Last weekend, I went to the Missouri Fiber Retreat in Jefferson City, MO. I stayed at the 4H camp and took 3 classes. I’d dying to go back with a gang next year, because while it was perfect from an educational standpoint, it would have been a blast with a group of friends. On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the chance to spend as much time with Matt Nowak, the felted purse class teacher I met my my beginning weaving class. We spent a good deal of Saturday evening chatting, and I had a great time. That same night, I shared a fruity wine coolers with the ladies in my 4H cabin before retiring at 10pm. Although the limited conversation and early lights out was a little strange for me, I certainly wouldn’t have gotten the heavy duty sleep I enjoyed if I’d been with a group. I returned very refreshed and rested.
Friday morning, I made a 5-hour drive out to Jefferson City, MO. The Extension facilities are on the edge of the countryside, and the 4H camp is in an undeveloped wooded area. The first afternoon, I took the Beginning Rug Hooking class with Terry Keller. I’m really excited about rug hooking, because it’s a very thrifty, practical craft. You pull strips of wool through the holes in a base cloth with a metal hook, forming the pile of a looped rug. Designs can be as simple or complex as you wish, and people hook everything from traditional colonial styles to realistic portraiture to abstract designs. Dyed strips of wool become your paint colors for elaborate designs. Pretty much anything you could draw, you can hook. (Search flickr from hooked rug.) You can also hook with yarn instead of fabric strips.
Our class kit included a hook, wool cloth strips of many colors, a hoop, and a simple pattern drawn on burlap. Here’s my nearly finished pattern, which will be a trivet. This is the top (pile) side:
Here’s the back, which is just as pretty:
I purchased some additional hand-dyed fabric from Terry, and I plan to design my own simple pattern for my next try. Terry was an easygoing teacher and the class was relaxed and very pleasant, with lots of chatty, joking women.
I particularly liked hooking because, aside from the design, it’s easy, meditative work that requires little concentration and has almost no learning curve. That’s not to say my technique isn’t crude; but I could definitely produce primitive rugs I’d find very pleasing right now. I can see now that I did hook my sample too densely, but with a little practice, I’d sure I’d quickly develop a better notion of placement, and this would definitely be a very relaxing handicraft. With all our hard floors, I’m eager to learn as many different options for rugmaking as possible.
[ETA: I just had to add a link to Brenda's rug hooking set on flickr. They are breathtaking! This is definitely what I aspire to make. The b&w jump rope girl is particularly striking. Here's one in progress so you can see how they're worked--to see the whole set!]
On Saturday, instead of two different morning and afternoon courses, I opted for the all-day Beginners Weaving with Jeff Reynolds. The first half of the class was a primer on weaving and the operation of looms, basics or reading a simple twill pattern, and wrapping the warp and dressing the loom, and the afternoon was devoted to hands-on weaving. Jeff is a sweet, charming, and patient teacher. He’s very traditional in his work and prefers historical reproduction over designing. His fine coverlets were just breathtaking.
I got really lucky and Matt (new friend I mentioned above) let me use the floor loom he had snagged since he had gotten to try a floor loom the year prior. I’m very grateful because the loom Laura donated to us is a beautiful 4-harness, 6-treadle Le Clerc. Until this weekend, that was meaningless to me. But now I know that this is an especially great loom because you can tie up separate treadles for your twill pattern and for your plain weave (tabby!) pattern. If you look at the sample below, the patterned section and the little checkerboard strip on the end were worked with to separate sets of treadles.
The loom is still very intimidating to me, but I feel like I have a very rudimentary understanding of its parts and operation, and I feel confident that if I set aside a full day, I’ll be able to warp the thing. After that, I have several Webs $5 clearance cones to play with risk-free, so I plan to get plenty of practice making blankets and rugs galore.
In class, we worked on a 2-part repeating twill pattern. After making 2 solid color mug rugs, I experimented and tried alternating rows of color in the same pattern, switching the odd and even rows every two complete repeats. I got enough practice with this simple pattern to be able to spot errors and back them out correctly.
When Jeff demonstrated dressing the loom, I took several pictures I’m hoping will jog my memory. Unfortunately, I won’t have time to try it out until next week at the earliest.
On Sunday morning, I took Spinning Fine Wool Yarns with Patsy Zawistoski. This was my first try both at fine yarns in general, and also my first try at spinning a silk hanky, which is challenging, but I got a sense of it and I think I’ll actually be able to pull it off later on. The class was only three hours, so we didn’t really have time to get into a groove, but here’s my first attempt at silk spun fine. The singles were about 75 wpi, and the plied was about 35 wpi!
Then we moved on to superfine merino. After silk, it was a breeze. I didn’t check my wpi yet, but it is very fine, like a thick thread. I’d guess in the 45 wpi range or finer! I intend to spin the remainder of the superfine merino sample we got. We also got a nice length of dyed Optim, some washed Polwarth locks, and some washed Merino-Romeldale and Merino locks to try out on our own. While I don’t see myself a fine spinner (mostly because I’m not much of a fine knitter), I really loved how much yarn you get out of how little fiber. Spinning fine is a very thrifty, relaxing way to spin!
Patsy’s teaching style is relaxed and fun, and she gives you plenty of examples and tricks to help you remember what you learn. I also learned some great general spinning tips in Patsy’s class. One of my favorite was to ply a foot of single on itself before you put it aside if it’s going to be a while before you get back to finishing it, so you’ll have a sample of the level of twist as well as its diameter. When you’ve abandoned a bobbin for a long time, the energy fades and you can’t really see the yarn’s nature anymore.
Another trick was how to ply a small sample from your hand–the idea was to make it very easy to sample–no fussing with multiple bobbins, etc.–because it’s often such a pain people skip that step. And it’s nice to know how your final yarn will look before you’ve spun up several bobbins of singles.
Another tip was to roll your yarn onto your wpi gauge instead of winding it, which affects the twist (if you’ve ever wound roving into a ball, you know how much twist that simple action adds to the fiber–so at a tiny gauge, that can significantly tighten or loosen your twist and really change your WPI).
Last but not least, there was a modest but enticing marketplace. Because I’m still over-flush from Rhinebeck, it was easy for me to resist almost everything, but I did go home with a pound of this future sweater:
It’s a supersoft 2-color Finn roving from Little Farm in Gerald, MO.