Friday, July 29, 2011

Knitting Mecca

[PhotoFair Isle knitting on display
in the Shetlands]
If I were a knitting fanatic or, I suppose, a serious knitter, or just a good knitter, which I am not, but if I were, then knitting mecca would be the northern Scottish Islands: the Shetland Islands, Fair Island. Think Shetland lace, wedding ring shawls, FairIsle Knitting with multi colours And, of course, knitting meccas need fibre, lots of it, and spinning techniques designed to use the best characteristics inherent in that fibre. So knitters and spinners should head north to those islands.
[PhotoKnitted lace, with wool
 spun thinner than thread]
The Shetland Museum is a modern museum where many objects, too many to display, are also accessible in pull out drawers or pull-out wall displays. The museum, thoughtfully, provides lightweight plastic stools, useful when you just need to sit and gaze in awe for hours at a lace-knit bodice, a FairIsle vest, or try to see the ply in the cobweb yarn.
[PhotoCathy's shawl based on a
design  of a shawl over
100 years old]
We quickly connected with a visiting spinner and weaver from California and joined her in an impromptu textile talk by two of the staff, appropriately sporting FairIsle vests as part of their uniforms.
Cathy show us a lace shawl she knitted for Cushla to wear at her daughter's wedding in New Zealand. See the picture to the right.  Cathy made up the pattern based on a 100 year old shawl on display.  No pattern, she just thought it through.
While in the Orkneys we also stopped in the small textile museum run by the Shetlands Islands Spinners, Weavers and Dyers Guild.  A small museum but someone is always there to demonstrate spinning or knitting or just to chat with you.  They have a small collection of knitting and woven goods on display.  Well worth the visit.
They told us the best quality lace knitting is done by the women of Unst.  So off we went to Unst, one of the smallest and most northerly Shetland Islands.  There we found another small museum with some exquisite knitting on display and for sale but the best pieces knitted with cobweb yarn had already been sold, leaving the very fine lace weight (and I had previously thought that was the finest until I saw the cobweb yarn).  Next door was a wonderful boat museum with a varietuy of small open boats and related gear on show.
[PhotoUnst bus shelter]
While on Unst and having done some advance reading before leaving home, I knew to look for the Unst bus shelter, the most northerly bus shelter in the UK.   Apparently the locals decorate it and each year pick a new theme and given the Tall Ships event in the islands, they picked a pirate theme.  We almost blinked and missed it but here it is.
Only a couple days after we had been, BBC did a 3 minute video on a Day-in-the-Life of the Unst Bus Shelter  The bus shelter even has it's own web site.
There isn't much on Unst but what there is is impressive.

The Perth Coast Salish Blanket

[PhotoPerth Coast Salish Blanket, photo from the Perth
 Museum web site
As part of my research into Coast Salish spinning techniques I arranged for access to view what is known as the Perth blanket, as it is in the Perth, Scotland Museum and Art Gallery. There is a bit of a mystery surrounding the blanket. We are not sure who collected it, from where, when, or from who. Colin Robertson a Hudson Bay employee in the 1830's, had the blanket collected for him but it is not clear who collected it.   Robertson himself never visited the Fraser River area. The packing slips for Robertson's whole collection were filled out by James Tait ???? We do know it was shipped in 1833, so we know it is probably older than that. We also know it came from the Fraser River from near what was Ft. Langley and the Snuneymuxw summer camp was  the closest village to Fort Langley

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Quest for Puffins

Up to now, I have only ever seen one puffin, and that was only a fleeting glance as it flew over us when we were kayaking off the west coast north of Tofino.  To see puffins, in the wild, up close, has been a quest of mine for years.
When we first moved to Protection Island, 20 years ago I happened to read a book that mentioned puffins nesting on the shores of Protection Island in Georgia Strait.  I immediately launched a puffin finding expedition looking for puffins or at the least, puffin indicators. Nada. I circumnavigated the island and found not even a feather. Later, I discovered that another Protection Island existed on the American side of the strait of Georgia.  It was there that puffins could be found.  Not here.
I mentioned this failed search to a friend and neighbor, Margaret, who, in a former life, made radio documentaries for the BBC. She told me of a documentary she did about puffins in Iceland on the island of Westmann Islands. There the puffins nest on cliffs above the village of Heimaey. At fledging time, the young puffs waddle to the edge of the cliffs and hurl themselves off. The idea being to join the puffin pack waiting for them at sea. Inevitably, the little tykes would take a wrong turn or catch a wrong wind current or think a street light is the moon, and end up in the streets of the village below the cliffs  Not an entirely unexpected occurrence and generations of young children would be sent out into to scour the streets with cardboard boxes, plopping wayward little puffs into their container. When the boxes were full, the children would trudge up to the top of the cliffs, face the right direction and fling the puffins back out into space, this time in the right direction, then race back down the cliff to collect another box full and repeat the performance until the streets were cleared of birds and the nearby seas were full of them.
I had hoped to see, if not this performance, at least a puffin or two when visiting Iceland a couple of years ago. Nada. Not even a feather. Although we did see puffins on the menu at a few restaurants  but that wasn't quite the same thing.
[PhotoOld Man of Hoy - puffin country]
So now I am back in puffin country.  The Island of Hoy, near the Ol' Man of Hoy (a stone stack off the cliffs) in the Orkney Islands, is the place to spot them.  So I stood on the deck of the ferry as we passed by and sure enough, there were sea birds to be seen.  I am absolutely positive, well, almost, pretty sure, well, I think I saw one chubby little guy fly past.  But, it could have been a gull.
So I missed a good view of puffins in the Orkney's but then we headed north by ferry to the Shetlands.  Once there (and that's a story for another blog)  we went down to the southern tip, to Sumburgh Head and there they were! Lots.  Many just a few feet from our feet. Puffin city central.
A man there told me about the puffin cam, so now you too can see them live by clicking here: Live Puffin Cam.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Ronnies

[Photo: North Ronaldsey seaweed eating sheep.  
Photo by Ian Caldwell
When I travel, I like to have a quest, an aim, something to search for on the trip. A ràison d'detre, so to speak. For the Orkney Islands the quest was to find some fleece from a North Rhonaldsay sheep. These rare breed sheep are rather unique in the world as they have evolved to be able to survive on eating seaweed. Not just as a side dish or in a pinch, but they really live on it. They have developed special bacteria to break down the seaweed into a usable carbohydrate.  Recently, in an attempt to create a few flocks and protect the DNA pool, some Ronnies (aka Rolies) were sent to mainland Scotland and England. Mysteriously, they started to die. It turned out that there is so little copper in seaweed that the North Ronaldsay sheep have developed super absorbency of copper.  So when they moved inland and ate normal amounts of copper, they died from copper poisoning.  Once identified, it was easy to treat.  Interestingly, after two generations, the sheep adapted again and could handle normal intakes of copper.

Our schedule did not quite allow or me to fly from Mainland Orkney Island to North Ronaldsey, so I was disapointed and very envious when I received en email from another spinner from the Qualicum Guild who had the week before I arrived, gone to North Ronaldsay (population 60), saw the sheep, met the one woman crusader who has established a fibre mill on the island, had a tour, met knitters and spinners and had a wonderful time on a knitting tour!  I emailed Karen and she emailed me some tips on where to find some fleece on the main island.
[Photo:Tall ships at Stromness, the Orkneys]
Not only did I find some fleece, beautiful light brown roving, thanks to Karen, but by accident I ran into another woman who keeps North Ronaldsay sheep on a different island.  We happened to be in the Orkneys for the Tall Ships races and the town of Stromness where the main street had been turned into a Fair as part of the welcoming of the tall ships.
And there, at a booth at the fair was fleece!  Rugs.  Stone slate spindles.  Yarn. And Teresa.   Teresa who, with her husband and three sons, live on the remote Isle of Auskerry (click on this link to read all about her life on this hauntingly beautiful island).  Remember, this is where the North Atlantic meets the Norwegian and North Seas.  The wind blows here.  It blows gales.  And often.  This means you, and the sheep, have to be pretty self-sufficient.  If you leave the island, you may not be able to get back for weeks...and vice versa.
Teresa has over, I think she said 300 Ewes and 600 lambs.  This is the 2nd largest flock in the UK!
[Photo: North Ronaldsay fibre.  Very fine
down fibres with longer guard hair fibres]
Teresa sells the tanned fleece hides (very soft) and yarns she has spun.  This is a beautifully soft fleece. The down is a fine fine down, about 28 microns thick. That is a medium wool and kid mohair grade.  It feels silky.  Silky in the way seaweed feels silky.  Or in Scotch brogue, It has a fine hand.  She also sells the fleece and her products over the Internet.  The wool throws she has woven by hand are warm and silky.  So support this rare breed and buy some of her products:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A taste of Scotland

[Photo: Dunrobin Castle]
Food is high on my bucket list. Many of my quests are quests for food (or fibre, or, come to think of it, food with fibre). So far, on this trip I can add these foods to my life list:

  • blood pudding (ugg)
  • sticky toffee puddin (yummm)
  • fish and chips (okay, I have had this before but not in Scotland) (good)
  • fudge (yumm)
  • chicken stuffed with haggis (tasty)
  • whiskey (so far, Highlands is the smoothest)
  • cullen skink soup (Finnan haddie, potatoes and onion -- filling)
[Photo: Owl at Dunrobin garden]
The big non-food quest for this trip is fleece from North Ronaldsey Island in the Orkney's. These are sheep that survive by feeding on seaweed. Surely a seaweed diet must make for some interesting fibre!  
[Photo: Hedgehog at Black Isle]
First night was spent in a B&B far from the maddening crowd in the hills of the Black Isle, which isn't black, nor is it an island. Go figure.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Little Louie

Meet Little Louie, my new love. It wasn't love at first sight, but I must admit to being, well, on the look out, so to speak. I love my Lendrum, but it is getting old (30 years) and only has one foot treadle, while all the young ones have two. And Little Louie is small, cute, only 14.25" tall . and weighing in at 8 lbs. Louie comes with his own suit, a bag custom fit with pockets for all his bobbins and bits. And get this, Little Louie, in his suit, just happens to fit within the airline carry-on limits! He is born to travel!
He also comes with 3 ratios 6:1, 8.5:1 and 13:1. Sweet. But what I really love about him is his engineering smarts. The bobbin fits to the frame by a clever metal rod and magnets. So it is very easy to pull it off and change the bobbin or to pack him up for travel. The foot treadle to wheel attachment pulls off a centre bolt and a lever is pulled to allow the frame and wheel to collapse down to the treadles. The flyer metal rod then fits into a hole under the treadle and everything is ready for the suit. Nifty!
So when I saw a class mate at Olds, using the Louet Victoria and I commented on it, she let me know she had two and one was for sale. I hummed and hawed but realized I needed one, bought it and renamed it Little Louie. And then it happened. I used Little Louie for only an hour or two when I realized what a darling he was and how lucky I was to have met up with him. And then I read Abby's review. Yes, THE Abby Franqemont has one and she too loves hers. You can read about her love affair with her Victoria here.
[Photo: Spindle kit.  3 spindles support bowl ]
I was very tempted to pack Little Louie with me to take to Scotland. Very tempted. After all, he fits in carry-on luggage. But 4 people in a small rental car with luggage and needed room for purchases, i decided to take my have-spindle-will-travel kit.
I can fit 3 spindles: drop, takhi and Russian support spindle, plus fibre, plus a support bowl (the lid is actually a wooden support bowl turned upside down that fits perfectly as a lid.
[Photo: Spindles, bowl and a selection of
silk to spin]

Monday, July 11, 2011

Paddling, Packing and Spinning

[Photo:A breast cancer survivor team
heading out to race]
It was a busy busy weekend. The big Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival was on, which had 78 dragon boat teams competing in races all weekend. We had four races, two on Saturday and two on Sunday. It was busy busy busy with me dashing back home between races to do laundry in preparation for packing and clean the house in preparation for the house sitters. But it was all great fun (the races, not so much the laundry and cleaning).
On top of all this, I was trying to finish a few spinning projects and organize spinning homework and pack up some spinning projects to take with me.

On the spindle: gray Alpaca from Koksilah Farms.
Off the wheel: Romney wool, silk and mohair blend.
Off the wheel: white Alpaca, wool and nylon blend
On the wheel: white Suffolk cross wool
In the packed bags: silk hankies, tussah silk roving, and ginned and pima cotton.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Racoon Invasion. Again

This is a raccoon's view of what is left of eleven ravaged 70% Dark Chocolate bars and a bag of cat nibbles (most of which were left on the carpet). This is what was what remained after a raccoon broke in and attacked my chocolate bar stash. Who knows how many he ate. This theft was not an easy feat. The raccoon had to figure out how to get one of his claws delicately wedged under the magnetic cat door and carefully pull the bottom of the hinged door towards the outdoors. Then it had to sneak under the door, past the cat (that was probably easy) through the living room, past the kitchen, through the dining room into the hallway, then rise up on his hind legs, stretch and somehow be able to grab onto the round slippery door knob and turn it while at the same time pulling the door towards him while balancing on two rear legs. Once in the laundry room, he had to figure out how to hop up 3.5 feet onto the top of the clothes dryer, reach above that and grab onto the small carton of chocolate bars (let's ignore the fact that I have a store of chocolate bars) and open the bars and peel off the tinfoil. Let's think about that. This raccoon not only has a highly sensitive nose, but he ignored all the kitchen food smells and honed in on the chocolate bars which are wrapped in tinfoil, then paper and in a cardboard carton (okay, I admit it, it was a carton of chocolate bars), and down at the other end of the house in a laundry room! That is some nose and a gourmet one at that. The cat door has now been blocked off. I just hope that raccoon is suffering from constipation.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fondle this fibre!

[Photo: From top clockwise: Gray alpaca on spindle
and 2ply,  cream alpaca with cashmere and silk,
alpaca with nylon and wool]
At the Olds Fibre Week (last week of June, first few days of July) Alpaca Canada donated sample bags of Alpaca for the spinners to spin and samples of alpaca yarn for the knitters and weavers to use. Ooooooooh what beautiful fibre! This is fondle fibre. You just want to put one of those sample bags in your pocket to carry around all day to fondle ... or, as Jacey Boggs suggests (check out her blog, she is hilarious) .... I think it was Jacey ... if not it could have been any event, someone like Jacey, suggested that there are certain fibres, and alpaca is one of them, that you just want to stuff into your bra and fondle or squeeze a breast or both, all day.
[Photo: See the softness]
I spun some Kensigton Prairie Farm roving which was light fawn coloured 85% Alpaca and 15% Tussah silk. Exquisite! And the samples from Alpaca Farms Koksilah on Vancouver Island (I will be visiting this farm!) and Graycott Alpacas in Ontario were so silky and luxurious to spin. They were so soft and felt so good I did them all on a spindle to stretch out the fondle time.
Twisted Sisters Fibre Mill donated some rovings of an alpaca blend with wool and nylon. See the picture and you will get an idea of how the addition of wool adds loft. Sounds like a perfect sock yarn.
[Photo: The alpaca/wool/nylon blend on the
left and the silky suri alpaca on the right]
My Mother (Mom are you reading this?) offered to knit my niece, a pair of socks and let her pick the yarn. She picked a heathered blue alpaca yarn. Mother was horrified thinking these socks would wear out in weeks being made with such delicate yarn. So I checked out the characteristics of alpaca and was surprised to find it is 10 times stronger than wool, more shrink resistant, softer, smoother and with little or no lanolin it is perfect for those who suffer wool allergies. They should be perfect socks.  
And should they ever wear out, well, they will be good bra stuffing.