Thursday, October 27, 2011

A problem gift

[PhotoSuffolk lock being identified]
Someone gave me a fleece sample, a lock of fleece washed and another still dirty, with a promise that if I liked it, I could have the whole fleece. A gift. A friend of theirs had had it in storage for a few years, was downsizing and they apparently knew a good fleece.  
I certainly liked that lock and used another gift - the recently published book Fleece and Fibre Sourcebook by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius ...(I highly recommend it!) to identify the type of fleece. The blunt tip, the boxy lock, the fuzzy down-style crimp and knowing the local farmers penchant for certain meat sheep was a giveaway, and the book seemed to confirm that it was indeed from a Suffolk sheep. 
Suffolk is not a glamorous fleece, not rare, not special, yet it has a nice loft, is satisfying to spin and makes for a good versatile fibre to have hanging around the wool stash. It would make a good addition by itself for yarn or being useful for blends to add loft to a yarn. It's great for everyday things like mittens, sweaters, socks. So I eagerly said, "yes please. I like it." Visions of lofty yarns danced before me.
And so a big garbage bag was delivered to me in town. The bag had been ripped open a bit at the top so I looked in...and then took a closer look...and then put my glasses on and took an even closer look. Moths! Lots of them. Apparently dead but did I dare take this fleece over to the island, into my house into my wool stash? Did they lay eggs before they died? Does dead ones on the top indicate live ones down below?
I have heard horror stories about moth invasions where someone's whole wool stash was ruined (readers may remember moths were the reason Trudy's sweater was in her freezer -see that blog post).  A vision of this fleece in a Mom's, since mine is way too small. I shook my head.
Another vision appeared, of a cloud of small moths flitting in and out of my cupboards, dancing around me, chomping up my stash. I couldn't take the risk. I knew I would regret throwing it out, but I also knew if I did bring in a moth invasion I might have a bigger regret. So I tossed it. Sigh.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Stuck in silk

This is some of my tahkli-spun silk drying. I emphasize that it is only 'some', a small portion of my spun silk stash. And that stash gets bigger by the week. I can't seem to stop spinning silk. I know this may seem weird, or weak, perhaps perverse to the silk uninitiated, and they may think I just need more resolve, more backbone. But I have good excuses.
First, it is silk. SILK! Silk, as in lustrous, rich, shimmering, smooth silk!  
Then there is the awe factor. On the one hand it evokes the luxurious image, on the other hand, you are spinning worm spit. Really. Insect fibres. A protein used to cocoon a silk worm until it metamorphs into a silk moth. Just think about that! Amazing. If you want blow-by-blow instructions on how to raise your own silk moths and harvest the silk, go here.
[PhotoBombyx, or cultivated silk.
SEM Photo by Dave Lewis
Then there is the colour. Silk has vibrant colour. Even without dye, silk has rich depth in colour. Even white, cultivated silk, has more white, if that is possible, more absence of colour. The silk made from wild moths, such as Muga or Tussah have either a golden or honey colour. It shimmers, with or without colour. And that shimmering is due to the structure of the silk. One long continuous fibre, which means less fuzzy ends to break up the light reflection and the structure of the fibre itself has reflective properties. The Scanning Electron Microscope image to the right shows the structure. Compare the smooth silk fibrewith a Dorset sheep fibre which has layer upon layer of cells which make up the 2-3" long fibre.
[PhotoDorset sheep.
SEM Photo byDave Lewis ] 
And lastly, I have been spinning on my small Tahkli spindle.  It is perfect for silk because each flick of the fingers, has that spindle spinning so fast and for so long, that it gives a high twist to the silk.  And the Tahkli spindle fits into a purse or backpack.  In other words, I carry it with me all the time, ready to pull it out of the bag at a moments notice and start spinning at airports, in cars, on ferries, at work, while camping, where ever I am.  As a famous anthropologist Ed Franquemont, pointed out, when asked what is faster, a spindle or a spinning wheel?:
[PhotoMy Tahkli spinning kit]
" A wheel is faster by the hour, and a spindle faster by the week."
And so, with Tahkli spindle in my bag, I am fated to keep spinning silk.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Salt Spring Island Applefest

Fullford Hall - full of apples
Last weekend was Applefest on Salts Spring Island, so we jumped into the VW Van which somehow seemed just so right for going to this event, after all, someone once said that Salt Spring Island answers the question, where have all the hippies gone? Hippies and yuppies. Gumboots and the well heeled. A bumper sticker reflects the cultures 'To hell with world peace, use your turn signals'.
First stop Ganges where we picked up tickets to the event and a map which showed all the farms and food related hot-spots on the island to visit. We timed it just right-- being 5 minutes late for the Crofton-Vesuvius ferry, or, to put it another way, 55 minutes early for the next ferry, we were first on and first off, and hence, first in line at the ticket booth. It seemed that the whole ferry load of cars were headed to the same place.
[PhotoBriony doing an
apple portrait]
Next stop, Fulford Hall, apple-central. The whole centre of the hall had tables loaded with apples, hundreds of varieties, most with descriptive notes emphasizing their best use (dessert, pies, eating, storage, etc.). I stopped in front of a plate of five perfectly formed, but with skin like russet potatoes, apples with a sign 'Winner of the Fall 2011 Fair'. There was an older man to the right of me and another to the left. They too, were looking at the same plate in puzzlement. 
'That's a pretty ugly apple' declared the one on the right.  
'Yeah', said the left nodding.  
I looked up at a woman who was on the organizing side of the table and asked ' What is it about this apple that makes it a winner?' I was expecting to hear it had a taste out-of-this-world.  
She looked a little embarrassed and hummmed and hawed and suggested 'Weelll, they get judged on a point system and uniformity is important and all five apples look like perfect replicas, so maybe they won based on their clone-like appearance.' She looked slightly doubtful.  
Right and left sides turned to look at me and both raised their eyebrows. They weren't buying it.
I looked it up later, to find this is an apple that dares to be different. A diamond in the rough. A niche apple for the discerning apple lover who appreciate its sweet nutty flavour. A good Salt Spring Island apple and to think we had been very doubtful.
'Along the walls were tables selling a variety of things every apple-lover needed: seeds; mason bee homes; pomegranate, lime, and other heat-loving trees (these islands are known for their Mediterranean-like good years); apple pies; balms and lotions; and there, in one corner was Briony, friend, professor, artist, writer, raconteur, tv personality, activist, Lady Godiva, Ms April (I think it was) in the Nude Woman's 2001 Save-SaltSpring-from-clear-cutting Calendar; painting portraits of apples-just bring your favorite apple--for $5. What a deal! There was a lineup of proud apple owners waiting their turn.
[Photo:Goat milk ice cream]
Map in hand, we headed next to a couple of organic farms and toured their gardens, and sampled their apples, buying two sweet varieties, Arlete, a sweet golden-delicious-related dessert apple developed in Switzerland and Wynachee (if I remember correctly), small but sweet.
Next, a visit to Salt Spring Island Cheese Company, where we tasted at least six different goat cheeses and then had another round of tasting and narrowed it down to two types: Blue Juliette a soft, mild blue and Montana, a mild hard sheep's milk cheese with a touch of goat milk to make it silkier. We also picked up a jug of fresh pressed pear and apple juice and goat milk ice cream cones.
Next stop was the Salt Spring Island Bread Company where we picked up a loaf of whole wheat nut. This has to be the most beautifully situated bakery. Perched on top of a moss and arbutus covered hill overlooking the southern Straits. This logically led to Ruckles Park where we had a picnic, admired the apple trees and the scenery.
And, you fibre friends might be wondering, just where is the fibre. Well, there were sheep everywhere, and I saw fleeces sticking out beneath the rafters at two farms. And, as luck would have it, it was also the Salt Spring \island Guild show at Arts Spring. There was lots of inspiration there. Two things stood out for me, a incredibly intricate black silk scarf and a blanket or throw spun and woven by Lorrie Irwin (probably from her own sheep) and dyed in gorgeous colours by Cheryl Wiebe. Of course I took my spindle and spun up some silk.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Spinning in the fall of life

[PhotoAn incredible colour and
 fleece roving by Jeanette of
Hummingbird Fibre Arts]
I confess to not blogging much lately. I have been too busy relaxing and contemplating life...or to be more precise...the end of life. At first it was hitting one of those major milestone birthdays where you realize more than half your life has gone by. So one naturally starts thinking mid-life and while maybe not about crises, but, well, you know, thoughts. And the nearer I get to retirement, the more I worry about not being around to spend my pension. What a pity that would be!
Then came black Thursday when someone who had been a very good friend, died; another was diagnosed with cancer; another started chemo; a friend's partner died; a friend was in a bad car accident; and another was taken to hospital in great pain.
So....these are all part of the reason we spent an outrageous sum of money on a 35 year old VW camper van. We have had two before and sold both because of the expense of upkeep. Well to hell with the expense. One needs to enjoy life while one can.

Hence, a lot of weekend camping and travelling. First adventure, off to Port Renfrew via the what is being called, the Pacific Marine Circle Route. From Lake Cowichan, down the logging road which is now paved the whole way to Port Renfrew and returning via Jordan River, Sooke and Victoria. 
[PhotoPacheenacht White Sand beach from ]
I didn't want to think about spinning, I just wanted to spin. No homework spinning. Just rewarding spinning. I took Little Louie (aka Louet Victoria) which was perfect for spinning in the van. For fibre, I took Jeannette's (Hummingbird Fibre) designer roving: 43% wool (Romney?), 27% Alpaca and 20% Tussah silk. I know, that only adds up to 90%. I figure the other 10% is magic. We camped in the sand at the Pacheedaht First Nations campsite where I spun up 256 meters feeling productive and rewarded by the colours in the fibre, autumn muted golds and pinks.
Well worth the time and the money....for everything.