It’s been about a month since I went to the spinning retreat/workshop on Orcas Island with 2 friends from the valley. I had missed the last 2 years so it was great to be back with Judith MacKenzie as our excellent teacher and mentor, and an interesting group of women. There were some familiar faces, and some new ones as well – one group of 4 came all the way from Indiana!
The theme this year was “Wit, Wisdom & Wool” but basically it was trip around the world to explore various fibers. A lot of these were fine fibers such as yak, silk, camel, etc. and my friend Jacquie, who is a new spinner, really was thrown in the deep end. It was a good review for me for things I had encountered in previous spinning retreats, especially since worsted draw isn’t my strong suit.
Here is a general view of the room – spinners, fiber and Judith!
We started with 100% yak (Himalayas, Tibet, Mongolia) and were shown several ways of spinning the top. Later I also tried a yak/silk blend that is yummy. The yak fiber is a soft gray color. On day 2 we went on to a camel/merino/silk blend and then some 100% baby white camel, plus what Judith said was “adolescent” camel – not truly baby. Of course, all of this is accompanied by many wonderful and informative stories about the nature of the animals, their history, and how important they are to the lives of the people who live with them and use all of their products. This was definitely the “wit & wisdom” part of the week.
Then we moved on to silk – 5 different kinds, to be exact. Eri is a wild silk from Tussar, India and is gotten from spent cocoons (that is, the fibers are shorter because they allow the worms to hatch and eat their way out of the cocoon, which breaks the continuous thread). This is a rare and hard to get silk- it was white. Muga silk is a wild silk from India and also very rare – it was a lovely honey color and has a lustrous, reflective surface. I found it easier to spin than the eri and some of the others. There was a dyed black tussah silk from India which was kind of coarse, I didn’t care for it. White bombyx silk (cultivated) was finer than any of the others and a challenge to spin. There was a natural color tussah (wild) that was quite nice, and finally some dyed bombyx that Judith had dyed an indigo blue.
On the third day we had a diversion into a color gradient exercise. We used cotton hand cards to open up and prepare a solid color dyed merino top (the hue). The hue was blended on the hand cards with white (for a tint), gray (for a tone) and black (for a shade). These were spun into singles, and then we made all the possible 2-ply combinations of each to see what different yarns could be achieved. It was fun!
Next was a trip to the Shetland Islands. We spun up different natural colors of Shetland from rovings, and learned the different ways to spin it depending on its intended use. Also we had a visitor in the form of a Shetland sheep:
By the fourth day they were getting the dye cabin going. People brought all kinds of things to dye – ugly yarn to made beautiful, spinning rovings, sweaters than needed a change of color, you name it. This is always a part of camp. I brought some Corriedale roving from home – it came out a little felted and I need to figure out how to disturb it less if I continue with this at home. I also dyed some Polwarth/Silk top and that turned out pretty well! They also had three electric drum carders set up so we could make mixed fiber and color batts to spin.
The next stop was Australia and a chance to try Polwarth, a Lincoln x Merino cross. Lovely, long & silky fiber but with plenty of crimp too. I am in love. Then we moved to South America and alpaca fiber. Judith brought a whole haucaya alpaca fleece that we could sort through, and also an alpaca/silk blend in roving form.
Here are some things I spun and finished at home:
And here is our Methow Valley contingent, with Judith MacKenzie: