Workshop Weekend

We are having sizzling temperatures here. Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s 106°F was a record-buster, and today promises to beat that. Ugh.


I made a weekend escape to cooler climes over the weekend, heading away to join friends at a 2-day ‘color in wool’ workshop.We drove downriver along the Columbia, and turned north at Westport, Oregon, to take a small ferry across to Puget Island. It was a glorious sunny afternoon by the time we lined up at the ferry landing. For $3 we made the short crossing along with a half dozen other cars. We ate cherries from a roadside stand while we waited at the landing.

The ferry landing

Here’s the friendly ferryman who probably poses regularly for tourist photos:

The cap'n of the ferry

And here is me, catching a knitting break during the transit:

Me, knitting

The crossing is about 15 minutes. I barely had time to find my bag and get out my needles.

Puget Island is a small community in the Columbia River. As you approach, it has that unmistakable scent and feel of a waterine settlement. Often the Columbia is raucous in its windy progress toward the ocean. On this day, with a pleasant breeze, the river lapped gently at the beach.


Approach to Puget Island

You drive briefly over the island, cross to the town of Cathlamet by bridge, and turn onto the highway headed downriver, to Skamokawa. (I had to put these in here: Cath-LAM-et, and (try it your own way first, then say…) Ska-MOK-a-way.)

We arrived enthusiastic, ate and slept well, and were ready to throw ourselves into class the next morning.  I was about to make yarns I would never have undertaken on my own, using the drum carder to blend colors into wool batts that were later drawn out into gaily colored rovings and spun into final yarns.

For readers who have no idea what I’m talking about, here is a quick course in the preparation of wool into yarn.

As it comes from the sheep, a fleece is messy, dirty, and clumpy. To be spun into yarn it must first be sorted and then cleaned (I mean washed, washed in hot water, with detergent), and then made into a fluffy form that can be attenuated into strands. Skipping over  the first business of sorting and washing (called scouring among the conoscenti), let’s move on, to the handling of the cleaned wool.

In this case, we were using small portions of wool already dyed into colors our instructor intended us to begin with.

Raw materials

We had a bag of brightly colored wool, a bag of medium-dark wool, a bag of darker dark wool, and a sack of natural whites, grays, and blacks. In addition, we were each given a paper bag of ‘goodies.’ The goodies were bits of flashy fiber, silk, mohair, wool, and, I must say it though it’s hard for me, holographic plastic.

Bits of color

All these bits and pieces are in a sort of rough jumble. To make them orderly, we first run the plain (dyed) wool though a carding machine like this one:

A drum carder

Below is a close-up view of the drums. The wires sticking from the cloth grab the wool as it passes between the two drums and pulls it open. Here you can see some bits of colored silk added to the wool batt.

Flecks and bits added to the carder

The drum carder is a larger, faster version of the hand carders our grandmothers used to prepare wool for spinning.

'La Cardeuse,' Jean-François Millet

You can imagine this woman never thought of getting together to card wool for fun.

The process separates the strands of wool, fluffs them up, gives them order and body. Actually, it may give them chaos, but it’s open and uniform chaos. The wool as it comes out of the carder is called a batt, and the texture of the batt is lofty. Here are four of them, well-carded:

Carded batts arranged in layers

You can see little pieces of colored material scattered through the batts. This is the goody stuff, which has been carded into the original wool.

Now, these delightful batts were about to be sundered.

We rolled them up like fat jelly rolls. Then, putting our arms and shoulders into it, we began pulling from the middles of the rolls, outward to the ends. This is our instructor, Janis Thompson, demonstrating how to pull the batts into a roving.

Pulling out a roving

A roving, which looks here like a giant woolly worm, is an attenuated rope of carded wool, ready for spinning into yarn. Here’s one of mine, wound up after being pulled thin.

A roving, wound up

The next day we all assembled again to finish up our yarns. We spun the pretty rovings into strands that were gaily textured, thin in some places, thick in others, happily colored and unpredictable. We had, as we’d been instructed, flexed our ‘color muscles.’  We’d come up with some irreproducible results.


Two days of intensive, hands-on education can be a zonking experience. On Saturday morning we were fairly skipping into class. By Sunday afternoon, we were weary from learning. Dazzled by our results, but worn right out.

Class wasn’t all that captured our attention. That inner bell that heralds a nearby yarn store had been clanging in my breast. All day on Saturday, I knew something must be done about it. But there we were, tied to our carding machines, class running until 5 pm. I could hear the door of that yarn shop closing at 5, even at a yet unmeasured distance. What to do?

Over dinner that evening we discussed the problem. Oh, said our friend Rose, that’s no problem. They open at 7:30 because of the cafe serving breakfast.


The yarn shop, you see, shares space with a cafe and the proprietors, being no fools, open the store about when morning coffee is served.

So we leapt from our own breakfast table on Sunday morning, and made a hasty sortie into the fragrant realms of the local yarn store.


It gave us a boost for the second day’s work over the carders.

All in all, it was a delightful weekend in which we enjoyed cooler temperatures, ate good food, found good company, and made yarn. A womanly pursuit all around, from which we came home again in good condition. I recommend such an outing every now and then.

Published in: on July 30, 2009 at 4:16 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. Good morning, Susan,

    Sounds like you had a great weekend. I can’t imagine such hot weather. John was once in Nevada or someplace like it where it was 110 in the shade or 119 or something…some business conference. Made me glad not to be “in business.”

    I like the yarn you made. Tell me, when you were pulling the “jelly rolls” into rovings, did you first roll the batts lengthwise or widthwise? I”m thinking lengthwise and then pulled them out, but wanted to be sure. I’d never done that before, but now, I’m psyched…must get John to overhaul my old Pat Green carder, which is in need of cleaning…right up his alley. I have a coopworth fleece which needs dyeing and carding and playing with. Your method sounds like fun…though I think I’ll avoid adding all that “foreign matter!” I am such a purist: wool, and only wool!

    I’m with you regarding the ‘foreign matter,’ but when I take a class, I follow the protocol. I figure I can take what I want from it, and leave the rest. When we pulled the rolls… let’s see… we rolled them up with the short dimension going left to right on the table in front of us, and rolled down the length of the batt. It was fun. When we did the last ones, using the remainder of the natural colors, they looked like ferrets growing longer and longer in front of us!


    I got some jacob rovings back from Pogo, a woman in Maine (Friends’ Folly Farm) who does great streaked rovings and yarn for me, separating the black and white and feeding it in separately to streak it(or “skunk it” as my friend, Sue, calls it). And she made some lovely DK weight (ish) shetland yarn for me, some moorit, some mioget, from some fleeces a friend gave me. I still have to skein it up and wash it to get the spinning oil out…but I’ve been busy with the garden.

    By the way, it’s gorgeous here: clear, high of 75 today, they say, a chilly 50 this morning: my kind of summer day. The pressure canner awaits…talk to you later.

    Much better temperatures here now, and cloudy with a hint of mist. So good to pull up a blanket!


  2. What a treat! The trip, not the weather. The heat you can keep.

    Actually, we sent the heat on its way, and things are much better now.


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