At the Still Point of the Turning World
Residency is over, NOW what? (While I'm waiting for the answer, I'll get some spinning done....)

Monday, November 03, 2003


I know it seems like I've been talking about SOAR forever, but I also know there's a significant minority out there who have been asking "Where are the PHOTOS????"

Here they are:


Earlier, I showed you my knitted swatches from this three-day workshop with Judith MacKenzie and Nancy Bush, but here they are again, washed and blocked, and in (somewhat) better light:

Please go to see Valerie's wonderful workshop swatches, and read her thoughtful description of traditional Estonian construction techniques for lace stoles and shawls.

The two mini-skeins in the photo are of my handspun yarn. The skein on the right is a 2-ply spun using semi-woolen technique from a white Rambouillet roving. The skein on the left is a singles yarn spun from fine wool top using a true worsted spinning technique. These are the finest yarns I've ever spun, and completely sound, that's the amazing part--no weak spots, no unstable slubs. Judith taught me so much about fine lace spinning, including the following tips:

1. When spinning worsted from combed top, do not strip the roving into smaller portions prior to spinning. Dividing top disrupts the parallel alignment of the fibers in the top, which compromises a true worsted yarn. Even attenuating, or predrafting, top can disrupt the parallel alignment of fiber. Even though the idea of spinning from a big chunk of compact top is daunting to those of us used to predrafting, Judith showed us that you really can get a fine, fine yarn from that selfsame chunk if you use the correct technique.

2. To make fibers draft easier from a compact top, felt the outermost layers of fiber lightly by rubbing the top vigorously between your prewetted palms. This technique made many of us in the workshop gasp with horror--"Felt my top???"--but the truth is, you're not really felting the fibers, just compacting the outer layer of top so that the inner fibers have a firmer surface to slide against. This helps control the number of fibers going into your drafting zone, so that you get a consistent, and fine, diameter yarn.

3. Now here's the most revolutionary concept, at least in my eyes: If you want to spin finer, decrease the take-up on your wheel. Of course, I'd understood the necessity of adjusting the take-up on a wheel before, but Judith explained that we are all have a pre-determined rate of drafting and treadling, so you can't really make yourself treadle or draft much faster or much more slowly than your usual rate for a very long time. Therefore, if you try to adjust these variables to make your yarn finer or bulkier, you won't be able to maintain the adjustments throughout the spinning process. Since you can't change the way your body works (i.e. treadling or drafting rate), you have to change the way your wheel works (i.e. take-up tension) to get a fine or bulky yarn. Duh!

4. When in doubt, bring a knitted rat along with you. This little fellow accompanies Judith to every workshop she teaches, and every year, I am told, his outfit gets a bit more elaborate.


You know, one day I'm going to be such an experienced spinner that the prospect of a spinner's market will not induce me to salivate and froth at the mouth. There are just such spinners at SOAR, the real veterans who have been attending every year since the 1980s, who have spun everything under the sun and maybe some exotic fibers from galaxies far, far away--and they wander around the Market with a look of mild interest, and walk out with only one small bag of fiber.

Not me.

Now, I haven't taken a good photo of my loot yet, but it includes the following: 900grams of variegated Polwarth/mohair roving, a sampler niddy-noddy in Madagascar ebony, and a whole bunch of Crosspatch Creations from Carolina Homespun. Morgaine Wilder of CH had a terrible experience prior to SOAR: her rental truck containing all of her inventory for the Market was stolen outside her hotel midway on her drive from Rhinebeck to SOAR. The police eventually recovered the truck, but not the inventory, which included a dozen wheels, tons of fiber, and the very much in demand freeze-dried indigo, which was the subject of one of the retreat sessions. The inventory was insured, but the idea of losing the work of so many fiber artists--Crosspatch Creations and Jonathan Bosworth among them--was a real blow to Morgaine. If you're in the market for any spinning supplies, consider ordering from Carolina Homespun, and show your support.

Anyway, here's a few links to scenes from the Market to tide you over until I get the loot unpacked at home:

Winsome Timbers saxony wheels--the Serena and the Patience.
A burst of color at Bonkers.
A wonderful array of spinning tools from Woodchuck Products.

Meanwhile, just down the hall, the SOAR Gallery was open, so I went to visit an old friend:

Yes, the Vivid and Continuous Cardigan was there, suspended from a hanger on the wall, and titled "Mom's Sweater." Here's a close-up:

(Can I tell you how tickled I was when Lynne Vogel, the Twisted Sister herself, came up and complimented me on the colors in the VCD cardi?)

Of course there was more to the Gallery and to the Market, but I didn't photograph all of it. I'm more of an absorber than a photographer. I keep hoping I'll change, but it hasn't happened after 35 years....


After the marathon three-day workshop, we threw ourselves headlong into the Retreat session, which consists of four half-day classes. The hardest part was choosing which classes to attend--this was partly determined by an elaborate sign-up process, partly by desire--but I knew well in advance that I'd want to take Elaine's rug-hooking class. I always enjoy reading what Elaine is up to on her blog, and when she took up rug-hooking a while ago, I thought "Aha! That looks very me." Well, I think it just might be me after all.

Unfortunately, you can't quite tell by my first rug-hooking attempt:

You can see I was flying by the seat of my pants, just playing with geometric shapes and the great colors of yarn Elaine dyed just for this class. We worked with both yarn and unspun roving in our samples--you can see the untrimmed ends in the photo. So much fun--and probably another retail outlet for you-know-who.

After lunch, I went to Kathryn Alexander's class entitled "Knitted Story Board: Arranging Short-Row Shapes for Sweaters." Many of you will remember that I was violently ill during Kathryn's three-day class at last year's SOAR. The etiology of the gastrointestinal attack is unknown, but I suspected a combination of mild altitude sickness and psychological overwhelm at attempting to use Kathryn's complicated knitting techniques. I had a moment of deja vu during this year's Retreat session as I tried to tackle entrelac. I failed, obviously, because I have no entrelac to show you, only the sad little worm of I-cord with an attached short-row triangle you see below. At least I got to work with the delicious spicy palette of colors in the yarn samples Kathryn dyed for the class:

Next year, I will tackle Kathryn's knitting and WIN.


Some experienced SOARers elect to take only two or three Retreat classes, to maximize free time and to avoid overwhelm. Not me. After a year of anticipation and planning, starting the day after I left last year's SOAR, I was going to do it ALL.

By Day 6, people were starting to look a bit crispy around the edges, but ten of us showed up for Carol Rhoades' morning session on handcarding. I hadn't planned to take her class, but I'd read her article in SOAR about a year ago and decided it was time for me to learn better technique--or any technique, for that matter. Carol was kind enough to loan me some Schact wool cards, with which I produced these:

On the left, from bottom to top: light grey Romney, medium grey Polwarth blended with teal and pink silk, white Corriedale, brown and white Corriedale, white Merino, medium grey Polwarth blended with red merino/tencel, and white Mohair. To the right are two cotton and one camel down punis. After Carol walked us through the first rolag, I held it in the palm of my hand in wonder. Preparing fiber sounds like such drudgery if you listen to people gripe about it, but is really an amazing task in an of itself.

In the afternoon, I opened up my wheel for the first time in two days to get busy at Lynne Vogel's class, "Hands on Color: Spinning with Handpainted Roving." Lynne showed us how to divide rovings to achieve the following effects:

The coil of roving at the bottom of the photo was my primary colorway, a subtle blend of canteloupe, sky blue, mauve and adobe rose and apricot. The butterflies to the right of this roving are a solid canteloupe, spun from the fold after the canteloupe color had been separated from the rest of the roving, and a heathered blend of canteloupe and mauve, also spun from a fold of fiber containing those two colors. To the right of the roving is a plied yarn spun from two strips of roving held together so that different colors lay side by side as the fiber entered the twist, resulting in a complex blending of all the colors in the roving. Below the roving is a small skein in which each of the colors appears sequentially as a solid, not blended with the other colors. This was especially hard to achieve from handpainted roving; you have to divide a strip of roving very carefully in half, to achieve an exact lining up of colors in a plied yarn. I had some overlap of sky blue and canteloupe in my sample, but the colors were so close in value that it is hard to see in the photo.

The upper skeins represent a combination of the main colorway with each of the two colorways shown in roving form next to the sample skein. To achieve these yarns, I predrafted a strip of the main colorway with a strip of the second colorway and spun them together, then plied. The subtle colors of the main colorway softened the bold reds of the second colorway in the upper left-hand skein, whereas the same main colorway brightened the darker portions of in the second colorway in the upper right-hand skein. It would be interesting to use these three skeins (detail) in the same project, so see how the main colorway pulls all three yarns together.

And that's the cream of the crop, photo-wise. The cream of SOAR, however, is still rising to the top. Already I'm planning a return trip to next year's retreat, and dreaming of Gallery projects inspired by the classes I took. If only college had been like this!

But first, I have to get home. After a long trip, you begin to long for the feel of familiar sheets, the contents of your own eccentric pantry, the rapturous reunion with your fiber stash, not to mention your Beloved Cats. Tomorrow, Mom, my stepdad, the Peke and I board a plane home, and I'll be ready. That's the hallmark of a good vacation: when it's time to go home, you have no regrets about what you might have done, what you could have seen. You've already seen and done everything you came to see and do, and that's exactly how I feel.