Friday, May 28, 2010

Shepherd's Wool Market in Rush, NY: Socks and Rugs

Last Saturday was the Shepherd's Wool Market, in Rush, NY. It's a mini fiber festival that caters to those of us who have to have periodic fiber fixes while waiting for the Hemlock Fiber Festival every September. Somebody needs to do one in November. I think I could manage if there were three events per year spread out like that. But in the meantime, here's some of what I saw at the wool market.

This market has less than a dozen vendors selling everything from fiber to finished goods. There's an extra room where the sock knitting machine folks set up, and that was very cool. Since I started with the sock knitters, I'll show you them first:

As far as I know, the king of sock knitting machines in our area is Fred Houck. He's the man you go to when you can no longer resist the urge to own a sock knitting machine. He can help you pick one out, if you want to buy from E-Bay, or he has his own stash that he sells. And if you get one from E-Bay and, sadly, it has problems, Fred most likely can fix it. Fred says he keeps a couple of pristine models of sock knitting machines like the one to the left, just for show. He brought along one made in Rochester, and one made in Utica.

There were several people demonstrating how to use sock knitting machines. Serena Rachels showed off her machine, as did Carol Bonczek.

Carol is well known because she teaches others to use their sock knitting machines, and because she also does wool rug braiding. She brought an example of her work along, so I took some pictures of that as well.


The day of dyeing went extremely well. Val is an excellent teacher. We dyed a boatload of fiber, including yarn, lots of alpaca fiber, bunnie, and wool. So first, let me describe the process of dyeing:

I've already mentioned that I spent several days preparing for the event. I own five different brands of dye in all kinds of colors, so I inventoried what I had and organized the dyes so they were grouped together. Then I worked on the internet and looked up each of the vendors and printed out instructions for how to use the different dyes. The white bins on the left are all filled with the dyes.

Next, I went through all of my stash of fiber and picked out the lightest ones, as those would dye the best. Then I picked vm (that's vegetable matter, but in my mind, I call it pdbp - please don't be poop) out of any fiber that hadn't been washed, and I separated short fibers from long ones. I'll use long ones for spinning, and short ones for needle felting.

One thing I've concluded since our dyeing is that washing the fiber thoroughly before dyeing really is the best way to go. We tried soaking unwashed fiber and then soaking it a second time while we were at Val's, but I think the colors really do set better when you wash everything ahead of time. On the other hand, it's not like we wanted screamingly bold colors for everything we did, so I think we ended up with a nice mix of bright colors and subdued colors. Here's an example of the brightest fiber that we made - the color is called "Cherry", and the fiber was thoroughly cleaned and carded white alpaca. Now I'm wondering if I should card fiber first, and then dye it, to get effects like this:

So my husband loaded up bins and bins of dyes, chemicals, and fiber into my van. I tried to convince Ed to go along ("Oh, come on honey, we'll be working with chemicals! Chemicals are manly! I might injure myself with chemicals."). But in the end, he just couldn't convince himself to spend a day in the heat with three women and their fiber, so he settled for packing up the car. "If you get in an accident, leap from the car, because it will be filled with toxins!" "Dye, don't die, honey!" What a man.

Once Kristi and I made it to Val's house, we dragged all our treasures in. Kristi, the alpaca rancher, had several bags of alpaca fiber and a nice cold watermelon (please note, the watermelon was for eating, not dyeing!) And I had all that stuff plus a microwave (used only for crafting), a really big roaster oven (I think it's for cooking turkeys in, and also, it should never be used for food purposes again), a couple of buckets, and drying racks. A side note on my pan... it was a double boiler Hamilton Beach Roaster Oven that I bought at a garage sale, and it had a little rust in it. Rust can change the effects of dye, so you're taking your chances when you use a rusty container. I tried cleaning it up really well. I'm thinking, though, that I could just pull the rusted boiler part out and use the main pan, as it hasn't rusted. I think we could also have used the silver metal rack that is in the right picture below to steam yarn.

So we filled three buckets with hot water, put a capful of synthropol in, and soaked our fiber in that for a while. Then we heated up three big pans of water on the stove - but not too hot - we just kept everything on low. Then we picked out our colors, threw some vinegar into the water on the stove, and started work. The synthropol, according to Val, made a huge difference in how the fiber took in the dye. The three of us chugged along, filling buckets with water and fiber, moving the fiber into the dye, and then after about 30 minutes of cooking on the stove, we pulled the fiber out, let it drain in the sink in a big sieve, and then put it outside on drying racks. Normally, you'd put the dyed fiber into water and clean it off until the water stopped changing color, but we decided to do that later, so we just put the fiber outside until we could come back to it.

Now, I must mention this sieve, It was a huge bucket with polka dot holes in it, perfect for what we were doing. Turns out it was a bucket from one of those turkey fryers, where you put the turkey in oil and cook it. It was perfect. I'll be watching for one of those at garage sales.

I suppose you're thinking that this sounds like a lovely way to spend an afternoon, but I want you to know, we were really working. Keeping all that fiber going from one place to the next was hard work. We were having a blast picking out our colors. I should mention that we did not use the five different types of dyes that I brought. My big idea was to look at the instructions and pick the dye that had the simplest process. So we worked with a collection by Country Dyes. When we found a color we really liked, we went crazy with it. My favorites were Cherry and Cornflower Blue. I dyed bunny fiber, alpaca, and angora locks with those, and they turned out really great. These were the angora locks. Angora locks are locks of fiber from angora goats:

Once we were done, I bagged up all of Kristi's and my fiber and put them back in the bins. I took everything home and started the final cleanup process. For that, I had a bottle of dye fixative, which is supposed to help make the colors set better. So I worked in my laundry room and brought in one bag of fiber at a time from the garage. I filled a bucket with hot water, put some fixative in the water, added the fiber, and then went and watched tv until the next commercial. Then I put the fiber into a salad spinner and spun (Val's recommendation, costs $3 at Walmart, and it needs to be a spinner with holes on the bottom so the water leaks out). Normally I would have done this in the washing machine, but I have yet to find the perfect method for doing that. I always end up with half my fiber turned into felt, so the salad spinner was infinitely gentler.

Here are examples of alpaca fiber that we dyed.

Of course, with all that fiber, I hadn't thought through how I was going to dry it all. It's all in the garage right now. I came up with the perfect drying racks. Have you ever seen those shelving units that you make by connecting square metal racks together? I happened to have some of those, so I just set two of the racks over boxes and bins and then put the fiber on the racks. I had been planning to dry everything in an upstairs bedroom, but the garage was soooo hot that I figured it would all dry better there.

The next step is to take all this fiber and card it. I had already separated my fiber into longer stuff and shorter stuff. Kristi, at my suggestion, had brought a lot of shorter fiber. I thought we could put this through my electric drum carder and sell the batts for needle felting. So if you're a felter, let me know. In looking at Kristi's fiber, I think we need to do a round of separating, though, because not all of her fiber is short, and you might as well enjoy the longer stuff for spinning.

There were some lessons learned, by the way. First, Val's kitchen is big and open, perfect for dyeing. And her microwave had a blower on it, so the air was circulating really well, which I think helped us a lot, because it was a really hot day. I think we were hard on her drain, as we were moving an awful lot of dirty water, and fiber definitely ended up in the sink. Val had utensils for stirring the fiber in the dye. I wouldn't have thought of that, but some of the fiber floats, so being able to move it to the bottom was very useful.

Although the synthropol made a big difference in getting the fiber to absorb the dye, we still had cases where we could reuse the leftover dye. That made a lighter shade of the same color, and I think that will turn out interesting when we start carding. Here's an example of white carded wool that I dyed orange, and then clean white alpaca that I dyed with the leftover orange, for a softer effect. I'll probably try carding them together, to see if I can get a softer fiber with a mix of color. Now, if you're a purist, the fact that the orange wool isn't all one shade might offend you. I suspect that would be a bigger issue if I were trying to dye yarn, but since I'm going to card all this, I think it will just make for an interesting effect:

We also had trouble with the bunny fiber. It didn't want to sink into the water. I have chemicals that claim to help with that, so next time I'll try those. Here are pictures of how the bunny fiber turned out. I can't wait to blend it in with alpaca:

I don't think I would be willing to dye in my kitchen. I have a ceiling fan over the kitchen that sucks the air up and circulates it to the second floor. And I have hardwood floors. And my counters are Corian, which absorbs everything. You can get stains out, but it takes a lot of elbow grease. Val's floors were stone, so we could bleach them if we spilled dye and not cause a problem. I think if I do dying, it will be outside. Cookstoves could be used, or if I find more of those turkey cookers, they would work well. Or, I suppose, we could just slow down and only make one color at a time. Hahaha. Yeah, that could happen.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Toes Knows

Moses supposes his toeses are roses, but Moses supposes erroneously.

Perhaps this is not the right time to introduce you to another of my peccadillos. But I must confess, I have a thing for hand-knit socks. I like them even better if I spin the fiber for them myself. And since I do not knit, I am building up a cadre of sock knitters who beguile me with new socks periodically, as I am rather hard on my socks and tend to wear holes in them. My Mom says that if I could just bring the socks back when the hole first starts to appear, she might be able to fix them, but by the time the damage is done, my big toe is waving to the world.

This is the first pair of socks whose fiber my Mom deemed worthy of knitting with. Although I would like to claim that I spun the yarn myself, in this case I only dyed it myself. I took a class on dying at the Hemlock Fiber Festival (this year it is on September 18-19, in Hemlock, NY), so at least I can claim that I picked the colors. You can see I liked these socks a lot.  Please don't tell my Mom I wore another hole in them. I don't want her to get discouraged.

These are an example of socks knit on an antique sock knitting machine. The lady who owns the Valley Inn in Honeoye made them. I long to own an antique sock knitting machine so I can make my own socks, but I understand that you really have to have a mentor to teach you how to make them, so I'm holding off for now. If you know how to use a sock knitting machine, I would be very interested in learning - perhaps we could trade? I have lots of sock yarn and handspun yarn and carded fiber. There is a sock machine club in our area called the Genesee Valley Sock Machine Club (GVSMC), and I've heard that Fred Hauck is the man to go to if you decide you want to buy a sock knitting machine, because he knows how to fix them. And I've read up on them a bit, and the general recommendation is not to just buy one off of ebay if you don't know what you're getting. Often, these machines have been sitting in someone's barn for the last 70 or 80 years, so you need to know what you're getting into before you buy one.

Ooops, you're looking at the picture and wondering where the other sock is? Yes, even handknit sock afficionados have the problem of misplacing that one sock. My only consolation is that I know it's not in the dryer, because I hand wash all my knitted socks in warm water with dish washing liquid, and then I air dry them. I would not like them to shrink, or suffer the abuse of my washing machine.

These, and the preceding sock, are an example of socks made with commercial yarn. I know, I said I like to make the yarn myself, but this yarn is interesting because it is self-striping. A very nice lady named Georgia from the Genesee Valley Handspinners Guild made them for me. I traded her roving that I carded myself. And she's working on another pair right now, this time with yarn that I made from a blend of alpaca and bunny. I don't know how well they'll hold up, but I think these socks are going to be incredibly soft and comfortable.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Can You Love a Man You've Never Actually Met?

I just got a note from Barry, from Sunshine Farm & Gardens. Please don't tell my husband, but, I love Barry. I bought violets from him over the internet when I first moved to Honeoye Falls, and they are spreading like crazy. He's one of the few people who write to me monthly; that is to say, who sends me a monthly newsletter that I don't automatically delete. In fact, even though I haven't bought anything from Barry in 8 years, I love to read his newsletter. Barry is passionate, as you might well expect, about flowers. It seems unlikely that Barry will ever know how much I enjoy his musings, and it seems unlikely that I'll ever meet him, even though he always kindly includes his location using longitude and latitude coordinates. I wonder if people geocache Barry?

I will quote Barry now, just because he used the word "taxonomist" in a sentence. My husband, who is an expert at including large words whose definition I do not know in sentences, first dazzled me with the word "taxonomy" shortly after we were first married.

Saruma henryi

Seems like the taxonomists that were assigned to name a rare plant discovery from China were either bored, suffered a lack of imagination, were just plain lazy or had a brilliant sense of humor. Whatever the case may be and "A rose by any other yada yada yada", what we have here is a superb garden plant. I've enjoyed Saruma henryi in my garden for about 12 years now and season after season, it never fails to impress all who behold it.

I first saw Saruma henryi growing in Cole Burrell's ice cold Minnesota zone 4 garden in 1995. I knew if a plant could survive up there, it could survive just about anywhere. Cole, generous chap that he is, was kind enough to send me some seeds and I've been growing the plant ever since, sharing it with many friends and customers.

Saruma henryi was discovered on a Chinese plant collection expedition in the early part of the 1900's by plant explorer Augustine Henry and named in his honor. Who knows why it took so long to really get itself into cultivation?

Now....back to the taxonomists. Saruma is an anagram of the word Asarum and is a monotypic genus in the Aristolochiaceae family. The Aristolochiaceae family is home to the genus Asarum, the deciduous "Wild Gingers" and Hexastylis, the evergreen "Wild Gingers". Also, the genus Aristolochia, better known as the "Dutchman's Pipe". Our East Coast native, Aristolochia durior, can climb a hundred feet into the top of a tree and makes a really neat spiral around the branches. The flowers resemble little pipes. Check out a picture at -

Now I ask you, how can you resist reading Barry's pearls of wisdom? Don't you just want to look him up and buy flowers from him?

It occurs to me that if I'm going to write about flower companies, I should 'fess up and tell you the other two that I love very much. First, there's The Violet Barn, located in Naples, NY. I've never actually been there, but they used to have a special where you could have 12 different types of violets sent to someone. My Mom sent a batch to me, which explains the vast collection of violet pots that I own. The Violet Barn specializes in unusual show-quality African Violets and Gesneriads, Rare and Collectible Houseplants. I managed to kill mine all off over the years, so I suppose that's what makes them rare and collectible. Now that I've looked at their website, I'm starting to think maybe a visit is due... both Mom and I have violets, but they're all looking pretty scraggly. Maybe they need some new friends.

My last favorite flower place is Dutch Gardens. You know you've gone overboard - absolutely past the limit - when your internet flower bulb vendor sends you a Christmas present. That's right, I bought so many flower bulbs from Dutch Gardens that one year they sent me a beautiful set of four Dutch hand-painted ceramic Christmas tree ornaments. It was memorable because my brother brought the package inside, with a look on his face that shouted "YOU CRAZED OBSESSIVE FLOWER BULB WOMAN! Why would you buy flower bulbs in the winter time?" Really, after that, I cut back quite a bit.

For what it's worth, I bought flower bulbs from everybody and anybody for a while. I settled on Dutch Gardens because I loved their catalog, which was a work of art, and they sent the biggest, freshest, nicest bulbs.

I finally gave up on buying bulbs the year after my Christmas ornaments arrived. I had this dog whose name was Sammy. Sammy really liked to dig. She'd dig big holes in the backyard, and my other dog, Snickers, would sit in the hole, happy as a clam. Anyway, I had bought - ok, I'll admit it - several hundred bulbs and was planting them in an area in the backyard. So I put them all down, and then I put a nice layer of stuff on top, headed back into the house, and I turned around, and there's Sammy, eating my flower bulbs. And not just one. Well, that just wouldn't do. So I got a big bucket, filled it with some water, and then emptied the refrigerator and cupboards of everything that might taste offensively hot to Sammy. I soaked all the bulbs, and then planted them again. I took a break and when I came back out, there's Sammy, licking the flower bulbs like she'd never tasted anything better. I took this as a sign, and have managed not to buy bulbs since then. But still, I really liked those Dutch Gardens bulbs.