Monday, December 30, 2013


St Anne's Academy, Victoria BC
I never got around to posting about Fibrations held in late August at St. Anne's Academy in Victoria this summer.So, before the 2013 year ends, I thought I better get this post up. Better late than never.
Fibrations was a celebration of fibre, all kinds of fibre and all kinds of ways of using it. Organized by Knotty by Nature --if you are visiting Victoria you MUST stop in at Knotty by Nature. It's a fibre store with attitude, positive attitude, like a fuzzy yarn that grabs you, whirls you around like a spinning wheel would and knits up an event called Fibrations, totally run by fibre aficionados.

The Victoria Handweavers and Spinners Guild had a few demos with members showing basketry, weaving and lace making skills.

Scutching flax
There was a booth by the Victoria Embroiders Guild. Who knew that such a guild existed? And that they stitched up such wonderful things. One booth that stuck out  proud as can be, was the fly tying booth. He used all sorts of interesting fibres to make his fly ties. And the fact that he was one of the few male fibre enthusiasts didn't phase him in the least.

A highlight of the day was the Linen Project. This is a group of flax enthusiasts who have a long term flax to linen project going. They plant and tend the flax, rett it, process it and then produce fabrics. They had demos going all day showing people how to hackle, srutch and process the dried flax stems.

Interestingly, in the 1800's it was Sister Marie Angele, a nun from St. Anne's Academy who taught Cowichan girls at St Anne's school near Cowichan Bay how to knit. This was the start of what grew into the Cowichan sweater industry. It seemed fitting that Fibrations was held there.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Solstice - The days are getting longer

Google's logo, Dec 21, 2013.
Dec 21. Winter Solstice. I am trying to mark the solstice with a return to the blog. The solstice marks the lengthening of the days AND it also marks the first day of my semi-retirement. Well, not the first day since I am on holidays but when I return to work on Jan 2, 2014, I will be only working half-time. This is part of my plan of a phased in retirement. This means I will have more time for fibre and more time for blogging. At least, that's the plan....

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Uggg. What's wrong with this picture...nothing...except

I am not really a weaver, but I have to do something with the ever growing spinning stash I am building up. Besides, the major project for Master Spinners Level 5 is to make something in either linen or cotton that takes 50 hours. First, I chose linen. It is a pleasure to spin. Cotton, well, it's okay, but heck, it is cheap enough to buy already spun. Flax on the other hand, shines, has an earthy smell, and satisfies.
I have now spent, hmmm, well over 30 hours spinning flax. I have spun dew retted, water retted, tow, line and bleached flax. I have spun it Z and spun it S. I have a stack of flax now spun into lovely linen yarns.
With all that linen I decided to weave 3 tea towels. Why do one? With all the work it takes to warp a loom, you really have to make more than one thing at a time. So I spent, hmm, another 8 hours putting on a dummy warp. Why spend tall those hours on just 3 finished products, I figured I would save oodles of time by using a dummy warp and then leaving it on after my 3 tea towels and then I can just add a new warp and skip the having to put the yarns through the heddles and slaying the reed each time. Besides it would save 18 inches of wasted yarns.
So I just spent , oh, umm, about another 4 hours sleying the reed when, almost finished I realized I had the wrong reed on! I am aiming for 20 ends per inch and I stupidly used a 5 dent reed, and ended up with 10 ends per inch not 20. It was going so well. You would have thought I would have figured out there was something wrong hours ago. But no, it was only when I thought, hmm, this tea towel sure is wide. So like my knitting adventures, it is three steps forward and two back.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Coast Salish Blanket hidden in Alaska

While wandering the exhibits, my husband heard what he thought was an announcement about a Salish blanket and rushed over to me. I hadn't heard it so we headed to the front desk to inquire. It turned out a staff member had radioed another asking if they had seen the Salish blanket and that is what he heard. It seemed my earlier email had started a hunt for a lost Salish blanket. Apparently neither museum could find it! I said I was the one who had stared the panic. They were most helpful and apologetic for misplacing the blanket and they kindly showed me all the pictures they had on file. When we finished, somewhat disappointed but appeased by the photos and conversations, we followed the suggestion of the woman at the front desk and headed across the parking lot, into the State building up to the 8th floor where I logged into the internet. Surprisingly (and most fortuitously) an email from the curator 'Come back, we found the blanket!' So back we went and had a wonderful time looking closely at Judge Wickersham's blanket.

In a summer post, I had promised to tell you about a special find in Alaska. It is a relatively unknown Coast Salish blanket once owned by Judge Wickersham. He lived in Washington State, purchased the blanket somewhere there (more on this next year as I follow an interesting lead) and took it with him when he moved to Alaska.  And there it remains, in the Wickersham House Museum...although that isn't where I saw it and that is part of the story of fortuitous luck.
I found out about the blanket from another Salish blanket researcher, Elaine Humphrey, an expert in microscopes. Elain has been investigating the fibre contents of Salish blankets using Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) - a fancy microscope for extreme close-ups (see my SEM post). She had been to see the blanket and collect some fibres from it. Most interestingly, there is a small patch of black fibres which when she put under the SEM, turned out to be human hair. There is just a little of this fibre in the blanket. Think about it. Was it the weaver's hair? The spinner's hair? The original owner's hair? Was the blanket dedicated to someone? I would love to know the hidden story behind it.
[Mark Kaarremaa Photo:
Close up detail
showing black hair fibre
next to the blue triangle]

I was already booked on a cruise to Alaska but somehow had the mistaken impression that the Wickersham House Museum was in Fairbanks and that would involve a plane trip from the Alaskan Coast to Fairbanks, not something I could fit in for this trip. I happened to be talking with Elaine the week before the trip when I mentioned this and she exclaimed " Fairbanks! No. The blanket is in Juneau." I practically ran home and phoned one of the state curators who was kind enough to start arranging with the Wickersham House a visit for me.
The day before leaving on the cruise I received an email. It seems the blanket had apparently been moved from the State museum back to the Wickersham House but we hadn't quite connected with the curator there to view it. I hoped that by the time the ship got to Juneau, we had arranged for a viewing.
Internet connectivity is on cruise ships is terrible! It should be inexpensive and a decent speed. It isn't. If you can send emails for free from 30,000 feet above the earth, then surely you can send from sea level??? To make a long story short, we arrived in Juneau and no word from the curator. I assumed that I just hadn't given them enough time. None-the-less, we decided to visit both Museums.

[Photo: Judge Wickersham's
blanket hanging on the wall
Cruise ships do not advertise things like local museums. It is a shame. The State Museum in Alaska (see earlier post) is well worth a visit! We entered, paid a minimal fee and the woman at the desk gave us some good hints on where to go next ( cross the road, through the parking lot, into the State Building, take the elevator,get off at the 8th floor for a good view, stop by the library where there is internet service, go out the far door from the 8th floor out to the upper street and then head for Wickersham Museum). We hoped we could remember all that but in the meantime looked around the incredible exhibits. 

Judge Wickersham was bigger than life. Statesman, author, Judge, pioneer, keeper of the peace in the gold rush. He was on the first team of white men to climb Mt McKinley. And wrote 43 diaries in which he recorded life. It is heart wrenching to read his entry about loosing his son. His diaries from 1900 until his death 1939 can be found here.
[Photo: Judge Wickersham]  
The picture at the top is the blanket as of 2013. Note the hole. There is another hole a bit smaller in the lower right just out of the photo. The Judge apparently liked to sit on the blanket on his chair, so the holes line up when folded and also lined up with his tush. Note the picture at the bottom of the blanket on the wall taken before 1940. It is hard to see if this size photo but click the link to see the full image and you will notice it has been folded. The stripe in the middle is really the right edge of the blanket but has been folded in to, I suspect, hide the two holes. Interestingly the blanket also hides the full story of the black hair.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Iron Age Sweater


An interesting news item. An iron age sweater made somewhere between 230 and 390 A.D, which makes it one of the oldest sweaters known. It was found on a rocky hillside revealed by a melting glacier in Norway. The owner, probably male (apparently, it would fit a slim 5'9" man) probably stopped to enjoy the view, perhaps the sun was shinning and he took the sweater off and put it next to him. Maybe something disturbed him. Whatever happened, he left it there.  The photo of it lying on the rocks shows how hard it was to distinguish between the sweater and the rocks. 
[Photo: Marianne Vedeler] The sweater
was found 6,500 ft up Lendbren glacier.
I imagine he was kicking himself for days after for losing it. Perhaps he tried to retrace his route and never did find it. Or something prevented him from returning. 
Almost 2,000 years later someone stumbles across it. Suppose it was you that found it. How would you feel? Finding something so personal and in such good condition builds a bridge connecting you to him across all those years. I would clutch it and look around for him, thinking perhaps it was only a moment or two since he left it, maybe at most a few weeks if it was wet. But forever after, I would harbour the idea of time travel. Maybe it was me, the finder who scared him off!

The sweater was woven in diamond twill, a common design in those days. The closeup picture seems to show the warp is S-twist (spun z) and the weft is the opposite Z-twist (spun s). It makes me wonder why? Any weavers out there who could shed light on the advantages of S warp and Z weft?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Beattle bombing

[Photo by VW]
This is a first. Marthe and Magnus Schwarz, an imaginative couple from Northern Germany spent 7 months and 40kg of yarn to yarn bomb their VW Beattle. They see this as a sweater outfit which makes one wonder if another outfit is in the works?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Spinning. All the way to Alaska

'Eltaa' (shaman's spiritual powers)
by Kathleen Carlo, 2005
In July, I had an opportunity to go on a cruise to Alaska with my parents. This is a perfect trip for people who don't have a lot of 'travel energy' (not me! My parents).  They loved it and so did we. this was the year to do it, July was the calmest month for the seas, hardly any wind or waves for the whole trip. The food was fantastic which was offset by the best view on board being from the treadmills in the gym!

My wheel after being fixed
(note the large white
outline of the 'scar'.
I decided to bring my 'Joy', spinning wheel. The rooms are small but there was enough space to entertain two couples sipping daily rituals of gin and tonic and doing a little spinning before sitting down to a late dinner.
However, let this be a warning to others contemplating taking their wheel --carry the wheel on and off the ship yourself. Don't leave it to baggage handlers. I stupidly let them take it thinking the padded bag and the fact that the boat was only 100 yards away would be protection enough. No. When I unzipped the bag there was a horrendous dent in the wheel. Luckily this did not affect the way the wheel operated, but it would need repair before moisture worked its way into the scarred wood causing it to expand and possibly warp the wheel making it unusable. I have a clever brother-in-law who was able to fix it in time for me to take it on another trip the following week.
Back to Alaska...While the glaciers in Glacier Bay were beautiful, and the scenery wild and wonderful, it was the museums that held treasures for me. It is strange that on the cruise, they promoted and advertised 'adventure' activities - take a train to see the Yukon Trail Railway; charter a helicopter to see the glaciers; take a 2 hour float plane ride; ride a dog sled; hike the wilderness; zipline through the rain-forest, etc. etc. Not a word about the local museums. Some people enjoy hair raising, heart pounding outdoor adventures. I do. But a beautifully made textile makes my heart pound and the hair on my neck stand up too!
We lucked into a few things, a couple of which I will do special posts on later (one being a somewhat unknown Coast Salish Blanket).
The Alaska State Museum has an exhibit of Ravenstail weavings. Wow. This is an awesome exhibit, dance aprons, tunics and leggings. Ravenstail weaving is worth a separate post. For now, here's a teaser.

Oh, I did manage to spin 200 meters of plied linen and spin up samples for three assignments: fake cashmere (rayon) and wool blend; soy; and corn silk, between the G&T's and the meals.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Spinning right from the source

This is too good. Spinning wool right from a Shetland sheep. This beats the traditional sheep-to-shawl competitions and demos.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


A beautiful BFL fleece.  Inspiring.
I often read blogs on a regular basis to find that sooner or later the posts spread out,become sporadic and then come to an end or perhaps just a long pause between posts.  Has that happened here?  We shall see.  So for now, I am attempting to use the new technology and somewhat limited apps to get back to blogging.  So my next few (dozen?) posts will be catchup posts.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Tablet interuptus

I have had my head down, working frantically on my Master Spinner Level 4 home work. That, plus my laptop meltdown and new tablet replacement has brought my blogging to almost a halt. Tablets are not made for working. They are made for surfing, playing and reading. Tablets haven't yet matured with all the useful features I need, or at least I haven't found the apps that replace the tools I need.  
I need to download photos from my camera, sort them into folders, tag them and upload the important ones. I need to do the same with photos from the tablet but I haven't been able to fund an app to do it. Oh there are lots of photo apps, but not photo management. Not like organizing your photos with database-style capabilities. But I just found an app that might make it easier. We shall see.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The SABLE zone

[Photo: funny fibre - for SABLE]
 I came across this term 'Sable' recently. I  had thought she, that-woman-who-encourages-me-to-increase-my-stash, was talking about sable, as in fur fibre. But no, she was, as per usual, as she terms it 'enabling' me, or in plain language, once again, convincing me that l needed to  buy more wool or fleece, or... sable.  Sable? Who spins sable? Although, this same 'enabler' once sold me some Canadian Blue fox fibre  which  now resides in my 'stash.  So I just assumed that I would soon be adding Sable fur to the stash. 
The 'enabler' peered at me over her glasses with raised eyebrows and saw that I had not understood her.   
'S.A.B.L.E' she paused knowingly.
'Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy'. 'Sable!' she declared. 
Her husband knows what SABLE is.  He lives with it.   He accepts it. For Christmas he even gave her some funny fibre to enhance her stash, to keep her in the sable zone. 
He gave her a fabric, drawstring bag with a blue yarn end dangling from it. She showed it to me and started pulling the yarn out of the bag. Every foot or so a blue $5 bill was attached to her yarn.   Maybe next year she will receive a red-toned funny fibre. Now that would put her into the super sable zone! 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Versatile patterns

[Photo: Spiralucious ]
As a new knitter, I am keenly aware of my lagging knitting speed. I am a tortoise. Although in an attempt to boost my confidence and in my own defense, I am pretty quick in some respects. Quick to make mistakes, quick to rip it all out again, quick to re-knit it and quick to once again make a new mistake(or same old one yet again) and quick to repeat this process. Luckily I sometimes forget to make a mistake and the object of such devotion slowly progresses and emerges despite all the speedy mistakes. Where was I going with this? ...
Oh yes, so what I am trying to say is that I am not exactly producing a lot of objects. A scarf a year, although this year I am hoping to double that.
[photo: Wendy with cowl]
[photo: Wendy As sunflower]
But it struck me that I may be able to knit multi-use objects, versatile ones, like a shawl that doubles as a cowl or hoodies or small blanket. One article, four uses. So I now resolve to hunt up a few of those patterns that make me seem like a knitter who can produce. I may even be able to get away with making something for my (spoiler alert Mom, stop reading here) Mother's birthday and Christmas. One object, two gifts (but Mom, it's as much loving work as an efficient knitter knitting two objects and anyway, you weren't supposed to read this).
[photo: Wendy with La cowl]
So, I was delighted to come across a pattern that does this and more. It is a cowl,
[photo: Wendy as rooster]
Spiralucious byAnne Hanson. The one in these pictures is knitted and modelled by Wendy, a good spinner, knitter and a very good sport.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Wool combing

[Photo: the
governor-scene from a stained
glass window from the area
of Soissons (Picardy, France),
early 13th century.]
I am still having a few computer issues (the new tablet which is not totally compatible with blogging tasks) hence sporadic posts. So here is one that has been in editing limbo for almost a month....
It was totally coincidental that the Mid Island Weavers and Spinners Guild held a Wool combing demo on St. Blais's Day, the patron saint of wool combers and throats .Yes, throats. Body parts had patron saints. Go figure! 
Legend has it St Blais either died from being combed (ie. his flesh was ripped with honking big sharp iron combs) or comb torture was just the warm-up to being beheaded . No matter how he died, he is remembered by those who use those combs.  
As I was saying, it was almost on St Blais's day that Karen Braun came to show us how to use those honking big combs but in a very gentle, well intended way. 
The large combs may have 3 or 4 or 5 rows of tines while small ones have one or two rows. Such powerful tortuous looking tools are used in a graceful gentle manner to produce soft, perfect fibres, all straitened and parallel with each other, without nips, noils, or foreign bits. Just pure lengths of perfect fibre. When pulled and stretched out, it is known as 'top' or' combed top'.
[Photo: large combs]
Karen's gentle technique was to separate the locks, lay them on a towel, all with the tips pointing in the same direction. Then she spritzed them with a little water and olive oil. Some people use hair conditioner. Whatever you use, the idea is to add a little moisture to keep the fibres slick and smooth and to cut down on static electricity.
[Photo: Small combs]
Locks, enough to half fill the tines, were then placed on the tines on the comb fixed to the table, cut end in the tines and the end tip out in front. The free comb then combed the fibers until most of the fibres now clung to the free comb. What was left on the fixed comb was tangles which are removed. Deftly, switching angles, one combs the fibres again between the combs and the fibres attach back to the fixed comb (you had to be there).
A few passes between combs and the fibre is perfect and ready to be drawn through a diz (a button hole will do) so a long length of parallel fibres is created.
The lengths are made into soft nests, ready for spinning.
I know this sounds crazy, but honest to gawd, this is one of the most satisfying sensory experiences. Almost a saintly experience, spinning the ultimate perfect preparation. No wonder there were Guilds of people who just combed wool. And no wonder they had a patron saint. Try it. Life will never be the same.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Staying on top of the stash

Remember when I mentioned Priscilla-the fleece-less-sheep-who-lords-over-the-guest-bedroom-looking-for-her-fleece? Well, she can have it. I want to give it back. She can have it. She can have them all. Every fleece I have. What started with one fleece has turned into, umm, 8, no, err, ten or is it 12? And we aren't even counting the rovings, the batts, the bags of smaller batches, and yarn...well let's not even think about that. Well, it is too many fleeces and life is too short. Besides, too many fleeces can be way too daunting. How can one choose which one to spin when you have too many? Then there are the standards each fleece needs to meet: cleanliness; purity, colour; handle; crimp; etc. . The bar rises higher with each fleece added to the hoard. Each new fleece gives you more reasons not to use the older ones. But the new one is too precious to use. It should only be used for the special project that just calls for the perfect matching fleece. So each fleece gets added to the guest bedroom. It goes in but never comes out. 
[Photo: a pearl perfect Bluefaced
Leicester fleece - setting the bar]
I know all this but I think I have a plan to keep the fleeces going in but also coming out. I will, from now on, only buy the very best fleeces. This will mean each fleece is excellent, I will just have to match a fleece with a project. So, with that in mind, I just bought the most beautiful Bluefaced Leicester fleece from Lorrie on Saltspring Island. Bluefaced Leicester is silky, lustrous, springy and pearly. Yes, the plied yarn will resemble a string of pearls. You can see the pearls in the picture. This is a fleece that Priscilla-the fleece-less-sheep-who-lords-over-the-guest-bedroom-looking-for-her-fleece can't have.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Distaff Day 2013

It is that time of the year when all good spinners are called on to once again, pick up their spindles or get back to their wheels on the 12th day of Christmas. European tradition gives spinners the time off at the end of the year and the start of the new one. Distaff Day is the start of a new spinning year. Named after the spinners tool the distaff (think of a free standing hat stand, or a lamp stand without the lamp) which is used to hold the flax strands fanned out in a vertical oblong balloon shape. The distaff sits next to the spinner with the bottom ends of the flax strands about shoulder to waist height making is easy to pull the fibres from the balloon bunch and draft them into linen yarn.
the Tzuhalem Spinners and Weavers Guild once again hosted an excellent event. This year we were treated to a real distaff being used by a talented Brenda. It is hard to see in the photo but just below the fibre balloon and at elbow height is a small wooden ring around the distaff pole. Inside that ring is a grove holding a sponge which in turn holds the water used to dip your fingers (almost like the bowls of water at the entrance of churches) to keep the fibres damp as you spin them. Ingenious!
Brenda is part of the Linen Project, part of Transitions which aims to revive ancient skills and in the case of the Linen project, that means planting flax and processing it into linen. if you live in Victoria, BC check it out and get involved.
[Photo: Angel outside
St. Peter's Church] 
The whole day had a slightly spiritual feeling. The dipping of the fingers, the location St Peter's Church Hall and the site-- one of the most beautiful Gary Oak meadows which surrounds the church and hall. Truly a spiritual event for us spinners.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Knitting and the Art of War

Beginners lace scarf      
As I learn how to knit, I am beginning to see the art of knitting along the lines of Sun Tzu's ancient Chinese treatise The Art of War or some 'conquer-your-inner-fears' self-improvement book. Knitting can be a battle, it is 'knitting vs you' and you need to get past that to 'you, knitting'. So here are some of my 'knitting self-improvement/art of warfare' lessons:
  • Start with a plan.  Stick to it.
  • Know where you are. Use stitch markers. Use them often. 
  • Have a backup plan. Use a lifeline. Use it often. You WILL need to use it.
  • See the patterns within the pattern. 
  • See the pattern in your mind. See it with your mind.
  • Know your weaknesses. Recognize them to avoid them.
  • Know your stitches  Know their strengths. Know how to use them to your advantage.
I knit 3 inches in a month.  Then when I put my battle tactics into play, I was able to do another 53 inches in the last two weeks.  I am winning this war!

Monday, January 7, 2013

First post

The New Year was brought in by Miss 2012 going up in flames taking with her all our unwanted thoughts. We toasted her out and the new year in.
Kayakers ready for the rescue
Polar bear swimmers
This was followed (much later in the day) with the polar bear swim.
Meanwhile, in the fibre world, much holiday time was devoted to organizing fibre homework: samples spun, fibres blended, weighing and measuring blends of silk and mohair, writing up my notes for the Level 4 homework. The New Year fibre world is starting out in an organized manner. That should last a day or two.