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.
Here’s the friendly ferryman who probably poses regularly for tourist photos:
And here is me, catching a knitting break during the transit:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
The drum carder is a larger, faster version of the hand carders our grandmothers used to prepare wool for spinning.
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:
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.
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.
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.