26 February 14

Orcas Island, Again

Spinning Room on Orcas I just returned from a spinning retreat on Orcas Island. I’ve been before two years ago; it’s a week of full-immersion spinning, fiber preparation, dyeing, and enjoying bald eagles fly over your cabin. This year I traveled with a friend from our new spinning guild in Davis by car, which was a luxury because I could take a lot more than I had before.

camel merino silk This week was supposed to be Sheep, Then and Now, but since we started off spinning camel it was obviously going to be a journey through whatever is getting Judith Mackenzie excited then and now, which is probably just as useful if not more so. I love fiber people — they are so generous with their knowledge and share everything they know. Judith lost everything in her studio to a fire about 18 months ago, including numerous wheels and looms and priceless bison fiber, but she’s a tough cookie and manages, somehow, to look on the bright side of this.

Marvin the Shetland sheep We learned to spin yak. We learned to make bouclé and hazed yarns. We learned how to spin a fat merino-silk single and stabilize it, then we hand-painted it. We were visited on the final morning by a diminutive Shetland sheep called Marvin. (He really is small, much smaller than normal Shetlands.)

Lord of the Rings shawl On the way there and back we stayed with some lovely people, the first of whom had a replica Lord of The Rings shawl made with Gotland wool. Road trips with a fiber bent are new to me and I’m revved up and excited to share what I learned with friends. Oh, and I want a loom. I’m not buying yarn this year — I have so much already and I’m spinning more — but I have such a craving for a loom. Too bad we can’t fit one into this little house…

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7 October 13

Spinning Update

The past few weeks have been devoted to getting ready for Lambtown, a small festival celebrating sheep held annually in Dixon, California. It used to be held in July, when it was hot. It was hot this weekend too, but just in the mid-80s. Not too hot, but lots of flies…

The featured breed this year was Shetland. The Davis Spinners Guild planned a display about Shetland sheep. We bought two fleeces at the Spinning at the Winery event in June in Livermore, one dual-coated white, one black. We divided up the raw fleece among members then we all washed, prepared and spun the various fibers we had. Some of us even went ahead and knit or crocheted what we’d spun.

Shetland shawl I have never entered my work in a fair competitively but I was worried there wouldn’t be any entries for the Shetland category we’d worked hard to have recognized, so I spun and knit a lace shawlette with the darker (much softer) Shetland and made a handspun tam, stranded with the different colors in the purchased Shetland roving. I also entered two skeins of Shetland yarn I’d spun.

Spinning contest ! Pushing me way out of my comfort zone was the spinning contest, where we had to spin blindfolded, then with gloves, then in pairs (one person treadles, the other person drafts). The yarn design (use at least four different fibers, make sure you ply your yarn) was very challenging but surprisingly fun (although not for one of the participants, who practically had a nervous breakdown in the middle of it all). The last event was to take three colors of roving, spin them so that when plied each color repeat is no longer than 18”, make sure there are at least three full repeats.

Shetland tam With the linen spinning class I took on Saturday morning (red badge of courage, impaled myself on a linen hackle, below right) and my other volunteer duties, I didn’t get to see much else of Lambtown. But I understand it was very successful. I came home with half a huge Romney fleece, some silk alpaca, some yarn, some more bobbins, and some blue ribbons.

Stephenie Gaustad with linen hackle This week is Spinzilla, where we’re supposed to spin as much as we can. I won’t be spinning competitively. I’m working all week and have stuff on almost every night. But I’m working on it. Two pounds of Jacob roving not prepared by me. Diego Cat comes running the second I sit at the wheel and settles in.

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29 May 13

Spinning at the FARM

Last week there were three Farm-to-School trips out to FARM 2.6, where we have a dye garden. (We’re also growing flax but it seems like we’re mostly growing Bermuda grass, so we may abort the flax for this year.)

I’m not very comfortable around children, but I volunteered to come over and show the kids the dye garden, help them dye their silk bookmarks in solar-cooked plant dyes, and show them some spinning. The one day I volunteered for turned into three; three different age groups, learning about where their food comes from. Not just food: This was also an opportunity to teach them about the principles of Fibershed.

We had a great time. I sang the spinning song in French for them (well, for two of the classes; for the César Chávez Spanish immersion group, I told them about spinning in Spanish). They asked intelligent questions and seemed truly interested. It was fun.

I joined my friends Vera and Jen on a trip to the Spinning at the Winery event in Livermore on Saturday for a change of pace. We all somehow ended up with Tibetan support spindles. Here’s mine, with a cop of pure pygora — it’s a tricky little instrument, but fun to learn on. Trying to think of a name for it.

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20 February 13

It's Lambing Season

Jacob ewe and lambs I went over to Meridian Jacobs this afternoon to sketch the first of this year’s lambs, which were born last night. Their mothers were very wary of me and stamped the ground, but I sat on a bucket quietly and made no sudden movements, and they settled down and started eating or just resting.

Jacob ewe and lambs Robin had put fresh straw out in all the indoor pens and the sheep were all comfortable and snug. It’s astonishing that creatures not yet 24 hours old think it’s an appropriate thing to do to jump vertically, because they were all trying it, the lambs. Their suckling isn’t very vigorous yet but they have the tail waggle down for sure.

Jacob lamb Three sets of twins… lots more ewes will be lambing over the coming days. Robin’s going to be busy. Glad I got the chance to head over there and sit quietly…

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5 December 12

An Adventure in Felting

Felted slippers At the Fibershed Symposium in November I was entranced by Some felt at Robin Lynde’s booth: the surface was unmixed, unsorted pieces of a Jacob fleece. I was having visions of making myself a jacket from this beautiful fabric.

When you process wool there can be a lot of waste. I don’t like to throw away my drumcarding or combing waste, but up till now have just been hanging on to it. Well, a wet felting session over at FARM 2.6 gave me the perfect opportunity to try out the technique on a small scale.

We made a resist for slippers using boots as a template (felting shrinks the wool considerably, so rubber boots are a good model). I made these slippers for Numenius using Suffolk as the first two layers and ending up with Jacob on the surface.

Felting is a lot of work and requires some upper-body strength! I decided to add to the punishment by kneading some sour dough afterwards last night…

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27 February 12

Back from the San Juans

Tip of Orcas Island from Ferry I spent last week on Orcas Island in Washington at a spinning retreat with Judith Mackenzie McCuin, one of the world’s most famous spinners. And certainly one of its best teachers.

Fine fiber spun samples What I learned, among other things:

1. Not to be afraid of qiviut.
2. That the reason I’ve had so much trouble with my cable plying is because I’ve spun the singles normally, which for me includes a lot of twist. Underspinning and overplying result in perfect cableplied yarn. When this involves bison, it’s a bit unicornish.
3. Almost any lichen will make a dye, not needing a mordant. Almost all the colors are like compost, though. For people with pink skin and white hair, this is a disappointment.
4. JMM and I share a bewilderment at the Canadian obsession with the Queen.
5. Angora bunny is held to have curative properties such as an ability to alleviate arthritis pain, and that it’s REALLY warm. I don’t think it’s as warm as qiviut, though.
6. Spinning flax with spittle is better at breaking down pectins than spinning it with straight water. Break them down further by boiling in Tide.
7. To spin semi-woolen. OMG. The possibilities.
8. That bald eagle courtship happens in late February in the San Juan Islands.
9. That spinning cotton straight from the seed isn’t just possible, it’s easy, no super-fast flyer required. I’m going to try and get all kinds of cotton bolls from now on. We’re planting cotton later this spring at Farm 2.6. Cotton grows in many natural colors.
10. Cross-plying pygora onto reclaimed cashmere yields a yarn of unimaginable luxury and makes the pygora go oh so much further. Pygora, a cross between African pygmy goats and angora goats (the cashmere ones), is the world’s newest fiber animal.
11. One load of laundry from a week’s worth of exotic fiber spinning will yield enough dingleberries for a large tweed sweater.

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17 November 11

Shearing Day Coming Up

I’ll be helping out on Saturday at Meridian Jacobs for Shearing Day, which is an intense but lovely transformation of shaggy, probably soggy-tipped (it’s going to rain tomorrow) gray animals into piebald fairy creatures. Apart from a couple of them which are a prized lilac color; a lilac fleece may well come home with me.

Just learned about In Sheep’s Clothing, a short silent film from 1932 about gathering in Shetland sheep, rooing their fleeces (primitive breeds like Shetlands shed their fleeces and can be plucked, or rooed), spinning and knitting fair isle sweaters. It was a sunny day — wonder how long they waited for that — and despite the well-combed hair and smiling faces the crofter’s life was obviously VERY hard. (Still photos from the Shetland Museum archives can be found here.)

This all goes well with my nightly sheep study (I got a copy of Carol Ekarius and Deb Robson’s Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, which has me counting sheep at night.)

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31 October 11


batts from sheeps wool I’ve been using my new drum carder. A LOT.

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17 September 11


Numenius just got back from a conference last night, an open source GIS extravaganza in Denver where he also managed to take in a Giants game against the Rockies, where Pablo Sandoval hit for the cycle. (Non-baseball fans, that means he hit a single, a double, a triple and a home run all in the same game. It’s difficult. It’s unusual. It’s only the 25th time a Giant — in San Francisco or New York — has done it, ever, in over 100 years of Giants baseball.)

I took the opportunity of his absence to face the music. With a couple of supportive friends sitting on the floor with me, I got out my yarn stash. All of it. From under the bed and in the closet and in the bins under the computer table.

I have less of it now, including things I bought with no clear project in mind. Given that my goal is eventually to spin all the yarn I knit, now seems like a good time to stop buying yarn, wouldn’t you say? I hereby commit to buying no more yarn until at least the spring equinox. There. It’s not like I’ll run out by then…

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3 July 11

Our Local Fibershed

I went over to Robin’s this morning to talk about her Jacob sheep display for the upcoming State Fair. While I was there I noticed the beautiful Fibershed map on the wall. This features a map of wool, cotton and other fiber producers within about 100 miles of San Francisco and notes whether they are dyers, weavers, and so on.

Jacob yarn dyed with pink hollyhocks I conducted my first natural dye experiment on Thursday, and was enthusing to Robin about it. She pointed me to Rebecca Burgess’ new book, Harvesting Color, a treasure in itself but one that strongly encourages use of local plants for dyes (and, even better, INVASIVE ones: French broom, here I come). I’d still like to plant a dye garden, though, that would include indigo and madder and coreopsis and marigolds and sunflowers. Don’t need any coyote brush though, we already have that!!

Foxfiber is a grower of organic cotton up in the Capay Valley, definitely on my list of places to visit in any Fibershed tour.

jacob britch singles It’s the Tour de Fleece. I’m spinning my first fleece, one of Robin’s Jacobs, a ewe named Summer (how appropriate). It’s 101 degrees outside. Spinning is cooler than knitting, people…

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