Friday, October 16, 2009

Art and Fear-The perils of art making

Enjoyed an interesting and quick read a while ago that I never got around to sharing with you. You might be interested in it if you ever get hung up starting a new project. Whether it's because you have too many ideas and have troule deciding which one or two to attack or because your desire for "perfectionism" inhibits your freedom to "just explore", this book by Ted Orland and David Bayles is worth some time and contemplation. Art and Fear; Observations and Perils of Art Making.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fibonacci & the Fiber Challenge ...ideas and incentives!!

As you may know, we're running a Fiber Challenge here this fall (for more info, check out and this has generated some discussion among customers....both about the "challenge" of it and the fabulous prizes. So here are some thoughts on design ideas and inspiration....

For those that have expressed some anxiety about how to use the materials required, I've suggested something as simple as using the Fibonacci numbers to knit or crochet stripes for a pillow, afghan, or scarf! Or the Fibonacci could be used to weave the yarns into a shawl or to felt the yarns into a felt rug. The Fibonacci numbers are 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc (you see the progression?). Anyway, it has been determined that working designs based on these numbers creates a pleasing you could use the numbers to symbolize shots of weft or pics of warp, rows of knitting, or units of crocheted motifs, for example. The numbers don't have to be used in order....I've often used them to wet up warps (see the woven kimono jacket above) where I might thread 3 ends of blue, 5 of green, 1 of orange, 3 of black, 8 of green, 3 of orange, etc. It's a way of seeming to create a random design but assuring that it looks good and it can't be simpler.

Here's another option for design ideas....look to nature! The designer of the silver shawl pin prize, Kerin Rose, looked to nature for her design idea when I asked her about designing a shawl pin for the contest. You can see her design inspiration and learn how she made the pin for the contest on her blog below. And you'll want to check her blog out regularly as she's always got something interesting to write about and fabulous jewelry to put on your wish-list!

Friday, September 4, 2009

What does color do for you?

The last couple of weeks I've been thinking about color a little differently. Usually I think about how colors "look" together or how they "look" on an individual.
But this week, partly prompted by some research for a little blurb I was writing for an email newsletter and further fueled by a funny discussion on Saturday at a social knitting gathering here, I have become fascinated with how we "feel" color! It really is a "physical" reaction we have. I'm relieved to know that studies have shown this and that I'm not (at least entirely) crazy to think my pulse raced when Martha pulled out her lap blanket on Saturday! The riot of colors was so exciting it was food for the soul. Even for those (like myself) who usually gravitate toward darker, murkier earthtones, seeing it really resonated in a way that made us all feel happy! I laugh now recalling the cackle our group of ladies made "oohing and ahhing" over which were our favorite squares.
I remembered reading years ago how a study had shown that painting prison cells pink had been demonstrated to calm violence among the inmates. And this notion of color affecting us physically & emotionally was reaffirmed this week as I read about a study of blindfolded individuals that consistently identified which hand was held over a red piece of paper and which hand was held over a blue piece of paper! The researchers attribute the results and our physical response to color to the fact that we truly "feel" the difference in the wavelengths of each color!
So now I realize that it's not just that we "see" colors differently, but we "feel" them differently too. And it must be this physical reaction that makes them so personally compelling. So next time my sister Joany rolls her eyes at me coveting another burnt orange, chartreuse or chocolate brown yarn (I'm definitely drawn to the warm colors), I can tell her it's a physical thing I can't control!
And, next time we're picking out colors to use in a fiber project, maybe we should ask ourselves how the color makes us "feel" rather than how it "looks" on us!
Happy day!
As an interesting aside....some languages only have words for 2 colors (basically black and light) into which all colors are grouped. As languages evolve and get more sophisticated, they add additional words to further break the colors out. Linguistics scholars have found that in over 80% of languages, the order in which colors are consistently added as the language evolves is as follows:

1) all seem to start with black (covers blues, purples) and light (covers whites, yellows, reds).
  • This is interesting and makes sense since the eye sees "value" (light and darkness) before it sees "hue" (colors like red, blue, etc)
2) then they add red (so languages with 3 words for color have black, light and red)
3)then they add green next and then yellow after green
4)then blue (which had been either grouped with green or black to this point) is added!
Apparently "orange" wasn't used to describe a color until the mid 20th century...until then it had been always referred to as yellow-red until it took the name of the fruit it resembled!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

How do you price your handmade items?

I'm often asked by knitters, spinners and felters how to price the items they want to sell and since this question was also raised at Felter's Fling earlier this week I thought I'd share my thoughts and those that were discussed at Fling.
Most customers who have approached me about this seem to have heard that the rule of thumb is to ask 3 times your materials cost. I've never understood where that came from! In my experience, there is just no basis for that at all. Some crafts require relatively little material cost and are labor intensive whereas others are quick, buy costly in materials!
I've always looked at the time it takes me to make the item...that includes the time to dye the fiber and the fabric, do my test swatches for color/shrinkage, design the piece, layout and felt the piece and sew or trim it....and mulitply these hours by my rate per hour (how you come up with that is another issue entirely!). Then I add in my materials cost and something for my overhead cost which in my mind includes the cost of the dyes used, the propane gas for the tank, electricity. And then I'd add in any extra marketing costs....did I print up post cards for the gallery show to send out or hand out at the event or did I take out an ad?
When asked this same question at Fling, our instructor seemed to have the same approach to figuring her starting cost although she also added in the time and financial investment in workshops taken honing the skills over the years as well as the investment in R&D - you know, all those items you "experimented" on to get to the pieces you're selling. So all that comes to your "wholesale" price - what you'd sell it for directly to the buyer. Then she suggested doubling that total figure for a retail situation (i.e. if instead of selling it directly you are selling it thru a craft shop or gallery). She also had a friends discount for a while...the "mate rate"...until that got a little awkward.
I also think there is a much more ambiguous factor that I believe some artisans manage to work in to their price. So this "X" factor is how much BEYOND the starting figure you come up with based on the considerations mentioned above that you can ask (and get) because of the uniqueness and originality and scarcity of your product. My friend Linda commented that this X factor is what one can get for your stuff AFTER you die....and its higher if you die tragically and at a young age!
Of course the bottom line is that your success is a function of the know it's all about supply and demand . And demand is a function of WHO is shopping and that's why its important to know YOUR market. You can underprice yourself out of a market you know. As the instructor said....when one of her items isn't selling, she marks it up!
What are your thoughts!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Much needed R&R!

My workspace this past week!

So I missed updating the blog last week because of a little R&R at our family place on Lake Sebago, Maine. If you've never been there, you must go. It is the most beautiful crystal clear water and sandy bottom of any lake I've ever visited-except perhaps for Lake Louise which was far too cold to swim in! But of course I'm biased having spent every summer of my life there and by all the years of fond memories...summer long card tournaments (a canasta-like game called Sanba), learning the butterfly stroke from a distant cousin, jarts contests over happy hour, the treasure hunts my aunt always ran using tricky limericks she'd write that sent us running for clues from the beach to the house, all the way to the point, and even out to the mailbox, plus waking to the revelry call of the bugle at Camp O-At-Ka (which is a boys camp just next door that my great grandfather -who was Episcopal bishop of Maine -helped get started). Ahh, summer fun!
Anyway, its not summer without a visit to Sebago and it's always a great time for me to get some relaxed knitting done for the store and it's a great place to contemplate life and refresh the spirit for another year.

And, its a time for me to collect lichen for natural dyeing. Lichen needs really clean air and prefers a north (or is it east?) facing exposure near water. Anyway, the woods and rocks around our house and along the point offer a perfect place for it. Since it can take 40 years for lichen (a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and an algae) to grow, you don't pick the lichen, but there are always pieces around the base of the rocks that have fallen off during wind and rain storms (and haven't we had those this summer!). So I always take a bag and walk the trail to the point, side stepping into the woods to search at the bottom of the huge boulders on which the lichen grow. If you search right after a rainstorm, the lichen are green (not tan and black as you see above).

This year I also found another spot for lichen on the way home from Maine in the White Mountains. I always stop at the Wiley House center on Rt 302 in the White Mountains to stretch my legs and let Chloe take a swim in the pond. This year, we also walked a small trail leading from the Wiley house along the river bed, and there were many huge boulders covered with the mamulata (I may have spelled this wrong) lichen that's good for dyeing (the type I collect give the beautiful purple colors and I believe when I took a workshop on lichen dyeing with Karen Casselman all those years ago she referred to this type as mammulata lichen). Anyway, they are the ones pictured above that have the acid orcin in them which when exposed to ammonia (urine if you're a traditionalist) produces the purple dye orchil. I love to see lichen growing, not just for collection purposes since I dye with it infrequently, but becuase they are a sign of REALLY CLEAN AIR.

Remember that if you're going to collect lichen for dyeing, DON'T pick them, but collect the pieces that have fallen off the rock on their own or with the help of mother nature's wind and rain. The fact that they fell off their perch means they weren't healthy anyway and yet they still produce a good purple dye. It may take you a couple of years to collect enough for a dyebath, but as long as the lichen is dry when you put it away, it doesn't go bad or mold.
Ifyou haven't dyed with the lichen yet, here's what I do...
  1. tear up the lichen pieces and put them into a really large jar (a Costco size pickle jar)

  2. cover them with ammonia and cap the jar

  3. let them sit for a couple of days, shaking the jar up twice a day (you need to oxygenate them for the process to occur)

  4. add water to the mix (so the solution is 2:1 ammonia & water) and continue to shake twice a day and let the lichen ferment for 3-4 weeks until you see a good deep purple color.

  5. strain off the lichen, add water enough so that your yarn or fiber is submerged and heat (do not boil) until the dye is set (could be 30-40 mins).

Monday, July 20, 2009

border leceisters

I recently finished dyeing about 30 pounds of yarn I had spun from a local flock of Border Leceisters in Hinesburg and was reminded how incredibly lustrous this fiber lustrous as mohair! Since it's a common breed around here, but not one most knitters hear about since it's not typically used for knitting yarn, I thought I'd share some specs on it with you this week, since if you stop by the store you'll see it available on the shelf.

The breed is know for its long wool which can be 6-10" after about a year's growth. It is not particularly soft, having a micron count generally in the 30 - 38 micron range, but what it lacks in next-to-the-skin softness it makes up for in sheen.

Because the fleece is wavy, rather than crimpy, it reflects light and so exhibits lots of luster (on a crimpy wool, the light gets caught in the little nooks and crannies and doesn't reflect back). Border Leicester has a lovely hand and, particularly when combed and spun worsted, is very durable. I have a hat knit out of it in the store and am working on some mittens right now. I did actually put enough of one color away for a sweater for myself...maybe I'll get to it in retirement?!

The Leiceister sheep, from which the Border Leicesters evolved, were first established in England (Leceistershire, of course) in the early 1700's and they played an important role in the improvement of the other long wool breeds in England. When Leicesiter rams were bred to Teeswater ewes, the Border Leceister breed was founded, its thought around 1767.

English Leceisters (also lovely, tho' more crimpy and not as long a wool as Border Leicesters) were first bought to the US by George Washington who kept a flock at Mt. Vernon, but it is unclear when the first Border Leceisters arrived here, although by 1920, there were 767 purebred Border Leicesters in the census.

In addition to the recently dyed yarn, I also have the fiber (blended with mohair) available in a natural grey for spinners. Hope you get a chance to either try spinning or knitting with this breed sometime. Jen

safer dyes

If you ever dye protein fibers you should read this...

So I'm a little late posting my blog this week because I wanted to have a chance to work with the new Greenershades dyes I'm stocking at the shop. And with the weather what it's been here this past month...a bit of rain every's been hard to plan time to dye when there was enough of a window to get it dry!

Anyway, I've finally had a chance to play with these new dyes. And I love them! They do not have the heavy metals that the other brands of chemical dyes have and they adhere to the standards for Organic Wool Processing. The colors dye really well - good uptake and clear exhaust.

What most excited me was that after a very full day of heavy dyeing with the other brands, even tho' I wear a mask and am careful handling the powders, I ALWAYS end the day with a metallic taste in my mouth and irritated eyes and nose.This has always freaked me out and so I have tried to avoid heavy dyeing (I'm talking quantity here...I've never experienced the taste or irritation dyeing 1 batch of yarn or a bit of fiber) because I just didn't feel good about the effects.

I have done a fair amount of natural dyeing in the past and know that if you stick to alum as a mordant one can avoid the chemcial dyeing hazards, but for the quantity dyeing I do for the store, natural dyeing has just never seemed practical for my needs.

So the Greenershades was a welcome discovery that my sister Joanie brought to my attention! After dyeing about 25 pounds of fiber and 5 pounds of yarn yesterday, I had no metallic taste in the mouth or irritation of the eyes. The colors were great...saturated as I had desired and clear exhausts that I demand.

For the saturation I desired, I found that a bottle of dye (1/2 ounce) dyed 2.5 pounds of raw wool and 1 pound of yarn perfectly. The only difference I found in using these dyes was that they didn't go into solution quite as quickly as the traditional heavy metal dyes I've used in the past. But a drop of Synthrapol to reduce the surface tension resolved that problem and then they were a cinch to use.

Anyway, if you are planning on doing a lot of dyeing or even if you're not doing much but you want to use a product that doesn't have the heavy metal, these dyes are great and I've posted them on the website at

Happy dyeing...Jen

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cooper Hewitt Felt Show

Between going to the Black Sheep Gathering wool show in Oregon last week and the felt exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in NYC this past Monday, I am feeling particularly inspired!
Although both I and the friend I attended the felt exhibit with had separately heard mixed reviews about it, we were both feeling happy and inspired when we left the museum. In particular, the "palace yurt" room was a highlight. And since there are no photos of it in the program book, I was particularly glad that the guards allowed me to photograph in that room. Despite my limited photographic skills, hopefully you can get a sense of the room and how lovely the felt was with the light pouring thru it.

To give some perspective, the ceiling height of this room was about 25' and the room measured about 20' x 40' oval. The ceiling and half the walls of the room were windows (I think it must have been the solarium of the old mansion that the museum is now in) and it was draped ceiling to floor in nuno felt!

The artist used primarily white on white, but with a touch of a bluish-grey and a fabulous coffee bean colored fabric here and there highlighting the otherwise natural ecru of the merino, brilliant white of the tencel and tan of the tussah silk.

Anyway, as a person whose default mode is color, color, color, the show has made me consider adding "white' to my palette! Plus, it has really made me rethink the types of fabric I look for as a base for felting....the central panel shown above was felted into a really coarse burlap-like fabric that produced a fabulous texture.

If you get a chance to go, I recommend it. I do understand where the "mixed" reviews come from...there are definitely some pieces in the show that you'll scratch your head and wonder how they got into a museum show! And of course, there were many great felters that were not represented at all, but there were some interesting home furnishings made with commercial felt and some lovely garments, along with the palace yurt that make it worthwhile.

Oh, and as an added plus, the Nature Conservancy has a show at the museum right now as well that is terrific...all about finding ways to use natural resources artistically. Very fun and even a few "fiber" related using Panama sheeps wool and another "jipijapa" (which is a fiber I'd never heard of before but learned that it's from the palm leaf and is most known for hats that bear it's name - have you ever heard of a jipijapa hat before?). Anyway, it's upstairs and well worth stopping into view while you're there!
Have fun!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

washing wool

Fortunately the weather's been great this past week so I've managed to dye another few pounds of yarn and fleece for the fall. I think between Betsy and I, we've washed about 60 pounds so far...another 40 or so to go and then the blending and carding begins!
Anyway, because washing fiber has been top of mind for me these past few weeks, I found it interesting to read this week that the Mongolian nomads wash their camel fiber in mare's milk! I guess you use what you have available and since water is in shorter supply on the steppes of the Gobi desert and horses are plentiful...? I also discovered that fermented mare's milk is what the Mongolian nomads drink for nutrition. It's called airag. And despite that the Mongolian nomads have the highest incidence of liver cirrhosis in the world (they are said to drink up to 5 litres of this slightly alcoholic beverage a day), apparently this beverage is experiencing renewed popularity in other parts of the world since the fermentation process converts the high lactose content to lactic acid, making airag drinkable by the lactose intolerant. That is, if they can stomach the taste!
Having had to drink the Turkish version of a fermented milk beverage at age 13 when it was offered to me in the home of some very poor and rural locals in a remote part of Turkey, I can safely say airag won't be making it to my table anytime soon!

Monday, June 8, 2009

What's "new" mean to you?

The last 6-8 weeks I've been meeting with yarn reps to order my fall inventory...still 1 rep to go this week. It's fun and exciting to see what's coming out, but it also incredibly difficult to anticipate what you'll all be looking for.
Especially in this evolving era of online chatting, when, tho' there might be 10 fabulous new yarns of the same gauge and same fiber blend introduced in a year, momentum grows around just one of them and grows like a snowball rolling down Tuckerman's Ravine such that the others...equally as nice, perhaps even better in some regards... go unappreciated! It really makes you appreciate the power of the press to sway minds!
Anyway, I'm at that stage of sorting thru and weeding out the duplicates, trying to fill in the holes that I've missed with respect to gauge or other feature, and reconfiguring the quantities in hopes of trying to get my inventory "right". All in an effort to have "what's new". And I'm wondering... what you mean when you say "what's new"? Do you mean "what yarn is hot off the press", or, "what is the fiber du jour" or "remind me what great olides but goodies yarns I haven't worked with yet", or "what color is hot" or "what project is new and different"? What's the "new" you're looking for?
Just for fun, can you guess how many new yarns for fall 2009 I've been shown just from the following companies? The reader with the closest submission, wins 2 bags of Mission Falls 1824 cotton! Now I'm only talking about completely new yarns...not new colors of existing yarns...
Plymouth, Cascade, JCA/Reynolds, Noro, Debbie Bliss, Sublime, Ella Rae, Araucania, Sir Dar, Louisa Harding, Elsebeth Lavold, SWTC, Mirasol, and Online. Comment with your guess and next week I'll reveal the winner!
So one of the things I learned from meeting with the reps that I found interesting and thought I'd pass along, is something about the sourcing, processing, and general mission of Noro.
People seem to either love or hate Noro yarns. And interestingly, I run into people who seem to love to hate Noro! Anyway, Noro seems to be eco-conscious even tho' they haven't been that verbal about it the way other companies have. They use paper and packaging that is from 54-81% recycled paper. Their spinning equipment uses just 21% of the energy required to operate the industry's standard equipment at other mills. The wool they use for their Kureyon, Iro, etc is either from a particular flock of Polwarths in Adelaid, Australia or from Patagonia. Both the Polwarth breed and the sheep raised in Patagonia apparently have a natural resistance to mulesing and flystrike, reducing the agicultural chemicals used to keep insects at bay. Their wool is scoured in several places from Australia and Britain to Brazil, but in each place it is cleaned using an environmentally friendly natural detergent and further, the wool is also inspected after cleaning at an Australian inspection station that is known to be very strict in their clearance for chemically free fiber. They source their mohair from S. surprise there since that's where just about everyone gets it...and their cotton is pima cotton from the San Joaquin valley in California!
It's not organic, but for those of you interested in supporting companies that are at least "concious" of their footprint, there you have one company's tale.
Happy knitting, spinning, felting, dyeing!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

shellac for felt?

This week I've been playing around with shellacking (sp?) felt. I wish I could share with you that I'd found the right recipie, but I haven't figured it out yet! Here, anyway, is what I've learned so far!

Based on Lisa Klakulak's recommendation that varnishes from the hardware store not be used on felt and rather that the raw, unadulterated shellac be used, I purchased some blond, unwaxed shellac flakes ( and did some experimentation.

Lisa had suggested that some dilution greater than 6:1 be tried. I started with a 20:1 and couldn't even get the flakes completely into solution. So I added a little heat...I guess too much (I did a minute in the microwave) and ended up with a goo suspended in, rather than mixed with, water. Upon removing the goo from the water, it hardened on my measuring spoon. I was able to chip it off, with some effort, so at least my spoon is still accurate.

Then I remembered Lisa had mentioned using alcohol, not water, so I tried a 40:1 solution of flakes to alcohol. Still, they didn't disolve completely. 30 secs of heat, and they did not congeal into a goo, but they still did not completely dissolve... even after another 30 sec and stirring! Enough had dissolved tho', that I decided I'd apply some of what I had made to a scrap piece of felt.

Good thing I used a scrap piece!

I was shocked at how little it took to completely soak thru the felt, which was what I was trying to avoid. REally, I thought I was using so little and it came dripping out of the felt. I suppose that the type of fiber (this scrap happened to be corriedale), the density of the felt, etc impacts the amount of shellac, but really this was almost pouring out! So I did a second trial being extra careful to have a VERY little of the solution in my paintbrush.

Since the vessel I ultimately want to shellac has lots of ridges and grooves (see the shell above), I decided to try a stiffening spray by Manco, which a friend had lent me. The spray will certainly be easier to apply to my vessel's inside, even if it is not what Lisa suggested using, so I thought I'd try it.

At least in this experiment, I felt that the spray (I did 2 light coats like the can suggested) stayed too much on the surface of the felt and produced a surface residue I didn't care for. I haven't given up on it, and will try it again but with a heavier hand to see if I can get it to soak in more next time, hoping that it will produce a firmer fabric without the surface residue.

As for the shellac flakes, now that the alcohol has evaporated and the shellac dried, I find that it hasn't really stiffened the felt to the degree I wanted either, but at least I have no surface residue.
In this week's experiment I didn't feel like I had a concentrated enough solution of the shellac to stiffen it to the desired degree, and yet it was too concentrated to get it all into solution! So I guess I'll try even a little less concentration next week, hoping that I get it all into solution, but will instead apply more coats on the felt in order to achieve the degree of stiffening I want.

I'll let you know how it turns out, but in the meantime, has anyone else out there tried this yet with their felt and have any thoughts or suggestions to contribute?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

cvm origami felt bag

So this week I had a chance to play around with some CVM (California Variegated Mutant) fleece, a breed which I hadn't worked with before.

I assumed it would both spin and felt up nicely...its very fine and has a lovely crimp... and I have been wanting to play around with a felt origami bag for a while.

So as a sampler, I decided to make a small change purse...just enough for some bills, credit cards, license and random change. I laid out a square of CVM batt (16" square) and added a border and button strap of merino top I had laying around. Then I felted the whole thing, evenly to be sure I kept the square shape, which is needed for the bag. It felted up quickly and with only about 10% shrinkage.

Then I folded the square in half to form a triangle and tucked the 2 "side" points in toward the same side. This fold is a bit different than that in the book, but it is what suited my purposes. I wanted 2 compartments, both with a flap. Anyway, after folding in the 2 sides, I hand stitched the bottom, sewed on 1 button and voila! The purse has 2 compartments; 1 large and deep and the other shallower, but secured, because both compartments have flaps. Both flaps button on the same button. It's quite cute. I have some revisions I make to future origami felts,but this was a satisfactory start and I enjoyed felting the CVM.

Now lets see if I can get some photos of it loaded?

Anyone else have any experience with either felted origami or working with CVM?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Big Cotton

So I'm reading Big Cotton, by Stephen Yafa, and gaining a much greater appreciation for this fiber as well as for it's impact on world history.

I'm so used to thinking about what garment or accessory I might be able to create with a fiber or new yarn that I haven't paid much attention to the consequence of a fibers' production for society, the economy, even politics. Anyway, if any of you are interested in history (particularly that of early American), this book is a fun read.

Just some fun facts and figures about the fiber that came out of my reading...
Each cotton boll has over 500,000 fibers on it. Before Whitney produced the gin, it took 1 person a day to pull 1 pound of cotton from bolls. After the gin was developed, that same person could pull 50 pounds of cotton in 1 day!

Inspired by this book and the author's fascination with the cotton fiber, I decided to pull out my takli and some old cotton punis I had hanging around and give the fiber another try. If I get enough spun to do anything with, I'll post a photo next week!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Qiviut can't felt...Who Knew?

So I just learned last week that qiviut (the soft downy fiber from the muskox) doesn't felt!

Maybe you all knew this, but I was so surprised! I've done quite a bit of felting over the years and never knew that. I've felted both yak and American buffalo (both also soft downy undercoats of other, rather beastly animals), so I guess I assumed qiviut would felt as well. Apparently, qiviut doesn't have the scales that other animal fibers have and that's why it doesn't felt.

What's funny is that I learned this curious fact from Lisa Klakulak when she was here teaching some felting workshops. Ironically, she learned this fact from my very own sister several years ago when taking a spinning workshop with Roby! What a small world. But imagine that it took over 2 years and a third person for that info to travel between sisters! I guess that topic never came up in conversation!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Cornwall Finish

Ever heard of a Cornwall finish?

I had forgotten about this clever little Yankee trick for increasing the money made on selling their merino fleeces until I volunteered to give a little demonstration and talk to a group of 1st - 3rd graders at the local school last week.

The kids were studying Vermont history and the teachers thought spinning should be included. As I perused my old books for some fun facts and figures to give the kids, I came across an old handwritten note of mine...probably something my sister had shared with me at one point (she's full of interesting knowledge)...about the Cornwall Finish.

Cornwall is a town in Vermont in the heart of what was merino territory (yes, in the early 1800s Vermont raised some of the finest, award winning merino sheep in the world-we had 6 times as many sheep as people at one point!). Before sending the fleeces to market, the Vermont owner would rub a mix of linseed oil & burnt umber into the sheeps wool to mimmick lanolin (the natural grease of the sheep) . This increased the weight of the wool and since the wool was sold on a weight basis, these Yankee sheep peddlers got more for their fleeces! So that's what a Cornwall finish is!

It's a good thing to keep in mind as you buy your fleeces this spring. Not that anyone uses the Cornwall finish these days, but it doesn't hurt to be reminded as you make fleece purchases this spring that you are paying for the weight, so the cleaner the fleece (the better skirted it is, the less barnyard, etc) the better your buy is.

Happy spinning, Jen
Despite my skepticism that anyone out there cares what I'm doing with or learning about fiber arts, enough friends, customers, and even strangers have encouraged me to blog, that I finally decided to try this out!

So here it is....the start of a forum for sharing ideas and information, current projects and inspiration, about my passions of spinning, knitting, felting and dyeing. And maybe we'll work in some weaving too! (I did just get my Fireside Loom out and am preparing a warp for it, afterall).

Despite having engaged in all these crafts since the early 80s, it seems that I still learn something new every day. Often ,whatever I've discovered doesn't seem to me like anything earth shattering, but as students have pointed out to me, its worth sharing.

So, what to blog? Well, as I discover interesting information or techniques, am inspired by something unusual, read something worthwhile, or come across creative tidbits to share about anything related to fiber or these crafts, I'll post them here. And I hope anyone listening out there will feel free to contribute as well.