A Good Yarn

I’m still floating (or should I say “lofty”) from the 5-day spinning class I took last week at Sievers. Since I basically unplug when I land on Washington Island, here’s the capsule version. And because I was so enthralled, I kept forgetting to take pictures. Here’s a group photo of the class taken by Sievers’ Carolyn Foss.

That’s me on the far left, holding the remains of a distaff of basswood bark. More on that shortly.

The Backstory
The instructor was Deb Jones, and I really, really wanted to study with her. I’d met Deb when I was teaching a concurrent class at Sievers.  Sievers instructors often share thoughts and theories about teaching at the end of the day. I felt like I could learn about more than spinning from Deb. I was 100 percent right. She did a beautiful job of managing a group of 14 with a wide range of interests and varying levels of experience in spinning and dyeing.

I was barely qualified to be in the class. This year it was Beyond Beginning Spinning. Before I registered for the workshop, I contacted Deb to discuss a) if it would be possible for me to attempt spinning my basswood bark in class and b) what skills I would have to acquire beforehand. She said a) yes and b) I needed to be able to spin wool on a treadle wheel. I bought a wheel in April, had a short lesson when I picked it up, and arrived on Washington Island on August 29 hoping I hadn’t developed too many bad habits.
The Class
Because I was pretty focused on not embarrassing myself or being unfairly needy, I can’t swear this is true. But I think there were 12 or 13 different models of spinning wheels brought to the class. Deb watched us all spin for a little while to assess our needs, then gave us our first challenge. By the end of the day, I was much more confident about how to set drive band and the Scotch tension on my Ashford Kiwi to produce results that were intentional. By the end of the week, I was able to spin with a long draw and spin from the fold.

Here are four singles I spun early in the week.

And here they are plied and cabled. Navaho plying took some hand holding (literally), but now I absolutely love it.

One evening I did manage to, ahem, ply a yarn in the same direction it was spun. Oops.

I’m assured that everyone does this at least once. I assume I’ll do it more than once.

Deb had a beautiful selection of fibers for us to sample. Here’s a silk cap I dyed in one of the class dyeing units and yarn I spun from it.

I loved spinning the silk and the linen, and I can’t wait to sample the rest of the fibers Deb provided.

There would have been time in class to sample all those fibers, but I really wanted to spend some time exploring what I could do with basswood bark. In the past, I’ve made basswood cordage, twisting and plying it by hand.

Spinning Basswood Bark 
My first attempt with basswood bark on the wheel was a little like wrestling snakes. Then Deb showed me how to set up a distaff. I didn’t think to take a picture, so you’ll have to image what it looked like. We used:

  • the handle of a broom from the bathroom
  • the spare tire from my car, as a weighted base to stand the broom handle in
  • and a piece of PVC pipe and some rags, to keep the broom handle from wiggling too much in the tire.

Deb taught me how to lay out the fiber and tie it on the distaff. It was much easier to manage that way.

This photo shows some of my spun basswood bark fiber in a skein across the top. The ball on stick shows what the bark looks like after being boiled for a couple of hours. The boiled yarn is what I used to crochet the small sample bag. I’m very happy with the results, and can’t wait to see what happens when I have a bit more practice.

But Wait, There’s More
Over the years, I’ve spent some magical times at Sievers, both as a student and as a teacher. This week ranks right up there. And this may have been my all-time-favorite inter-class studio visit. On Thursday afternoon, Daryl Lancaster’s A Wearable Extravaganza class visited our studio to learn what we’d been up to. They arrived wearing their beautiful custom-fit jackets, and treated us to a fashion show after oohing and aahing in all the right places at our stuff.

It was fun to spend some time visiting with Daryl on the way to the airport. I also got to have lunch and reflect on ideas with my friend Ellen Graf, who was in Daryl’s class. I made some wonderful new friends, and think the magic that forged lifelong friendships in my first Sievers class is still strong.

During the week, I had a chance to visit with some of my island friends. I hope others will forgive me for coming and going with nary a word. I suspect they know exactly how it is when you’re learning something new and exciting and your head is swimming with possibilities. And in a few weeks, I’ll go back for The Gathering and get to see them then.

On Friday, Deb asked us all to sum up the week. The word I chose: Possibilities.

So thank you all — Deb, the Sievers crew, Daryl, Ellen and everybody in the class. That big, dopey grin on my face? Still there.

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Donna Kallner

fiber artist, teacher and explorer, inspired by ancient fiber techniques and all the ways contemporary fiber artists give old ideas a new spin

4 thoughts on “A Good Yarn”

  1. My mind is spinning for sure. But one of the most important things I learned in the class was to stop pedaling when I need to regain control. If that’s not a life lesson, I don’t know what is!

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