Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Handy Tip and Door Prizes

I have a handy tip that I read in Threads Magazine. The tip was sent in by a reader and I thought it was a great one for storing not just any fabric but handwoven fabric. Purchase foam pipe insulation at the hardware store. I got mine at Home Depot. It comes in different lengths. I got a bag of four 3ft. lengths of insulation for a couple of dollars. The insulation is soft and cushy and has a pre-cut slit down the length of it. Tuck one edge of the fabric in the slit and roll. Nice and neat and light-weight. You can see the slit in the picture above if you look closely and the fabric is partially rolled around. If you are concerned about the foam affecting the fabric (I haven't heard of it happening but you never know) you can roll an acid-free tissue between the fabric and the pipe insulation. The insulation is easily trimmed to fit the width of the fabric too. I didn't trim it in the picture because I wanted to show the process. I apologize for not having the exact issue of Threads magazine the tip was published in. My magazines are all packed and in storage at the moment. I will try to find it online when I have a chance. I will also put a link to the magazine website in the Fiber Links column.
Now, about the door prizes. I have a bit of a story to tell leading up to the picture below so please hang in there for a moment. One of the fun things going on at the Spin-In I mentioned in a previous post was the lavish amount of door prizes given away. There was fiber and gift certificates and tools and all kinds of fun stuff. Not everyone gets a prize but many do. I was one of the fortunate ones and had my number called. Now, I have an uncomfortable confession to make here. I was disappointed for a flash of an instant when I was handed a stack of paper bags for my door prize. I did not see at first they were decorated. I thought there might be a gift certificate or something but the paper bags were the door prize. I realized almost instantly that it was silly to be disappointed as the door prizes are all in good fun. I did not go to the Spin-In for the door prizes and as I said, not everyone won one.
Someone decorated the bags and generously donated them to the Spin-In. As I was driving back to the park for the night, I decided that I needed to do something to turn around the brief moment of disappointment and to honor the gift. Sounds more noble than it is but can't think of another way to put it. We are moving and I am getting rid of things like this. It didn't feel right to just stick them in the recycle bin. I decided to select a skein of my handspun yarn for each bag. I am going to sell each bag and skein for a minimum donation of $10. I will then take all of the proceeds and donate them to an organization called which uses the donations to make micro-loans to impoverished entrepreneurs around the world. Many of them are women.
Below is a picture of the bags and skeins. Starting on the left is an Australian 54's wool roving that I hand painted and spun. The center is from Kathy Green's Potluck roving and is spun thick and thin. The right skein is a 3-ply wool spun from a Jacob's sheep fleece that I purchased at the Spin-In years and years ago. I am going to take them to the Whidbey guild meeting on May 1 to give them the first opportunity to purchase the bags. From there I will take it to the Skagit guild and if I still have anything left, I will put them up for sale online somehow, either through this blog or otherwise.

You never know when an opportunity to look outside yourself will be presented. This was one of my opportunities. I probably would have never thought of doing this 10 years ago. I guess there is hope for me yet!
So, that is my story for the week. I should have some things of interest to post after the Whidbey Weavers Guild meeting this week and then the Jane Stafford workshop later on in the month.
A big thanks to all of you who have either e-mailed me or left a comment. It is much appreciated. More to come, -Renee

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Snow Woman Weaver

I have to ask you all for an indulgence. You see, I grew up in an area that did not get snow so not only do I have fun when it does snow, I am not an expert snow-woman builder!
It is April 19th, my birthday weekend. I usually have lilac blooms for my birthday, not snow. Western Washington set a new record for a late snowfall. It was a heavy, wet, 5" plus snowfall and it packed into beautiful snowballs. I built this snow-woman weaver with the help of my dog Twill who enjoys playing in the snow as much as I do. Her eyes are buttons in the shape of yellow flowers. In her right hand is a high-whorl drop spindle and she is cradling a boat shuttle. In her left, she flourishes a handwoven bag. Her cap is a University of Oregon sun hat.

Here is a closer picture of her bag. She is leaning because the snow was wet and heavy. She actually fell over in the middle of the photo shoot!

Here is Twill sitting still enough for a photo and a shot of the drop spindle. Note the model like pose of the snow woman with "hips" jutting forward! We had a fun time throwing snow balls and romping in the snow before going inside for a cup of hot chocolate.
It was actually a perfect day to continue packing up my studio. Alas, it is time. For those who do not know yet, I am going to be moving in a few months. We will be moving down to Eugene Oregon so that I can get my MFA in Fibers. It will be a fun adventure. We will have a year to transition before I enroll and start the program. I will have a lot of fiber things to report and a new area to share so stay tuned!
I will still be spinning and will have a tapestry loom to weave on. The big AVL loom will be dismantled and stored for a time. I also have a lot of handwoven fabrics to make into various projects. Before I leave this area, I will have one more workshop with the Skagit Valley Weavers Guild to report on. The workshop will be given by Jane Stafford, one of my favorite weaving teachers.
Click on her name to see her website and I will add her to my Fiber Links.
Thanks for your indulgence. I couldn't resist sharing the snow photos. If anyone is looking to buy a house with a weaving studio loft on 5 acres that has easy access to I-5 in the Stanwood area, send me an e-mail!
Stay warm! -Renee

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Here we are at the Spin-In! I had a bit of catching up to do on the home front so this post got a bit delayed. For those readers who have no idea what a "Spin-In" is or what goes on at one, I offer the following explanation: A Spin-in is a gathering of spinners and other fiber enthusiasts for the purpose of exchanging ideas, shopping, tips, shopping, techniques, shopping, socializing with fellow spinners, and OK, I am going on about the shopping a bit much but for some of us, I am not too far from the truth. In addition to the above, the Spin-In features a guest speaker and teacher which, this year, was Judith MacKenzie McCuin.

The picture on the right isn't the best of quality. I find overhead florescent light a bit challenging. It gives you a partial view of the spinners looking out from the vendor area. My spinning wheel is lost somewhere in the middle there.
After the wonderful pre-Spin-In workshop I attended I had a good day of rest at Deception Pass state park with my husband and dog in our new travel trailer. You will be hearing about the trailer sometime down the road soon as it will be playing a large part in our future life. I got to the Spin-In ready for more spinning, learning, and yes, shopping! I spent most of the morning, after staking out my spot, browsing the vendor booths. We had a wonderful assortment of fibers, books, fleeces, and equipment to drool over and fondle, er... that is, to evaluate and consider.
The first day of the Spin-In was mostly time to spin, meet old friends and new, shop, and settle in for the afternoon presentation by Judith.
Not only is Judith a knowledgeable spinner, fiber artist, and rancher, she is an articulate and enthralling story teller. I could sit for hours spinning and listening to her stories of ranch life and her knowledge of fibers. The focus for the weekend was the wild fibers, particularly bison, yak, and cashmere. The following is a taste of what we learned. As before, any mistakes in facts are solely my own and not Judith's.
I should mention at this point that "bison" is the official or legal term for what we have called buffalo. Before the Europeans came to this continent, there were estimated to be about 70 million head of bison. The bison were systematically killed which took about 60 years and reduced the 70 million to about 500. Yes, that is five hundred. Today the bison have been brought back to about 150-200,000 head strong. I apologize that these sentences are a bit terse. I am trying to stick to the facts and leave the emotion and judgments for each individual to sort out themselves.
Judith is a firm believer in telling the truth of our fiber sources and I support this one hundred percent. To make good decisions in life, we need to know the truth and base those decisions on truth. The truth behind the bison fiber is that unlike sheep or cashmere, bison fiber is collected when the animal has been killed. The fiber is essentially a by-product of the bison meat industry.
The fiber we use for spinning is the undercoat and it is very soft and lovely. It is a short fiber like most undercoat fiber is and is best spun using the woolen technique. The yak and cashmere we spun on Sunday is also best spun using the woolen technique.
After Judith's lecture we had more time for spinning, shopping, and socializing before going home tired and happy.
Sunday was the workshop portion of the Spin-In. We were given fiber packets as part of our admission fee that contained yak, bison, and cashmere. Judith got us started on the bison and came to each group to demonstrate and hand out more fiber (de-pigmented yak the first time and a yak/silk blend the second time around).
A spinner named Elsie who was sitting next to me asked Judith what would be the best fiber to practice using the woolen spinning techniques and not be so costly as the wild fibers tend to be. Judith's prompt reply was cotton! As a predominantly worsted spinner, I took her advice and purchased some Pima cotton to practice on.
We left the Spin-In with enough spun fiber to knit up a scarf. As I don't knit, I will have to find another use but the resulting yarns are quite lovely. It was a very satisfying Spin-In for me and I am able to add new techniques and fibers to my spinning repertoire.
So, what treasures did I take home from the vendor booths? I am downsizing so I was very selective. Starting from the bottom center with the drop-spindle, I purchased it along with the mini niddy-noddy from The Bellwether. You can visit her website at
The drop spindle is made by the Bosworth's and is crafted from Bocote wood. It is a richly colored and patterned wood and the spindle spins like a dream. The fiber the spindle and noddy are resting on is baby camel and silk I purchased from Island Fibers on Lopez Island, WA. The mini niddy-noddy is also of Bocote wood and made in Winnipeg by Edward Tabachek. The lovely fiber at the top of the picture is Mongolian Cashmere dyed and sold by Sarah Anderson at Great Balls of Fiber. Her yarn is featured on the cover of the Spring 2008 issue of Spin Off magazine. The final fiber is Pima cotton I purchased from Island Fibers to practice spinning using the woolen technique. Who says practice fiber has to be yucky? The yarn will be used even if it isn't "perfect"!
So, that is the Spin-In! I want to say Hi to all the wonderful friends I met who kindly went out of the way to tell me they enjoy reading my blog. It is a treat to see you all in "real" time and I appreciate the comments, they inspire me to keep on blogging. I also want to say Hi to Diana who I got to meet in person after meeting through the blogosphere and will be popping over to her blog to see what she has written up.
Now, to get to work on spinning up some of those fibers! -Renee

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Judith MacKenzie McCuin Workshop-Part 2

I left off my last post with us spinning up the bamboo fiber into various yarns. After the bamboo, Judith brought out Tussah and Bombyx silk. Tussah silk is produced by silkworms in the wild and has a lovely honey color. Bombyx silk is bright white and comes from a domesticated silkworm that is bred in captivity to produce a cultivated silk. It is very smooth and lustrous. We spun both of these silks using a worsted* spinning technique. Generally speaking, the long smooth fibers such as silk are spun worsted while the short, crimpy fibers such as cashmere, yak, bison, and cotton, are spun using a woolen* spinning technique.
The silk is heavenly to spin. I love both the tussah and bombyx silks.
After the silks, Judith brought out the wild fibers; de-pigmented yak, yak and silk blend, and cashmere. The bison was saved for the Spin-In so stay tuned for that next post. We spun the yak and the cashmere using a woolen spinning technique. Now I have to do a bit of explaining here. I am a weaver not a knitter so I usually spin fibers using a worsted technique to make them smooth and strong for weaving. I am, or perhaps at this point I should say was, a worsted spinner. Or, as Judith says, a "recovering worsted spinner". The techniques are basically opposite. It took me a few tries to get the hang of spinning woolen but I must admit I am hooked. I love the idea of being able to spin any yarn for whatever my needs so I am very motivated to learn new-to-me techniques. I have spun woolen in the past, of course, but Judith gave such good techniques and pointers that I am now able to spin woolen comfortably and getting better with each woolen-spun yarn I make.
The silk in the yak and silk blend meant that the fiber spun best using the worsted spinning technique. I love the end results of this blend. The yarn is lustrous and smooth but has a halo of the yak fiber that makes it soft and warm. Lovely.
Our final spinning technique was to make an encasement yarn that was beaded. We learned how to add beads and decorative threads to make a stable and strong beaded yarn. This is what I cabled with the bamboo in the first picture of the previous post. The picture below is one of my classmates spinning her encased beaded yarn. Totally fun and addicting!
I am going to finish this post with a few of the tips and websites that Judith gave us.
Silk and other fine fibers can catch on rough hands. I know my hands are always rough due to all the activities I do. If you rub lemon juice on your hands and let it dry it will make them smooth for quite a while. There was a lotion she recommended but after reading the ingredients, I didn't write it down. I have chemical sensitivities and avoid certain ingredients. It is nothing alarming, most lotions have the particular ingredient that I avoid in them.
One important spinning tip, Judith rarely "spins from the fold". This involves taking a length of fiber and folding it over your finger and spinning from that fold. Judith feels that this decreases the luster of the yarn and makes it difficult to spin it absolutely even as the fibers enter the yarn from different angles. I happen to agree with her. The first time I have ever spun from the fold was in her workshop to see the difference for myself!
I haven't had a chance to check out the websites she mentioned but I will list them here then put them in my Fiber Links section when I have had a chance to look at them.
Peace of Yarn
Textura (beads)
That is my report on the workshop. Tomorrow I will post on day one of the Spin-In. I will also show off the few treasures I purchased and pictures of spinning friends. Stay tuned! -Renee
*see glossary

Monday, April 7, 2008

Bamboo, Beads, and Boucle: Judith MacKenzie McCuin Workshop-Part 1

Wow, it has been quite a whirl (or should I say whorl?) of learning and excitement for me the past five days. The annual Whidbey Weavers Guild Spin-In has been spun and I am back home trying to catch up on all of the mundane chores. I am still a bit fuzzy-headed but please hang in there and I will do my best to describe the past five days.
I had the privilege of attending a pre-Spin-In workshop with Judith MacKenzie McCuin. The subject of the workshop was spinning what are called "reconstructed cellulosics" such as soy silk yarns, latte, and bamboo. Tencel(TM) and rayon fall into this category as well. In fact, pretty much any manufactured fiber or yarn made from cellulose materials are considered reconstructed cellulosics. In addition to spinning with bamboo and the like, we learned how to make a boucle* yarn and how to add beads to our spinning. The picture above is my final yarn from the workshop. It is a bamboo fiber yarn spun marled*, thick and thin, boucled, and then cabled with an encased beaded yarn. Phew! That was the workshop in a nutshell. Of course I won't leave you hanging there. I will go into a bit of the incredible detail that Judith provided us. Before I start, I want to note that any errors in information are solely my own and are not Judith's. If you find some mis-information, please make a comment and I will verify and correct it!
After going around the circle with each of us answering the question, "what do you want to learn from this workshop?" Judith pulled out four beautifully dyed balls of bamboo top* and put them on the floor in the middle of our circle for us to admire while she told us about how such fiber is manufactured.
We generally think of bamboo as being a "green" product as it grows abundantly with little or no pesticides or fertilizers needed. Many of the "green" houses tout sustainably harvested bamboo floors. Bamboo fiber for spinning and yarns uses the waste materials from the floor making process. In this, the fiber has some "green" qualities. We soon learned that the process for making the bamboo and other manufactured cellulosic yarns and spinning fibers is anything but green.
To summarize what Judith told us based on her research, bamboo fiber is made by putting the bamboo bits and pieces into a chopper to grind it all up. The pulp is dissolved in a hydrosulphite solution, in other words, lye. Formaldehyde and another chemical is added to the liquid to gel it so that it can be extruded into a fiber. The fiber is usually extruded into a sulfuric acid bath and can be made into any desired shape, luster, or other qualities.
Most of the reconstructed cellulosics are produced overseas in China and Europe. Environmental controls are different and the fiber is definitely not local.
From what I understood of what Judith was telling us, legally any reconstructed cellulosic fiber is considered rayon no matter what its cellulose source. This means that technically bamboo is rayon.
One exception to the overseas production is Tencel(TM) which is produced here in the U.S. under stricter environmental standards. Tencel(TM) is a brand name of one type of rayon.
We were lucky to get to spin dyed bamboo top. Judith mentioned that bamboo is very difficult to dye satisfactory, particularly in its un-spun state. I have a bit of "natural" colored bamboo. I think I will spin it and try out the natural dyes on it.
Speaking of spinning, I am not sure I really like spinning with bamboo. It is slippery which can be dealt with but the weight of it in the fiber bundle kept pulling it out from the bottom of my hand and would "drip" onto the floor. Very annoying. If I held it too tight to compensate, it would get all tangled up in my hot little hand.
We had an assignment when she turned us loose to spin. We spun the bamboo worsted* and spun a thin two-ply, and a thick 2-ply yarn. We made a marled* yarn, a slub yarn (thick and thin), and we cabled* a yarn using decorative sewing threads as binders.
From there we went on to boucled yarns and got to try our hand at silk, yak, and cashmere. I will talk about those in the next post. Stay tuned for Part 2 and then on to the Spin-In! -Renee

*see glossary