Saturday, August 16, 2008

Estonian Lace Knitting at GGFI

My afternoons at the GGFi were devoted to learning the art of Estonian lace knitting with Nancy Bush. Nancy is passionate about Estonian lace, but equally passionate about the people, and the country. Sometimes, outsiders adopt the techniques of an art form of a country, without any deep or abiding feeling about the people, culture, or country that produced the art.
I have met many foreigners in Ireland eager to show off their mastery of Irish music on various instruments, who seem to lack passion for the country, its people, and the culture. They seem more interested in showing that they can play the music with more technical perfection than the natives. But in my mind, they fall flat, because they lack passion, and humanity. The Irish are often unimpressed by technical prowess, when the performer fails to also demonstrate a passion for the music.
The antithesis of this kind of cultural tourist, are people who recognize that it is not possible to appreciate the art form without being passionate as well about the people, culture and country that produced them. Nancy Bush is driven to document the history of Estonian lace knitting, and to teach the form to others. She is deeply committed not only to the artform, but to the women who produce it.
During the six days, we worked on three projects, and learned various techniques including : a traditional Haapsalu Sall (shawl) with a “knitting on” lace edge border, an Estonian Lilly of the Valley lace sampler with a sewn-on border, and a small Estonian triangular shawl. The techniques we learned were making nupps (a kind of bobble that can include from 2 to 7 or more stitches), a special triple stitch for K3tog, sewn on borders, a stretchy knitted cast on, and a special Estonian cast off.
Nancy brought many examples of shawls from Estonia. She also brought shawls she had knit for her upcoming book Knitted Lace of Estonia. I won’t include any pictures of these as the book hasn’t come out yet. It is due in October.

It took me time to master the techniques, so day one of any project, I made many mistakes. But by day two on the project, I was beginning to master the knitting, and feeling good. Some of my classmates were frustrated, but they also persevered and managed to finally produce. I haven’t blocked my projects yet, but should do it soon, and take pictures.

I bought 2 skeins of Darlene’s new Nature’s Palette lace weight silk and merino yarn in white. It is 660 yards, and 30% silk and 70% merino to make the Estonian Triangular Summer Shawl in the current (summer 08) issue of Piecework.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Golden Gate Fiber Institute, Part II

Want to know more about the woman behind the Golden Gate Fiber Institute (GGFI), Morgaine Wilding? The current issue (Summer, 2008) of Wild Fibers magazine has a great interview with Morgaine, who is the owner of San Francisco-based Carolina Homespun. Morgaine explains her thinking behind a week-long institute. She wanted to give participants a long enough learning experience so we could learn the skill not only in our heads, but in our hands. Often these kinds of workshops range in length from 3 hours to 2 days. At the GGFI, each class provided 18 hours plus of instruction over the course of 6 days from July 28th to August 3rd (2008). Morgaine is also committed to seeing that traditional fiber arts continue into the future.
We arrived on Monday night, August 25th at the YMCA Marin County Outdoor Education Center, which is in the Golden Gate National Recreational Area, part of the Marin Headlands at Bonita Point. This natural area overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge, as it crosses San Francisco Bay, and the Pacific Ocean. We were also very near the Bonita Point Lighthouse, and hiking trails in the highlands.
Every morning I had a natural dyeing class with Darlene Hayes, who is the person behind Nature’s Palette’s Yarns and Hand Jive. Some of you may be familiar with her popular pattern Breakfast at the Café du Monde gloves (yes I bought some Nature's Palette to make them). Darlene lives in northern California, where she works in her home studio. She collects some of the dyestuffs from local sources, and other materials she buys (such as blocks of indigo). The new book The Yarn lover’s Guide to Hand Dyeing by Linda La Belle, Potter’s Craft Books, has a six page spread on her, including how to dye with fresh eucalyptus, and a pattern for ruffled baby socks. Another hand-dyeing business featured in the book is Capistrano Fiber Arts. The owner, Lori Lawson, was one of my classmates in the natural dyeing class.

The class met from 9am-noon on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. Though we were scheduled to meet for three hours, but Darlene asked us to get there before 9 if we could and we usually stayed up to a half hour after class cleaning up so Darlene would be ready to teach again in the afternoon. Day one, Tuesday, we each mordanted, and Day Two and Three we prepared pots of cochineal (made from the bodies of insects which are found on cacti in Mexico) , madder, logwood, dillweed, black walnut, and osage. Day four was indigo. Indigo is a great dye to use on its own, or to deal with unwanted results – just throw it in an indigo bath. Days five and six, we decided as a group what dyepots to cook up, and what to do with yarn we had brought (up to a kilo). I was glad we met in the morning, as it gave us Sunday morning to finish dyeing, with time left to hang skeins up to drip dry.

I brought home a total of twenty three – 50 gram skeins, in a range of colors and a deep appreciation for natural dyeing. As you can see in this picture of the yarn drying, natural dyes
are not just browns and yellows, but reds, blues, as well as warm yellows, oranges, and browns.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Checking in

I have just returned from the Golden Gate Fiber Institute in California on the red-eye flight that arrived at 6 am this morning. I have loads to write about that experience and pictures to upload.
I'll just say now that the Fiber Institute exceeded all of my expectations : the organizers were fabulous, the instruction was incredible, the output of participants soooo creative, the place - far more beautiful than I had even been able to imagine, the food and resident staff awesome; the whole site was a certified green business.

I came home with almost 2 dozen skeins of yarn I hand-dyed with natural dyes (cochineal, mullein, logwood, walnut hulls, indigo, dillweed, and more), and three small Estonian Lace projects knit with Nancy Bush.
And there will be another Fiber Institute Jan. 5th-11th, as well as probably next summer.

One of the teachers, Myra Wood will be leading a trip to Peru - Weaving and Freeform Fiberarts Trip June 1-10th. Will it be Sea Socks 2009 or Peru? They are the same dates.