Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Fiber Dreamland--Picture Heavy Post!

Another highlight of my summer was our local spinning group's (The Ewes) annual summer retreat with the incredible Judith MacKenzie McCuin. We hire her to come be our teacher for a very small retreat of her and 11 students.  We spent 4 nights at the idyllic Siltcoos Station, which is owned by Lane Community College and which you can rent for educational purposes.
Siltcoos is a big lake (complete with a Lake Monster named Silly--though some think it's Nessie come halfway around the world through secretive means)

We each cooked only a meal or two which left plenty of time for fiber exploration.
Our theme this year was "Yarn Design." Judith helped each of us with individual questions, and in her amazing way taught us so much without it ever feeling like a "class." 

We learned about different plying techniques, techniques for spinning different types of fiber, matching commercial or previously spun yarns, sampling to get the yarn you want instead of the one you make by default, and a lot about dying with Judith's pretty much non-toxic Mother MacKenzie's Miracle Dyes.
She was so much fun to work with! She sprinkles in all kinds of stories, tales and historical/anthropological information as she teaches. Nothing seems to phase her. I can do things with her nearby that seem impossible on my own (though I know theoretically that they're not since I DID manage them at least once). "Be calm," she says if things go awry, because she always can find a way out of the trouble. This was my first time being able to attend (note the 11 person limit) and I now see why so many Ewes plan their summers around this event!


One of the neatest things we did was learn about the renaissance of sericulture (silk production) in Kenya. One of the Ewes, Gwen (that's not her), has been making long visits to Kenya for many years now, and she brought back pictures of the sericulture revival as well as a whole bunch of "seconds" cocoons. 
We cut the silk worms (who were done in through non-toxic baking in big clay ovens) out of cocoons and de-gummed them (the cocoons that is--I took the crunchy worms to my friends' chickens later that week) in a bath of hot water and baking soda. At first the smell was a bit nasty, but after awhile it kind of grew on me.  A few we spread out as an experimental silk hankie. 

The rest we dyed with Judith's dyes 
and learned how to spin straight from the cocoons on our wheels.

It makes thread-like "yarn," and I doubt I will ever have the patience to spin enough to actually make a useful item from them, but it certainly is beautiful. 

I think mine (which I wrapped around a nostepinde and is only about an inch tall but must have at least 25  yards of "yarn")
 looks like a hummingbird nest.

My other favorite activity was using the enormous electric carders which Judith's husband Nick makes.
They are about two feet wide and have motors
 strong enough to run an outboard boat engine. I joked to one of the Ewes, Renee, whose husband loves to fish, that they could run their boat with her carder so they would both have something they loved to do out on the water!  
As the carders are so sturdy and big, they are pretty durned expensive, but I got so much fleece carded that I don't think I'll need to card for quite awhile longer.

Hempsy-Woolsy and Rugby-Bear both accompanied me to the retreat and had a lovely time. We saw bear scat in the driveway, but luckily they were the only bears we met in "person."  They're still napping a lot to recover from all the excitement.

So, if you want me to come visit you next summer, it had better not be in the second half of July, because I'll be planning my summers differently now myself! 

Be calm.


Molasses said...

Roll the Fat! Love the view! We'll sea when we rock Honeyman in Sept! Hempsie saz the Lasagna was a tad dry, but she's going again! Knit on!!
Cheers, 'olasses

bigyarnmama said...

WOW! What a summer you are having. I wish I could be there doing any of those things with you! I started working full time and love my job but I do miss my fiber. I'm hoping to get some dying done this month when Jamie takes the kids to Cuttyhunk so I have fiber ready when the kids get back to school. We miss you guys!

Mel said...

A hummingbird would be very happy to have that nest! The colours are beautiful!