Monday, August 30, 2010

Thigh vs spindle spinning

A few years ago a student in one of my classes taught me to use tables to help organize thoughts, readings, etc. It is a helpful tool when trying to compare things. So when I was reading this article on ancient spinning techniques, I thought I would use her table technique to sort out all the information. She was right. It does help.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Cortes Island Museum
replicas done by Hillary Stewart
for the cover of her book 'Cedar'.

Recently, I was on Cortes Island and we stopped in to see the museum. Actually, we went there twice as it was so interesting. A small museum but it packs in a lot. Even the surrounding grounds are interesting, planted with heritage flowers, fruit trees and other plants from various locations on the Island. 

At one end of the room is a beautifully crafted display case with aboriginal artifacts in the case or in drawers that pull out. In these drawers were these replicas....I hesitate to use that word as it implies they are not real. They are real, just not original artifacts but these are made by Hilary Stewart, the hands-on anthropological author of the book Cedar: Tree of Life to the Northwest Coast Indians and were made for the cover shot of that book. When I look at them, I am amazed and in awe of how carefully she studied the techniques in order to replicate them and then draw so carefully detailed drawings so that others can learn from her book. And take a close look at the rope samples marked 'woven' (they are not woven) from cedar bark. They are SPUN as in spin as in twisting fibre, as in: 
From the verb spin: to make (yarn) by drawing out, twisting, and winding fibers. 
Notice how the bark has been shredded by pounding and then SPUN.

Cedar contains plicatic acid, an irritant than acts like a natural insecticide but can also cause skin irritation (and lung issues in people who constantly work with cedar sawdust). Many garments were made of spun cedar as was rope, line, and cable. Perhaps the bark does not contain the acid or perhaps it only effects a bit, as First Nations wore and worked with cedar, their tree of life constantly. Cedar provided clothing, housing and transportation. It was so important, it became part of the culture, being used to decorate people and canoes, and boughs of cedar are used to brush you in a cleansing ceremony. As Crisca Bierwert explains in the opening pages of her book Brushed by Cedar, Living by the River Coast Salish Figures of Power,:
Salish cleansing ceremonies and honorings include cedar boughs.  Long ago, people swept the packed-earth floors of their houses with long cedar branches, and today people still use them to add protection at the apertures of homes.  For clarity of mind and heart, a brushing of cedar takes away the anguish of hurtful action, or of loss, and lifts the anxieties of an uncertain future.  The painful feeling drizzles out of a person like the tingling wakening from numbness, like a minor electrical storm, like tiny quills spiralling out of the body.  I cannot explain this, but I have experienced it.  And while this brushing does not seem to have the ability to change the world, it does invite transformation.
It helped transform me. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Spin-less weekend

The commute home.  In the waterproof
deck bag in the foreground is my spindle.
 I have yet to spindle while kayaking
but you never know.
I just realized that I didn't spin this weekend. Not one twist. Priscilla-the-fleecesless-sheep-that-haunts-the-wool-stash-in-the-guest-bedroom is livid. Apparently I am a traitor. Flighty, fickle, and frivolous. But I was not fibre-less as I tried to point out. I always had my spindle, ready to whip it out and start spinning at the slightest provocation, but it just didn't happen this weekend.
Who could blame me. We hopped aboard a friend's boat and speed off to some Gulf Islands, going through notorious Dodd's Narrows which was running 6 knots against us. No problem in a motor boat but not something sail boats or kayakers would do. Check out the hard to see whirlpool in the picture. A couple of summers ago, I went through Dodds with 25 First Nations war-style canoes. It took us three attempts to finally make it through. Yesterday a First Nations fellow told me of going through in a 11-man racing canoe (very narrow and very tippy) and getting caught in a whirlpool with the stern down in the centre of the whirlpool which can often be a few feet below the surface of the surrounding water. Apparently, the first three or four paddlers in the front were so high above the water their paddles couldn't reach the water. They survived and got through it, but it was scary.  
View from the deck.
Once past Dodd's, off to a friend's cabin to sit on his deck for a picnic, then a cruise between some islands. And all the while, I had my spindle in my back pack. And there it stayed.
Hard to believe we fit through that gap.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Spindle Spin-In on Salt Spring

Spinning on a Turkish spindle.
Back in April, I attended The Quadra Island Weavers and Spinners Retreat (see earlier post) and it was while standing in the buffet line that I got really impressed with spindling. Standing in front of me was a young woman who was spinning a very fine colourful mohair yarn on her spindle. The yarn in itself was impressive, so fine, so beautiful, but it was her spindling technique that blew me away. She used her feet to keep her spindle spinning! 'This,' I swore to myself, 'is something worth aspiring to do'. Later, I saw a picture of her with her spindle stuffed into her back pocket like one would put a handkerchief. These images have stayed with me. They represent spindling as it should be, an everyday casual activity.
So when the Salt Spring Weavers and Spinners Guild invited spindlers to a Simply Spindling event-- rain or shine to be held, gulp, in public, I decided to go. It was held in the meadows in down town Ganges, in the pouring rain. We had been in the midst of a heat wave. It lasted for at least two weeks (it is still on) with one short exception, and this was the day. It poured! Thankfully Cheryl had brought two canopies to keep the rain off us. A few women came from Victoria, including Sarah of the fancy footwork! So I learned how to kick up a spindle. It was great fun despite the cold rain. Everyone brought a variety of spindles to show and we shared techniques and stories.
Thanks Salt Spring Weavers and Spinners, and especially Cheryl for keeping the rain off our spindles.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Secret of Cowichan Wool - the sheep

Washing fleece in Iceland
Thirty odd years ago when I took a spinning course from Judith McKenzie McCuin I remember her telling us about the Cowichan sweater yarn and what had made it so special - a yarn that was light, bulky, yet very warm. So the traditional Cowichan sweater did not weigh very much. She mentioned that the fleece was from sheep resulting from a variety of mixed breeds that provided wool that was high in lanolin (good for repelling water), and had a good crimp which was needed for the fibres to press against each other creating lots of air pockets which provides the insulation. Ever since I have wondered what breed of sheep created those characteristics (see an earlier blog in which I was still wondering). What did the early settlers and the Coast Salish women use for those amazing, warm, lightweight, sweaters?
Today I was reading an older issue of Spin-Off and came across an article written by Judith in which she provides the answer (MacKenzie McCuin, J. (2008). On Washing Fleece. Spin-Off Magazine, 32(3), 64-68.)! A cross breed of Churro sheep which had been left on islands in the Georgia Strait (now known as the Salish Sea) to provide meat for ship wreaked sailors or future sailors in search of nourishment, and down breeds such as Dorset and Hampshire brought over later by settlers. So, after 30-odd years I stumbled across the answer.
now have an even higher respect for Churro sheep (see and earlier post about Navajo churro). The Gulf Islands can dry out in the summer and there isn't much in the way of green grass, hence the Churro would have done just fine, as they did in the American mid-west where the Navajo raised them.
Judith's article goes on to explain how the fleeces were cleaned: they were either spread over fences or hedges, allowing the rain to clean them or placed in a fast-running creek. The water cleans out the dirt and suint (a type of sheep sweat but it is a natural detergent) but leaves in the lanolin which provides the rain-proofing for the yarn which is ideal for this wet climate.
I wonder if there are any cross-breed sheep of this type left?
Edited to suggest a great book on the history of Cowichan Wool and sweaters:
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.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Spindle Love

I have fallen in love with my new Tabachek spindle. I had seen them advertised, and heard them talked about. Then, I saw them at the Olds Fibre week merchant mall. I admired them and then thought 'Do I really need one?' There was a variety to choose from, dark wood, light wood, Russian spindles, supported spindles, top whorl, bottom whorl, all marked with their weight in grams. I lifted one, then another. They all seemed feather light and I was ready to buy one. But then I imagined Priscilla-the-fleeceless-sheep-that-rules-the-guest-room-wool-stash saying something like 'Oh, yeah, right, Another unused item to take up much needed space.' and brushing that image aside,thought 'Would I ever use it?'  
I put the 26gram, rosewood top whorl spindle, back down and went back to class, and that's when I found out my yarn was 'lacking in integrity' (long story, see the blog on it). And I knew I had to have one of those marvellous spindles. It would slow me down and let me learn how to spin consistently, spin thin lace weight yarns, spin yarn WITH integrity and I bought one.
I saw a man that night at a fibre event and he was spinning on a spindle. We chatted and it turned out he was Ed Tabacheck, THE Ed Tabacheck who makes THE Tabechek spindles!
'I used to sell the spindles out of the back of my van' He told me. 'But I had all these women coming with me into the parking lot to the back of my van. It didn't do much for my reputation! So now I sell through stores.'
So I spun on my new spindle all the way home in the car, and I spun and I spun during the dragon boat races between races, and I spun for a week on Cortes Island between kayaking trips and I spun on the BC Ferries between islands, and I am taking it to Salt Spring Island for a Spindle-in. And I am spinning thin, consistent yarn WITH integrity!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Dog Napping

Long story but here is the short version:
Best friend Trudy.  Has dog Tierra.  Tierra disappears. Seen playing with two little girls.  They had her on leash.  Ten days go by.  No Tierra.  Riding my bike to work.  Saw Tierra!  Saw woman thief! Thief denies it is Tierra. Threw down bike to grab Tierra.  Thief garbs Tierra.  I grab cell phone.  No glasses, no sight, tiny keyboard, shaking, no 911.  Thief disappears with Tierra.  I give chase with bike in one hand cell phone in other.  Thief disappears.  Passer by points to seedy apartment.  Husband of thief appears.  Muscles.  Tattoos. Not nice.  I change tactics.  Thank you for taking care of lost dog.  Reward.  Wife appears.  Wants reward.  I hand over $40, grab leash and take off.  Tierra reunited with Trudy.