Playing with yarn

I'm acquiring and preparing fibers and yarns for upcoming workshops. The amount of up-front work, and its complex nature, is one reason I only accept a small number of teaching opportunities each year. (Over the course of 2012, I'll be teaching in Washington, Maryland, Minnesota, California, Alberta, and Michigan.)

First up is the Madrona Winter Retreat, from February 16 to 19 in Tacoma, Washington. At Madrona, some of my classes have filled, but others have a few openings; there are sessions for both spinners and knitters, as well as for people who are interested in publishing their fiber work. I'll also be doing an informal clinic, and giving a talk on Saturday night at the banquet.

Here's what I've been up to in getting ready for just two of my seven Madrona offerings. These are yarn-based classes (rather than fiber-based ones). One is Understanding Breed-Specific Yarns and the other is Introduction to Rare-Breed Wools.

My first challenge is to determine which breeds will be covered—in other words, what I can find appropriate yarns for. I want to make sure that each class has a variety of types of wools, and, in this case, that the breeds covered in the two classes are all different, in case anyone wants to take both. (There will be no repeated breeds.) Although I ask people to bring a variety of sizes of needles for swatching, I try to find yarns for sampling that are within a fairly narrow range of weights. This can be challenging, because these artisan yarns often only come in one or two weights. I aim for sport or DK, and I settle, when necessary, for worsted or aran.

With one exception, all of the yarns are undyed, because I want to keep the emphasis on the fiber qualities. We are so easily seduced by lovely colors! They can obscure our perceptions of what the fiber itself is like. (The one dyed fiber wasn't available undyed at the moment when I ordered, and I decided I wanted to include it anyway. As it turns out, the dye effect—which happens to be lovely—will offer a chance to include an extra instructional point. It will earn its keep.)

I order the yarns and they start arriving.


I wind skeins into balls.


I go back and forth with one producer about what's been happening with her production runs, which are not meeting her standards, and she sends samples and we converse at some length before making decisions about which option I'll obtain for the classes. Because of the issues involved, I need to redesign part of the class plan and figure a different way to demonstrate the point I wanted to make. Her yarns will be there. My point will get made. Those two goals just won't happen in conjunction with each other.

Another source never replies to my inquiry, although that's unusual. I do have to find another supplier for that breed's yarn, because I'm determined to include it.

More yarns arrive.


I wind more skeins into balls.

When it's time to visit family for the holidays, I take yarn with me and during in-between moments I begin to prepare the sample kits for class participants. When I'm ready to fly home, I have a duffel that doesn't have anything but yarn in it, and all of that yarn is workshop-ready.


Unzipping it causes a minor explosion (the packs below those on the surface are still compressed).


There's more yarn waiting for me at home.


I count the samples. I count the breeds. I compare the lists of what I have to the lists of what I meant to have.

The participants in Understanding Breed-Specific Yarns (workshop is full) will be treated to:

  • Black Welsh Mountain
  • Border Leicester
  • Cormo
  • Corriedale
  • Gotland
  • Herdwick
  • Icelandic
  • Romney
  • Suffolk

Those in the Introduction to Rare-Breed Wools (which has a space or two! – edited to add: full again; one of my  followers on Twitter, where I'm @effortlesszone, snagged what was apparently one spot released by someone with a change of plans—it had sold out on the first day) will discover:

  • Cotswold
  • Karakul
  • Leicester Longwool
  • Manx Loaghtan
  • Navajo-Churro
  • North Ronaldsay
  • Shropshire
  • Tunis
  • Wensleydale

The only problem with this type of work is that for every breed whose samples I prepare, I not only want to keep the yarn for myself but to order more and make a whole project. However, I remind myself what a delight it is to introduce other fiber folk to all the possibilities that breed-specific yarns open up for them. Still, with each option that runs through my fingers I find myself imagining all the things I could make with it. . . .




Those are just a few of the bags of prepared yarn. I have just over 400 samples wound and ready to go, and last night I printed out the corresponding information cards that I'll give to the people in the workshop to help them keep track of what they're experiencing.

That's just for two classes, and short ones at that. Next I need to be sure that the fibers for the Madrona spinning workshop are ready; get moving on washing two fleeces (and making final selections for two more) for Explore 4 (there's another note about this event below); and begin the selection and acquisition processes for Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, which will follow before long (I've been completing paperwork for Maryland this week: lots of details).

Oh, and now that I know which breeds will be in the Madrona line-ups, I can start putting together the background material: the slides and the handouts.


Internet radio interview

Meanwhile, yesterday I was interviewed on an internet radio show about the article that I wrote for the November/December issue of PieceWork magazine, called "On the Edge: How a Handful of People Have Preserved Some Rare, Valuable Sheep and Their Wools." The show, broadcast live, is Creative Mojo with Mark Lipinski. Mark is an energetic, opinionated, outspoken host and I only hoped I could keep up with him! The show is two hours long and I was the second guest, beginning about 45 minutes into the program. It was fun, and the results are available now as a podcast.



Veering toward a completely different topic, Tuesday morning shortly after I got up I noticed that the light outside had a very warm quality to it. I looked out the window and noticed we were having an especially beautiful sunrise, so I grabbed my camera and ran out front in my pajamas to see if I could catch it to share.

This was 7:20 a.m.:


And by 8:30 a.m., just over an hour later, the same view had acquired its more normal winter coloration:


I'm glad I didn't miss the show!

Come to think of it, that's sort of how I feel about breed-specific and generic wool yarns. The generic ones are lovely, reliable, and nice to work with. I wouldn't be without them.

But the breed-specific ones are something else.


Explore 4

A month after Madrona comes the Explore 4 Retreat in Friday Harbor, Washington (March 10-16). It's a fiber-based event, for spinners at all levels beyond the basic skills of spinning and plying.

Most of the workshops I offer are surveys, in which we cover a lot of ground really fast. They're fun and energizing.

Explore 4 will will be quite different, providing an unusual opportunity to relax and go into more depth with fleeces from four carefully selected breeds. I'll share more of the process of preparing for that event as we go along here. Registrations have been arriving in clusters as people hear about it through various channels (all word-of-mouth, in this case), but there are still some spaces available.


And now it's time to make another checklist.



6 thoughts on “Playing with yarn”

  1. Deb! I so hope to be able to take one of your classes this year. That’s the drawback of teaching — not getting to take as many classes as you would otherwise. I’ve taught at Madrona the last several years but not this year and I’m so sorry to miss it. It’s the best event! I’ll be thinking of it while I’m in Kentucky (which should be fun, too!).

  2. Well, Jacey, I guess that's only fair because *I* want to take one of *your* classes! Same problem. I do have your new book, but haven't had time to do more than open and leaf through and think, "Oh, cool!" Enjoy Kentucky! (I should be there some time next year. . . .)

  3. Valerie, I'm sure you're doing lots of good stuff. It's all cyclical and progressive. I'm in Michigan September 21-23. Beth and I haven't decided what I'm teaching yet. We're open to suggestions. It doesn't have to be something I've taught before, although it should probably be about natural animal fibers, likely wool (I'm teaching some other stuff now and then, but I'd like to focus my energies so I can go deeper).

  4. Jeni, you are very familiar with this task, and thank you again for your help with it in Scotland! I’d love to share the goods with you again, all ready to go this time.

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