Retreat (with wool) on Maryland’s Eastern Shore

The Scotland, Orkney, and Shetland travel notes will continue, interleaved with real-time updates. There's so much to share. . . . 

I'm home again, and while I wasn't ready to leave the places where I traveled, I was ready to be in a familiar environment. Greetings from the family, both two-legged and four-legged, were enthusiastic and welcoming. I need a haircut. I need to deal with the mail. And so on. But right now I'm taking a breather from the mail to remember the wonderful time in St. Michaels, Maryland. (I keep wanting to put appropriate apostrophes into the names of places, even though the Powers That Be have determined that they don't belong any more.)

And a reader with ties to the Eastern Shore has asked for pictures and notes about that event, which just pushes it to the top of the queue (before life stampedes along again). We had a great time, in a beautiful location, with a range of interesting fibers.

The breeds we covered—all locally sourced—were: Corriedale, Hog Island, Jacob, and Shetland.

Here's a view of a St. Michaels harbor, as seen from the Town Dock restaurant. They have excellent seafood, of course, and they also had superb grilled veggie ravioli for me. (Just listen: "jumbo raviolis filled with grilled red peppers, onions, asparagus, mushrooms and Ricotta cheese served over our own pesto cream sauce and garnished with roasted walnuts and Parmesan cheese"—the sauce wasn't too rich, and the presentation was exquisite.)


The harbor saw traffic from different sorts of boats than I'm accustomed to looking at (which are fishing boats, mostly). However, there were a couple of groups of kayakers as well.

This is the inn where we stayed for the workshop. Several local folks joined us. The inn has other buildings. This is the main (old) house, where my room was on the second floor and our workshop space was on the first floor.


Lucy is dog-in-residence.


The views from all directions are stunning.


This is the breakfast room, in which we held the workshop. We did need to condense our workspace every night in preparation for the morning meal, but it was a lovely room in which to spend our days. There's a lot to be said for views and natural light.


In the Explore 4 workshops, I pick out a set of breeds to cover that will offer opportunities for comparing and contrasting wool types; that will shed light on some of the history of sheep; and that will give us lots of opportunities to play with different preparation and spinning techniques.

The Corriedale fleeces that we had showed variety within the breed, which we talked about. Much of the "retreat" involves just spinning and trying things, with me there as a resource once I've presented some basic material. It's both relaxing and instructive. There's nothing like experimenting to promote a sense of learning and accomplishment (I do love seeing what different things I can do with a particular fiber). Obviously, the crimp patterns, lock structures, and other qualities of the two Corriedale fleeces that we had were quite different. Yet in our hands, they were both quite distinctively Corriedale.


The second day was Hog Island, which I'll come back to at the end. I pace the sequence of wools in the workshop in particular ways, so the experiences build on each other.

The third day focused on Jacobs. We talked about the differences between commercially prepared fiber and starting from fleece; between U.K. and U.S. Jacobs; and between one flock and the next. We had two contrasting fleeces to work with.

Some people decided to sort the colors: the question, of course, is where one leaves off and the next begins! But the resulting range of harmonious shades can be utterly charming. (This was Haven's fleece.)


Then there's the temptation to "spin it as it comes," a valid choice that actually turns out to have its own challenges. (This was Bess's fleece.)


After providing background information in the morning, I spent the afternoons spinning along with everyone, fielding questions, offering perspective, and sometimes sharing discoveries I was making as I worked with the same fiber that everyone else had in hand. In the evenings, which were technically "off," I knitted or wove small swatches of some of my samples. The sizes of the samples varied, depending on how much I'd gotten done, and I still have my Shetland swatches to knit because on the final night I was packing up the workshop materials, instead of playing with fiber.

Here are a few of my swatches:


This was half of my room. I had a private bath, just to the right off the hall at the top of the stairs. It was great to have enough room to organize each day's materials in advance.


The windows by the bed did look out across the bay, and one morning I caught a well-lighted freighter going past just after dawn. The picture is textured because I shot it through the window screen. Sunsets were gorgeous, too.


On some lunch breaks, I walked around. I was tempted to keep spinning, but the weather and the location were too pretty not to discipline myself to get outside for a while. This photo is looking toward the inn (the hammock is between the inn and the shore).


I love collecting textures. . . .


And textiles. . . . Even better is textures AND textiles.




There were a lot of good places to wander around, and even take a decent-length walk and still get back in time for the afternoon session.


This is a tree that I mentioned to my sister. It had fallen into the water, and I have more pictures of it. It was a grand and beautiful thing, with growth patterns that indicated a challenging life that had been made whole by the way it accommodated and incorporated what had happened in its time on the shore. At different times of the tide, more or less of it was revealed.


I didn't quite figure out who this bird was. It wouldn't let me get close enough for a decent look, and I didn't have any binoculars with me.


It's obviously in the heron/egret family, and has a yellow-orange bill, but I couldn't quite pinpoint it with the bird guide that was at the inn. I suspect someone else will be able to identify it for me faster than I can currently get the Cornell ornithology site to load! (I'm at a coffee shop on a slow, and much in demand, connection.) I'm kinda guessing it was a Great Egret, not a common sight where I've done most of my birding (Colorado, Washington state, and Alaska).

Because of the season, the trees were turning (as you can see above) while the gardens still offered a bounty of bloom:


This little beauty was tricky to get a photo of! 


Lots of splendid things to see.


The whole experience was restorative and productive for me, and according to what they said it was the same for the participants. That's the goal.

And now to end with a little bit about Hog Island, a rare breed that has a close historical association with the area because the sheep developed on an island off the Virginia coast, just south of Maryland's Eastern Shore.

I'll be the first to say that Hog Island fleeces are not ones that a handspinner would initially find appealing, given a range of choices. And they are a little tricky to handle. That's why we did them on day 2: I wanted to start off with something a bit easier to get everyone warmed up. I don't have my samples of the exact fleeces that we worked with handy, but this is a fairly typical Hog Island lock:


I didn't have my standard background, with its reference line of 4 inches/10 cm, handy, but that lock is about 2.5 inches/6.5 cm long. It's matte, and a little flat, and while there's a lot of crimp in there it's disorganized (not a problem for the yarn or textile, but the visual appeal of the locks isn't high). And yet. . . . This was the workaday wool for a group of people for a number of years, and spending some time with it can reveal a lot about history and human ingenuity.

And once we got into processing and spinning it, we managed to produce some yarns and samples that made us think we'd like to seek out more!


Above are samples of our four Hog Island fleeces, two light and two dark. The bit at upper right is a tiny section of Corriedale, to show the overall warm nature of the Hog Island whites: they differed from each other, too, with white #2 being a lot creamier than white #1. In the blacks, black #1 was a nice solid dark and softer than black #2, which nonetheless had a fantastic sturdy and tweedy texture. As I was working with them, I could see white #1 or black #1 as being especially well suited for making knitted garments with texture stitches—like cables or knit/purl combinations—because the body of the yarn would give them a bas-relief quality. White #2 seemed to want to be a lighter-weight garment (it was the warmer white), while black #2 would make a fantastic jacket. It was a bit coarse for more delicate applications.

Interestingly, many of the participants' best samples of several of the breeds we covered were made by spinning directly from gently opened locks. Zero tools other than hands and a spinning device. (We also talk about various tools and approaches, from the inexpensive and low-tech to the fully equipped textile workshop's array.)

And so we learn. . . . 

Right now, I'm thinking about fibers for next fall's East Coast retreat, and am deep in the throes of deciding on breeds (I think I've got that settled) and gathering fleeces (final breed decisions depend on this step) for the retreat in Washington state in March 2014.


3 thoughts on “Retreat (with wool) on Maryland’s Eastern Shore”

  1. Susan, it would have been great to have you there! But Nova Scotia and New Brunswick? Wonderful places, indeed. We took a trip there years ago, and Id go again in a flash.

  2. I so wanted to go to this, but was just coming off of another knitting retreat and couldn’t do two! DH and I honeymooned in St. Michaels 18 years ago. It’s a lovely area, close to where I grew up on the other side of the bay. Happy to see the info about next year!!

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