I spent last weekend taking lessons on Orenburg Lace spinning and knitting from Galina Khmeleva herself, while also partying with my knit-sibs, Beth and Erika.
Wow. Take a deep breath, and let that sink in. It doesn't get much cooler than that, does it? Okay, it does, let me add some details:
-I slept all night in a spinning shop. Surrounded by luxurious fibers. Surrounded, also, by Galina's enormous and breathtaking collection of real Orenburg shawls and all the materials to make them. I was sleeping in the same room with qiviut!!! Never mind the buffalo, the cashgora, the organic cotton, the Briar Rose, the silks and wools and flaxes (oops, the flax got left at Beth's house for some reason relating to our organizational skills being way behind Erika's). You get the idea.
-Beth gave me and Erika goody bags for no earthly reason other than that Beth is the world's greatest person EVER. Goody bags included merino top that I didn't believe I would ever know how to spin when I opened it but that I am now spinning, as well as Debbie Bliss Pure Silk:
And sleeping goggles (see Beth's post for what those are) and luxury tea and...a true embarrassment of riches (except I'm not at all embarrassed. Just grateful). Beth knows how to spoil a girl. Abundantly, and repeatedly.
-Beth also has extremely adorable offspring, and a remarkably compliant husband who doesn't even blink when she brings home giggly girls who want to make her sleep in the shop and eat 16 bars of chocolate. And her children are remarkably unembarrassed and polite when total strangers accost them and tell them they know them well from their mom's blog....
These are my self-inflicted photos of us giggling over Beth's bloglines the first night:
For some reason I really like the blurry one.
Let me tell you about Beth. Beth is extraordinarily generous, serenely laid-back, and oodles of fun. I would describe her as deeply silly, and those are terms that I do not throw around easily or deprecatingly. It's a special, wonderful art to be deeply silly and an adult at the same time, and all the people I love best are deeply silly. Of course, Beth and I already knew we had a sense of humor in common (how could we not when we have TMBG in common?), not to mention fiberlust, but now we think we were triplets separated at birth. Triplets, you ask? Oh, I know neither Beth nor I are known for our mastery of maths, but you see Erika makes three. Let me tell you about Erika. Erika is my age, but somehow has lived several whole, eventful lifetimes while I was sitting around doing I know not what - you might ask her about the modeling, or about deconstructing chemical weapons, but personally I'm most amazed by her past as a professional seamstress of historical costumes, and her incredible body of knowledge about historical clothing. Holy crap, and her degree is in geology! Besides, Erika and I spent the weekend having bizarre "what - you too??" moments every time we discovered another quirk we had in common. Positively spooky.
I've been reading both their blogs for a while now - have you? You should! Also, help me pressure Erika to write her book, and Beth to write her article and her book. It doesn't matter that you don't know yet what they'll be about - trust me, you'll want them.
-During the spinning lesson fiber and spindle flew in many directions. This part was expected. What was not expected was that I also ended up with yarn.
This is my first yarn (it's plied with commercial-spun silk, and made up of bits of pygora, cashgora, stretch merino, buffalo, and a teeny little tidbit of qiviut).
I tried a drop spindle several times at home and nothing but curse words and a few extra dents in the floor were the result. This time, I got recognizable yarn. I was prepped ahead of time with a little pre-lesson at Beth's house, when I got to watch both Erika and Beth spinning on their wheels (I'd never seen wheel-spinning in action before and hadn't really gotten how it works at all). Then Erika heroically let me mess up a section of what was otherwise gorgeous yarn by letting me spin a little in the middle of her work. Once I figured out that I was doing everything with the wrong hand, it started to get a lot easier.
Then there was 6 hours of instruction in traditional Russian Orenburg spinning with Galina. Erika and Beth have pictures (but really, I only have bad posture, bad hair and a weird nose when I'm concentrating. I swear). Galina is a genius, and tells a great story, and is a brilliant, ruthlessly honest teacher. Can I tell you how much I LOVE the supported spindle??? It changes everything. My biggest problem was drafting and letting go of the spindle without letting the fiber break and the spindle drop to the floor. With the spindle supported in a little bowl, it doesn't have to drop at all, and the fiber breaks much less often. Huge improvement right there. Also, all you have to do to make it twist is give the top a little flick. When I tried rolling a drop spindle along my thigh then dropping it, I got a wildly flailing spindle and then a gouged floor for my trouble. The Russian spindle spins evenly and almost effortlessly, like a little dervish (this is partly an art in choosing the most balanced spindle, at which Erika excels, and luckily she's a generous girl) . Now, Erika is such a generous girl that she wrote on her blog that I was "getting the hang" of drafting. Ha! Actually, I failed miserably at it during the class and am continuing to fail miserably (but, yes guys, I am continuing to try every once in a while). However, Galina started us on pencil roving, which worked beautifully right from the start, so upon applying to Erika as to whether I couldn't just "make pencil roving" and then spin it without drafting, she told me sure, but to call it "pre-drafting." Poof: my life changed in the blink of an eye. I can spin now. :-)
The spinning class was followed by a meet-n-greet with Galina and her very sweet husband, George. Erika and Beth and I were privileged to hang out with them through all of this, chatting casually with one of our personal heroes, not to mention pawing through her shawl, fiber and yarn collections while "helping" to display them. How incredibly cool is that?
It would be pretty hard to top that. But we managed: first, by deciding to spend the night on the floor of Beth's shop. Someone (was it Obsidian Kitten?) said that Beth's shop is like a fiber festival that's going on all the time, and that's exactly the right description. Can you imagine spending the night in the middle of Rhinebeck? That's how cool this was. No - cooler, because Beth and Erika were there. We practiced our spinning some more that evening while gossiping and eating ice cream. Beth unwisely told me which of her ceramic, hand-made supported spindles was the best spinner and, yes folks, I had to have it:
Behold, my turnip. That's the merino top Beth gave me on it. I'm thinking of knitting the singles into some fuzzy feet, which I'll dye with kool-aid while felting (as per Erika's suggestion). While I was doing this, Beth was expertly combing and spinning some delicious cashmere into laceweight, while Erika was moving by leaps and bounds from our experiments with buffalo in class to a perfect laceweight buffalo single on the Russian spindle by the end of that night. Ask her to show you her pretty new acorn spindle too, though. (Don't worry - we didn't completely clean Beth's shop out of her best spindles. Not for lack of trying. )
We conked out pretty early, though, despite the ice cream, because it had been a very full day and we knew we had 6 more hours of lace knitting ahead of us bright and early the next day.
In a separate, long-promised post I'm going to tell you all about why Galina's book on Orenburg lace is so incredible, and I'm going to rant about how Richard Rutt's book doesn't get anything right, but for now just a few peeks at what we were up to:
This is our first swatch, playing with some basic elements of Orenburg lace design. I needed to go down a couple needle sizes from what you see here. Galina gave us Jaggerspun Zephyr to play with - this was my first exposure, and I'm hooked. Lovely stuff. I also played with the new Addi lace needles, and am hooked on those as well.
Here's the next swatch, where we learned the traditional border basics, plus really nifty corner construction and a mind-bendingly awesome grafting technique.
I just finished this swatch last night, and am so please with it, and so anxious to start a full-size triangular shawl with some tweedy-pink Zephyr that Beth's going to bring me. Yummy, yummy, yummy.
How about some more pictures?
Here's Galina teaching lace, and me listening raptly.
Here's Galina signing my copies of her books. In Russian! And no, it's not you, that does appear to be a little bit of Ott-Lite [tm] coming out of my nose.
Here's Beth, Erika, and me standing behind Galina the Great (she calls herself "Galina the Terrible" but that's accurate only in the sense that "terrible" was originally used to describe the old tsars - meaning great, powerful, and awe-inspiring!)
So, um, yeah, we did kind of leave Beth's shop with more loot than we'd necessarily intended to pick up...
Can you say, "Briar Rose"??? wine-red alpaca laceweight no less....??? I'm thinking Print o' the Wave, maybe?
Shetland laceweight...I'm sorely tempted by the pattern Erika used in her alpaca shawl.....
This is my first try at spinning silk. So far it's delightful, and actually easier than the wool. I'm using the leftover bits of dyed silk hankies that Beth gave us to play with the night we slept over at the shop. I've been wanting to play with silk hankies ever since Amy Singer first did it, but trust me, it's even more fun than it looks. Want. Some. More. And they're not even very expensive! I'm officially a silk addict now. The hankies are so easy to turn into something string-shaped that they warm my little pre-drafting soul, and the silk sticks to itself much more than I thought it would. So easy!
Oh, and before I leave my wireless connection for who knows how long again, some catch-up pictures from earlier:
One Wildflower Sock done. It's a bit tight around the ankle, and I had to do a tubular BO because everything else made it too tight to get around my heel. Lovely once it's on, though!
These are the felted slippers from Knit2Together, using Knit Picks' Wool of the Andes.
And these are some post-blocking shots of the invisibility shawl. Apologies for modeling it over shorts and a tank top; we completely forgot to take pictures on Release Party Night when I was all dressed up with a cute, fluffy black skirt and black top. You'll just have to take my word for it that it looked good.
Oh - and speaking of Russian mystery yarn (which the Invisibility Shawl was made out of). One of my mystery yarns (not that one) was labeled "Orenburg Down" but seemed very greasy, smelled more sheepy than goaty, and was generally too cheap to have been real. Galina inspected it and declared it real but sub-par Orenburg down. Made from the leftover and damaged bits that remain after collecting the good stuff, it's what they make the cheap, fake-Orenburg shawls out of for the tourist market.* Galina said that they use tons of emulsifier to make it spinnable, but that once you wash that out it should be soft and nice and suitable for mittens or socks, though not shawls. Interesting!
*NB to those who read Piecework magazine: remember that crazy "article" that made the cover of the last issue about somebody who bought an $11 shawl on a night train in Russia? (a) that person bought a fake, crappy shawl like thousands of other tourists do every day because they don't know better, (b) that was not enough substance for any kind of article, never mind the cover, (c) contrary to what that article seems to want the reader to believe, Russia is not a barbaric, ignorant country ripe for the plucking by bargain-hunting Western tourists, (d) you can't get a real Orenburg for anything below three digits, (e) the difference between real and fake is ginormous - if you can catch one of Galina's classes or find her at a fiber festival she can show you and let you touch and, (f) the number of hours that go into the spinning and knitting of a real Orenburg would make it a steal at 10 times the prices they're sold for, and (g) just because most Russians are poor doesn't mean it's okay to cheat them (nor that they don't know when they're being cheated, nor that they don't do good work with good materials, etc). Not that any of you would do that, but sometimes it's really hard to know what the deal is when there's so little information available, and I hate to see a major magazine like Piecework disseminating BS.
So as not to end on an icky note, here are a couple more pictures to show you how we've been spending our time while not wrestling with dialup or gallivanting across the state for knitting lessons:
This is Hubbster, kayaking on Willard Pond in NH (in answer to queries - I'm not from there, I'm from Michigan originally, but my dad moved to the Hancock area a few years ago).
And this is my mom's cocker-poo, whom we love dearly. Awww.
Next up: The Allegan Fiber Festival on the 18th. I'm going to meet Beth there, and possibly Erika, and Galina will be there too. If you're also coming, be sure to accost me and say hi!