Archive for the ‘spinning’ Category

The $11 Solution

Several months ago someone gave me part of an older Nilus LeClerc double-ended electric bobbin winder.  She had gotten it years ago with a loom purchase, but “some of the parts didn’t make it into the box”.  Specifically, it was missing the end that slides in a groove, and the rheostat foot control.

Leclerc hybrid before fix

I tried to get the missing part but the people at LeClerc (in Quebec) said this was an older style and they don’t keep spare parts for older machines.  Studying the pictures on their website, I could see that the new ones have the spring mounted down in the groove, not on the shaft of the part that slides in the groove (which is what this one would have had).  So I figured I was out of luck.

At the ANWG conference at the end of June, someone was selling some old weaving equipment in one of the booths.  Among this was an older Nilus LeClerc double-ended winder.  So I took a chance and bought it.  I should have been more careful in checking it out, because when I got home the foot control (wrapped up and taped in paper) was broken.  However, I could get it fixed at a sewing machine shop in Wenatchee, although as it turns out Rick was able to take it apart, bend a flange back into place, and put it back together all cleaned up and oiled.  So now I had a working winder!  You can see how the spring is mounted in this picture.  The moving part is tightened down with wing nuts from below, once positioned in the groove for a particular bobbin length.

LeClerc winder from ANWG conf

In the meantime, I got to wondering if LeClerc couldn’t sell me a new base plate and moving end from their current model.  So after some back and forth with calls and emails, they agreed to this and it came last week.   Or at least, they sent the moving part and a spring – not the base with the groove!  I guess I didn’t communicate clearly what I was expecting.  However, I am fortunate to be married to a guy who is both handy and handsome (a Red Green Show reference).

He had to trim the wood that slides in the groove – very carefully, on the table saw, until it fit just right.  Then he had to re-position the motor so the two ends that hold the bobbin line up (in a brand new winder, the motor is a different model and is offset on one side).  He had to figure out how to mount the spring in the groove from below.  But in the end, it worked great!  Here is my hybrid winder:

LeClerc hybrid winder 1

new sliding part on left, old motor end (re-positioned) on right

LeClerc hybrid winder 2

I still have to get a foot control, but the sewing machine store in Wenatchee says they have a box full of old used sewing machine rheostat foot controls with plug for motor and light that I can get for $10-$15 (just like the one on the ANWG conference one, which I have been using for now).

Now I have been using it to wind off spun singles from my spinning wheel’s Woolee Winder bobbin onto plastic spools.  I learned this from Judith MacKenzie – spin all your fiber and put on plastic storage bobbins as you go, then ply from those bobbins.  Saves a ton of money on extra spinning wheel bobbins.

But the electric winder goes like a bat out of hell, and I had to just barely depress the foot pedal to keep it slow enough.  Otherwise the spun singles would break – they are a lot more “tender” than weaving yarns you would wind off a cone onto a bobbin.  It was hard to control the speed, and when I was done, the foot pedal itself was really hot.

So this is where we get to the $11 solution part.  I had picked up a tip from one of Peggy Osterkamp’s books that you could use a plug-in dimmer switch between the wall outlet and the foot control, as an extra rheostat.  But none of our local valley hardware stores had such an item – they just have the kind that are wired into a light switch on the wall.  So I went online and found this on Amazon:

lamp dimmer for winder

It totally solved the problem.  I plugged the dimmer into the outlet, plugged the foot control into the dimmer, then adjusted the sliding control until the winder was turning at a slowish speed with the pedal fully depressed.  The speed stayed nice and constant so I could concentrate on tensioning the yarn and filling the bobbin evenly.  The foot pedal wasn’t hot at all when I was done.  And this item only cost about $11!

So now I guess I will try to sell the one I got at the conference, and keep the “hybrid”.

Final note:  4 rugs finished this week.  The first three were an order from friends for their home at Lochaerie Resort on Lake Quinault – Chris picked the materials from my stash of Pendleton selvages when they were here last April.

R159 Lochaerie 1

R159 Lochaerie 1

R160 Lochaerie 2

R160 Lochaerie 2

R161 Lochaerie 3

R161 Lochaerie 3

R162 - fiesta time!

R162 – fiesta time!


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A Bulky Spinner

No, not me!  I may have had a little too much Thanksgiving dinner, but it’s not THAT bad….

Back in February 2010 I attended spinning camp on Orcas Island with Judith Mackenzie, and the theme was “Ethnic Spinning and Knitting: Cowichan, Aran and Icelandic.”   We spun Icelandic fleeces for Icelandic lace or the more bulky Lopi-style knitting yarn.  We spun Clun Forest wool to make a 5-ply yarn for traditional Aran sweater knitting.  And we spun on an Indian-head spinner to make the loose, thick yarn used for Cowichan sweaters.

Here is a picture of Judith spinning on her Indian-head spinner at that workshop:

Indian head 2

Later that year we took a trip to Sacramento, CA to attend my niece’s wedding celebration.  On the way down we camped in our pop-up trailer.  From Mt. Lassen NP we went through Chico, CA and in an antique mall there I spotted an Indian-head spinner!  There had been a fire at the antique mall about a year earlier, and it was sitting forlornly in a back room all covered with ash – they hadn’t even bothered to clean it off.  I was tempted but didn’t buy it that day.  But it kept calling to me, so on the way back north we stopped into Chico again and the bulky spinner came home with us.

Here is how it looked when we got it home and before it was vacuumed:

Indian head spinner dirty

Since then it has just sat in my studio.  Last week Rick took it down to the shop and really cleaned it up – put on new finish and everything.  It is beautiful!  Looks like black walnut.

Indian Head spinner restored 1

Indian Head spinner restored 4

Underneath the treadle he found the maker’s mark.

Indian Head Sid Sharples label


It turns out these wheels were made by Sid Sharples and another man in California in the 1970’s.  They are retired now.  They were made from black walnut or dark maple.  It was called the California Bulky Spinning Wheel and also known as a “Cowichan Spinner”.  I have found a few pictured on blogs or Flickr on the web – and one was listed on eBay last January, but the guy didn’t get any bids on it.  As an added surprise, I was talking to my friend Sara down in Twisp last week, and it turns out she used to have one of these – it was the very first spinning wheel she owned!

So now it is going to live with Judith Mackenzie.  Why?  Because my teacher and mentor in all things spinning, weaving and generally fiber-related suffered the loss of her ENTIRE STUDIO due to a catastrophic fire in Forks, WA in late October.  I mean everything (it was a teaching as well as a personal studio).  Looms, spinning wheels, all kinds of related equipment, not to mention all her fiber (fleeces, yarn, etc).  Due to the age and nature of construction of the building she was unable to get an insurance rider.

Three of her friends immediately put together a website and are spearheading an effort to raise money and donated equipment to help her rebuild her studio and continue with her career as a fiber artist and nationally known teacher:

Rebuild Judith’s Studio

Check it out – and donate a little if you feel so inclined, to help this wonderful woman recover from a real blow.



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Thelma & Louise

I found out a week ago that I am leaving on an Adventure with one of my best friends. She just bought a pre-owned 2004 Porsche Carrera S but it is located in Lancaster, PA and she wants me to fly back with her to drive it cross-country to Seattle.  So I am leaving this evening from the Wenatchee airport to join her in Seattle. We will fly out of Seatac to Philadelphia the next morning, and will be gone for about a week. The plan is to come back via I-90 and she will bring me home to the Methow on her way through to Seattle.

This is the Porsche, a pretty midnight blue with soft grey interior:

It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it!  A number of people have remarked it sounds kind of like the movie “Thelma & Louise” – but hopefully without the driving-off-the-cliff part at the end.

I finished up 3 more of the collapse weave scarves – the warp had soft blues, greens and pinks for the cottons with a dark hot pink (“Chanel”) for the wool grid that shrinks more than the cotton and causes the puckering.  The weft colors were lavender, turquoise, and a soft blue-green.

One of my neighbors wants to learn something about weaving, so to get her started (and to have something new to do myself) we wound and tied a cotton towel warp onto the existing setup I have for the scarves on Kingston.  So now she will weave a couple of towels and I will finish up the rest when I get back from the road trip:

I also finished spinning and plying some dyed New Zealand Corriedale that I bought at least 10 years ago from a place in Victoria BC.  The preparation was interesting – it looked like a roving in the bag, but was actually a narrow batt with stripes of about 6 colors running side by side the whole length of it.  I didn’t want to spin it from the end and risk having the colors get all muddied, and I also wanted a more woolen, rather than worsted, prep.  So I tore off about 1-ft sections of the narrow batt, spread it out, then rolled it from the end to something like a rolag (warning … spinning terminology).  Then spun it from the end of the “rolag”, after attenuating the fibers a bit.  So for each of these “rolags” I was spinning across the colors, so they came and went in the singles in a more or less regular pattern.  Clear as mud?  Then I made a 3-ply yarn and just let the colors from the singles work against each other as they came without trying to plan that part out very much.  I am quite pleased with the result!

I have about 650 yards which should be enough to knit a vest:

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Mister and His Sister

I can’t believe I have been back from Orcas Island for a week already.  While I was gone, Rick reported that the new cats were getting along well and playing a lot.  They seem to be firm friends by now:

Spinning camp, or fiber retreat, was a lot of fun as always.  The theme was supposed to be “Fine and Fuzzy” but we did a lot of different things.  Here’s the meeting room where we set up our wheels:

spinning retreat at Camp Orkila

We took apart thrift-shop cashmere sweaters and experimented with re-using the yarn in various ways.  We spun paper! Judith had an article about this in the Spring 2011 Spin-Off Magazine.  I liked the end result used in weaving, or for baskets, the best.

Little mats woven from spun paper on a cotton warp, and a little basket from spun paper, dyed with indigo

The raw material - cut up dress pattern paper

We were also given cashmere, camel, bison, angora bunny, and pygora goat fiber to spin (some of these in different blends, e.g. with silk or with merino wool).  On the last day, Judith made a boucle yarn with recycled cashmere and pygora type A fiber.  Definitely going to be pursuing this one.

There was also dyeing going on in the cabin adjacent to the meeting room.  This year it was mainly dyeing with various lichens, and with indigo, although there was a frenzy of silk hankie dyeing with acid dyes towards the end.  I stayed out of that – just too many ideas and things to try to take on another one!

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December doings

It’s been clear and cold here, with no change in sight for next week.  We still have snow but it is getting to be an icy, crusty affair.  It’s beautiful – but we’re getting anxious about lack of new snow for skiing and snowshoeing!

Meanwhile, since returning from Seattle at Thanksgiving, I finished up 3 rugs.  The first two shown below were done with Pendleton “worms”, a selvage edge trimmed from the sides of the Pendleton blankets as they are being woven (they later bind the edges with a wool cloth edging).  I have bags and bags of this stuff in a variety of colors, and this time around with the rug warp I think I will concentrate on using it and playing with the colors.

By the way, I have had several comments from friends/family that I never showed pictures of our new oak floor after it was installed in October.  So folks – THAT’S IT in the background of the rug photos below!

Pendleton "worms" - black, white and tan with orange accents

Pendleton "worms" alternating dark blue/purple with brighter colors

The next one was done with 9 colors of cotton corduroys and some lightweight denims.  I sequenced the 9 colors by sewing the ends of strips together at the sewing machine – most of the strips were only about 20″ long – and there are 20 repeats of the 9-color sequence in the rug.  A lot of work preparing the strips for weaving, but I like the effect.

9 colors of cotton corduroys and denims

I’ve also been spinning some beautiful dyed Blue-Faced Leicester top that I bought from Briar Rose Fibers at the first Sock Summit in Portland, OR.  I started this project in Seattle on my HansenCraft minispinner, and I am planning to make a 3-ply yarn which I hope will be enough to knit something for myself.  Actually I have finished all the spinning at this point and should be able to get it plied up this week.

Last night we went down to the Confluence Gallery in Twisp for an evening event called “Black Tie Methow Style.”   They had fabulous hors d’oeuvres, champagne and a no-host bar.  People got dressed up – but with bit of a twist in many cases.  Two of our favorite local musicians were playing jazz.  I didn’t get the best of pictures, but it was a lot of fun and we got to see and socialize with many friends we hadn’t seen for a while.  A nice kick-off to the holiday season!

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So Tempting

I have been spinning more lately, and this led to a flurry of drum-carding activity the last week or so.  The carder had fallen silent and forlorn for quite some time, so it was nice to get drawn back into it.

It all started when I spun up 4 oz. of a prepared batt from Crosspatch Creations in Montana.  This had some of her natural dark brown wool and a lot of dyed mohair – golds and rose tones, mostly.  When I had the singles spun, I decided I wanted to ply it with “something else” and not back on itself.  I started digging through the stash of washed fleeces looking for something dark, and came upon a dyed Romney fleece I bought a couple of years back from Heidi Dascher of The Artful Ewe in Port Gamble, WA.  In her inimitable way, Heidi had dyed the whole fleece rather randomly – a lot of jet black but with lots of red, gold, green etc. mixed in.

So I pulled off about 8 oz of that dyed fleece and carded it into 3 batts, one of which is now spun and plied with the mohair blend as a 3-ply (2 dark brown and 1 of the mohair blend):

Romney batt with final yarn (plied with mohair blend shown on bobbin)

While digging through the fleece stash, I ran across one of the first fleeces I ever bought – back in 2005.  It came from Whitehall, MT and was from a sheep named Temptation.  She was a Shetland x Corriedale cross “with some minor amounts of Romney, Border Leicester and Cormo thrown in.”  Her owner sent me a picture at the time:

Temptation the sheep

Here’s a picture of the fleece, which I then washed and stored away until now.  Lovely warm light grey/brown with blonde tips:

Temptation’s fleece before washing

Well now I have a big box of Temptation batts and a 3-ply sample spun up:

But back to the dyed Romney fleece from Heidi Parra.  I believe the fleece itself came from The Pines Farm in Maple Valley, WA.  It is really lovely stuff, super clean and almost no VM (vegetable matter) or second cuts, nice and crimpy.   I had over 3 lbs. of it left after pulling off some for the project mentioned above, and realized that if I just carded it up as before, as completely blended batts, I would lose all the color distinction that Heidi had put into the dyeing.  So, what to do?

On Saturday I laid it all out on a table and pulled it apart into 5 color groups, working quickly and trying not to “overthink” the process too much.  About a third of it was black (with some color still in some of the locks):

Mostly black

The next biggest group was red – from black with red overtones, to dark red through bright cherry:

Mostly red

There were 2 smaller piles of “gold and oranges” and “olive tones”:

golds and oranges

olive tones

Final and fifth category was “everything else” which wound up a rich brown color when carded.

I spent most of Sunday carding up the 5 color groups.  This is when I love, love, love my big electric carder which I bought from Judith MacKenzie (built by her ex, Nick McCuin).  It does nice big batts, and leaves my hands free to tease and/or feed on the fiber.  I did a first pass with each color group to tease out (loosen) the locks and then re-combined the resulting batts in a second pass to get fairly even color in 3 to 6 batts of each color.

Romney on the carder

The five color groups all carded

These were so pretty that I was tempted to leave them as-is!  But I did want a final fiber preparation that would spin up into a yarn that included, but did not completely obscure, each of the colors.  So on Monday I went to work on making multicolor batts using ideas from Deb Menz’s excellent book, Color in Spinning.  In order to keep colors distinct, she will make separate batts including some of the final colors in each, then stack them on top of each other to be pulled apart for the spinning.

So I made 16 batts, each of which consists of 2 smaller, layered batts.  The first one has a “thin layer” of black on each side, with 6 stripes across in the center, alternating gold/orange with warm brown.  The second one has a “thin layer” of red on each side, with 5 stripes across in the center, alternating black with olive tones.  And here is my lovely big box of 16 batts, each about 2.75 oz., with a little of the initial dyed fleece on top as a garnish:

The final product!

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Orcas spinning camp

I spent last week up on Orcas Island at “spinning camp” with Judith MacKenzie – my 4th time at this event (I missed 2009).  This year’s theme was “Bringing Color into Your Spinning”.  They were set up to do a lot of dyeing outdoors (always a bit iffy in February in NW Washington).  Then it snowed.  And got really cold.  But our organizers managed to score an indoor space in an adjacent cabin to the meeting room, swathed it in tarps to protect the furnishings, and we pressed on!

The first day Judith entertained us with stories of her trip to Peru in November 2010.  She was one of the speakers at Tinkuy de Tejedores (A Gathering of Weavers) near Cusco.  She brought back some beautiful textiles, all nature dyed handspun and woven on primitive backstrap looms.  She also shared a portion of her collection of Peruvian “burial dolls” – many of them very, very old.  They are not really dolls, but religious or ceremonial objects.  The clothes they wear are made from fragments of cloth that were originally on mummies, so in some cases the textile fragments could be thousands of years old.

Judith with burial dolls

The first class project was to spin a boucle yarn using a rayon core and kid mohair locks that Judith had dyed.  I skipped this one, as I have tried it before, am really bad at it, and know I won’t be pursuing this one any time soon.

Next she had us spin up some Corriedale rovings in white and black (natural colors) and make a series of 3-ply yarns: 3 white plies, 1 white/2 black, 2 white/1 black, 3 black.  Then we overdyed the final skein(s) with a color of our choice to see how the color interacts with the underlying makeup of the yarn.  Or this would be a way to make a graduated color yarn as you transition from white to black.  Mine came out sort of “sea lettuce green”:

After they got the dye area set up, we were able to dye solid colors in big dye pots on the cabin front porch, or go inside where they had 4 electric roasters set up to dye variegated color rovings or yarn with a direct pour application.  Each of us were given 4 oz of Corriedale roving, chose a colorway, then Judith dyed it for us while we observed the technique.  After everyone had done one roving this way, we were able to do more on our own (with her help with the colors, “if needed” – ha ha, always needed…)

my first dyed roving

Another spinning exercise: we were given 4 oz of Corriedale roving that Judith had already dyed (variegated in color like the one above).  Then we were encouraged to “share and share alike” by getting small amounts of other colors from other folks in the room.  The idea was to introduce other colors into the spun singles, in either a random or semi-methodical way, to obtain a final plied yarn that is more complex in color than if you had spun up just the single colorway represented by your roving.  This was a lot of fun and I like the idea a lot.  I finished plying mine when I got back home but I don’t have a picture of the final yarn yet and here it is:

The basic roving was quite muted, cream through shades of greyish purple, but I introduced short sections from another roving from time to time: dark royal blue through purple, and a brighter turquoise color.  I spun all the singles, divided it into thirds by weight, and made a 3-ply yarn where all the colors just come and go randomly.  I am pleased with the result and will probably use this idea again.

I also spun up some Polwarth roving that I bought from Maxine of Island Fibers on Lopez Island, at the event.  I made about 150 yds of 3-ply and it is wonderful, springy and soft yarn.  I will definitely be spinning more of this fiber.  I dyed it in one of the roasters along with some merino/tencel roving I also bought from Maxine.  Can you say RED?

Here are two more batches of dyed merino/tencel roving:

The one on the left was supposed to have more purple tones in it, but as it turns out this was superwash merino and it takes up dye very quickly.  It all just sort of blended together.  But I can put it back in a dye bath at home and try to modify it some, and I will.

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A Tale of Two Spinners

First of all, I have my new camera and am back in action in the picture-taking department.  It is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7, and as usual I did my research on the Digital Camera Resource Page website.  I have always found his in-depth reviews to be very helpful.  Read the review of my specific camera here (I went with the blue color, not that it makes any difference).

On our way down to Sacramento in early October, we stopped in Chico, CA for lunch.  There was an antique mall where we parked the truck and trailer, so of course we went on in.  Rick spotted a forlorn object in a corner and pointed it out to me – an Indian head spinner!  These are used to spin thick yarns such as those used for Cowichan Indian sweaters.  I inquired about it, but it was on consignment and no agreement could be reached, and we didn’t have room in the truck for it anyway.

Cut to the return trip north.  We stop in Chico again and go back to the antique mall.  Rick checked it over and said it could be fixed up.  It is not a true antique, but he thinks it was handmade (not manufactured) and may be 40-50 years old or more (based on some of the turned wood parts, like large screws).  We found out why it was so dirty.  The antique mall had an arson fire a year ago and a lot of things were covered in soot.  They hadn’t even bothered to clean it off after a year!  Well anyway, I made my offer, we loaded it into the truck and brought it home, and here is a picture before cleaning and restoration work begin, hopefully this winter.  Then I will spin some yarn for a Cowichan sweater.

What’s in the bag?

My new HansenCrafts electronic minispinner!

I ordered it 4 weeks ago from the HansenCrafts website.  Since I was going to be out in Port Townsend last weekend anyway, for my annual knitting-spinning-eating-laughing-walking etc event, and they are made nearby in Chimacum, WA, I arranged for a field trip to pick it up in person from Kevin Hansen.  Since I was without camera, my friend Rebecca took some and has given permission to use some of them:

test spinning at HansenCrafts

Kevin and his wife Beth had just come back from two shows (SOAR – Spin-Off Autumn Retreat – and the New York State Sheep & Wool festival at Rhinebeck, NY) and he had about 30 of these babies to ship out.

Here is Rebecca trying out the walnut and maple minispinner that somehow wound up going home with her and her sister Peggy:

They only started serious production on these in the last year, and have been overwhelmingly successful.  There is even a Ravelry group devoted to the HansenCrafts minispinner (I think you may have to join Ravelry to see this page, but am not sure).

I ordered mine in bubinga, an African hardwood.  No, it won’t spin any better than the standard maple or cherry versions, but I decided to splurge on beauty and uniqueness.  Kevin said the specialty woods are denser and the unit a little heavier, which can give it some extra stability when the bobbin gets full.  I don’t know which I am more in love with, the minispinner itself  or the WooLee Winder.  I haven’t had a WooLee Winder before – you don’t have to keep stopping to move the yarn from hook to hook on the flyer, or slide the thread guide along, depending on the style of your wheel.  This will be especially useful for plying, where both of your hands are full anyway and stopping to slide the yarn along the flyer is a real pain.  On the minispinner, it is a jumbo bobbin and will hold a lot more than the standard WooLee Winder bobbins that you can order for many brands of spinning wheels.

I did get one extra bobbin, and I think that will be enough.  I usually wind off my spun singles onto storage bobbins anyway (the Leclerc plastic ones used for sectional warping on a loom) – a tip from Judith MacKenzie.  And when plying, I will just be winding the plied yarn off onto a niddy-noddy or skeiner.  So one bobbin for whatever singles I am working on, and one bobbin for plying – that’s the theory.

Beautiful bubinga minispinner

It comes in a nice little hemp tote bag with the HansenCrafts logo on it, but I knew I wanted to get something that would protect it better.  On the way home from Port Townsend, we stopped in Port Gamble to visit The Artful Ewe and the new quilting shop there, Quilted Strait.  That’s where I found the green tote bag, just the right size for the little spinner and its accessories, plus room for some spinning fiber on one side of the internal divider.  I can’t fit the extra bobbin in, but that’s OK.

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Off to Orcas

I’m taking off today for the spinning workshop/retreat up on Orcas Island.  I have been to this event a couple of times in years past, but skipped last year.  It is organized by two women who live on Guemes Island, just off the coast from Anacortes.  Our instructor is the wonderful Judith MacKenzie, a master spinner, dyer and weaver – she truly is a “living treasure”.  There will be some old friends from Seattle in attendance, plus other women I have met there before who are also returning, and I hope to make some new friends as well.

The theme of the workshop this year is “Ethnic Spinning and Knitting: Cowichan, Aran and Icelandic”.  I have been spinning finer and finer yarns, so should learn a lot about the fibers used in those traditions and how to spin bigger, fatter yarns that suit the different knitting styles.

I made up a new batch of shawl pins this weekend and will be taking them with me:

I will visit with mom and dad on my way up today, and also on my way back down next Saturday.  Then Rick and I are meeting in Seattle to complete the move out of our apartment there.

I’m not taking the computer so am “going dark” for about 10 days.  I’ll have lots to report when I get back!

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Early Spring

It’s been kind of gray and misty around here lately, the snow is melting, the roads are clear, ground is beginning to show – in other words, it is more like March in the Methow, than early February!  Thank you, El Nino… while east coast and midwest seem to be reeling under heavy snows, we are just soggy.

Today we have some sun, though, so I went up the road and caught this picture on the way back down.  As you can see, there is still some snow on the ground up here on Benson Creek.

My friend Diana has a spinning day on the second Monday of each month (including a delicious potluck lunch).  That was yesterday.  There were only four of us but we had a fine time.  Diana had finished spinning the fleece from a Jacob lamb and had 3 skeins of yarn to show for it – hard to believe these all came from the same sheep!  She did a great job of separating out the colors before carding for spinning.  She also had some socks she knit years ago from handspun Jacob wool, so I got a picture.  Aren’t they great?  One pair also had handspun angora from one of her bunnies.

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