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)  

Small Gratification

How silly is this?

For… what? six weeks I reckon, I have been dying to plant things. I’m sure it’s partly the harsher than normal winter we’ve had, and the looking out at a devastated landscape where the new house is rising but any semblance of a garden is gone. And part of it might be the usual thing that happens more or less every February when the seed catalogues start appearing in the mailbox, the lengthening of the days becomes evident, and the gardener in a woman just wants to bust out into the dirt. All that. But this year we have no place to start seedlings, and no herb garden to clip and tend on a dry weekend in winter, nor any unexpected blooms peeking from garden corners.

I did come around the wall and spot these happy souls this afternoon.

Wood Violets!

But it’s not the same as having a real garden. It’s even too early to plan much because I can’t yet see the shape of the land around the house.  And though we will have something wonderful in the way of a greenhouse when it’s done, it isn’t there yet.

So Skepweaver was shuffling through old seed packets, sighing disconsolately, and wondering what to do about it, when her eyes fell upon: empty milk jugs waiting to go out to the recycle bin. And for some reason, she thought of greenhouses just then, little greenhouses. And she took out her scissors, punched holes, cut the jugs in half, filled them with potting soil left over from last summer, and pushed in a lettuce seed, one for each jug. Then she taped the tops back on, leaving the lids off for ventilation, and set them out in the feeble March sun.

Jug gardenSomehow, this lacks something.

That was last weekend. During the week we had days of sun. Cold sun, but sun, and I imagined my jug garden to be nurturing potential captive in the chill.

I peeked inside this morning.

Anything going on?

It doesn’t seem like much is happening. Huh.

Well. It’s a start.

Published in: on March 14, 2009 at 8:14 pm  Comments (2)  


This is a special request post. A friend of mine keeps asking how one makes wreaths, and though I have given answers like, “You just wire the stuff onto a form until it’s done,” that hasn’t seemed to be answer enough. So here you go:

1. Get your stuff.

Snip! Snip!

“What kind of stuff?” I am asked. Well, shoot. Any kind of stuff. This is a cheap project. Look around. Some folks buy their materials (shudder!), but, really, is that necessary? When we lived in town, I made wreaths from the old fir tree in the back yard, the boxwood shrub, and the arbor vitae hedge. If you don’t have your own, it’s not too hard to find someone who will share. Everyone who has a hedge wants it pruned. Landscape evergreens make great wreath materials.  Take a drive in the country, stop someplace that looks friendly, and ask to cut enough for a wreath. Just seek out evergreen foliage, berries, cones, and things that look like they will last a while.

Avoid: Holly. I mean it. If you have body armor and can work in gloves, then go ahead and make holly wreaths. They will be beautiful, and I will kneel before you in  homage. Holly is the most awful thing to work with I have ever imagined. You cannot hold onto it anywhere without it sticking you, and if you get some built into a wreath, then you can’t pick up the wreath to show it off. And you bleed. You bleed out of a hundred tiny wounds. Saints used to bleed like this.

If you want to bleed just a little, perhaps to make yourself feel like the princess in a fairy tale? The stems of the wild roses (see below for my list of ingredients) will work fine.

Prick your finger here.

But you can also de-thorn them and work safely in the world of real things. If you make this wreath, you won’t have to be a fairy-tale princess; people will think you are a Queen!

Maybe avoid: Juniper.  Garden beds around offices and schools are full of juniper plants. Juniper has attack spines on the ends of its lovely fronds. They stick you and leave itchy welts. It’s not as bad as holly, but you really want to be prepared to have a good rash for the rest of the weekend if you use it in wreathmaking.

My stuff presently is Douglas Fir, native Salal (Gaultheria shallon), Scotch Broom — or Common Broom, to those across the pond — (Cytisus scoparius), and wild rose hips. But the recipe changes from time to time. I just look around for what might be had.

Buy some wire. You do have to lay out something for the wire. I buy 24 gauge “paddle wire” at the craft shop: $1.49 gets you enough for a couple of wreaths on forms about 12 inches in diameter.

2. Make your form. No! don’t buy one!


When I was young and foolish, I did buy them. And then one year I came up short on forms, so I twisted a couple of limber branches into hoops, wired them up, and went to town. It may not be perfectly round when you start, but by the time you’ve worked all the way around it with your greens, it will be.

I ask you to use a little restraint here. A 12-inch hoop will make into a finished wreath of about 24 inches in diameter. That’s big enough for a door wreath. I’m warning you: if you start out with a form the size you have in mind for the final product, you will be really surprised at the end. You will be able to hoola-hoop it around your hips. You will be able to jump through it on horseback.

3. Make some greenery into small pieces.

Pick it apart

Pull or snip off pieces that can become little bouquets, and…

4. Wire them onto the form.

Wind them on.

You already have wire going around the form to hold the branches together. Just keep on spiraling the wire around the form, catching the ends of the fronds or other branches under the wire.

5. Add new ingredients in layers.

Add stuff in layers.

Don’t skimp on material. Make your wreath thick and bushy. You can always trim later, but it’s a real pain in the butt to add stuff in after you’ve finished and realize, too late, your wreath is skinny.

Some things can be added on the back of the wreath. Here I’ve put on some Scotch Broom that will stick out in swishes off the sides of the wreath:

Work the back as well as the front.

6. When you get to the end, fold back the material you laid in first and find space to tuck the last few stems of foliage.

Look for a place to finish up.

Work the wire back and forth between leaves to keep them perky and undamaged while you find a place to wrap.

7. Sew in the end of the wire someplace on the back, and there you have it. Hang your wreath someplace and stand back to admire it.

Now, wasn't that easy?

(Click any images for bigger display.)

Published in: on November 29, 2008 at 8:12 pm  Comments (3)