Eating my words. Yum.
Yes, I made this.
[blue silk cap spun on Tabachek
compact deluxe spindle, 1.2 oz]
It's kind of
fun when someone makes you eat your
words, especially when they make them
go down so easy. In my case, the chef
was Nancy Finn. But first, some necessary
issue, I made it quite clear that I. Do.
Not. Like. Spindles. I'd tried them; I'd hated
them. They were pretty! They were maddening.
I was ready to give them away, trade them,
feed them to the rabbits.
Then I went to Rhinebeck.
Actually, though we all call it that, it's
more correctly called the New
York State Sheep and Wool Festival,
but it's held in Rhinebeck so that's what
most everyone calls it.
The word "Rhinebeck"
was not in my vocabulary until two years
ago, when knitbloggers started rhapsodizing
about the place with pictures of piles
of fleece and spindles and wheels and,
of course, sheep. And since I was a]
not a spinner and b] allergic to two
words in the name of the festival, it
never seemed like a place I'd want to
go. But that was two years ago.
Since then, I've
learned that spinning is about much more
than the fuzz off a four-legged creature's
back. It's about plant fibers and cocoons
and the waste from food production. Using
this column as an excuse, I decided I
should go. I found out that my vehemently
non-spinning friend Steph wanted to go
as well. But that's not much of a road
trip, just the two of us. Enter bookbinder
and passionate spinner Emma,
who enabled us right into a ride, a fourth
to add to our party, a place to stay and
a travel plan, all within 24 hours of
our first meeting.
And so, Rhinebeck.
The morning we arrived, the skies opened and
were flushing themselves of excess moisture.
We were soaked but giddy with what might be
waiting behind the gates. Within the first
10 minutes, Steph and I passed a woman carrying
two clear plastic bags that cleverly showed
off her first purchases...fiber. Gorgeous,
ethereal batts of merino glowing with color.
"Where did you get that," I asked.
She pointed us into building B, to Grafton
Fibers. We practically ran.
We found an entire
booth of shelves lined with huge, soft swirly
cakes in every possible color combination.
Sheep-based, sure, but I had a wool-loving
friend to buy for, so I got to pretend I was
a normal fiber fanatic for a few minutes.
Steph and I wandered through the booths, drooling
over skeins of handpainted superwash merino
that Rock [and their non-wool counterpart
-- Sock Candy!] and dreamily eyeing the walls
of cleverly plied fiber at Brooks Farm.
Then I turned and
saw it. The booth that would change my
spinning life forever. Chasing
Rainbows, run by Nancy Finn. As with
so many booths at Rhinebeck, it was lined
with gleaming skeins of hand-painted wool
and sleek, softly fuzzy braids of roving
that shimmered and caught the light. How
could you not look, even if you couldn't
touch? But there was silk to be found,
and I found it soon enough. As I was waiting
to pay for my purchases, I glanced over
a tableful of plastic zippy bags, each
filled with a hand-dyed square of what
looked like silk. Silk hankies, Nancy
told us. Each hanky was actually a tidy
stack made up of individual silk cocoons.
"What the heck do you do with them?"
I asked. How could you spin a square of
cobwebs into anything without driving
yourself nuts? So Nancy showed us.
Nancy Finn, proprietress of Chasing
Rainbows Dyeworks separates a silk
hanky from the pile.
[My apologies for catching Ms Finn
while she wasn't smiling.]
opened one of the bags and pulled out
the pile of hankies. Gently, she flicked
at the corner until one gossamer-thin
layer allowed itself to be pulled away
from the others [above]. She
tugged, not too delicately, and there
it was. One cocoon, hand-dyed into beautiful
colors, stretched into a a square, lighter
than air. Then she did the unthinkable
-- she plunged her fingers into the
centre of the hanky, making a hole [right].
She widened the hole gently and evenly,
and suddenly, the cocoon wasn't a collection
of individual strands of silk -- it
was now, clearly, roving. She pulled
and tugged at the silk, lengthening
the tube of roving, thinning it, and
then broke it at one point [below].
"You can knit with it just like
it is," she said. "Or you
can spin it."
smiled, and I -- a certified adult --
jumped up and down in front of her as
the lightbulb went on. "I can do
that!" I said, and Steph, the avowed
non-spinner got the same glint in her
eye. We pawed through the piles of hankies
to find just the colors that we couldn't
live without, made our selections and
gleefully handed over our credit cards.
Whether or not the rest of the festival
was a success, I knew this had made the
trip worthwhile for me. I had discovered
something I couldn't wait to try.
The next day and a
half was a blur of fiber and friends. There
was always something at the next booth that
we had to see, something someone else had
discovered that they wanted to share with
us. Because of the amazing people I spent
time with at Rhinebeck, I learned about Norm
Hall -- someone who makes wooden spinning
tools of such beauty that he has a 7-year
waiting list. I picked up one of his niddy
noddies and had to force myself to put it
down. If I'm very lucky, he'll actually have
time to make the half-yard version I ordered
from him that day. He wouldn't take a deposit.
I know it's all about faith with an artisan
of his calibre. I can wait.
I got to watch Emma
Jane, a passionate spinner, interrupt her
shopping more than once to teach someone how
to use a spindle. I got to watch formerly
unspinny people with their new spindles, making
yarn as they walked the aisles. All of us
were like kids who'd just figured out how
to tie our shoes like the big kids. Still,
as far as I was concerned, spindle spinning
wasn't for me. I'd figure out how to put twist
into the silk-hanky roving when I got my new
Back at our cabin
that night, Emma Jane began to spin some
of the wool roving she'd bought that day.
Steph pulled out her bag of silk hankies
and started turning them into roving,
which she rolled into a tiny ball. Even
in the harsh single-bulb light of the
cabin, I could see how beautiful the roving
was and how hypnotic the movement of Emma's
spindle could be. I told everyone about
the booth where I'd found ridiculously
cheap piles of undyed silk hankies. And
Emma...she told me that you can dye them
with kool-aid. That was it. I planned
to go back the next morning and clean
out the booth.
Which I did.
And then we were
driving home. Steph continued to make
more silk-hanky roving in the back seat
of the overstuffed Subaru, adding it to
her ball. And I couldn't resist any longer.
I pulled out one of my bags of hankies
and started doing the same. As long as
I kept my hands far enough apart -- 12
inches, at least -- it was easy drafting.
But this stuff didn't feel like the glossy,
slippery silk roving I had at home. Drafting
that stuff while working the spindle felt
like trying to corral a sneeze. Silk hanky
roving, though, has a little tooth. That
plus the long staple length...it's so
much easier to work with!
I made this too!
[Chasing Rainbows silk hankies
spun on my favorite spindle --
a Cascade St. Helen's, 1.2 oz]
And then it
occurred to me -- if I was already making
roving that was knittable as it was,
to turn it into yarn, I just needed
to add twist. I wouldn't have to draft
any further, which was part of what
made me crazy with the spindle in the
first place. I just needed to get twist
into that roving. I. Could. Use. My.
Spindles! I couldn't wait to get home
and try it out.
before I'd even unpacked, I pulled out
the spindles and gave it a try. I felt
like someone had smacked me on the forehead
with a V-8. Doi! This couldn't be easier.
The beautiful Cascade St. Helen's spindle
I'd formerly resigned to dust-catcher
status spun like a dream, almost forever.
It turned my ball of roving, length
by length, into quite passable yarn.
Talk about energized singles! I was
an energized spinner and kept it up
till all the roving I'd made was on
the spindle, twisted into crazy but
mostly usable yarn. Silk hankies are
a new spinner's best friend. [For more
on how to spin silk hankies, read the
article in this issue of Knitty.]
Today, I ordered another