Friday, March 7, 2014

Waulking with Barbara and Sharon

Maybe it's just me, but I am constantly amazed at the topics our members know about -- and know a lot about -- that I have never even heard of! Barbara and Sharon Downey did it to me again with their great program on Feb. 15 about Waulking Wool. How could I not know about this?!!

Here's the deal, as I understood it. Waulking -- an ancient Scottish practice that is their term for "walking" -- because you are moving a piece of wet handwoven or hand knitted cloth in a sort of stepping motion (lift the fabric up, then slam it down on a hard surface) to provide enough agitation for the fibers to expand and the fabric to become tighter.
In the Scottish tradition, this process was accompanied by waulking songs, which women sang to set the pace. Waulking was followed by stretching the cloth on large frames known as tenters and attaching it by tenterhooks (hence the phrase "being on tenterhooks". . .)

So, it's like what we think of as felting, but the more correct term is fulling, with human beings providing the agitation that we get with the washing machine.  (Tidbit:  Felting is individual fibers manipulated with the use of a liquid and agitation. Fulling is woven or knitted cloth that is manipulated with the use of a liquid and agitation. So when we said we were going to felt thrift store sweaters to make insoles back in November, really we were going to full those sweaters.)

And here's the part you're just not going to believe: The liquid they used -- stale urine. Yep, you heard that right. They would pour hot, stale urine over the cloth right off the loom -- then slop it up on the table, and everyone would spend the entire day wringing it and beating it and passing it around the table so that each person had plenty of opportunities to wring and beat every square inch of the cloth.

Big surprise: in rural areas this was women's work, but men, ever mindful to be helpful, would hie on off to the pub every chance they got where they would save their urine over the course of the evening and bring it home to their wives. And apparently urine was saved at home, too, -- so kids, grandparents, everyone contributed! You can't make this stuff up.

In cities, being modern and sophisticated, fulling cloth was men's work. It was more likely to be done by stepping on the cloth ("walking" on it) in a tub or vat of urine. Even though fulling paid relatively well it was a low status job. If you know someone with the last name of Fuller, now you know what their ancestors probably did for a living. Wait a minute, I went to college with a Tiffany Fuller and she was a debutante so the stigma of the fuller's occupation did not live on to the current day.

Apparently the magic of urine is in the high concentration of ammonia -- ammonium salt compounds helped clean the fabric of oil and it made the medieval Scots' whites, whiter and brights, brighter. Eventually, substitutes were found for urine. Today we use soap.

Fulled cloth is more substantial than yardage straight off the loom. It is also water and wind resistant, and warmer in the winter, and cooler in the summer.

Here we are trying to get the waulking action down. Needless to say, we did not have "wet" cloth. We did get a sense of how this could be a great opportunity for neighbors and friends to socialize and catch up on all the local gossip!

This video produced by the History Channel is well worth the it's 6 minute running time.
 Barbara and Sharon -- Thanks for this fascinating program. Interesting and Fun!
The fulling process is what makes traditional Scottish plaids such fine wool fabric.

Friday, February 7, 2014

A good beginning to 2014!

The first meeting of the year is always a good time -- it's good to see everyone again, good to see the projects people have completed while they had some vacation -- and good to see the beautiful fiber gifts received over the holidays. We'll just show you one of many stunners.
Now, who do you think might have hand-spun the yarn and knitted this fabulous circle sweater for Kayleigh?
The yarn is core spun mohair with lots of embellishments added -- wool locks, ribbons, sequins, feathers, pearls, and more!
Yep, Moms are the best!
The program for the January meeting was special too. Barbara and Michaela took a trip to India in October, with their itinerary planned around their mutual interest in fiber arts. They showed us slides from their trip and shared some of their experience of this country that seems to cover itself in color and pattern .
Pattern and color were found everywhere they turned in India - often overlapping. In fabric, jewelry, in architecture, in walls, ceilings, floors, and furnishings. This is a fresco at The Amber Fort in Jaipur.

Michaela and Barbara took part in an embroidery class
Embroidery sample. Notice the tattoo on the wrist. It was explained that many women have similar tattoos representing important events and milestones in their lives -- a way of telling their life stories.
Michaela against an ornate background at City Palace in Jaipur.
A craftsman block stamping yards and yards of fabric.
Dyed sari silk laid out on bare ground to dry.
The intrepid travelers

Thanks to Michaela and Barbara for sharing this incredible trip with us!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

What Can We Do For Others?

In October and November, our programs have focused on what we, as fiber artists and crafter,s can do to help others. Beth Parrott led off with a great program on "Charity Knitting" with tips and handouts and loads of great information for anyone who wants to pass along some of what they make to those in need. Whether you knit, crochet, weave, or quilt Beth shared valuable, practical tips like:
  • use washable yarns, fabrics, and fibers. Recipients may not have ready assess to laundry facilities so "hand-wash only"--  no matter how lovely --  is not the best choice.
  •  Avoid lacy patterns or openwork. They too easily snag, trap dirt and are not warm or durable.
  • Take the opportunity to use "left-over" yarn and/or fabric. 
  • You don't have to make your piece a certain size to fit a specific person -- whatever size you make will fit someone -- so use the opportunity to learn something new -- a new weave structure, a new stitch, practice cables or colorwork.
  • Have Fun
Below are a list of links related specifically to knitting for charities. Please send me info you have about local groups who would welcome knitted/crocheted items, woven and/or quilted items (lap blankets, perhaps?). We'll make a current list of local organizations we can help. (includes patterns you should use)

In November, Judy Warren showed us how to make felted insoles to give to The Charleston Port & Seafarers Society which serves those who pass through our port city, -- can you imagine what a difference warm feet make to those who live aboard working ships?

Here is Judy's report on our November meeting:

"On Saturday, Nov. 16, the Guild's program was to perform a service project: making felted wool insoles to warm the cold feet of transient sailors who work year-round on the high seas. We started right after all other Guild business was covered and, once we got our system rolling, we worked until about 3:15 when folks needed to head home. We had already machine-felted a boat-load of 100% wool sweaters, so Saturday was the day to disassemble and then cut them up into pairs of insoles.

For over 90 minutes we worked and chatted while producing 53 pairs of X-Large, colorful, felted-wool insoles. We had decided to make them all XL - and a bit wide - to accommodate most sizes (our recipients can trim them down to their respective sizes.)

tightly felted wool insoles will make a sailor's work boots noticeably warmer.
The group we're donating these to is the Charleston Port and Seafarers' Society here in Charleston. The Director, Rev Len Williams, seemed very pleased I had called, and estimated that 30 pairs should take care of an average ship's crew.... so I intend to have a few more made (between me and the rest of the group) before Thanksgiving so they'll receive at least 60 ... hopefully for two ships' worth.

Sincere thanks go out to the 15-plus members who participated that day!"

These were 2 great programs to close out our year -- and a great project for us. We'll have more information on this topic early in the year. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Walterboro Fiber Fair -- A Great Success

Dear Guild Members,

Thank you to all who supported our effort at the Walterboro Fiber Festival! That includes people who drove a good distance to drop in and check it out. It was a wonderful day. We made a great showing and got to know fiber folk from other areas.

The mission statement of our guild of educating the community to appreciate the fiber arts was very well carried out. In addition, it turned out to be a great way to celebrate Spinning and Weaving Week which fell Oct. 7 - 13 this year.

Our display table looked great and the demonstration areas were busy. We represented lace-making, felting, spindle and wheel spinning, table, rigid heddle, triangle, and floor weaving, needle work and loom knitting, dyeing, and tools (Dale's lovely wooden yarn bowls and spindles). WOW!

One visitor told me she had a "wonderful time, everyone was so warm and welcoming". She was speaking specifically about our Guild! Our diversity is part of our strength!

And indeed, the Walterboro Fiber Fair turned out to be a great event and a great match for all that our Guild is interested in and has to offer. Coordinated by the Colleton County Museum and Farmer's Market, the event combined the regular Saturday Farmer's Market with crafter's booths, fiber animal farmers, all manner of fiber arts demonstrations, fleece, roving, and lovely pieces made from handspun fibers.

Lovely hand spun yarns from a Colleton County farm.
Four or five local farms were represented where sheep, alpacas and/or rabbits are raised for their fiber. The bunnies were the only ones who got to attend this fair.
Mostly alpaca hand spun.
Hand knits from hand spun alpaca.
All the yummy fleece and yarn and handmade pieces co-mingled happily with local Colleton County Farmer's Market produce, which was equally beautiful.
Kelly & Dale Fort and Kayleigh Osborne keep pushing Pluff Mudd Fiber to the next level. Their product mix now includes, handspun art yarn, felted ornaments, knitted and woven goods, hand turned spindles and yarn bowls and hammered metal jewelry. Their tag line says it all "Tapped, Tatted, Twisted & Turned Art". Find them on Facebook.
As we moved into the demonstration shed to take some pictures, Sandy and Michaela were delighted to see Wendy Kohler, formerly very active with our Guild. We know Wendy to be a talented weaver and knitter. Here, she was trying out basketry. She promised to be back around to see us soon!

Palmetto Fiber Arts Guild members were out in force, demonstrating what we know how to do and giving others a chance to try new things. Cindy and Kathy were busy all day introducing visitors to their rigid heddle looms.
Ron Kimzey even wanted to take the rigid heddle for a test drive.
Here, Barbara shows a fiber fair visitor how bobbin lace is made.
Maria Luisa demonstrated a continuous strand technique on her triangle loom. She was putting the finishing touches on this shawl as the day came to an end.

Kayleigh taught a class on needle felting where participants made fall pumpkins!
This young man was interested in the spinning wheel so Peggy gave him a quick demo.
Kelly encourages a new spinner.
Palmetto Fiber Arts Guild members got to see demonstrations as well as give them. This woman's daughter was one of the sheep farmers participating. While her daughter showed and sold fleece and wool, she patiently spun most of the day.
And just one more picture from our good day at the Walterboro Fiber Fair -- Dale's lovely drop spindles, each signed, dated, numbered, and labeled as to the wood. And each comes with a starter bag of fleece!

Kudus to the folks in Waterboro who planned and coordinated this event (including Palmetto Fiber Arts Guild members, Susan and Ted Chewning). They said they were afraid they were in trouble when they realized some people thought a fiber fair was going to feature dietary supplements. (Yikes!)

The day was well attended and the mashup of a great location, fiber artists selling and demonstrating, farmer's market produce, local animal farmers, food vendors, and beautiful fall weather created a good vibe for everyone.

At the SC Artisan Center, just one building over from the Museum and Farmers Market, there was even more going on -- a juried art show and more featuring traditional fiber arts. This first time event has great potential for annual repeat performances and offers our Guild the opportunity to connect with the public and with fiber animal farmers. If they let us, we'll definitely be there next year!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Gullah Lady

Wow! September's program with The Gullah Lady was really something special.
Sharon Cooper Murray aka The Gullah Lady, meets Palmetto Fiber Arts Guild members as we arrive for our September meeting.
Here in the Lowcountry of the Palmetto state the intertwined histories of many different kinds of people overlap with geography and place in a truly unique way. Sharon Cooper Murray grew up in nearby Lake City. A chance visit to Wadmalaw Island resulted in her finding what felt like home to her in terms of the place, the people and all the intertwined histories.

She is a talented and natural storyteller. She told us wonderful stories that began with memories of   her own mother's quilting circle, and later stumbling upon a remarkably similar quilting group on Wadmalaw Island -- of learning from the ladies there an old practice that involved using a sharp bone or a nail to push strips of fabric through a burlap backing.

The traditional Gullah rag strip quilt utilized small bits of fabric too small for garments, towels, or pieced quilts.

As time went by and the number of ladies who made these strip quilts dwindled to -- none but her, Cooper Murray realized how important it was to preserve as much of the Gullah Geechee culture and practice as possible.

Sharon has become The Gullah Lady and her mission now is to preserve the disappearing folk practices she learned from elderly Gullah women on South Carolina's sea islands. Her vision is not only to preserve this tradition, but also to make it relevant to a contemporary audience. She has found one of the best vehicles for this is the "Community Rag Quilt Project".

Everywhere she goes now as she leads workshops about this vanishing culture she invites participants to add a few strips to the community quilt, linking the labor of their hands to each other and to the tradition. The colorful community quilt becomes fluffier and fluffier with each program she does. Of course, she didn't have to twist the arms of Fiber Arts Guild members to get us to do our bit!

Palmetto Fiber Arts Guild members add strips to The Gullah Lady's Community Quilt
Samples of more rag strip quilts.
 The remoteness of our sea islands helped to preserve a way of life that traced some of its characteristics back to the shores of Africa (Sharon told us Gullah may be a corruption of the word "Golla" referring perhaps to Angola.) The cultural nuances are complex and fascinating.

None of us came from that culture or tradition, but many of us could relate to remembrances of old ways of making things that aren't being done anymore -- of remembering the communities that formed around and sustained our grandmothers and great-grandmothers who often lived in some isolation and often poverty. Many of us have some fiber "treasure" that has been passed down to us - a quilt or coverlet -- and we know a story of who made it and how it was used.

Thank you to Sharon Cooper Murray for being with us and sharing your wonderful stories about this rich culture still alive right in our backyard. And thank you for letting us take part in this community quilt project and remembering it really is all about community!!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Sweet Scent of the End of Summer

A large group gathered for our Aug. 17 meeting after taking July off for summer vacation. Michaela did a great presentation about using readily available herbs, spices and dried plant material to make "sweet bags" to nestle in with stored woolens to discourage moths and other threatening insects.

Using a free form balance of lavender flowers, dried rosemary, mint, cloves, and sage, everyone make their own bag to take with them. Fun! And happy noses all around! (See more recipes at end of this post.)
 It should be noted that this method is effective to make your woolen clothing, accessories, or even your yarn stash, less attractive to troublesome insects, but it will not eradicate the critters once they have moved in on you.

The board has been active during the summer -- first steps have been taken to become an official non-profit organization and several board members have been exploring what our policies and practices should be about loaning out Guild equipment such as the looms we have and tools such as a drum carder.  Programs are lined up through the end of the year -- check the "What's Coming Up" box in the right column of this page.

Falling under the category of "Life's Just Not Fair", Barbara V. showed up at the meeting on crutches. We'll send healing thoughts -- and Barbara will do physical therapy. :-(

Handmade necklace

 It's always fun to get back together after our summer break and see what people have been up to. Kelly and Dale Fort spent a week at John C. Campbell Craft School in July. While Dale took more wood turning classes, Kelly took jewelry making. She found she liked pounding, scoring and welding metals and came home not only with new bracelets, earrings, and necklaces but also with her very own anvil.

Donna Hardy, who recently joined PFAG when she moved here from Georgia, is an avid dyer. She is growing indigo out on Johns Island this summer. Since indigo likes hot, humid conditions, her crop is doing really well -- over 10 feet tall, she says. In Handweavers Guild of America, Inc. Spring issue of Shuttle, Spindle and Dyepot, Donna reviewed a new book on natural plant dyes. (Michaela usually has spare copies of Shuttle, Spindle and Dyepot.) See Donna's review of The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes by Sasha Duerr on page 11.

Emily wore a  wonderful triangle shawl crocheted out of bundled cotton yarns in denim colors ranging from dark blue to white. Perfect for those times when it's not cold outside, but you get cold indoors because of over-active air conditioners!
Karen showed us a quilt that will be raffled at Downtown Crossing in Summerville in October to raise money for breast cancer prevention and research.

 As great as it was to see everyone, many of us found ourselves looking around the room and missing Jessica Jones. Sad for us, the Jones' have moved to Savannah. Good for them, though. They moved because Aron got a nice promotion.

Jess won our hearts by being willing to tackle anything -- hello. . . she build her own loom -- including the reed! She knits, she spins, she served on the board, she coordinated our bus trip to SAFF a couple of years ago -- AND she is Mom to Aurora and Genevieve whom we all loved getting to know -- and they both knit and spin and are willing to tackle anything. So. . . we're missing them all and wishing them the best as they settle into their new home. Lucky Savannah Guild. Please come back and visit us.

We miss you, Jessica!

There's lots coming up this Fall. Be sure to check all the pages of our blog -- there's a wonderful locally hand-made floor loom for sale on our Equipment for Sale page -- and a Knit and Crochet Show in Concord, NC (near Charlotte) in September for anyone who can't wait until SAFF in October. (see, Classes, Shows & Exhibits)
A world renown felter and teacher will be in Charleston in September and will offer a class of some kind if enough people are interested (contact Amy Buckley at )<!--[if gte mso 9]>
And watch your e-mail boxes for information about ways to participate in the Fiber Fair in Walterboro on October 12. There are opportunities to have very reasonably priced vendor tables, to do demonstrations, and to teach workshops -- like I said, watch your e-mail for more info on this fun day!

Sweet Bag Recipes

The one we used at the Aug. 17 meeting:
Spoon your preferred proportions into a small silk or muslin bag. Each bag should hold about two or three tablespoons.
Lavendar flowers
Rose Mary

A nice one to use for men's clothing:
2 oz. lemon verbena
1oz peppermint leaves
dried rind of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp of crushed (not powdered) cloves
1 Tbsp of orris root powder

Friday, June 14, 2013

May 18 -- Kristy Bishop

Kristy Bishop visited us to talk about dyeing and her experiences while acting as artist in residence.  She started out as a painter, but has transferred her love of color to the world of dyeing.

Kristy Bishop stands beside one
of her lovely pieces.  This piece
was a study in natural dyes.
During her residency, Kristy experimented with natural dyes, focusing on local plants.  While experimenting, she came up with the idea of creating recipe cards to track how she achieved various colors.  This sounds like a very good idea for those of us who tend to forget how we managed to make a beautiful color that we want more of!  Some of the plants that Kristy has used are sweet gum (a muddy green dye), tick seed (yellow), and various flowers- many of which were discarded from florist shops.

Throughout her residency, Kristy taught dyeing lessons to art classes at several schools.  Her main focus for these lessons was Shibori.  Apparently, while the students enjoyed the process and results, they did not appreciate the smell!

You can see the tables through
the fabric of this piece.
I wish I could have seen the
full installation!  
We were able to see some of Kristy's work from her latest show during the presentation.  One piece was a study in various natural dyes.  It was very interesting to see how many color variations she created and the finished product is beautiful.  This was accomplished by dyeing small pieces of fabric, then gathering it tightly and stitching it onto a canvas.  The other piece that we saw was part of a larger installation.  This stunning installation involved several different sized pieces of sheer fabric hung from embroidery hoops at different heights and depths within storage containers so that you can look through the various pieces to see the others behind them.   To dye the fabric, Kristy first folded it in various ways, then clamped rings such as mason jar lids to either side of the folded fabric, and finally dyed it with indigo.  This created a stunning pattern of  bright white within the dark and bright shades of blue.  The full installation must have been stunning!