Recording a DVD set for Interweave

Not all that long ago, I had lunch with Linda Ligon, founder of Interweave Press and my employer from late 1986 to halfway through 2000. It was October 13, to be precise. We get together a few times a year. Last spring, we collaborated on a road trip (the first road trip we've done since I left Interweave) to visit Priscilla Gibson-Roberts and record some material for the first issue of SpinKnit e-magazine.

SO-deb-linda-dale.jpg-550x0 The photo of the three folks in red aprons is truly historic. It's probably 25 years old, and I grabbed it off the Spin-Off newsletter site. It shows me, Linda Ligon, and Dale Pettigrew, at one SOAR (Spin-Off Autumn Retreat) or another, figuring out SOMETHING that would make the experience better for the participants. I'm guessing the picture was taken at the first Spin-Off Rendezvous, in Potosi, Missouri, the year we increased the participant numbers from about 125 to 300 and added the marketplace. It's amazing how long-standing the connections from back then have been. Linda was the catalyst for the DVD that's the topic of this post. And I saw Dale most recently a couple of weeks ago.

Sometimes when we get together either Linda or I (or both of us!) will be working on a project we can't talk about, which can be kind of amusing: "I'm involved in something really fun, and I can't tell you about it yet." Weaving in the Peruvian Highlands, the book written by Nilda Callañaupa that Linda produced, was one of those secret endeavors, up to the point when it was nearly done and I read it and offered some lightweight feedback. The Project I've been engaged in recently was like that for its first couple of years, because I'm working with Storey on it rather than Interweave. Linda knew it was happening, but not initially what it was. Then there comes the time when we can reveal what's been under wraps. Linda's known about The Project for at least the past year, both from me and from people she knows at Storey, and has been a great supporter of this work.

The idea

So in October, after Linda and I had both been off on some adventures, we met up to catch up. Shortly after we parted ways after lunch, Linda called to ask if I'd be interested in working with Interweave to make an instructional DVD about rare-breed wools. We both knew that we'd need to clear the idea with Storey. When we asked folks there, they offered whole-hearted encouragement.

Linda asked if I thought I could be ready to be in the studio by December 3. I figured that could work (more time to prepare is not necessarily a good thing), and I asked a bit about the process and began planning.


Linda wanted the focus to be rare breeds of wool. She envisioned the audience as spinners. Those two foundation concepts guided everything that followed.

I met Linda at the studio shortly after our initial conversation, so I could see the environment. We talked a bit about structure.

At Interweave, the DVD-creation process is outlined, but unscripted. You basically make an outline of what you want to talk about, make sure you have all the tools and materials ready (as well as what are called set-ups, which means you've done any work required to expedite the demos), and then you wing it.

Many people I know have survived this experience, and I'd watched a number of their DVDs (and I began to watch more, looking at how they were put together). I took heart from the number of people who had actually done this thing and appeared to have had a good time and produced something well worthwhile.

I went home and worked on what I'd cover, in what units and in which order, and I assembled raw materials to work with (washed them, of course), and put together file boxes to take with me. Yes, I have lots of samples, but I didn't have quantities of clean fleece for the rare breeds that I would use for demo spinning.

Each medium and set of time constraints for any teaching experience requires re-evaluating the material and its presentation. While I've been on TV and radio, doing video for a DVD would be a whole new experience. Not long after Linda floated the idea and I agreed, I had the delightful opportunity to visit with Margaret Stove, whom I hadn't seen in a decade or more, just after she'd been in the studio at Interweave making her own DVD. We talked about a gazillion things, including what it had been like to do the video.

The biggest challenges for me throughout the process came from my decision to at least show/mention/give tips for spinning and using fiber from every wool-growing sheep on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy's and Rare Breeds Survival Trust's rare-sheep lists (I skipped the four hair sheep on the ALBC list).

Yet there was no way I could tell an adequate story about rare-breed wools while excluding any of those wool sheep. The contract called for a finished product of between 60 and 90 minutes. I knew I'd have to be exceptionally well organized and concise. I also determined to focus on the ideas and skills that are the most useful to know about when working with rare-breed wools, rather than on general spinning information that's available from other sources. 

The day before

We spent a chunk of December 2 (the day before studio day) moving tools and materials into the basement working space, and pulling samples out of boxes and arranging them so they would be in the right sequence when we needed them.

Here are some of the boxes of samples I took with me:


We used box lids and bakers' trays to organize the samples, so we could move them efficiently into and out of the set.

Here's another set-up area. Lying on top of some of the piled-up groups are maps I got printed out at Kinko's so I could give an overview of each group of breeds. The maps may show up in the finished version as these printouts or as images taken directly from my electronic originals.


We also arranged the set. Linda had gotten enlargements made of a couple of sheep photos to put on the back walls.


In the production area there's a back room (just through the white door on the left in the photo above) that contains chairs, tables, rugs, and other things that might be useful when creating a DVD or doing still photos. We dug in there and chose what rug to use. We found the tiered set of baskets, through which we rotated the fleeces that I was working with (it wasn't just a static display). We talked about the chair I would sit in (the one we actually used came from Linda's house the next day), got a tray table to hold the demo samples, added the Scandinavian booster chair my daughter used when she was a toddler (which I now enlist at home to support my peasant combs), and found the right location for the Lendrum wheel I've been using for most of The Project. My toolbox is that dark shape under the tray table. We sticky-tacked the sheep posters to the walls.

Overall, we considered the colors, textures, and harmony of the elements that would be surrounding me, along with the practicality of their positioning—both for my work and for the cameras, which would be able to catch the action from two different angles plus through close-ups that would be shot with the help of the big mirror hanging from the ceiling, which you can see in the photo above.

The set-up is very simple, but it worked exceptionally well. It involved a combination of useful objects, many of which were familiar and therefore helped me feel comfortable in the environment.

Here's a still shot taken from the video of how our set ended up looking "for real":


The brown sheep in the poster on the left are Soays. The white sheep on the right is a Cotswold. Even in the low-resolution photo shown here, I can tell you that the fiber on the straw mat on the tray table is Rough Fell. There's a smaller photo of Navajo Churro sheep on the other wall. That Navajo Churro was supposed to be reproduced at the same size as the other sheep, but the image file ended up not having enough resolution to be a big picture.

Recording day

I got to the studio at 8:30 on Friday morning, December 3, and we finished tweaking the set-up. The sheep posters got moved to slightly different positions. We decided to use the straw mats to hold most of the demo samples.

Fortunately, there was some flexibility in the finished length. I was very concerned about my ability to say anything meaningful about 38 breeds in the initially planned one-disk presentation. Garrett (DVD production director) and Linda (creative instigator) said, "Just do what you need to do, and we'll make it work." Whew. I had arranged the overall plan to group breeds by their similarities, but they all at least make cameo appearances.

We started recording somewhere between 9:30 and 10. We finished the camera work by about 3:30 p.m. Because there were set-up shifts to cover 38 breeds, at least half the time was off-camera, changing samples and piling up the used components, to be re-filed in my boxes later. We did take a lunch break. It was good to get outside, to walk across the street to the cafe, to lower the intensity level for a bit.

No script. No visible notes, except the intro. I hope I did not misspeak more than the one instance I know about. (I referred to one fleece from 40 years ago as red Karakul, when I remembered later it was gray. As I was speaking, I was thinking about how pretty red Karakul is, and the word "red" just came out of my mouth instead of "gray.")

The ending was kind of a surprise to all of us. They asked if I wanted to do a retake, and I said, "No, I don't think so." Which means, except for a couple of times when I halted a segment a few seconds in so I could start again and launch it more smoothly, everything in this project was a first take: me, wools, tools, extemporaneous.

The finished version is two disks and 120 minutes. 

It's honest and from the heart. Whatever the cameras caught, as long as those are the baselines, I can live with.

Once we were done with the recording, I still had to pack everything up so I could transport it home again. Linda helped, and we were done by a little before 7 p.m. There were a lot of samples and tools.

Everyone who saw parts of the process said it was really interesting (Linda, Garrett, Amy, Caroline, possibly some other folks briefly passing through . . . I was very focused on Doing My Job).

I have no perspective on it at all. And I don't get to see what we did until it's all done and published. That's probably just as well.


Last week's Spin-Off Newsletter gives the official story of Handspinning Rare Wools. Rumor has it the finished version will be out in a few weeks (February 2011).


25 thoughts on “Recording a DVD set for Interweave”

  1. Thanks, Mike! I think you'll enjoy it (based on what I remember the day in the studio was like). I did have a good time. I was truckin' through the material, too. Yet not rushed.

  2. It does look interesting!

    BTW…I wanted to ask you when you here for the class, but didn’t find an opportune moment… I was going to ask if you had worked and been trained in broadcasting.

    When I was busy working with wool and you were speaking about that wool, I kept thinking that you had a broadcaster’s voice.

  3. Nice behind-the-scenes tour.

    How is Dale? Does she still have that afghan we all contributed squares to when her house burned down? I was thinking about it the other day, when I was sorting stash and came upon the bag of leftovers I knit mine from.

  4. Valerie, that’s an interesting observation about broadcasting. No, I haven’t trained in it. I was fortunate enough to take a wonderful class many years ago called “oral interpretation,” which was part of the speech-and-theater program. I loved it. And I think that what I learned there has been useful far beyond anyone’s expectations! I just did it for fun.

    Linda, Dale does have that afghan. She’s doing well now. She was in a bike accident a couple of years ago that scared us all, but she’s been diligent with her therapies and life is good again.

  5. Well done with the DVD! I am loving the updates here on the progress of your book project and all your work with wool and fibres! It’s really nice to get a breakdown of the “behind the scenes” of making an instruction video, because it shows the craft and labour behind those kinds of productions. I bet it turned out great; I loved your presentation at UK Knit Camp.

  6. I am very much looking forward to this DVD, not to mention your book. Thank you for doing this valuable work.

  7. Oh, thank heaven! Sanity in the midst of my current chaos 🙂 Can’t wait to get my copy…and it IS study material, right?

  8. Thanks for cheering me on! Yes, Kris, it’s definitely study material.

    Valerie, Bordaleiras are hard to find much information on. I’d love to have the time to work more on the breeds from the European continent, although digging up information on them seems to require significant travel! The Bordaleiras aren’t in the Oklahoma database, nor is Portugal even included in the European heritage breeds database. The Bordaleiras (as Bordaleira Entre Douro e Minho) is in the UN FAO’s Domestic Animal Diversity database, though! Without much information, and NO details on wool quality.

  9. Just got my DVD yesterday and have finished the first disc…it’s wonderful! I love how you explain about the breeds and what makes them unique. I wish my fiber group could get you for a workshop!

  10. Oh, thank you for the note, Sandi! I'm actually watching for the first time myself–just took a break for a cup of tea. I'm seeing the things I would have done differently <grin>. Yet with the help of the Interweave production department's good work–and all those wonderful sheep photos!–I'm feeling like it might be okay. I really appreciate your comments.

  11. Just got the DVD last night and watched it from end to end. I have spun about half of the rare breeds you highlighted. I must confess that my hands longed to reach out for the Soay, Herdwick and Santa Cruz. Someday.

  12. Oh, thanks for letting me know about the DVD! End to end: that's quite a bit of watching {grin}. We filled those two discs (the initial plan was one disc, but as you can see there was way too much to say).

    Soay, Herdwick, and Santa Cruz: three of the most intriguing wools, and some of my favorites (as you could tell about at least one of them from the final clip . . . I was asked if I wanted to do a second take, and said no: I could live with it).

    Congratulations on experiencing a range of rare wools! Do you know about SpinDoctor's breed challenge? At her podcast,;

  13. Oh my. I didn’t know about SpinDoctor’s breed challenge. I’m all over it!

    Right now, I’ve got Tunis, Manx Loagthan, and Falkland on spindles. Portland, Texel, Navajo-Churro, and Montadale are patiently waiting. North Ronaldsay, Hog Island, and Gulf Coast are on the way.

    It’s funny how things come full-circle. I started spindle spinning about a year ago. I decided to study as many breeds as possible. I found the Save Our Sheep article from a decade ago and, over the past 6 months, have begun searching out and spinning those breeds.

  14. All right!!!! So glad I mentioned the SpinDoctor contest to you. If you've found Hog Island, you have enough determination to get anything you want <grin>. Note on Falkland: go for it, but it's not a specific breed. It's definitely fantastic wool, but it may be one of several breeds (Polwarth and Corriedale most prevalent). 

    I love just hearing the names in your list. Lots of good woolly "friends" there!

  15. Deb, I’ve recently watched your DVD. I found it moving, educational, and inspiring (in fact, it caused me to order some combs even though I’ve vowed not to get into fiber prep!). I was especially interested in the section on Navajo Churros, having done some research on their history (as well as having spun, knitted, and felted a bag from three different colors). I wonder whether you’re aware of an excellent book, “Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country,” by Marsha Weisiger, a history professor at NM State?

  16. Penny, you'll love combs. I'm really glad you enjoyed the DVDs!

    And on reading your mention of Marsha Weisiger's book, I wondered how in the world I'd missed a book on Navajo Churro sheep, and then I discovered it came out in 2009. While I generally monitor what's coming out that pertains to sheep (especially the rare ones), concentrating on The Project has limited my ability to keep up with things. So . . . I did miss it. I've ordered a copy already. Thank you so much for letting me know about it!

    I love Gladys Reichard's Navajo Shepherd and Weaver, which I read more than thirty-five years ago. (Hmmm. I thought my interest in rare breed sheep started in 1985. I think I only began to *realize* they were rare at that time, although apparently the stage was being set long before.)

  17. Oh, wow, Penny, those rugs are available to see again?

    I haven't seen the exhibit *at* the Wheelwright, but I likely saw many of the pieces in the back room (behind the freezer case) at the Toadlena Trading Post a number of years ago–appropriately hung, because Mark Winter (who owns Toadlena, as well as a number of the tapestries) has made the space into a museum-quality environment. WOW. I also visited a number of weavers with Mark, and have spent time in the rug room at Two Grey Hills Trading Post as well.

    Oh, my. Absolutely breathtaking work. How lovely–I get the impression from the website that the two trading posts have come together to amplify what I saw. Pondering schedule and budget. . . . 

  18. Yes, I’ve been to Toadlena, and it’s a memorable place. But seeing all those masterpieces together at the Wheelwright, hanging with space around them so that you can really see them, and with biographies of the weavers and commentary on the technique to help the viewer see them in a more informed way–wow! I’m thinking that the exhibit will be traveling after it leaves Santa Fe, if that helps you.

  19. The difference from the Toadlena exhibit that I saw would be the SPACE–there was good interpretive information with the exhibit when it was hung there–AND another 15+ years' worth of weaving and collecting. It would be interesting to see if any of the pieces I saw on the loom are hung there.

    It makes no rational sense, but my family and I have been talking about how the heck I might arrange to get to Santa Fe for a quick visit within the month.

  20. Rational??? –go! I went there, all the way from the far end of Tennessee, for a long weekend in January just to see an exhibit of paintings. Not that I do that sort of extravagant thing very often, but sometimes one just has to. “Reason not the need”!

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