introduced to the water every day before starting to paddle.

Having a twisted mind, chetlo/oysters  reminded me that mussles create very strong threads in order to attach to rock.  These threads need to be very strong to withstand the pounding of wave action but also very fine, so fine they can attach to a single grain of sand.  One species, the Pen mussle (pinna noblis), produces shiny golden threads, was used to make fabric Byssus--the silk of the sea, also less  gloriously known as '"fish wool".  One theory possits that the 'golden fleece' was referring to the golden threads of byssus.  In his novel  "20,000 leagues under the sea", Jules Verne wrote '...I felt so great a heat that I obliged to take off my coat of byssus!'

Friday, May 15, 2009

Tools of the Trade
I forgot to mention the 48" Loom I subcombed to.  I discovered and the Vancouver Island Fibre Lovers Group, and, well, one thing led to another and I now have a 48" counterbalance loom.
About that fleece.  I read and read about preparing fleeces.  Some say the water has to be hot to get rid of the sinut and/or the lanolin, some say cold water to get rid of the vm (it took me days to figure out that vm meant vegtable matter) and to keep the lanolin in. Judith M-M says to soak some fllece for 7 days and hold your nose, others agree that this is like magic but unfortunatley very smelly.  Some say agitate and others say do not agitate or you will have felt.  So in a moment (hours) of panic I washed in hot, tried not to agitate and left it for a day.  And then read that I should have sorted first.  Oh well.  But it did work, most of the VM seemed to dissapear, the wool was white no longer cream and I couldn't find any of the what-could-have-been-mud-but-could-have-been-other-uky-stuff.  
Then I read about combing and making wonderful slivers of top.  Then, I found that good combs cost $100-$200!  Before I splurge on that I decided to see what else I could do and quickly realized that dog combs come in many types and I spent $30 on a couple that didn't quite do what I thought needed to be done.  Then I discovered horsecombs ($2.99) and bought three.  Two to use as combs, transferring combed fleece from one to the other and the third to be used as a hackle for creating a sliver (predrafted thin roving where all the fibers are in parrallel...think worsted...think smooth yarn) by using a diz (I used a large button).  I used my knees to hold it while I added the wool.  Mark, quickly made a comb holder which can be clamped onto a tble or held much easier between the knees.  It is a great way to blend fibres.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

How fast we sink
I sank deeper into the fibre mania this week. It all started innocently with a day off in the middle of the week and an urge for a fleece.  A perfect opportunity to go visit Knotty by Nature a relatively new store in Victoria that specializes in spinning.  Run by two young eager spinners who seem to embody a new style of entreprenuerialism where not only is something being sold and a good service backing it up (classes, knitting needle exchange, play area for kids, a seating and reading area, breast-feeding friendly, helpful advice, community knitting eg hats for homeless, etc.) but they emit and promote values to support the local community.  Think 100 mile fibres.  I don't mean preachy, but very supportive.  And Ryan can spin coils, wraps and beehives that leaves you breathless, while she (oh dear, I forgot to ask her name...maybe AJ?) spins creative artistic creations that make most of us feel, weel, almost prudish in our, well, my, attempts to get a perfect medium thin commercial look-a-like yarn.
In any event, as soon as I walked into the store I asked if I could take my coat off and leave it and my pack by the couch, "I think, I may be here awhile."  I ooohed and awed and drooled all over the store checking everything and I mean everything out.  She offered me a basket but we both looked at it and the pile I was already carrying and realized it would be too small.  I created a pile (aka stash) on a table and kept adding to it.  Blue Faced Leister which everything i had read said it was a dream to spin, Marino top, bamboo, books, corridale roving I didn't realize a pound was so much).  In the midst of all this I had to borrow a quater to plug another 90 mins into the parking meter. 
But no fleece.  She had some local texel  fleece which would make wonderful light but warm Cowichan style yarn.  But I wanted something with more lustre for worsted yarn.  I want to be able to spin worster to really feel I have that technique down pat.  Then, I will move onto woolen long draw.
Within an hour, that thought was out the window when I walked into The Loom at Whippletree and saw some fine almost Merino fleec right at the entrance.  I asked for a bag to put some in.  "Oh, no.  You have to buy it all.  $25" Sold!  So here i am with 10 lbs to clean, dye and spin.
Inspired by all this 

Monday, May 4, 2009

From Fleece to Batts
Encouraged by the dyed roving, I moved to the ten year old fleece.  Sometime in the past I must have sorted and cleaned it as it was in good condition.  So I just soaked it in hot water, heated up a pot of water and mixed some dyes in a few jars.  Then I found a brick of tussah silk and decided to dye that too.  For each colour, I added a batch of wool, some tussah silk and some mohair rovings (did I tell you  I had a stash!).  Once dry, I started to learn about drum carding and decided to card each colour into a sepeate batt.  I was careful to take each lock of wool and tease it apart.  Once I had done the pile I carefully placed each lock tip first into the carder.  Then once the carder was close to full (which I discovered on this carder that meant about 1 oz of fleece) I took it off, split it into four and recarded the batt.  Each batt I carded twice and twisted the batt into a bun for storage. Later, I can mix colours and fibres.  So here's some pictures of the silk and spun rovings drying, and the various stages from dyed fleece to batts.

Dyed Rovings
It has been a busy week between work and pleasure.  The pleasure of spinning colours had me back up in the loft digging into a basket holding a ten year old fleece, then into the laundry room, up onto the new washing machine and reaching up into the top shelf to retrieve old dyes, praying that I wouldn't lose my balance and end up colouring the laundry.
I started with some alpaca roving and read up on how to dye roving with many colours.  I followed the video from Rexenne on YouTube and the directions for the dyes I had.  Basically, squirt the dyes onto the roving, fold the roving up in kitchen wrap, place in a steamer and steam heat the dyes to set them.  It worked.  
The photo above shows the roving done in pinks and blues.  I also learned a new word: 'colourway'.  And colourways need names, so I named my colourway 'Sunset on Georgia Strait'. Here's the finished product, 2ply.