but irresistible nonetheless.
Yellow is hard to photograph,
but irresistible nonetheless.
I've been making yarn.
Nothing new in that., of course.
But this fiber is Polypay,
a breed developed at the USA Experimentation Station in Dubois. Idaho.
A mix of Targhee, Dorset, Rambouillet and Finnsheep,
the breed, like so many of us who live in the United States,
is an incomer
bred to thrive in the west.
a combination of Rambouillet, Corriadale, and Lincoln/Rambouillet X
was also developed in Dubois, in 1926.
(Targhee appears in various well-known commercial yarn blends:
Brooklyn Tweed,www.brooklyntweed.com/yarn/ for instance, and Cestari )
As a spinner, I usually start with raw fleece
-- some weird regional combination--
as I like to get my hands into every step of yarn production,
but this Polypay from The Yarn Underground (my LYS)
is heavenly to spin and I couldn't resist diving into a couple of pounds.
It's fluffy, fine and bouncy,
the kind of fiber that pours off a wrist distaff and onto a spindle,
and an excellent companion for last week's tapestry retreat in Garden Valley, Idaho,
The title of the retreat was Tapestry as Cloth,
my goal to explore the effect that
sett, beat, and materials (weight and fiber content of warp and weft),
have on the physical objects that we make.
You know how easy it is to get into habits
-- this warp, this sett, this weft, this loom--
and sometimes it is useful to ask why,
to shake ourselves up a little.,
to get messy.
What if this tapestry doesn't want to be stitched into a frame?
What if it wants some linen in it?
What if it longs to sway in mid air?
What if it is more like a blanket?
I'm not sure that any of these questions were answered,
but four selvedge warps came on and off of looms,
the company was fantastic,
we made glorious color,
ate delicious food
and soaked out any weaving aches
in the geothermal pool.
One of the myriad benefits for me was a reminder
of how little one actually needs to make fabric
and how much beauty (and really nice fiber)
can be found out my back door.
Garden Valley is actually about 270 miles from Moscow,
but Highway 95, the only North-South highway in the state,
passes two blocks from my back door.
It two lanes for most of the drive
and every wide spot in the road is worthy of a photo, or a quick tune,
so it all feels pretty darned local.
Along the way are a few mountains,
a couple million acres of wilderness,
the odd pristine river,
and, after four hours of driving,
a coffee shop that serves Landgrove Coffee, roasted by the family of the kids with whom I sometimes play tunes.
(The Foglifter Cafe is in McCall Idaho, and doesn't seem to have a website of its own)
It is all kind of like the Polypay--
right here, and not too shabby.
This morning, back home, I made a warp
I think it'll become some sort of a blanket
but I don't actually know yet.
Guess I'll have to post this bundle of nonsense
(my little Idaho advertisement),
and get back to threading.
Apparently, my embroidery wants its own style of yarn.
My default singles, spun over months on a 19 gram spindle
then plied to suit for knitting or tapestry ,
has been perfectly satisfactory for years.
Now, however, it seems lumpy, thick and inconsistent.
So exciting, then, to pick up my 11 gram turkish spindle,
bring all my attention to the drafting triangle
and try to produce a yarn that glides through both needle's eye and fabric.
Exciting, that is, until I need it a bunch of it.... now.... and haven't spun it yet--
which was the case with the exhaust baths of last week's lichen experiments,
I much prefer dyeing skeins to fleece. At least I used to.
But it seems to me that one of the great thrills of being alive
is getting to change your mind.
The batts turned out fine.
With virtually no stirring and the most gentle of rinses,
the wool (once dry), was ready to attenuate and spin
to whatever size my kuchulu and I thought we could make.
This was so thrilling that I dumped the remaining lichen liquor into the pot
and threw in some uncarded but clean white fleece (in net bags this time)
to suck up whatever color remained.
The fiber turned out a honeyish yellow slightly darker than I wanted,
but happily that is the kind of thing I know how to fix.
I'm a bit of a stickler for well prepared fiber.
Indeed, it usually works out the best if I do all of my preparation for not only can I tailor the technique to the yarn I want to spin, but there is also no one to blame but myself if I'm unhappy with the result.
Luckily, I love the whole process
and that is a good thing since
the smooth, fine, heathery yarn I had begun to imagine
depended on a fair bit of it.
I teased and carded each color individually
(every batt twice through my Pat Green Drum Carder ),
then tore the batts into strips and blended them with a third (and sometimes fourth) card.
Nothing to do but wind it on a wrist distaff and spin.
Bead or Button +
cord, leather, cord or strip of worn out sheet in a pinch=
Wrist Distaff (indispensable hand spindle accessory)
My first one
was anything but simple:
Hand spun/dyed silk,
card woven into a band,
embellished with a collection of charms from my past
including a tooth to remind me of the days when sawing the jaw off a bear while its fat gently--and stinkily-- rendered into lard on my wood cook stove was all in a day's work.
I have come to realize that all that jingling history
gets jangled with the fiber and makes a mess of careful carding.
Not worth the effort.
What is worth the effort
is pursuing the question of what depth of brown I'll get
from this pot of late season black walnuts,
and how much more of that white fleece I should devote to the experiment.
I want to embroider in dark, dark walnut brown.
There is much to look forward to.
Including, as you can see below, the Second Palouse Fiber Festival
here in Moscow, June 17 - 19 2016
Turns out I'll not only be teaching at the festival
(Weaving a Bag on a Box and simple Indigo Katazome),
but will also have a show at the The Pritchard Gallery a few blocks away
that opens that very weekend.
Be interesting to see what I'll have made by then,
beyond lots of really fine yarn in a variety of earth tones.
How to play:
1. Grab your little sister and the bravest inhabitants of the doll house
2. Hop on a magic carpet (preferably hand knit)
3. Flee to the woods
4. Build a shelter among tree roots (bark and moss are good roofing material)
5. Brew potion (flower petals and lichen preferred)
6. Serve in acorn caps
7. Savour the power
10. Note the expression on your sister's face when you declare the Hilda Game dumb
(She is five years younger and believes in your power,
or at least in your ability to transform a grey day with a babysitter
into something else).
11. Grow up and discover
that the potion had power after all.
Now I have both.
So last week
when my pockets overflowed with wind-blown lichen
after a somewhat scary storm,
I knew what to do.
And where to find help.
Mosses, Lichens and Ferns of Northwest America by Dale H. Vitt, Janet E. marsh, Robin B. Bovey; Lone Pine Publishing, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada 1988 The Colour Cauldron by Su Grierson; Mill Books; Newmiln Farm, Tibbermore, Perth. PH1 1QN Scotland 1986; Lichens For Vegetable Dyeing by Eileen M. Bolton; Studio Books, Longacre Press LTD. 1960 Republished by Robin & Russ Handweavers, McMinnville, OR 1991
The balance was for the skeins of yarn.
I measured lichen by the hand full.
Note: according to Vitt, Marsh and Bovey, vulpinic acid, the prominent lichen acid present in Letharia vulpina (second from the left above), is in fact poisonous. L. vulpina is also known as Wolf Lichen because it was apparently used in Europe to kill wolves by poisoning them with a rolled ball of Letharia, animal fat and nails. So wash your hands or use gloves for this one.
L. Pulminaria, on the other hand, was prepared as jelly and given to those suffering from pulmonary affections (Bolton).
Indeed, According to the Doctrine of Signatures, which was formulated in medieval times, this lichen was supposed to cure disorders of the lung....unfortunately for us, this cure does not seem to have had any foundation. (Vitt, Marsh, Bovey p.235)
The question for today however (a question to which I do not yet have the answer),
is how to fill that interesting value gap between the rather blah yellow I got from a pot full of unidentified lichens scattered amidst the ones I knew, and the glorious russet reds from L. pulmonaria.
Exhaust bath perhaps?
ps. The lichens named here do not need a mordant on wool
pps Please Note that lichens tend to be very slow growing. Limit your collecting to a tiny percentage of what you find in any given area and learn what you are gathering.
ppps. BOOKS: Truth be told, I have dyed with these three lichens before so though every day, every season, every batch is slightly different from every other, I mostly know what to do and what to expect. It is a treat, however, to open the covers of my old friends and read the names out loud. If you, too, enjoy this or want to explore, learn and identify further, here are a few suggestions:
One of my favorites (currently out on loan so not part of this post) is
Dyes from Lichens and Plants by Judy McGrath
Also, Craft of the Dyer by Karen Leigh (Diadick) Casselman,
Casselman more recently wrote Lichen Dyes; the New Source Book, but I don't have a copy.
In addition, there are myriad natural dye books worth exploring which may or may not talk about lichens.
One way or the other, the Modern Natural Dyer, is on my xmas list.
ppps. Despite my cruel treatment, my sister Lyn
has grown into a glorious adult with magic and power of her own.
Sarah C Swett