Monday, May 28, 2012

An embarrassment of riches

Earlier this year, my husband was visiting a childhood (or maybe tweenhood is the better word?) friend of his in Northampton, MA. When he came back, he told me that this friend said we should come back to the area for the Massachusetts Sheep and Wool show in May, and would I like to go? I don't mean to brag, but having a husband who finds sheep and wool shows for me to go to is pretty rad.

So this past weekend, we went! We went on Saturday with my husband's friend and her family. Then we went again on Sunday with fellow blogger Emily and her family. Sunday evening after the festival we went for dinner and drinks at the Dirty Truth, along with a dear friend of mine, from my days as a NYC public high school teacher, and her siblings. I really felt extremely fortunate to spend my weekend with so many fantastic people and such vibrant families. Isn't that what it's all about? The fact that the timing worked out to see everyone I wanted to see was remarkable. And all this for a a wool festival!

Massachusetts Sheep and Wool is not nearly at the scale of Rhinebeck or Maryland, but that's actually not a bad thing at all. There was no traffic, there was no shoving through barns and booths, you could find a seat in the shade easily, the events were really great, and there was no shortage of shopping to be done. This was the first festival I'd been to with competitive sheep dog trials, which my husband especially enjoyed. There was also the Lead Line Pageant, which is basically the same as the Shepherd's Lead at Maryland, the simultaneous fashion show/sheep show that's always a highlight for me. They had contests like Fleece to Shawl, and some speed/knitting contests that I'd like to be a part of at some future festival. This festival also had more angora rabbits than I feel like I've seen before. I fell deeply in love with a gray bunny with blue eyes, whom you can meet in the photo montage below.

I also loved this especially compact bunny that can fit in any narrow space in your home. Very convenient.

It seems I fall in love a lot at wool festivals. That's part of the point of going, I suppose. I'm always interested in checking out new tools, so I tried a couple of spinning wheels. I haven't really had this experience before with a spinning wheel-- I actually bought mine without having tried it out-- but when I tried the Spinolution Mach III, I had this experience:

I really can't help that Wayne's World is a big cultural touchstone for me, but it is. Anyway, I have heretofore decided that no more money will be spent on spindles, and I'm going to start saving my pennies for that. You know, after this weekend. Because when there's a sheep and wool festival, there's some shopping.
The yarn and combed top are from Play At Life Fiber Arts. The gradient sock yarn is pre-wound into two matching cakes, which will make fantastic socks for my mom. The fiber--it's Polwarth-- really surprised me. It's tough to win me over on pastels, but I think this will be really fun to spin into a gradient yarn. The colors are a little bit acidic even though they are so light, which is what made this special to me. The batts are from KnittinK, and the very lovely spindle that coordinates well with them is a Forrester Dervish in sapele and yellowheart with a cherry shaft.

A great weekend indeed, and so fantastic to have seen both my fellow bloggers at festivals this month before I ship out. Two festivals in one month is truly an embarrassment of riches, and now I just wonder when or where my next festival will be?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A fun new spinning device!

At the end of June, I'm leaving New York and living out of a suitcase in various locations until January 2013, when I'll be settling down in Bloomington, Indiana. This is all for reasons related to my husband's employment situation. It's a little crazy, I'll likely be out of work for a somewhat distressingly long time, but I'm actually really looking forward to it.

Except for one problem: six months without my spinning wheel?!?! This is really silly, I know, but I love my spinning wheel and our time together. Spindles don't quite approximate the same experience, for the same reason that rigid heddle weaving doesn't compare to weaving with a floor loom to me. There's something about the whole body coordination of it that makes it such an enjoyable experience for me. It makes me think I should probably take some dance classes.

The good news is that I've come up with what I think is a great solution. Enter the kick spindle. This one is made by Jim Echter at True Creations, and let me tell you, it's fun and truly delightful. It packs up to be quite flat and fits in a suitcase very easily. There's a (beloved) Vanilla Coke Zero can in the photo for scale.
(When I purchased the kick spindle, it came unfinished. That's my own work with tung oil-- thanks, Jenny Jo!-- and wood beams to bring out the lovely cherry color.)

It very quickly sets up to look like this:
How to spin on it? Well, it's similar to spinning on a charkha, supported spindle, or a great wheel in that you're spinning off the tip of the spindle, at roughly a 45 degree angle from the spindle, so that the twist goes into the fiber and leaves the yarn already packed onto the spindle intact. Since your foot is making the wheel spin--the part you "kick" is the shaft below the big flywheel-- you have both hands free to draft however you like. A leader is pretty much necessary to get things started.
I forgot to get a photo of the unspun fiber, but I had a little sample from someplace or another, and I spun up a third of it into a wee little cop on the spindle. I'm looking forward to seeing how much I can pack on there.
Here are the three plies of my sample yarn, wound onto mini tennis balls (meant for mini dogs, but great for holding singles waiting to be plied).
I could have plied on the kick spindle, just by kicking in the opposite direction, but I called on one of my drop spindles for the task.
A little sample skein is born! This is a three ply, and I didn't measure the wraps per inch, but by eyeballing it, it looks like a heavy fingering weight to me.
No doubt you'll see more products from this very cool new toy in the next six months. Is there anyone else who, like me, enjoys involving both hands and feet in the creative process? Am I just a dancer in denial? I've always been wary of sheep shearing, but maybe I should give it a try, since that's clearly a whole body experience...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Maryland Sheep and Wool Roundup!

Maryland Sheep and Wool! It's awesome, as always. This year I went with Jenny Jo and another friend, Tracy. We bought things, we ate things, we watched things. One of the highlights for me this year was trying some new tools, in particular spinning wheels and accessories. I fell rather in love with the Pocket Wheel, and I was sorely tempted by the Woolee Winder, a spinning wheel accessory that winds the yarn evenly onto the bobbin, allowing you to spin without having to stop and adjust how the yarn is winding onto the bobbin. It means you can just spin, spin, spin, only having to stop to sip your adult beverage of choice. I was also very charmed by this antique loom that functions similarly to the inkle loom I was smitten by at Rhinebeck last year.
There are animals to pet, of course. I discovered I really love Karakul sheep.
And sheepdogs.
And tap dancing puppets. I love these.
And shopping! Let's have a look-see at my haul.
There's two bullseye bumps from Loop, one from Spinabit (the camera can't capture the electricity of the blue, but I assure you, it's there, the stuff unicorn dreams are made of), a set of three from Hobbledehoy, a skein of yarn from Marigold Jen, and one from Miss Babs. If that last skein seems a little out of my color story, which may best be classified as "loud," it's because that skein is for husband socks, whose color story could best be classified as "light blue."
Plus I had to buy a spindle. The gorgeous spindle is made of Karelian birch and is a Bosworth. I love everything! I regret nothing!
The other big huge new thing is that Jenny Jo and I picked out a fleece to split between the two of us. This is the first time either of us have taken such a big step in our spinning careers. I honestly have no intention of doing any of the processing of my half, and will happily ship it off so someone else can do the dirty work. It's a naturally colored merino fleece in an amazing gray from a sheep named Emma. Depending on what the finished fiber yield is from my half of the 7.5 pounds, I hope to make enough yarn for a vest or sweater. So exciting!