John has increased the size of his weaving projects, and the results aren’t mats, they are small rugs. Two now reside upstairs in our study and bedroom. They don’t slip when laid over carpet. Each rug represents many months of spinning, dyeing and weaving, not to mention the sheep’s year-long efforts to grow the wool.
This rug was inspired by an embroidered bird motif made by Pueblo people. But when daughter Tracy saw it she exclaimed, “It’s a turtle!”
This dark blue rug is one of a pair that were inspired by the Zapotec weaving style of Mexico. On the bed is a blanket Marilyn made using the floor loom and a “summer and winter” weave structure. She thinks of it as “Windowpanes.”
On the day before John was to depart for Australia for his annual family visit, a wind storm struck. We had plenty of warning, and spent time taking down our umbrellas and making sure there were no loose garden implements that could fly around in the wind. We rounded up our headlamps and made sure they were working. We should have filled several buckets with water for washing and flushing, because in these parts, high wind = no power, and no power = no pump to retrieve water from the well. It was fine for the first 6 or 8 hours: we cooked excellent meals on the grill outside and boiled water for tea. We found ways to spin and weave with our headlamps on. But when there was still no power the next morning, we were missing our showers. Buckets of rainwater heated slowly on the stove provided a pretty good substitute. You can live without power, but it changes the pace of things–which is not terrible except that the rest of the world which is not without power seems to be spinning at a much faster rate and sometimes it is hard to step onto that moving walkway. Nevertheless, we made it to the airport and John is on his way to see his mother and sisters. Given that over 70,000 people lost power, we were grateful that ours was restored in just 24 hours.
The Black Sheep Gathering in Eugene is like all Eugene events: carefully planned to achieve a loosely coordinated feel, with lots to learn in classes and demonstrations, tons of vendors from all over the country, barns full of fiber animals, and very marginal food and amenities. People come from all over. There are tent campers who take their chances with the Oregon weather, lots and lots of RVs and trailers, many day trippers and a few who actually stay in a hotel for the event.
The wool show is amazing; an entire exhibit hall full of fleeces from every kind of fleece-producing animal. All are judged over two days, and finally, when the judging ends, after a break, you are allowed to go in and feel them, smell them, and decide which ones you want to buy. Of course if you actually expect to get the fleeces you want, you will need to be first in line. The line begins to form early in the day, so that finally, about an hour after the judging ends, the sale can begin. Pandemonium ensues when the doors are finally opened. I wonder how many times people have nearly come to blows when someone snatched ‘their’ fleece before they could grab it. It’s a lot like black Friday! I can’t stand it, and don’t need fleeces anyway. But the fiber junkies of the West are out in force at the Black Sheep Gathering.
This year the fiber arts show had a lot of weaving along with felting, knitting and spinning projects.
We were excited about Dianne’s champion ribbon, because she carefully spun wool from our sheep [Roberta] to make the warp for the project. We were amazed that the natural colored Romney was going to be the warp since it would not be seen. But Dianne believed it was the perfect fiber for her warp and she found a way to keep some warp visible by having the lovely silver-gray fringe.
Summer is a great time for washing and dyeing wool. Our technique evolves every year as the fleeces change, the weather changes, and learning occurs.
Before washing, there is skirting and picking the fleece. If we were careful at shearing when we put the fleece into a bag, we can toss it out onto the big wire “table” for this process, and it will hang together more or less. The outside edges of the fleece will have the belly wool, the lower legs, the neck and the hind end. Ideally, one simply removes the outer edges of the fleece because all of these parts are undesirable. Of course it doesn’t always work out–some of our Romney fleeces are so open that they don’t stay together. Sometimes, we just grab handfuls of wool and stuff them in the bag, only to regret it later. Once the undesirable wool is removed, then it’s a matter of pulling out all the straw and hay and burrs and twigs that have attached themselves to the wool. Skirting and picking can take minutes to hours, depending on the sheep, shearing conditions, and the mental and physical condition of the shearers at the time of shearing.
The current washing strategy involves soaking the fleece for 2-7 days in cold water. We have two 15-gallon animal water tubs for the purpose. Half a fleece will swirl around nicely in each of these. I push the wool into the water, cover it with some plastic, and leave it until I have time to wash it. I use my “Laundry Bot” (Costco hand washer for college students) to spin out the soak water, then fill the tubs with hot water and the scouring detergent. My favorite is an Aussie product called Kookaburra Scour, but when that runs out I can use good old blue Dawn dish-washing detergent. Push wool into hot water, don’t agitate, let it sit for an hour, and then lift the wool out, spin the detergent out with my Bot, then a hot rinse for half an hour, and successive warm rinses until I am satisfied or sick of it, whichever comes first.
This weekend I washed Clarissa’s lovely bright white fleece and Raven’s beautiful silver fleece.Then I dyed three one-pound batches of Robert’s fleece from 2013. Dyeing fleece is a little different from dyeing yarn, because of the quantity you are dealing with and the desirability of having variation in color rather than the uniform color one needs when working with yarn. To start with, the wool must be wet, requiring at least 30 minutes in a bucket of cool water. Meanwhile the huge dye-pot is filled with water and slowly heated on the stove. The dye granules are weighed out (packaging says use a 1:10 ratio of dye to fiber, but we find half that is better). Once weighed, the dye is mixed thoroughly in boiling water, and added to the dye pot. The wool goes in when the water is 120-140 degrees, then the kettle is heated to simmering and held at the simmer for half an hour or more. Ideally, you let it cool naturally overnight before pouring the water out. I rarely have time for that. Once out of the dye-pot the wool needs several rinses at a temperature that is within 15 degrees of its current temperature. The dyes we use are easy, no additives required. No matter what, it seems whenever I do a dyeing project, I am still working on it at 11:00 pm. But the results are always exciting.
John attends yoga classes each week at the Hillsboro Yoga studio. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the studio, owner Brandt invited all the yoga students to share their talents one Saturday afternoon. There would be a gallery upstairs for the visual arts, and a performance space downstairs for singers and musicians. We heard wonderful bagpipes, intriguing medieval musicians, and a young violinist. Upstairs among the photographers and painters, we set up a display about John’s weaving–which started with the farm, the sheep, the shearing, the spinning, the dyeing, and finally the weaving itself. Many people stopped to admire the weaving and ask questions.
After tying and cutting the fringe, washing and rinsing [carefully so as not to felt it stiff as a board] and pressing, here it is. Nice length, thick, soft and warm. One weaving mistake that glares at me but will go unnoticed by the casual observer.
Now it’s off to the spinning wheel to make yarn for the next project!
The first project on the Macomber is off the loom! Before we know how it turned out, the fringes must be tied and trimmed and the entire shawl washed, dried and pressed. The intent was to become familiar with the loom, and I enjoyed that. I learned a few things:
how to use the brake when advancing the warp
how to wind yarn on a paper quill while the electric winder flies at breakneck speed
to go ahead and re-wind the quills if they aren’t quite right, or you will spend hours trying to untangle yarn when it doesn’t feed freely out of the shuttle
how to use that extra warp thread on the edge for alignment
to appreciate the loveliness of twill [diagonal] fabric
While Mar has been learning to work with the new floor loom, John has been working on his next weaving, which is Zapotec inspired like the last one, but much longer and with a very energetic design with three complete motifs instead of a single central one.
As time goes on and the design grows up the warp, the inevitable challenges arise. The motifs are growing too fast; there won’t be room for the entire design. Adjustments must be made.
While the weaver struggles with these issues, the rest of us just look on in amazement at the beautiful image emerging from yarns interlaced.
The actual weaving on the Macomber loom has begun. The first night I added a couple of inches, then took it all out the next night to try to improve the edges. Meanwhile I took the electric motor and foot control to the hardware store, along with Maureen’s plan for a home made bobbin/quill winder. While I had been puzzling for two weeks how to connect the pieces and get the winder working, the young man at the store had no difficulty. In about 3 minutes he had the thing working, and it cost me 36 cents. When I set it up at home and tried to wind paper quills, the motor spun so fast that everything just flew off the end! But after a few tries, I was able to wind my yarns onto a couple of plastic bobbins. A few days later, I had mastered the paper quill, and had the blistered fingers [caused by the yarn passing through them so fast] to show for it.
So much to learn: using the boat type shuttle, the quills to hold the yarn, and the above mentioned electric winder, using the mysterious cable brake to advance the warp, developing the feel for tensioning the warp, sitting on the high bench, wrapping the edge firmly and then laying in the yarn loosely so the edges don’t pull in. There is no finish line when it comes to learning to weave. I am just beginning.
Maureen is a weaving angel! Today she arrived fully prepared with her tools, printouts explaining each step of the process, comprehensive knowledge and boundless energy. Six hours later, there is a warp on the loom and it is ready for its first Wetland Wool project.
We are building quite a relationship with this new loom. On Saturday, Fred, Sarah and Frances [husband, daughter and grand-daughter of weaver Carol] came to visit. They wanted to see the loom in its new home. For them, I am carrying on a legacy. Even though Carol stopped weaving many years ago, it seems weaving was a vital part of her. It must have been hard for the family to let go of that loom. Fred, facing his loss, accepts the need to downsize and simplify. Sarah treasures each woven artifact that represents her mother, and seeks to enrich her daughter’s experience of her grandmother every way she can.
Frances absorbs the experience of newborn lambs, bellowing sheep, an exuberant dog, smells of straw and hay and dung, and all the expressions of this lifestyle we have chosen.
is a small family farm raising Romney sheep for wool and related products.