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An Ozark Fiber Retreat

   A few weeks ago, I loaded my spinning wheel in the car before the sun was even up and headed to the Ozarks; I was off to my first ever art retreat! And this one was special, because it was all about fiber art!
   Hosted by Vicki and Debbie from Fleece 'N Flax in Eureka Springs, AR., the retreat took place over 3 days in the little Ozark mountain town of Eureka Springs, a perennial favorite of mine! I've been visiting this beautiful artsy enclave since I was a child, and we even went there on our honeymoon.

  But this time, i was flying COMPLETELY solo--- which honestly, I had NEVER done. I had never had a hotel room ALL TO MYSELF. It was bizarre, and exciting. I cant tell you how READY I was for this chance to get away, and indulge in my love of fiber art....

(A hooked rug done by Vicki Hardcastle of Hardcastle Folk Art)

   The reason I wanted to attend this retreat was to learn the basics of rug hooking, a medium I am interested in and think is so beautiful. My friend Vicki brought many of her own hooked rug, and they were so stunning. The colors and form, are all so 'folk art.' And you can do lots of interesting things with the fibers. As a 'home craft' its one of those 'use whats on hand' type of endeavors, and I got so many ideas....

My new friend Lynda was working on this amazing large design from rug designer Sally Kallin. I just love all the little houses and the colors she chose!

I was also able to try my hand at weaving a small tapestry, and you know I was excited when I found out that many of the looms are made in Sweden! Another element of my Scandinavian obsession come to life! :D

And each day we were able to return to Fleece 'N Flax and shop, oohing and ahhhing over all the luxurious fibers and accessories. I bought a beautiful yarn bowl and some roving that I spun up. And I fell in love with the weaving studio downstairs, full of the most amazing looms....

   By the end of the weekend I was so relaxed and inspired, ready to come home and work. I got so many ideas while I was there, and made some wonderful friends. I hope I am able to go again next year, it was a tonic for the fiber loving soul!~

  Til next time...

Tasha Tuesday Returns

   If you've known me for any length of time, chances are you've found out that I looooove Tasha Tudor. When I came across a book about her life quite by chance in a bookstore bargain bin, I knew I'd found a kindred spirit. I was a poor college kid at the time, but I knew I had to have that book. Thank goodness the cover had a tear in it and I got it on markdown. Thus, a life long love affair was born....

  A talented artist, writer and craftswoman, Tasha Tudor is an American treasure. I can think of few people who can match her in crafting a life that utterly suited their passions and interests. And I can think of even fewer whose passions and interests so mirror my own. From painting at a little table with a dog under foot, to making dolls or spinning up yarn or wearing funny little old timey outfits, all the things she loved are things I love too. I am, obviously, a hopelessly besotted fangirl.

 And while that first book I found about her, The Private World of Tasha Tudor will forever be a favorite, another book I've been pouring over lately and loving is Tovah Martin's book "Tasha Tudor's Heirloom Crafts." It describes and beautifully shows (with the photos of photographer Richard Brown) all the old fashioned crafts and skills Tasha retained and took part on throughout her life.

   From spinning and dyeing to quilt making and basketry, Tasha indulged in a treasure trove of heritage crafts. Now I am dabbling in these sorts of crafts, and it makes me admire her all the more. How she did it all, who knows; but I'm starting to feel a real fascination and connection to these old ways of creating.

  In my yarn dyeing pursuits I've played around with manmade dye as well as natural and I have to say....nature's colors are always the most interesting and are the ones that catch my eye. The synthetics are too....I dont know...bright and perfect. They are almost sterile in their perfection. A good natural dye, however, has an innate earthiness to it (because what is it really, but earth?) and the hues are much more interesting. It can be varigated too---- which makes for a more interesting yarn and knitted project. And amazingly, all the natural colors seem to harmonize much better than synthetic hues, which can clash. I continue to be amazed by how much nature always compliments itself in these projects.

  And so, even though I am far from perfect or not even close to the craftswoman Tasha was, I keep at it. Because I get a little better each time I knit something or sew something or make new yarn. There is no 'app' to improve these handcrafts; it can only be honed by repetition and time. Keep on going, and keep on improving.

And perhaps one day, several decades down the line, I will have reached Tasha Tudor status in my abilities....one can only hope!

Take Joy!~

Woolly Pursuits

    For the past few weeks, my 'free time' has been filled with woolly pursuits. I've been spinning and experimenting with old dyeing techniques with natural materials. I've made mistakes and learned from them, and been proud of what I've managed to create, despite my innate inability to to follow directions (but Lord, I try!)
    My favorite natural dyes so far have been in the pink family--- avacado and madder root. 
"Avacado?" you may ask, "makes pink?"
And I will get yarn-nerdily excited and exclaim, "It does! The perfect soft ballet pink!"

  When I dyed with avocado, the first thing I had to do was.....eat a lot of guacamole. I was all for this sacrifice ;)
   When I'd collected about 5-6 pits from avocado, I put them in a pot of water and boiled them....until the pits were soft and mashable (who knew they'd do that?) Then I introduced my mordanted yarn and fabric (mordant is a slightly chemically altered 'bath' that helps the yarn and dye chemically fuse together; in this case, I mordanted the yarn with alum and cream of tartar-- yep, the stuff from the spice aisle!)

   The yarn came out such a beautiful, even, dreamy light pink, reminiscent of ballet tights and pretty pointe shoes. Emboldened by this experiment, I decided to for a more complicated dye--- the ancient and beautiful madder root.

   Hailing from India, the madder root has made such a marvelous deep salmony-pink to orange color that the desire for it was one of the reasons for the spice trade. Like many red dyes, creating it takes attention and process---- with the dye needing to be heated to work, yet not boiled, or it will be ruined. I found that the 'sweet spot' was heating it just to when steam would come off of it, but no bubbles would rise. I also needed to add a small amount of calcium carbonate to the dye bath, because madder root works best in hard water.

   I was nervous when the dye recipe called for me to dump the entire contents of a precious 3.5 oz jar into the dye---- I was either going to make something great, or mess it up and ruin my whole stash of ground root. 
   But my curiosity got the better of me, and I went ahead--- first soaking the ground root overnight in a small contained of hot water to leech all the color out of the roots, and then pouring the contents into two large pots--- it ended up making a lot of dye!
  I threw in yarn, lace, and different types of fabric. Each element too the dye in its own unique way--- the two (natural fiber--- cotton and flax) fabrics couldnt have looked more different; the cotton was light pink, the linen bright orange. the cotton lace became a rich orangey-red; the yarn became the most unique deep salmon color.

   One of the most interesting things about the madder root dye is also that you can save it and reuse it, with the color getting lighter, but still very nice, with each use. What I didnt use the first time, I stored in large jars to reheat and reuse for other projects. Madder root is the dye gift that keeps on giving!

   Things I learned about madder root include--- your fiber needs to be scoured and mordanted, and then washed again for the dye to take best. Mordanting and then letting the fibers sit a while works the best.

   Also, when I initially wet the madder root, I will next time put the dry contents in a muslin bag and then strain the liquid before I pour it into the large dyepot---- I didnt the first time and ended up with tiny flecks of madder root in my fiber that had to be washed and shaken out.
Sheep from a recent visit to Shepherd's Cross in Claremore, OK.

  And so, even though I love the look of natural fleece, it has been fun to create these 'unnatural' natural colors with wool and other materials. It seems that the dyes work better with natural (how many times can I type that??) elements--- from wool yarn to cotton fabric or ribbon. Synthetic fibers just dont cooperate with the dyes. Mother Nature will only work in harmony with herself. Can you blame her?

   All these pursuits have been so intriguing and fun, and I find myself thinking about my ancestors who would have raised their sheep, processed their own wool, and also raised flax that they would have processed and woven. Most likely they too experimented with dyes....over a cauldron in the yard, with kids and animals scampering about. What was their favorite color to try to procure? How they must have felt such great anticipation to take a fiber from animal (or plant) to their spinning wheel or loom, then to the dye pot, and then make lovely, usable items for their family and home.

   My end project now is a shawl Im making with some yarn from my dye projects. Im going to blend the salmony madder root yarn into the pale sweet avocado dyed yarn and make something cozy to wrap up in. It will be so satisfying, I think! Wish me luck, I've come this far!~


Winter Prairie at Woolaroc

   A few days back, I loaded up my truck full of little girls and one toddler boy and we headed north towards the wilds of Woolaroc. Woolaroc is the former ranch of oil tycoon Frank Philips and is part wildlife sanctuary, part fine art museum. Tucked into the rural landscape of Osage County near the Kansas border, it's a beautiful patch of 'wild Oklahoma', complete with roaming buffalo herds and unusual variety of elk, deer, cattle and even ostriches.

    A word of advice when you're heading to Woolaroc-- don't trust your GPS when you get to the end of the journey on HWY 23. You'll end up on a rutted out rural country road trying to 'turn right' where there is no place to turn. Ask my how I know ;)

   We took our little day trip with some friends from home school---- and since we were able to pack up and go on a rather chilly friday morning, we basically had the run of the entire place. And since children under 11 are free, I was the only one who had to pay to get in--- so it was well worth the price of admission!
   The kids had fun roaming the play area and seeing the animals that are in the petting barn area (chickens! Goats! mini donkeys! Must pet them all!) and they also enjoyed the museum. I loved seeing all the beautiful fine art paintings, but the kids most of all enjoyed the area full of antique toys, including a massive electric train set.

   And even though its the middle of winter and the landscape is quite bare compared to the rest of the year--- it was still beautiful; the leafless trees were gnarled and dark against the gray sky, and the prairie grass was a beautiful golden wheat color. It was amazing too to see the buffalo and the deer and wapiti elk grazing and lounging all together, unaware that somewhere not too far away is a modern city full of cars and concrete. Time stands still out there in Woolaroc.