Tag Archives: spinning

Mainly Maine

I have been lucky enough to go to Maine three times this year (so far).

In June we took a little anniversary trip to Rockland which is on the mid-coast. One of the many things I enjoy about Maine and really anywhere I go are the quirky things that we come across. In Rockland I saw this: jail topper thing Rockland

It looks like a place where gnomes might live.

In July three college friends and I spent a week at a lake house in Washington Maine to celebrate 42 years of friendship and turning 60. I still don’t know what turning 60 means for me. It sounds so old but I don’t feel any different so maybe it isn’t that big a deal. I don’t know! college friends lake in Washington

In August we spent time with our son on his property in Freedom Maine. Only 13 miles from Washington. An hour from Rockland.  I made some good potato salad with his first harvest.

kyle and potatoes

We visited our friend Emily who homesteads with her partner.emily in palermo

The weekend after Labor Day, this time in Searsport, I will be teaching workshops at the Maine College of Fiber. I will teach drop spindling, wool combing to prepare fiber for spinning, and chain plying which creates a 3 ply homespun yarn. I will do a demonstration of the hackle too.

drop spindle and pippi

Pippi trying really hard to learn to spin on a drop spindle

Drop spinning spindle Betsy Alspach

Drop spindle I made from toy wheel

Who wouldn’t love playing with tools that look like medieval torture instruments?

Alspach wool combing

Wool Combs



The wool hackle which is used to blend different fibers and colors

roving from hackle

alpaca and wool ready to spin after being removed from hackle

Betsy Alspach chain plyed yarn

Chain plyed homespun yarn

I’ve always said I’d move north before I’d move south. The snow and the cold don’t bother me because I know how to bundle up and keep warm and I guess I have thick blood or something. I am always happiest away from cooky cutter suburbia and cities. Maybe we’ll move to the coast of Maine one day. Maybe not. Who knows!  My fellow 60 year olds and I now say “We’re 60. We can do whatever we want!”


“I am going on a trip and I am taking…”

This post feels a bit like that childhood memory game we used to play as kids and with our own children where we add to a list of items we are taking on a trip and have to remember the ones other people said before us.

I think we used to say we were going to Africa for some reason but my trip is not so exotic but very exciting for me. I am going to Colorado to the Interweave Yarn Fest. I won’t be taking my spinning wheel because I don’t want to risk any damage to it or risk my being thrown off the plane if anyone pushed hard on it in the overhead compartment and I sought revenge. I am taking classes other than spinning.

I will be packing some dubious looking tools in my checked luggage.

combs etc for yarn fest

These are just used on wool, honest


Should I have the confirmation of my class in hand if questioned when security screens my luggage?

I am very excited to be taking an all day workshop with Esther Rogers called Wild Fiber: Getting Creative with Your Fiber Prep.  I love carding, combing and drum carding natural fibers maybe even a little more than I love spinning them so I am looking forward to learning new tricks with the tools I already have. I can’t take all my tools since some are too big, but she will have them there too.

When I go to Colorado I am taking my…..  pointy dangerous fiber combs…

I am taking some snacks with me including some from my new favorite sourdough recipe.   Any time you use the sourdough starter you have to feed it every twelve hours for a day or so to allow the yeast to revive from its  hibernation in the refrigerator. Each time you feed it flour and water you have to remove all but four ounces of the rising starter. Sourdough baking is not for the faint of heart. There are many good recipes for this put aside starter and these crackers are one of those. They keep for a week. I added a few dried herbs to them.

sourdough crackers

My first batch of sourdough crackers

When I go to Colorado I am taking my pointy dangerous fiber combs and my sourdough crackers.

I also need a knitting project for the plane and waiting time to board. I am not an especially good sitter and I am really not good at sitting and keeping my hands still. I am thinking of making the second sock for this pair of cozy slipper socks that I am making out of rare sheep breed yarn that I have spun..

knitting for yarn fest trip

First sock of an unmatched pair made from rare sheep breed wool

When I go to Colorado I am taking my pointy dangerous fiber combs, my sourdough crackers and a sock to knit.

Also exciting will be my chance to visit cousins in Colorado and Wyoming. I have never been to Wyoming and am looking forward to venturing into Longmire territory. Anyone who hasn’t seen that series needs to watch it immediately and I will leave it at that. I can’t add anything I may be taking for them here because then YOU will know, Dell. 🙂

I am feeling some separation anxiety about being away from my cat and chickens but I know they will receive very good attention and care. I am also not an extrovert by any means but I feel no shyness whatsoever about going to this large gathering where I will know no one. Spinners, and other people who love working with fiber, and love fiber animals, have instant unspoken connections. It’s a given and really nice. I am sure other groups of people who share deep interests find the same thing at their events. We need as much of that as we can get in this world.

This trip came about because last fall I told my husband that I don’t need any more “stuff” for gifts. I said I would rather have experiences than things. That statement prompted this trip as Christmas, Mother’s Day and birthday presents. I knew something was up when he asked to read my latest Spin Off magazine, an event that never happened before or since. I didn’t know it was this trip!

Looking forward to reporting from the field!


Surprised by Musk Ox

Twice in my life-so far- I have been surprised by Musk ox.


m ox

Musk Ox

First, some background. Musk ox were native to Alaska until the 1850s when they were hunted to extinction. In the 1930s some were imported from Greenland to study for domestication. These Musk ox were set free when that project ran out of money. (Why do I want to say the more things change the more they stay the same.)  In the 1960s they were studied again and it was determined they could be raised on farms. Some are on farms, some live in the wild.

I had read a lot about them in a knitting book called Arctic Lace which told about native Alaskan knitters and a co-op there. From the book I knitted this scarf. I used the fiber from an alpaca named Marcus who lived on the Great Rock Farm in Barre MA. But I digress.marcus scarf

I never thought I would work with Musk ox fiber. They grow various fibers including coarse outer hairs for protection against snow and rain and a very soft, warm, durable and highly prized by spinners undercoat- qiviut. Due to the lack of great numbers of them and the process of dehairing  it generally sells at wool festivals for $50 an ounce and often only one vendor has it. That is out of my league. Unless that is the only thing I want to bring home which it never is. So I would enjoy touching it when I came upon it and then move on.

Then my opportunities changed. A few years ago on a summer day a package arrived for me from my sister-in-law. She had been to Alaska and sent me silk/qiviut yarn and yarn with the outer hairs and undercoat blended together. It felt like Christmas. Very exciting. I knit the silk/qiviut into a small cowl I wear whenever I am going to spend time outdoors on a cold winter day. So warm, light and luxurious.

qiviut cowl

Silk/Qiviut Cowl

So I enjoyed those yarns and continued to touch the qiviut at festivals and walk on.  Until a few weeks ago.  Elizabeth at the yarn shop where I teach, Auntie Zaza’s Fiberworks in North Easton, told me she had a present for me. A man had come in with a small dirty bag of musk ox fiber he had collected 20 years ago while hiking in Alaska. Musk ox do shed all year long so it was possible. He had thought he would do something with it but realized he never would and was passing it along.  What great provenance.  What a fun challenge!

qiviet in dirty bag

Musk ox in zip lock bag

The fiber weighed about 2 1/2 oz and expanded greatly out of the bag.

qiviet opened

2 1/2 oz of raw musk ox fiber

No moths, no deterioration, looked like much can be spun. It will be a labor of love because I must dehair it and get rid of some other things in the fiber. It might be years before I finish it because unfortunately other things in my life are often of higher precedence than picking at qiviut. I never feel anyway that I have  to spin up yarns quickly, even those I sell. I enjoy the process of it all so much that when they happen to be done, they are done. I also believe that since  there are enough things in life that we have to do that we don’t enjoy much, spinning should never be pressured, always be kept fun.

I have made a sample.

flick card qiviut

Flick carding qiviut

I dehaired it, flick carded it gently to get out other things, then hand carded the locks together to get a bunch to spin at a time.

qiviut on hand card

Qiviut on hand card

Not being a perfectionist- I don’t think handspun yarn should look like a machine made it-I took it off the card, drew some out and spun it with a lot of twist since the fibers are short.

qiviut ready to spin

Qiviut ready to spin

puni qiviut

Qviut puni

I could have made punis which are small rolags which are rolled off the hand card in this case with a knitting needle. But I wasn’t in the mood so I didn’t. I made one for show though since they are so cute.




I then took it from the bobbin and put it around my hand to so I could ply it. There is such a small amount that this is easiest. Please note that the bobbin on the right is not full of qiviut! I spun it on top of an almost full bobbin because in a class on spinning exotic fiber with Robin Russo she recommended we do that to reduce the pull on the fibers. I take everything she says without question!

This sample made nine yards. It didn’t even weigh one gram and could even be spun finer for more yardage. Light, soft and warm!

qiviut yarn

Spun qiviut sample


In other news we have opened an Etsy shop with yarn, hand dyed  batts and locks for spinning and felting and fiber in a few other form. We decided to focus on promoting the rare breeds of sheep whose numbers are also small. Each item is 50-100% rare or unusual wool. We call it Eagle Lake Fibers since we met when we both lived near Eagle Lake. We do want to try using some of its water for dyeing just for fun.

We will not however follow the precedent set long ago by those who ran the old empty woolen mill that is still on it. I remember an elderly man years ago saying that as a kid they would go and look at the color of the water gushing into the lake since it could be red, green, anything depending on the dye they were using and pumping back out into the environment. Oh gosh. Glad we got to swim in it and ice skate on it when it had only its natural colors.


Life Provides Balances

Thank you to everyone who reached out as we were adjusting to our cat’s sudden illness. It meant so much. Our little sweetheart did pass away about 12 days ago and while the end is never easy we were grateful she did so before the vet who was coming to the house to euthanize arrived. She was so afraid of everyone except us and that would have made it harder initially for her. She came and woke us up when the end was near. That meant a lot to me because she had a semi feral first year and a half of her life and once when she got out of our house she reverted to that. I wondered if she would do the same at this point and hide but she wanted us with her when she was distressed.

Thankfully life has balances and one of mine recently was the enjoyment of having two young neighborhood girls here for the morning while their mother was at work. As you will see I am not comfortable putting children’s faces into cyber space but hands are safe I think. 🙂  Since my entire house is something of a fiber studio we:

Enjoyed drum carding wool to make batts


Drum carding a wool batt


Being a mother of sons and not having a girly bone in my body means that sparkly pink things have never been a part of my life. It was fun to see the creativity that they put into this one.


Pink sparkly batt

They had used hand cards on a field trip that included sheep so were familiar with them. Why weren’t those kinds of field trips around when I was a kid?? They taught me how to make wool bracelets like they had made there.


Hand carding

Spinning occurred of course and knitting.


Spinning first yarn

What better way to top off a morning than making chocolate chip cookies. We went out and fed the chickens and got their eggs for the cookies. One of us preferred to put them on the cookie sheet with her hands which I found entertaining. We all know they taste the same no matter how they go on so why not if that is your inclination!









It was just a really nice day.



Bringing Out Old Friends

We’ve had a few moves in the past few years and some of our things stayed behind. Everything is with us now. My Ashford Joy wheel and my fiber processing tools were at my side every step of the way.


joy wheel and tools

Ashford Joy spinning wheel and fiber processing tools

As was my spinning partner. Is she trying to correct my technique?

cat spinning

Friends don’t let friends spin alone. Apparently.

Now I am renewing my acquaintance with my first wheel, a Country Craftsman. The Joy is much easier to transport when spinning with friends and I was having some trouble with the drive band falling off the Craftsman as I spun so it hasn’t done much for a number of years except look pretty and sometimes be a prop when I took  pictures of my yarn and knitted items.


My first spinning wheel

There is a funny story connected with the Craftsman. Years ago one of my son’s girl friends told me she had a dream that he had a party at our place and that some friends were making the wheel spin. She went over and made them stop and told them that was the most important thing in this house! She sure had my number! (Besides of course the living and breathing things and the pictures of my children as babies and toddlers.)

But today I decided to try it again and if I had problems that would be hard to fix I would, well, do something else so it wouldn’t take up space in this small house. My test was to see if I could spin ten minutes without a problem and it spun like a breeze. Maybe it healed during its long rest.

There are many differences between the Joy and the Craftsman besides ease of transport. Although I didn’t know any of this when I bought each I now know that the Craftsman can spin faster because of its construction. When I was taught to spin years ago I was taught to create different yarns by how I used my hands and feet rather some of the more technical methods that people with technical minds, and I am not in that category for sure, can now apply to get yarns with certain attributes. So I have studied the technical ideas just to understand them simply because I want to know everything about spinning even if I don’t use it. I do pay attention to ratio but that is for another time. The rest, for example twist angle of the yarn-I won’t explain it because my eyes are glazing over even as I only type it much less try to use it- is knowledge but doesn’t enter in to the ways I use to create the yarns I want. Different strokes for different folks.

Now I look forward to doing more “production” spinning-getting more yarn more quickly- on the Craftsman as it has larger bobbins and can spin faster and thus make yarn faster. I don’t usually think much about speed since I am usually too busy enjoying the leisurely process but I may try out speed for fun. When I am alone and not distracted by other talk around me. I will mean business! 🙂


Mrs. Mc’s wool winder


I have a few other truly antique wooden friends I have been using right along. Several years ago while on PEI I bought a smaller old wool winder that I use all the time for the purpose for which it was made. I love the big old nails, and in one spot I can faintly see the penciled name  Mrs. Mary Mc (I can’t read the rest of her name) which makes it even more fun to use. It is very rustic and may have been made by Mr. Mc…I also have a large clock wheel wool winder given to me years ago by a friend which now is mostly another nice prop for my yarns and project bags.


Everything has multi purposes.


toy wheel with rolag

Toy spinning wheel with rolag

Of course I also have this wheel:





rigid heddle loom

Rigid heddle loom


New friends too.




Human friends and family, pet friends, perennial flower friends, spinning wheel friends- they all bring warmth to our lives and we can never have too many. Except maybe too many pets at one time!

The Smallest of Encouragements

I am a firm believer in appreciating and enjoying even the smallest positive things in life for many reasons, not the least of which is that they are always present if we look for them. Life has ups and it has downs and enjoying the small things is a big help in the challenging times. And fun in the up times!

I found enjoyment and encouragement in two small Spring signs in the past two days when I least expected them. On Monday I noticed that some ground against the back of our house was bare and that spring bulbs are taking advantage and coming up! Here they are and if they are difficult to see since they are short now, my next picture of the snow pile next to them will explain why I didn’t get closer to take the picture. I guess I could lie on top of the snow pile to get one but I am not that avid a photographer! I have made the first one large so the bulbs can be spotted. The next two won’t be because they might scare you if too large.

spring bulbs March 2015

Spring Bulbs in March

snowbank March 2015

Snowbank March 2015

The snow isn’t as deep everywhere as this because it has been piled here. It is all working on melting now.

The ability of living things to survive in weather extremes in nature has always fascinated me. I remember seeing 3 deer a few years ago and thinking they looked young- then realized they were probably just thin because it was near the end of winter. On the deer front, in October I was in the yard when a buck walked into it. I stood watching him from maybe 150′ away and he watched me. When he started to paw the ground like a bull I decided it might be time to quietly go inside! The other day my husband heard the chickens making a ruckus and looked out to see what was wrong. He saw a deer in the yard. Apparently they were angry at the intrusion. The deer didn’t seem to care.

The chickens keep on going despite the cold too. Of course we have tried to create the best winter environment for them by only leaving a few spots for ventilation so they won’t be in a draft, and have taken several other measures. My criteria when choosing the breed was cold hardiness and being docile. They live up to it. They keep on cranking out 3 brown eggs a day without us adding heat or extra light to fool them as some do. They are very social with humans but not deer apparently. This is an old picture and they are bigger now. Buff Orpington hens can get to 7 pounds but I don’t know how much they weigh. They are very social with humans and one always scurries to the top of this ladder when anyone approaches the run and they make happy noises. They know treats are likely involved!



Just as animal behavior interests me I also find human behavior interesting. When we have visitors I enjoy seeing their reactions to the chickens. Some give a cursory glance and continue the discussion in progress, some watch them with interest, and others- the majority because I would be drawn to friendships with animal lovers- talk right back to them, sometimes in chicken language, and then ask to go in the hen house and feed and hold them, all of which is easily accommodated.

Today I am off to spin at the yarn shop, Auntie Zaza’s Fiber Works, where I teach spinning and fiber preparation, and now soap making in a joint workshop she and I have where I teach soap making and she has them make  facecloths. Later I am looking forward to a talk at the Sharon Historical Society about life in the 1600’s. Of course if the speaker doesn’t bring up spinning I will. He must be doing that. I am reminded of the fact that many of the words and expressions in our language today come from our history with sheep and wool. I think I will start mentioning one in every blog post. Spinster is a fun one. At least it is for people like me for whom spinning is a fun hobby, not a survival skill. Spinsters were unmarried woman usually beyond what was then considered marriageable age, who lived with family and spun a lot of wool for the family and to bring income. Of course we link it with the other out of date term,  an “old maid,” which sounds negative but it gets me to thinking- food and shelter would be provided for me if I just… spun all day?? Hmmmm.

Okay, my other sign of spring happened yesterday when I was leaving work. I heard a redwing blackbird in a nearby marsh. Very exciting for me every year but especially this one. They traditionally come back from wherever they go in the month of March and I hope that shows that they think spring is on its way. I think I saw an Osprey last week on the Cape and they too come back now but I can’t say for sure if that is what I saw.

I am also looking forward to having my spinning group here on Saturday. I am pondering what to serve for lunch but know it will be something that uses eggs. A lot of eggs.