Sunday, September 17, 2006

A Time to Spin, Part 1: The Pennsic haul

I spent several idyllic days in August visiting my family, although most of that time was spent at Pennsic. (That's the official link. Another linky here). Any SCAdians reading this will know exactly what this is, for the rest, this is a large (really, really large) event hosted by the Society for Creative Anachronism (another link here). This event has been taking place for a couple decades now at the same campground in Western PA, and growing every year. Conveniently, the campground is about 5 miles from my ancestral home, where my parents and a number of friends and relatives still live. There aren't a lot of perks to be had from that (my knowledge of the local back roads and places to go in the area means little at an event where people don't have much reason or desire to leave the site), but it does make the laundry thing far less troublesome, and I have a place to crash if it all gets to be too much and Oh-my-God-I-just-need-a-real-shower-and-a-bed-now.

One of my nieces has been going for several years, and I finally managed to go and spend some time with her. I've been wanting to go to Pennsic (and possibly get more involved in the SCA) for some time, but there was the university thing, followed by the getting married thing, followed by the moving to Canada thing, then the "Oh my God, I have to work for a living" thing. Then came the "I want to play in a concert band" thing and finally the "This would be a great time to go back to grad school" thing. Before you know it, 15 years have gone by, and I've STILL never made it to Pennsic or looked up my local SCA groups. Which is pathetic, really.

So this year I went. I had two goals: 1) See if I would be comfortable at an SCA event and if this is something I would like to do more often, 2) Learn to spin on a drop spindle. The jury is still out on the first goal, although I've since been in contact with my local groups. I'm going to their meetings for a bit to observe quietly and see if any of them would be a good fit for my interests.

The second goal, however, was quite sucessfully met. In the interests of full disclosure, I bring you Bridget's Pennsic Stash Haul:

First, drop spindles, and a book to teach me what to do with them. The top whorl spindle is your basic Ashford Student (inexpensive) spindle. I like it well enough. I bought it with the book, along with some roving. The second is a hand-made clay low-whorl spindle, bought from this shop. It's heavier than the Ashford, spins forever, and I adore it. In this picture, it's holding my first spinning attempt.

The brooch was bought from the same merchant. I needed it for the scarf, which I feel I should explicitely state was bought from a completely different merchant.

Ahem, the scarf. I should explain a bit. I had no garb of my own. Rather, I was wearing garb borrowed (mostly) from my father. His shirt was huge, oversized, and fit like a sack (not a bad thing, honestly). There was also a large piece of cloth that he wore like a tartan, over one shoulder and belted around the waist. I decided to wear that as a head covering instead of a hat (which is problematic with my hair up in a bun), lest I roast in the August sun, SPF 50 be damned. I discovered very quickly the first day that his pseudo-tartan was far heavier material than I wanted. I was sweating like a freaking pig. Hence, the scarf. A very lovely scarf, much cooler, with the ends beautifully yet heavily overdyed using who-the-hell-knows-what-but-damn-its-BLUE. It was also definitely NOT colourfast dye. To be fair, the merchant I bought it from warned me. She suggested I buy this scarf since most of it was undyed (most of her others were completely dyed), and thus I wouldn't end up with a smurf-coloured head and face as soon as I stared sweating on it. She also recommended that I NOT allow it to be rained on, and if I intended to wear it as a head covering with any regularilty, that I wash it and try to fix the dye once I got home, perhaps with vinegar. Under normal circumstances, I probably would have moved along to the next merchant and bought something confirmed to be colourfast, but the scarf was pretty, and I was desperate.

This lovely scarf got me through the rest of my trip without incident (and, in fact, netted me a couple compliments from complete strangers - Pennsic is like that). I managed to keep the ends from touching my sweaty self the whole time. I tried to set it with some really good dye fixative when I got home (Raycafix, recommended for "unknown" dyes), but alas, let's just say that the scarf ends are no longer that brillant shade of blue. In fact, it bled so much that if it were red instead of blue, it could have made for an awkward conversation with the neighbours in the laundry room. It's now a lovely, pale aquamarine, at best. Not a big deal, it wasn't expensive. I'm going to play with it a bit and see if I can re-dye it. If so, perhaps the scarf will make another blog appearance.

Anyhow. Back to the rest of the stash.

Next is the pink roving, bought at the same place as the Ashford spindle and the book. Apparently it was dyed with Brazilwood using tin as a mordent.

This roving is the first thing I tried spinning, on the clay low-whorl spindle. My first spun yarn is here, with a better picture of the spindle. Considering how densely packed the roving was (it needed a lot of pre-drafting) and the fact that I'd never used a spindle before, it's not too bad, actually. There's too much twist, of course, which isn't surprising for a learner, especially given how heavy and fast this spindle is.

When I was buying the clay spindle, I also grabbed another bag of fleece. This one is merino lamb's fleece, superwash treated. It's so light and fluffly that I can spin it without brushing or combing. The staple length is a little shorter, though. I'm just starting to play with it now, so more on that in the next post.

By this time, the fleece-buying frenzy had completely taken hold. A few merchants were selling raw fleece as well, and I wandered into one such tent. The woman was a dear - or perhaps a deer is more accurate, since she had antlers strapped to her head. (They looked great, btw... did I mention I was at Pennsic? *grin*) She took one look at my red, sweaty face (this was the day before I bought the new scarf), and she promptly sat me down and plopped a handful of ice into my hands. We sat on the bench in the shade and rubbed our faces and arms with ice for a while, talking. A third woman joined us. After a bit, I realized I'd come into her shop to look at the fleece! The one I really liked wasn't washed, and even I - an enthusiastic newbie in the throes of fleece-buying euphoria with a healthy credit card, realized that I didn't have a convenient way to wash and dry a large fleece promptly upon returning home. Seriously, I live in a basement apartment, and I have no yard. The shopkeeper obliged by finding me a smaller, washed fleece. Meet my new friend, a Romney Cross:

Here's a close-up picture showing some of the lovely crimpy locks. I'm not sure how visible it is, but there's a grey touch to some of it. I think it's in the undercoat. I've been playing with it. I carded a handful, combed some, and spun a bit straight out of the fleece with just a little pre-drafting of the more matted parts. I was happiest with the combed locks, so I'm probably going to get some good wool combs and learn how to use them. This is mostly for spinning practise anyhow, I'm not really worried about how much yarn I get from it in the end.

Best of all, it smells sheepy, a bit like a barn but not too strong. I find it a most comforting smell. I wasn't raised on a farm, but I was surrounded by them growing up. Most of the farms around us stuck to cows, but the sheep were my favourite. As soon as I catch a whif, I am instantly transported back about 20-25 years. Friends raised sheep and angora rabbits that they would show at the Butler Fair (we lived close enough to bike there, if not walk) or the Farm Show. Their mother spun and knitted with the wool. When the kids were showing animals, they slept in a stall in the barn next to them, sleeping with the sounds of quietly bleating sheep.

It's funny. Twenty years later, living in a large city many hours away, and I finally figured out how to bring home to me.

Finally, I needed a bag to put it all in, and for good measure, I picked up some silk/wool yarn that will probably make the loveliest socks ever:

So, that's the Pennsic Haul, as we're calling here. My husband received fair warning of my purchases when I was still 5 hours away, and did not have me committed upon my arrival home. After I played around with everything for a little bit, I decided I should probably get someone to show me how to spin in-person. I wanted to take one of the classes at Pennsic, but I missed them the first week and didn't stay long enough into the second week to catch the next one.

Next post, my local handspinning class goodies, and my first skein.

1 comment:

Susan in N. GA said...

I know this is an old post, but I really enjoyed reading it, so wanted to send a comment. I just got my first raw fleece (llama) and am experimenting with it.
Your blog is really cute and interesting. Thanks