Friday, March 30, 2012

Fair Isle for Handspinners -
Exploring color through fiber blending, dyeing, spinning and knitting.

October 26-28, 2012
Garrison Hall, Fort Casey Inn, Whidbey Island, WA

Elizabeth Johnston
Shetland, UK

Martha Owen
John C Campbell Folk School, NC

Join us for this great class coming up this fall on Whidbey Island, just north of Seattle.  Elizabeth and Martha will be making their second trip out to the Pacific Northwest.  Both came in 2010 and taught two classes, one on knitting and spinning for Shetland lace on Whidbey Island and the other on knitting Fair Isle at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Ballard.

Greenbank Farm

The class will be held from Friday, October 26 - Sunday, October 28, 2012 at the Greenbank Farm in central Whidbey Island, WA.  This historic former loganberry farm sits on 151 acres of farmland with views of the water from two directions.  The farm hosts the Whidbey Pie Cafe, several art galleries, a wine shop and an agricultural training center.  It's conveniently located just 15 minutes south of Coupeville as well as 15 minutes from the Coupeville ferry terminal (adjacent to Fort Casey State Park). It is approximately a half hour north of the Clinton ferry terminal on the south end of the island.
Martha Owen teaching at John C Campbell Folk School
Martha Owen and Elizabeth Johnson have taught a number of classes together over the years both in the US and in Europe.  Both are professional fiber artists trained in traditional crafts (See earlier posts in this blog for their backgrounds). I am thrilled to welcome them back to the Northwest!

Elizabeth Johnston from Shetland, UK

Martha and Elizabeth are currently working on the class description as I try to put together a budget to cover all the costs of bringing them out here (plane fares, teaching stipends, hall rental, etc.)  We think the class cost will be about $300 per person, not including a small supply fee.  We should have all of this information ready by the end of April.

In the meantime, if you are interested in this class or have any questions, please contact me at .  I will be sending out the class descriptions to everyone that contacts me at the end of April.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Shetland Museum in Lerwick on Mainland, Shetland is quite a wonderful place.  In 2005 when we visited the islands, the museum was closed for renovation.  Luckily for us, they had loaned out a number of the textiles in their collection to several smaller museums throughout the islands that make up Shetland.

I discovered when we returned home that the museum has a remarkable photo archive that is accessible to the public on line.  The collective can be searched easily by topics.  Some topics that I have searched for include Fair Isle knitting, lace knitting, and sheep.  The photos are a great record of the role of knitting in the lives of people in the 19th and early 20th century, much like Frank Sutcliffe's photo documentation of the ganseys in the eastern part if Britain. 

Photo T00124 - Shetland Museum Archives
This photo shows two women carrying kishies (a type of basket) filled with peat in the early 1900's.  If you look close, both are knitting as they walk.  It's an interesting reminder of the role that knitting played in the lives of women a century ago. I have purchased several of these photos from the museum over the years.  They hang in my studio as a reminder of where we all have come from.

Elizabeth Johnston grew up in this tradition on Shetland and is still today a professional knitter.  Martha Owen, while visiting Elizabeth a few years ago made a stop at the Shetland Museum.  Martha's husband David took this photo of the two of them together. 

If you look closely at the table they are sitting at in the museum, you can see a clear box imbedded into the center of the table with knitting on needles and handspun yarn.  This box contains Elizabeth's work.  Unlike some traditional crafts, knitting on Shetland is still a living art form.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

OK, I admit it...I'm a bit of a snob...I love the traditional colorways and usages of 19th century textiles.  But when it comes to contemporary interpretations, I can be a bit picky.  What Alice Starmore does with Fair Isle and Solveig Hisdal does with Norwegian stranded knitting are exquisite!  And Wilma Malcolmson's designs at Shetland Designer are wonderful!

Martha showing Wilma Malcolmson's sweater designs at Shetland Designer south of Lerwick, Mainland, Shetland
So when Martha sent me the next photo...well, I just wasn't sure.  The original photo was quite dark and I didn't look very closely to it.  After she sent me a note explaining it, I finally understood.

Martha took this photo on a trip to Shetland a few years ago to visit Elizabeth.  The trip happened in the winter, a rather dark time of year to be vacationing that far north.  It also happened to be when the annual Shetland festival Up Helly Aa  took place in Lerwick - Europe's largest fire festival.  While visiting a pub during the festival, she took this photo.  As a knitter, who wouldn't be amused at such a creative use for Fair Isle knitting?

Fair Isle knitted Up Helly Aa outfit

Saturday, March 24, 2012

One of the side trips we made on our trip to Shetland was out to the island of Unst.  Unst is the northern most island in the Shetlands.  To get there requires a short ferry ride.

Sheep under cover of building at ferry landing going to Unst.

Unst is special in a number of ways.  It is essentially the farthest north you can go in Britain.  Hermaness National Nature Reserve is on the northern most edge of the island.  It is a wind swept headland complete with sheep tucked on rocky precipices over the angry ocean and great skuas dive-bombing you as you hike.

Wendy hiking (and wind blown) at Hermaness
Unst is also known for producing the finest lace knitting in all of Shetland, perhaps in Britain. I've personally never seen knitting this fine anywhere!!  We had a chance to visit the Unst Heritage Centre that has a lovely display of old and new knitted lace.

When Martha and Elizabeth came to teach in 2010, Elizabeth had us try our hand at spinning the yarn for this type of lace. The lace is typically done in a two ply weight yarn.  The wool for these shawls comes from the neck area of the Shetland sheep, which is exceptionally fine and crimpy.  Each ply for this handspun yarn is about 5 wool fibers total.  An entire shawl knitted in this yarn can be threaded through a finger ring.  It was the most difficult spinning I have ever done.  I have a small sample of yarn that I covet.  However, I will not be making any more soon!

Unst knitted lace

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My idea of a great vacation includes ferry rides, somewhere north of the 50th parallel, ocean views and a bit of Nordic influence. So, a few years after I started raising Shetland sheep, I convinced my dear husband to make a detour to the Shetland islands on the way to England one year (his favorite vacation spot).  I absolutely loved Shetland!  Rolling green hills, shear cliffs overlooking the ocean, lots of textiles, history and sheep...and did I mention wind, always wind...

Broch at Old Scatness
Shetland is a place that is steeped in ancient history that goes back long before the Vikings left their mark on the islands.  No vacation for me is complete without visiting some of the historic landmarks of an area.  Shortly before we left we made a visit to Old Scatness on the south end of Mainland near the airport.  The site was discovered during the construction of the airport access road.  After several summers of excavation, an Iron Age broch was revealed.  The site currently has living history staff that help interpret this era.

At the time we visited in 2005, there was a women spinning in the visitor center.  A warp weighted loom was leaning against the wall in another room.  The fabric being woven on this loom was the finest cloth I'd ever seen woven on one of these primitive looms.  Mostly you see heavier coverlets (a form of blanket) being woven on them in Scandinavia.  Her fabric was a light woolen cloth that would be made into the clothing for the interpretive staff at the museum.  It was really remarkable fabric!!!  

Elizabeth spinning with a drop spindle next to the warp weighted loom at Old Scatness

The woman introduced herself as Elizabeth Johnston.  We discovered that we were both members of the international textile group, The Norwegian Textile Guild, a small group that was founded by Lila Nelson while she was the textile curator at the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa.  I never imagined that I would meet her again.  Life is funny that way...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I met Martha Owen several years ago when I taught a weaving class at the John C Campbell Folk School. The folk school was establish in the southern Appalachian mountains just north of the Georgia border in Brasstown, North Carolina in 1925.  It was patterned after the Danish folk schools and was designed to provide an alternative to the higher-education facilities that drew young people away from the family farms.

The land around the folk school in North Carolina

These days, the folk school does mostly adult education and draws students from all over the United States.  It's educational focus is still the traditional crafts and home skills of the region along with building a sense of community among the students and staff.  Classes are held during the day with community activities available to all in the early morning and evenings. Fresh, wholesome meals are served family style in the old dining hall. It's hard not to go home a few pounds heavier.  What a magical place to visit!

Martha hanging newly dyed fleece out to dry 

At the folk school, each craft area has a 'Resident Artist' who is in charge of hiring teachers for their area of expertise, maintaining their particular studio and it's equipment as well as teaching some of the classes that are offered.  Martha is the 'Resident Artist' in charge of spinning, dyeing, knitting and feltmaking at John C Campbell.  If this weren't enough, she is also a master storyteller, banjo player, Morris dancer, member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, co-owner of a local yarn shop the Yarn Circle and a shepherd.  She charms all who meet her with her gentle spirit and sense of humor.  I'm really excited that she's coming back to the Northwest to teach.

Martha and sheep friends

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Elizabeth Johnston, one of the two instructors for our upcoming class comes from Mainland, one of the Shetland Islands.  These islands are part of Scotland, but if you look at a map of the area, you will see that they are due west of Norway.

During Viking times, this region was settled by the Norwegian Vikings and to this day retains a part of this Nordic heritage.  Many of the place names have Old Norse origins and it's native sheep, the Shetland, is considered to be one of the Northern Short-tailed sheep along with the Icelandic, Spaelsau, Soay, Gotland, North Ronaldsay and several other northern breeds.  The sheep on Shetland have played a vital role in its economy over the years and provide both meat and fleece.

Shetland wool is soft and silky and over the years has been used for many purposes. The extra soft and fine neck fleece has been used for delicate, lace shawls, while the rest of the fleece in it's multitude of natural colors has been used in the stranded knitting known as Fair Isle - the name of one of Shetland's outer islands.  The small sheep that produce this wool are very hardy.  They are able to survive and thrive under the harsh conditions that are quite common for this group of islands set between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea.
Elizabeth's knitted lace shawls

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Elizabeth Johnston from Shetland, UK and Martha Owen from John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC will be coming back to Whidbey Island, WA on October 26-28, 2012 to teach a class on Fair Isle for Handspinners.  Look for more information and posts about this class soon.

Martha and Elizabeth on Whidbey in 2010 visiting Chris Lubinski's Shetland sheep flock in Clinton, WA