Winter Retreat 2007

Here are brief summaries of the three classes I took at this year’s Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.

Tailored Knitting the Japanese Way – Jean Wong

Jean explaining chartI was first introduced to Jean’s work last year when she spoke at a Seattle Knitter’s Guild meeting the evening before the Winter Retreat. At this meeting she talked about what got her interested in knitting and she got involved with Nihon Vogue. She also brought many samples of items that either she or her students knitted. Each one was expertly tailored and every detail professionally executed. I instantly intrigued and was regretted not having signed up for her class. Luckily, Jean came back this year and her class on tailoring was expanded to two days.


Day One:

Each student was given two large sheets of engineering graph paper and a hand out listing each step in the process of creating a full sized diagram for a pullover sweater.

We started the day by working with a partner to record an extensive list of torso and arm measurements. Once the measurements were taken and recorded we preceded to follow along with Jean as she guided us in drawing our pattern pieces. It was kind of like doing one of  those dot-to-dot drawings that kids do. Jean would tell us to draw a line and then mark each end with a letter. Our handouts listed the sequence of the lines so that we could follow along and also remember what we did afterward. As we added lines the drawing started looking more like a pattern.

Gauge measureTowards the end of the day we worked on calculating increases/decreases for curved sections such as the neck, armholes and hips using a special gauge ruler to determine the number of stitches and rows in the area. With these numbers we calculated the number of decreases (or increases) and the number of rows between each. She had to explain it a few times before some of us were able to get it. Since it was the end of the day I think our heads were full of so much new information that it was getting difficult to do any kind of math. Nevertheless, Jean was very patient and willing to explain this calculation several times, explaining that it not easy to pick up the first time.

By the end of the day we had finished our front and back pattern pieces including calculations for all the curved spots.

Jean showing chart

Day Two:
Jean reviewed calculating decreases and how to graph and outline the armhole and neck decreases before we started on the sleeve pattern. In the photo on the left she’s holding a student’s back side pattern and probably explaining the decreases around the armhole or the neck. Click on the photo to see a closer view. Notice the red outline denoting the decreases.

Next we started drawing the sleeve and did some calculations to determine if our sleeve pattern would fit the armhole of the front and back pattern drawn the previous day. It didn’t take nearly as long to draw the sleeve as the back and front so we spent the afternoon learning how to set in a sleeve.

Jean pinningJean demonstrated her technique of setting in sleeves by breaking us into small groups. Each group took turns gathering around while she walked through the process using a one of her student’s sweaters. She turned the sweater inside out and then put the sleeve through the armhole so that right sides were together and then carefully pinned the pieces together. Although you can use regular dress pins, Jean was using some bamboo ones that she got in Japan. They seemed to stay in better than steel dress pins. When the pieces were well pinned she used a crochet hook to sew the pieces together with a chain stitch.

This class fed the techie side of my knitting by helping me better understand the process of drafting a pattern. I suspect that many knitters would find it too technical for their tastes but I was pleasantly surprised how well the class was received. There seems to be enough interest that Madrona Fiber Arts might consider having Jean do a series of classes in the Seattle area.

Check out Naomi’s blog for more photos. We met at the registration table and sat at the same table during class.  She also likes designs from that famous Scottish designer and is a member of Feral Knitters.

Here’s a link to Jean’s website: Knitting with Jean. I purchased a copy of her DVD from Acorn Street Shop while shopping at the fiber market. In class she mentioned a different way of doing a three-needle bind off that sounded very interesting. She said it’s on the DVD.

Dyeing for Socks – Judith MacKenzie McCuin

Judith painting with dyeIt’s been a few years since I’ve take any classes on dyeing and have managed to avoid dyeing yarn since taking up knitting. You see, I have a sorted history with dyeing. I love the concept of it and taking classes but don’t seem to get motivated enough to do it on my own. I signed up for this class on a whim, knowing that Judith’s spinning classes are always an entertaining and perhaps it would motivate me to start dyeing my own yarn. Besides, I love colorful sock yarn.

Judith started out the class by explaining that the primary colors for dyeing protein fibers are magenta, yellow and cyan (the same three primary colors used for printing). Using transparent squares in all shades of these colors, she demonstrated how one could “mix” these colors to create other colors such as green, purple, red and etc. While mixing colors she talked about how most people don’t really see the full spectrum of colors. She was going to teach us how to experience the full spectrum.

After the brief talk about mixing dyes Judith demonstrated how to dye a skein of sock yarn. First she prepared three containers of the primary colors by mixing water, dye powder and vinegar. Then she laid out a piece of plastic wrap and placed a skein of white wool that had been soaked for a few minutes in water. Judith with finished yarnNext she dipped a brush into one of the dyes and started dapping it on the wool to create a small spots of color. She cleaned the brush with water when switching between colors. Sometimes she painted another color on top of an already dyed spot and created a whole other color.

Once the skein was totally covered with dye and no white spots showed she carefully wrapped the skein with the plastic wrap, rolled it into a puck shape and put it in an unsealed plastic bag. This bundle was then ready to pop into the microwave for 7 or 8 minutes to set the dye. The bundle was taken from the microwave and left to sit until it cooled to room temperature before unpacking it to rinse in clean water.

After her short demo it was our turn. Judith pulled out white skeins of wool for us to start dyeing. While we started soaking the wool Judith walked around the room filling our containers with dye. With 20 or so students it took quite some time for her to get all three containers for each student filled.

My yarnFinished skeins were put in a line for the microwave. This line quickly grew as students kept dyeing more and more skeins. I think some dyed up to five skeins. While we were painting skeins Judith was pretty much occupied with keeping the microwave going and mixing dyes. She didn’t get much of a chance to circulate around and help us with mixing new colors.

While I did have fun with the three skeins I dyed (with only primary colors), it seemed like the class got a bit chaotic and we were left to fend for ourselves. This class would have gone much smoother if Judith had a couple of helpers to operate the microwave and mix dyes.
And although this wasn’t of the most organized classes I’ve  taken, I did get a small taste of the almost unlimited possibilities of these dyes and ended up purchasing one of her kits from The Artful Ewe.

Spinning Scottish Wools – Carol Rhoades

Carol carding
And now for something totally different.

I can’t believe it’s been over six months since I’ve spun. In fact, as I was setting up my wheel I noticed the wool on my bobbin was from a classes I took from Carol last summer.

Time flies when you’re knitting Fair Isle type sweaters.

Since I’ve been mostly knitting with Scottish wools I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn more about the various kinds. This class covered three; Scottish Blackface, Cheviot and Shetland. I was mostly interested in learning more about Shetland which she saved for last.

We started off with Blackface. She gave us a couple of samples, one with lambs wool and the other from an adult, with which to experiment. This wool has a very long and strong staple that’s great for rugs, carpets and perhaps upholstery. Maybe because I don’t weave, I found it difficult have much enthusiasm for spinning this wool and was anxious to move to another kind but we ended up spending the whole morning just one this one type.

After lunch we started working with Cheviot which I found a bit more interesting. The staple length is shorter than Blackface and a bit softer. It’s great for making woolen yarns so Carol demonstrated how to card this wool. Every time I see her card wool I’m amazed. If you’re interested she wrote a very helpful article called “Handcarding with a Light Touch” which includes many photos of the whole process. It’s  in the Fall 2001 issue of Spin Off.

With only 45 minutes of class left we finally got to work with Shetland wool. She gave us some samples of the various J&S yarns and asked us to try to duplicate one of them. I tried my best to spin a jumper weight yarn but found it tricky especially since I’m not that good at carding. I really wish we had more than 45 minutes to spend with the Shetland. Eventually I hope to spin my own jumper weight wool for a Fair Isle sweater.

I guess she left Shetland for last because if we had spun it first, we might not have had much interest in working with the other wools.

A weekend of knitting, dyeing and spinning

Jean_at_madrona_1
Just got back from Madrona Fiber Art Winter Retreat.

Another great year of classes, lectures, and meeting new and old friends.

I attended three fabulous classes over the past four days.

-Tailored Knitting the Japanese Way with Jean Wong
-Dyeing for Socks with Judith MacKenzie McCuin
-Spinning Scottish Wools with Carol Rhoades

I’m so exhausted but excited at the same time. Every year I learn so many new techniques. This week I’ll try to give a synopsis of the classes.

Cotton: back to square one

Judith’s last class at the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat was called, “Summer Breeze: Spinning Cotton for a Summer Top”. Here’s the Description straight from the website

Thinking that cotton is hard to spin? Think again!
Judith guarantees that this will be a breeze! You will spin a wonderful
cotton novelty yarn and the blues about spinning cotton will vanish.
Come and join the fun and learn Judith’s secrets!  All the cotton fiber
needed for a summer top and pattern are supplied.  You can’t miss!

Cotton

Sounds easy, right? Although Judith never  said out right that spinning cotton was difficult, it didn’t take long to figure that out.

This combed cotton top required learning a spinning technique that I’m not familiar  with doing – long draw. The idea is to let twist into the fiber supply while pulling the hand with the fiber supply away from the wheel. The other hand holds the spun cotton and pinches out any slubs that happen to form. Since  cotton has very short fibers it  needs a lot of twist to make a sturdy yarn. To put lots of twist into our spinning Judith had us put on our smallest whorl and set the drive band tension so that the intake was very light; similar to what we did for spinning lace and cashmere.

After practicing with a natural brown she handout some cotton colored light blue by bits of recycled demin mixed into it. That’s what’s on the bobbin in the top of the picture. It didn’t seem to go much easier than the brown. While the long draw is a satisfying graceful and sweeping technique, I seemed to always get large slubs as twist from the wheel first entered the fiber supply. As I pulled back with the fiber supply, the yarn would get thinner and thinner until I let it wind onto the bobbin. Then it would repeat all over again, a slub of fiber that progressively got thinner until it was wound back onto the bobbin.

I almost felt as helpless as when I first tried to spin wool on a wheel.

This week I plied the rest of the blue which I didn’t manage to finished during class. I also practiced spinning some white fiber that Judith sent home with us.

Spun_cotton

You can see a bit of progress being made. The mix skein on the left is my first attempt and the white on the right is what I did this week.

I still have a whole bag of white cotton that Judith sent home with us along with a pattern for a knitted cotton top. At this point I need much more practice before attempting to spin for a knitting project. To tell you the truth, I’m currently not all that interested in spinning cotton. Not to say it was a bad class, because some of the skills she had been teaching earlier in the week really started to click, but knitting my hand spun cotton just doesn’t appeal to me.

There’s two bits of info in my notes that I should share.

1. To finished the plied skein, boil it with a detergent like Tide. Change the water several times until the water is clear. Colored cotton will get darker each time you wash it.

2. Judith got this cotton from Little Barn.

These days I’ve been thinking about knee-high socks and mittens. Socks for me and convertible mittens for my husband.

He wants convertible mittens with a subtle design around the hand so I’ve been looking around.

At the same time I’m also looking for unique knee-high sock designs. A few weeks ago I started my “Socks that Rock” Fair Isle socks but then got to thinking – what if I make them knee-highs. How would I increase/decrease while knitting the leg and keep design repeat correct.

So, while surfing the web for more info on these two subjects, I came across Catherine Devine‘s gallery of socks and small knits. I especially like the long spiral socks.

Spinning Cashmere

Last weekend I finished plying the singles from Judith’s half day class on spinning cashmere and here they are.

Cashmere_samples

We started with a light brown 17 micron cashmere (at the bottom) and continued across a small spectrum of cashmere blends.

The spinning technique for cashmere is similar to lace in that the tension should be light and the whorl should be small so that lots of twist gets into the yarn.

It was interesting to hear Judith explain that cashmere isn’t a breed of goat but rather a set of certain characteristic of fine goat hair.  The 17 micron fiber that we started with was very soft compared to fine merino but not as fine as the white 16 micron cashmere that we worked with next. While the white fiber was so much finer and a bit tricky to spin, I enjoyed it much more than the 17 micron. The 17 micron fiber had bits of “scurf” that look like dandruff – yuck. Judith says it’s caused by a disease that goats get but isn’t harmful to humans. If, in the future I decide to buy cashmere for a project, I’ll be sure to check for scurf.

After spinning pure cashmere we were given samples of cashmere blends from combed tops. After spinning the pure cashmere the merino and cashmere blends were so much easier to spin; the merino seemed to give the top a bit of grip. The silk and cashmere blend didn’t seem all that hard to spin although not quite as easy as the merino. As you can see, I twisted the heck out of it and it seemed to respond well to all that twist.

When blending silk and cashmere Judith suggested to first cut the silk fiber to the same length as the cashmere so that it blends well. She likes to use cotton cards to “brush” the fibers together, letting them fall a bit off the tips of one of the cards. She then spins straight from the card.

If you ever get a chance to take this class I highly recommend it. While it was challenging, it was also very interesting to try a variety of fibers that were new to me.

Estonian Lace with Judith and Nancy

Madrona_06_estonian_lace_04_1

What a great opportunity! Two wonderful teachers teaming up to teach a two day class about Estonian Lace.

Nancy Bush started off the class with a brief slide show of pictures that she had take during her trips to Estonia, giving us the history behind Estonian Lace. Long story short, the women of Haapsalu* started knitting lace shawls in the the 19th century to sell to tourist visiting the resort town. During the introduction I could feel her excitement for this country, it’s people and it’s crafts, so I asked how she became drawn to it. While researching ethnic knitting she came across some pictures of Estonian costumes and knew she had to visit. On her first trip to Estonia she instantly feel in love with it and has gone back several times to do more research.

After the slide show Judith took over and got us started spinning Corriedale top as a warm up. As we spun this rather course top, Nancy and Judith mentioned that Estonia really doesn’t have a sheep raising tradition so the yarn that the lace knitters use comes from countries that surround Estonia. Nancy mentioned that these days it’s hard to find a light-weight yarn to reproduce the lace shawls from the last century. Judith says that commercial mills are not able to spin very fine wool, at least not the type that was used in Estonia. Nancy also mentioned that she gave showed them some merino wool to use for lace knitting and they wouldn’t believe it was wool. Apparently, the softness of the wool threw them off.

After warming up Corriedale top, Judith brought out mill prepared Rambouillet that I believe had been combed. Rambouillet is a breed of sheep that originated from Spanish Merino sheep in the late 18th century. Like merino, this breed produces very fine fibers that are well suited for lace spinning.
Although I haven’t spun much fine weight yarn, I do find that spinning lace isn’t all that difficult if you use a fine wool, such as Merino or Rambouillet, that’s been well prepared and combed.

The best technique for spinning fine yarn is the worsted method; letting no twisting into the fiber supply.  Judith had us using our smallest whorl and setting our drive band tension very low. essentially no pull from the uptake of the bobbin. She suggested that if our wheel came with a Scotch tension option, then we should use it for better control. She also mentioned that a thinner drive band is better for spinning lace but I can’t remember why.

Madrona_2006_estonia_lace_0We spent most of  morning on the first day spinning our  Rambouillet and getting tips from Judith.  The class  had 30 students  so it  took a while for  her to make  the rounds. This is what I  enjoy about  Judith’s teaching style. No matter how  many students there are, she  always makes a point of  catching up with each person to  see  how they are doing. If a student is having trouble  with their  wheel,  she knows how to fix it and will get the spinner back on the right track.

The next morning Judith demonstrated how to ply (see photo on the right). Her left hand is holding two singles almost the same way a knitter will hold two strands of yarn while doing a long-tail cast-on. The trick is to keep this arm stretched out from the orifice and not to let go. She warned that if a free hand is needed to answer the phone or do something else while plying then let go of the threads in you right hand. The fingers on the right hand are used to guide the threads into the orifice. The middle finger is placed between the two threads and the index finger works with the thumb to pinch out any slubs. Notice that she’s plying from a lazy Kate that’s holding two very small bobbins. She likes to wind her threads onto weaving bobbins and alternate between several to get a more consistent yarn.

Jmm_lace_yarn

Since were probably wouldn’t have spun enough yarn to knit samples in the afternoon, Judith gave us all a small ball of hand spun yarn to start our knitting. Here’s a picture of that yarn (left).

During the afternoon, Nancy brought out her collection of lace shawls and explained how she’s working with several Estonian women to document Estonian lace in a forthcoming book.  She mentioned that each trip seems to reveal one more tidbit of information that she’s surprised didn’t come up on a previously.

After getting a glimpse of the possibilities, Nancy had us start on samplers of several common Estonian patterns. I managed to only finish one called “vaosabakiri” (peacock) before moving on to the Lily of the Valley Estonian Lace Sampler.
N_bush_estonian_lace_sample
N_bush_estonian_sample
Both were knit with the yarn supplied by Judith.

I finished spinning the Rambouillet the week after class and have yet to knit any thing with it. I’m not sure if there’s enough to make a scarf or perhaps I’ll knit more of the sample patterns that Nancy gave us. The picture below shows my skeins and for a comparison, includes a piece of Cascade 220 at the bottom.

My_lace_yarn

*For further information about check out Nancy’s article, ” The Lace Knitting of Haapsalu”, PieceWork – Jul/Aug 2005

The night before

It’s taken me almost a week to recover from the retreat. I have so many new ideas and projects to try that it’s hard to know where to start. I did start on a pair of Socks that Rock but then decided I need to finish some of my class samples before I forget what I learned.

While the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat is mainly focused on knitting, both years that I’ve attended I’ve passed up the knitting classes in favor of the spinning classes. This year I felt a bit conflicted when I saw the class called Fine Finishing the Japanese Way. Unfortunately, it was offered the same day as the Estonian Lace class with Nancy and Judith. I couldn’t pass up a chance to take a class with this duo.

Fortunately I heard by word of mouth that the teacher of Fine Finishing the Japanese Way, Jean Wong, would be at the Seattle Knitters Guild Meeting the night before the retreat.

Jean is an expert Taiwanese knitter that immigrated to the Vancouver area over a decade ago. While she was still living in Taiwan, she decided to expand her knitting skills to knit sweaters for her child and ended up taking classes through a rigorous program offered by Nihon Vogue through Nihon Amimono Culture Association. The classes were so intensive that she ended up quiting her job just so that she could keep up. Her talent was recognized by her teacher and she was encouraged to start teaching classes and earned a teaching certificate through this organization.

When she immigrated to Vancouver she couldn’t converse in English thus she had to give up teaching.  Eventually she decided she decided to learn English, as an example for her child, and also started attending guild meetings even though she couldn’t understand much at first. Now her English is very good and she has built up enough confidence to start teaching again in the Vancouver area. She now offers Nihon Vogue classes through Wool and Wicker and is selling a DVD called knitting with jean – professional finishing techniques.

She brought tons of items to show at the guild meeting and gave a slide show of items that were knitted by her students. As she showed these items she mentioned that her clasess focus on teaching students how to take an item from a pattern (or their own design) and draft a full size pattern based on their measurements. The pattern is drawn onto graph paper that’s the actual size of the finished piece. Someone asked about the graph paper and she showed us a sample. The graph is actually hand drawn by the student using a special gauge ruler from Japan. I thought that this would be a handy tool so I ordered one from Wool and Wicker.

Gauge_measure

It’s a collection of rulers that match each possible gauge that one can knit. It came with instructions but since I don’t read Japanese, I can only guess what it says from the pictures. Perhaps some day I’ll get an opportunity to take one of Jean’s classes and learn how to properly use this tool.

While all of the samples she brought were impressive, I was especially intrigued by the clever construction technique used on a hat that she had with her. I think she’s working on putting together a pattern that she will be selling, but in the mean time, I’ve been trying to figure it out on my own.

Here’s my initial attempt. Please don’t judge it too harshly. I’m just fiddling around with a bit of left over Cascade 220.
Diagonal_hat2_2
Diagonal_hat

I’ll describe what I did and you can following along by looking at the picture on the right, which shows the hat spread out flat.

It’s worked flat starting with a provisional cast on (which I didn’t do this time) – the long open edge on the lower left in the photo.

I then knitted twenty rows decreasing every other row on the outside edge (right edge). This leaves the left edge straight while the right edge starts to curve.

After knitting twenty rows I then knitted across the piece to the left edge and picked up ten stitches along the left edge. After picking up stitches, I knitted another twenty rows, decreasing along the right edge just as I had done previously.

The twenty rows & picked up stitches were repeated until I had four ridges (or spines) on the top.

At this point I would have sewn the remaining edge together but left it open so that I could show how this was done.

While my version is done in garter stitch with dull gray Cascade 220 yarn, Jean’s version is constructed in a different stitch pattern. Her finished sample was done with a skein of Noro Kujaku but she mentioned that it’s a great pattern for using left over yarn. I look forward to purchasing the pattern from her and seeing if I was on the right track.

Don’t adjust your monitor …

Socks_that_rockI’ve been at Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat for the past four days, learning how to spin lace-weight yarn, cashmere, and cotton with Judith MacKenzie McCuin. This year I also learned a bit of Estonian lace knitting from Nancy Bush who co-taught with Judith on Thursday and Friday.

I’ll have more details and pictures soon.

I tried to resist the yarn market but gave into Blue Moon’s “Socks that Rock”. Being oblivious to this latest sock trend, I didn’t stop by their booth until Friday. As I stood there drooling over all the wonderful colors, it dawned on me that this vendor must be the reason why a line of people were waiting for the doors to open on Thursday morning.

What wild colors!

I’ll try using the two skeins on the right to knit their Fair Isle sock. They didn’t have the colors used in the pattern but I think these will still work out OK. Not sure what I’ll do with the other two skeins.