Fibertrek wool scout retreat

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,


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In addition to hosting a podcast (FiberTrek, available on iTunes) and facilitating the introduction of designers, crafters, and yarn producers to each other and to knitters at large, my good friend Sarah Hunt puts on lovely, cozy, educational, yarn/knitting retreats in Maine.  In her podcasts and personal knitting she is interested in the relationship of wool, yarn, and knitting to landscape and a sense of place. For the last couple of years she has been bringing these ideas into focus during her Tidal Tours knitting retreats in collaboration with Jodi Clayton of One Lupin Fiber Arts, but even more exciting, this year she is also drawing on her background as a Maine Guide to bring interested knitters into the wilds of Maine.

 

From August 13-17 Sarah will be hosting the Wool Scout Knitting Retreat at Bradford Camps on Munsungan Lake, in Township 8-Range 10.  The camps may be reached by logging road, but a float plane is the recommended mode of transport.   Mary Jane Mucklestone will be holding classes in Fair Isle knitting (!!!!!!!)  Sarah will be teaching classes in starting fires with flint and steel, and also in working with rare and primitive breed wools,  Jani Estell of Star Croft Fibers will be leading a class in making Viking Chatelaines (an organizer for small tools)  and Igor Sikorsky will be teaching fly fishing and map and compass skills.  And, boat schedule willing, I will be there as well with my indigo pots, introducing interested folks to the magic of dyeing with natural indigo.  I am giddy to be included in such company, and also just really looking forward to getting to be part of the retreat.

 

For more information, and to register, go to fiber-trek.squarespace.com


Thank you to all pink yarn buyers

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,


 

I am writing this from the departures gate of Logan Airport, bound for Costa Rica and the start of my six weeks on the boat. Yesterday was full of last minute errands and packing, interspersed with moments of feeling worried about what the country might look like when I return in mid-March.  So it felt very very good to be able to send a donation to the ACLU in the name of all the folks who purchased pink yarn last week (in addition to my normal monthly donation).  Thank you thank you for making the additional donation possible.

 

And on a semi related note, I am technologically in a bit of a bubble and the cool kids probably all know about the Countable App, but I just learned about it yesterday, downloaded it to my phone, and can tentatively add my own recommendation for doing the same.  It tracks upcoming bills in much greater detail and timeliness than most media outlets and makes it easy to find out how your reps voted so you can call to thank them/hold them accountable.  And best of all former NPR people with names I recognize are running the thing, which goes a long way towards establishing its reputation (for me anyway).

 

Another political action site that I can now heartily recommend is 5calls.org, a website that makes it easy to pick an issue and make phone call to the correct person (no more trying to figure out if the bill or person you are for/against is in the House or Senate).  It even provides you with a script to use, whichever position on the issue you take, which is really helpful if you are like me a bit uncomfortable talking about these issues in quick sound bites .

 

All these phone calls and protests may seem like yelling into the wind, but a bill proposing to sell public lands was just withdrawn from consideration after the bill's sponsor received an overwhelming negative response to the idea, and two republican senators have changed their votes on the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education due to phone calls from their constituents.  Calling gets easier with practice.  We can do this.

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New Colors, and a very silly sachet

by Sarah Lake Upton in


New colors of the Bluefaced Leicester - DK weight spun from the luminous fleeces of Two Sisters Farm are now available over on the sale page.  (I may have gotten a bit carried away....).  All profits from the sale of the pink colorways will be donated to the ACLU.

And speaking of getting carried away, a bit of crankyness over having to spend an exorbitant amount of money for a tiny little bottle of bay leaves from the grocery store, rather than the sensible price when buying in bulk from our old co-op in Midcoast Maine, ultimately led to the creation of lovely little sachets full of things that the internet assures me moths dislike.   (Because it turns out that a pound of bay leaves isn't actually that expensive, but what home cook needs a pound of bay leaves? And then the next thing I knew Sam had a design in mind for the stamp, and once one has a stamp in mind, one must make the thing).

 

 


Slater Mill Knitting Weekend!!!!

by Sarah Lake Upton


Upton Yarns has been invited to vend at the Slater Mill Knitting Weekend January 20 and 21 at the historic Slater Mill complex in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.  I am so very flattered to be invited, and very much looking forward to it!  (Check out the vendor list!).  Even better, Sarah of FiberTrek podcast will be with me to help out/lend moral support/maybe talk about some of her own very interesting projects. (And speaking of FiberTrek, in her most recent podcast she included a bit of the interview we filmed when I visited her lovely cabin on the pond this summer - you should be able to find it on iTunes).

 

I will be bringing DK weight BFL, Straw's Farm Island Sheep Gansey Yarn, and maybe a surprise or two!  (I get home on Christmas Day - it will be a very busy early January in preparation).


A Sad Closing

by Sarah Lake Upton


On the note of "community" and change, one of my favorite places in Portland Maine is closing it's doors.  I was lucky enough to base Upton Yarns out of the wonderful shared maker space A Gathering of Stitches for a year when I lived in Portland and I owe a lot to Samantha's encouragement, validation, advice, and business sense (also, her willingness to help me name colors).  Samantha is changing her focus from running a shared maker space to further developing her fabulous retreats, and this Saturday (December 10) from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM she will be hosting a book and fabric sale as she closes the doors on her shared maker space.   When I worked out of A Gathering of Stitches I may or may not have lost hours to perusing the book shelf (I wasn't getting sidetracked in books, it's all about developing my creative side...) Her book collection is incredible, and it drives me a little batty that I am on the boat and won't be able to snap up the entire collection.  So, if you are within any kind of reasonable travel distance from Portland Maine this weekend, I highly recommend a trip to A Gathering of Stitches. 

 

I also highly recommend her summer retreats. And all her classes in general.  When I was in Portland I took her Boro class which totally changed my views on mending from "chore" to "art form", and which I have continued to benefit from.

 

It makes me incredibly sad that the shared maker space is ending, but I am looking forward to one day being able to attend one of her retreats.


Community and Collaboration

by Sarah Lake Upton


Though it wanders a bit thanks to my day job, this blog is really meant to be about yarn, dyeing, and related subjects.  I am reluctant to bring politics into it, because it just seems like bad manners to do so, but I have also found comfort in the blogs of other small business people who are likewise trying to work through their feeling of anger, grief, and fear at the results of this election.  I am on the boat right now, and our limited internet makes it difficult for me to keep up with what others are doing to process and move forward, but when I get home I will be joining in some of those efforts, as well as in local efforts to mitigate whatever is about to come. Suggestions welcome.

 

The rancor during the election, combined with the outpouring of grief after the election, has led me to think more about the communities I belong to, and what that actually means.  I started Upton Yarns in part because I wanted to provide an additional revenue stream to small farmers (and in part because at the time I was having a hard time finding yarn spun from local wool in the styles that I wanted to knit with).  I am not a large wool buyer, but when you are a small farmer ever bit helps, and my hope is that Upton Yarns can grow, and as it grows the money that fleece brings in can help a sheep enthusiast justify keeping a few backyard sheep or help keep a larger flock-owner in business.

 

And then there are the small spinning mills, and the people who grow the natural dyes sold by Kathy at Botanical Colors: to produce a single batch of yarn requires (for me) working directly with three different small business, though depending on what dyes I use (sourced through Botanical Colors) there could actually be quite a few more businesses ultimately involved.

 

This community is important to me, and it often gets overlooked by knitters, though there is a growing awareness and interest in what actually goes into producing the yarn we knit with. 

 

As important as this community is, until recently I treated it all with a very traditional, capitalist oriented mind-set.  I buy fleece, I pay the spinning bill and the dye bill; I am part of a community but every piece of what each of us does is separate from the other, and then I sell the yarn on to knitters, who make the final product. 

 

Recently I had a conversation over email with someone who commissioned yarn from me (which makes her a "customer", except that I really don't like that word - we exchanged too many emails and wrote of too many different things for that word to apply anymore, she is someone I would have over for tea - maybe "patron" is better? "Fellow yarn enthusiast who bought yarn from me" is unwieldy but more accurate) that changed my thinking.  Throughout our email discussion of the color she was hoping I could dye her yarn she referred to our "collaboration" in creating her future gansey.  I will admit that at first I found that word a bit odd.  "We" were not collaborating on her gansey, she will knit her own gansey, I was just planning to dye the yarn for which she would pay me.  But the more we discussed her gansey, and the more she referred to me as her "collaborator", the more I thought about my own discomfort with the word "customer" and my further discomfort when forced to refer to Upton Yarns yarn as "my yarn".   Deb at Stonehenge Fiber Mill creates the yarn. (I send her an idea of what I hope the yarn will be, and then she bridges the gap between my hopes and what the fleece I sent her is capable of becoming).  I choose the flocks I work with, and the fleeces that will go into the yarn, but small farmers raise and tend the flocks, and shearers put in the back breaking effort required to shear the sheep. 

 

The question of who then, given all the different stages of production, can rightfully call the finished yarn "theirs" it tricky, and I would say all of us, and at the same time none of us.

 

Thinking about all of this, I took a further step back and realized that the exchange of money in no way makes any of this less of a collaboration.  Every step along the way one of us is creating something or adding something to the finished product, and the money that changes hands is less about changing "ownership" of an item than about thanking the person for their efforts and providing the means for them to continue practicing their art. And this includes the knitters, and the wearers, and the eventual menders of the finished garment.  We are all collaborating in the creation of a garment that will hopefully make the eventual wearer feel cared for, even if they are never quite aware of all the people involved in bringing it into existence.

 

Thank you KC for helping me to consider more fully what we are actually all doing, and for helping me to come to a better way of thinking about it!

 

(On a related note, Karen Templar at Fringe Association mentioned in a blog post here that she thinks of herself as a "caretaker of people's money", because by buying from Fringe Association people are essentially voting with their money for the success of a small sustainable business selling responsibly sourced items, made by people who are in turn treated well and paid a reasonable wage, and part of her responsibility as the owner of that business is to make a similar "vote" with the money and to make sure that all of those things are true.   She managed to put into words something that I have felt since the beginning of Upton Yarns, but have been unable to fully articulate. Karen also donates a percentage of her profits to groups like Heifer International - I hope to one day be able to do the same, but for now any profits are going directly back to buying more fleece, dyestuffs, paying the spinning bills, and the general flotsam of business expenses.)


October Highlights

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,


So the election happened.  

This morning I find that I need to concentrate on all the positive things that happened in my creative world while I was home.  (On Monday I met the boat in Alameda, California, for our annual shipyard period; currently she is in dry dock).

As I mentioned in a previous post, the gansey yarn spun from the 2016 Coopworth fleeces from Buckwheat Blossom Farm in Wiscasset, Maine was there to great me when I arrived home, and the yarn is lovely.

Many people on the 2016 Coopworth Gansey yarn wait list were entranced by the yarn in its two undyed colors, but I did get to do some very satisfying dyeing:

From left to right; Light Gray (Undyed), North Atlantic (custom blue/green), Nordic Tug Green (custom green) Medium Blue, and Dark Gray/Brown (undyed).

From left to right; Light Gray (Undyed), North Atlantic (custom blue/green), Nordic Tug Green (custom green) Medium Blue, and Dark Gray/Brown (undyed).

I am still working through the wait list, but I ran out of time at home.  If you are still on the wait list and you haven't heard from me to talk about your yarn needs, fear not, I still have 2016 Coopworth Gansey yarn, I am just out of time at home.  I will be back in my yarn room in early January, and will be in touch to discuss individual orders. 

 

One of the highlights of my time home was getting to vend at the Highlands on the Fly knitting retreat at the New England Outdoor Center near Millinocket, Maine.  I had a lovely time catching up with knitters I met there in years past (I missed last year because of my boat schedule) and meeting new knitters. 

 This year the great Mary Jane Mucklestone spoke about her travels and interest in the Shetland Islands, Ellen Mason of Doc Mason Yarn gave a class in Mason Jar dyeing, and I finally got to meet Michelle Bye of ByeBrook Farm (we've been Instagram acquaintances for a while - she has lovely sheep).  Other venders included Jani Estelle of Starcroft Fiber Mill, Casey ff Port Fiber, and Jodi Clayton of One Lupin Fiber Arts.  Mary Jane brought her knit swatches from her recent books:  150 Scandinavian Motifs and 200 Fair Isle Motifs (link takes you to a page about Mary Jane's books on her website, scroll down a bit for the titles). I have spent many an hour pouring over the photos in those books, so it was actually a bit surreal to see them in person.  The photos do manage to capture the spirit of the swatches, but seeing the swatches in person I found that some motifs and color combinations possessed an extra dimension of energy that just didn't quite come across in the photos, while other samples that were stunning in the book, though still lovely in person, didn't quite draw my eye the same way they had in two dimensions.  It was an interesting reminder that knitting is not a static medium, and that different light, different pairings of swatches, and just getting a change to pick up a piece, can completely change how one feels about the same piece of knitting.  (I was too sidetracked by getting to actually look at them to remember to photograph them for a later blog post - for which I appologize).

(I also felt immense admiration for the photographer - yarn is maddeningly difficult to photograph accurately, or even consistently).

 

Time was my biggest challenge when I was home.  I lost two of my six weeks of time home to classes necessary to maintain my boat life, and while both were worthwhile, and the fire fighting class was downright fun at times, I resented the intrusion of my boat life into my yarn life.

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But I have now officially fought fire (under controlled conditions) wearing my At Sea Gansey (pattern by Beth Brown-Reinsel).  The increased range of motion and ease of wear that make ganseys so lovey to wear when working on a tall ship are equally lovely while moving a fire hose.


Ganseys and Gansey Yarn

by Sarah Lake Upton in , ,


I have fallen right back under the metaphorical rock thanks to spending last week in a class necessary to maintain my Coast Guard License (long boring story, also a long boring class, but my fellow participants worked on drill rigs and tug boats and that bit was fascinating) but now I get to spend the morning sipping my first cup of coffee and catching up with my favorite blogs. 

I was thrilled to discover that The Fringe Association published a really lovely interview with Dotty Widman of the Netloft in Cordova, Alaska about the Cordova Gansey Project.   Dotty's series of posts on her own blog have become some of my favorite writing about knitting generally and ganseys specifically.

(You can find the yarn I created for the #cordovaganseyproject listed here at the Netloft's website).

Now that I am finally done with the Coast Guard class I will have time to work with the 2016 Coopworth gansey yarn that arrived while I was away (I could not be happier with how it turned out!).  For those of you on the wait list for 2016 Coopworth gansey yarn, I am trying to put together a newsletter to inform you that it is finally here, and that I am beginning to work with it.  I would rather spend time working with yarn than trying to create a pretty newsletter about yarn, so I may just give up on the newsletter and send a quick email.  If you are on the wait list and you read this, feel free to send me a quick email about your order.  

The two natural colors of my 2016 Coopworth Gansey yarn - lovely undyed, and gorgeous after a few dips in the indigo vat.

The two natural colors of my 2016 Coopworth Gansey yarn - lovely undyed, and gorgeous after a few dips in the indigo vat.


A Few More Southbound Photos

by Sarah Lake Upton in


This rotation on the boat took me from Juneau, Alaska to Clarkston, Washington, just across the river from Lewiston Idaho (which as the airport).  A hair over three years ago I flew into Idaho to meet up with the boat for the first time.  Until I started working on the Sea Lion it never occurred to me that one could meet a boat in Idaho but that first rotation I did basically that, starting in Idaho and ending in Costa Rica.

 

Alaska is my favorite season, and much as I hate to leave, the way down from Alaska to Seattle is always one of my favorite trips. We hit the highlights of our normal week long trips (Glacier Bay, Tracy Arm, the Inians, Petersburg) and then we turned left instead of right when we pulled off the dock in Petersburg.  As usual, I took a gajillion photos.

Here are some of my favorites:

Sitka

Sitka

Bubble netting humpback whales enjoying breakfast

Bubble netting humpback whales enjoying breakfast

Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay

And a coastal brown bear looking for something tasty to eat in Glacier Bay

And a coastal brown bear looking for something tasty to eat in Glacier Bay

Steller Sea Lions, Marble Island, Glacier Bay

Steller Sea Lions, Marble Island, Glacier Bay

South Sawyer Glacier (just around the bend) Tracy Arm

South Sawyer Glacier (just around the bend) Tracy Arm

Memorial poles at Sgang Gwaii

Memorial poles at Sgang Gwaii

Diving with Ashley on the pier, Alert Bay BC, Canada - my new favorite dive spot

Diving with Ashley on the pier, Alert Bay BC, Canada - my new favorite dive spot

Leaving Seattle bound for Portland (Oregon). Someday I will actually get to walk around on land in Seattle instead of popping by just long enough to load supplies. 

Leaving Seattle bound for Portland (Oregon). Someday I will actually get to walk around on land in Seattle instead of popping by just long enough to load supplies. 


A Few Photos from Southeast Alaska

by Sarah Lake Upton


We are alongside in Prince Rupert BC this morning to clear customs and let our guests explore.  I ran away for a few minutes to make use of the (much faster) internet on the dock. 

 

 

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We were in Tracy Arm on Thursday and I got a few last iceberg shots (I'll probably post more from my "real camera" when I get home at the end of September).  

 

 

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When I was home  splurged on a camera with a dive housing.  I need a bit more practice, but I'm hooked. 

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This sea pen is sadly not quite in focuse, but the shape is so lovely that I had to post it anyway. 

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And Now for a Bit of Catching Up (or, another round up) - Also, Coopworth Gansey Yarn Update.

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,


FIrstly; because I have been arguing with my newsletter software, for those of you who expressed interest in the 2016 Coopworth Gansey yarn, I am pleased to report that it is back from the mill and sitting in my yarn room waiting for me to come home (which I shall do at the end of September).  I will be sending out individual emails to people on the Coopworth Gansey yarn wait list before I start dyeing to clarify orders and etc, so start thinking about yardage.  Hopefully I will eventually managed to send out a newsletter to folks on the wait list.

 

I have been back on the Sea Lion for two weeks now, which means it is just about time to write the round-up of what I got up to whilst on my last rotation home.  But first, while my internet remains somewhat limited, I have been doing my best to regularly post to Instagram, where I go by @uptonyarns.  My photos from my time on the boat are generally travel related more than yarn related, but I will admit that I've become a bit addicted to the ease of Instagram, and have taken to using it to showcase that one new dyelot of yarn that I dyed just before I left for the boat that doesn't warrant a whole newsletter (for instance).

 

While I was home this time I had the good fortune to be invited to vend at the the second session of the Tidal Tours Retreat in Machaisport Maine hosted by Jodi of One Lupine Fiber Arts and Sarah of the FiberTrek podcast.  The retreat was based out of a house with one of the loveliest views I have seen in a while, and I admit that I got a bit sidetracked (and then totally failed to photograph it, because yarn-ish things were also happening). 

 

I am looking forward to vending at the Highlands on the Fly retreat at the New England Outdoor Center in October. 

 

After the Tidal Tours Retreat I followed Sarah back up to her lovely cottage on the pond in for a long weekend of catching up and making things.  Sarah mainly sewed, and I took over part of her kitchen and yard to dye indigo. 

 

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She also filmed a segment with me for a further episode of her podcast, but I am much happier behind the camera and I fear I may have rambled unto incoherence.  Hopefully she got something useable, but I may ask for a second try.

 

From there it was back to Worcester, where it was so hot that even the candle in candle holder above our mantle seemed to give up.

 

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But I braved the warm temperatures and kept my dye pot anyway, dyeing quite a bit of my 3 Ply Cotswold fingering weight (suitable for Sanquhar) for Beth Brown Reinsel. 

 

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I believe that she is turning some of it into kits, so, if you are interested, please get in touch with her.  You will also be able to find her this winter at the Spa yarn retreat in Freeport, Maine.  I hope to have Cotswold back in stock for my own purposes sometime this winter.

 

And without triggering my superstitions by saying too much, I am very excited about a couple of things happening this fall.  Very excited.  Fingers crossed.

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Back from a very lovely knitting retreat

by Sarah Lake Upton


I had a lovely time at the Tidal Tours 2016 knitting retreat!  

 

My shop inventory is up to date.   

My computer alas did not enjoy the travels as much as I did, and until I can make a run to the computer doctor on Saturday I am reduced to trying to manage the website from my phone, which is about as frustrating as one might expect.  

 

Sigh.  


Selling yarn in person 7/22/16

by Sarah Lake Upton in


I will be vending yarn at the Tidal Tours Island of Wool yarn retreat on Friday, July 22.  I'm bringing most of my inventory including knitting kits and BFL DK weight, so if you've been eyeing any particular color way just a heads up that it may not be available after Friday morning.   (The lovely BFL fleeces from Two Sisters farm are off to the mill, and 2016 BFL should be arriving by the fall, so if you do miss out on a colorway  let me know and I'll make sure to dye more once I get the base yarn back). 

 

 


Home!

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,


Much as I love my job, there is nothing quite as wonderful as my first week home.

This time, amongst many other things, I slept late (okay, as late as Nell would let me) took long walks (starting later than Nell would have liked, but far earlier than I would have liked) and raided my inventory for more 3 Ply Romney > Cotswold so that I could keep working on Fantoosh.

I love the color of milkweed flowers, and the smell is intoxicating,  but I never realized until I looked at this photo how much they resemble something a special effects department for a creepy sci-fi movie would create.  Huh.  Let's just enjoy the color and move on. 

I love the color of milkweed flowers, and the smell is intoxicating,  but I never realized until I looked at this photo how much they resemble something a special effects department for a creepy sci-fi movie would create.  Huh.  Let's just enjoy the color and move on. 

Nell, patiently waiting while I photographed the now-creepy-seeming milkweed flowers.

Nell, patiently waiting while I photographed the now-creepy-seeming milkweed flowers.

I have been living the life of six weeks on the boat, six weeks home for nearly three years now, and one would think that I would have packing down to a science by this point, but one would be wrong.  Packing for the boat generally involves me semi-resentfully throwing things at the last possible moment into luggage that I never quite managed to unpack, pausing only to consider whether I am going to Alaska (and will therefore need sweaters and long underwear) or Costa Rica (shorts).  My knitting gets a little more consideration, but only a little.  I have several project bags that contain short skeins of cone-ends and yarn seconds and gloves that I will someday (maybe this rotation on the boat?) type up the patterns for.  Into those project bags I will generally throw yet more yarn seconds and cone ends from whatever batch of yarn I was working with during my time home, with the intention that I will swatch and maybe design (and write up) another glove/mittlet pattern.  (I am coming to resent gloves and mittlets). This system has worked okay so far, though I wish I could be more organized about the whole thing. 

Except. 

I left for my last rotation on the boat thinking that I had about three skeins worth of 3 Ply Romney > Cotswold in Sitka squirreled away in my project bags.  Believing this to be true, I started my Fantoosh knowing that I probably wouldn't have enough knitting time to get though more than two-ish skeins. For my first three weeks aboard I merrily worked through my first Fantoosh skein, enjoying the pattern and the result greatly.  And then, down to my last nubbin of yarn I calmly searched through my project bags, looking for the next skein of yarn that I knew was there. 

That little nubbin of yarn was the end of what I had on board

That little nubbin of yarn was the end of what I had on board

It was not there. 

Instead, I found a complete-but-for-the-last-two-rows-of-the-thumb mittlet based on the original gates of one of the locks in  the Panama Canal, knit out of the yarn I was looking for. I remember knitting the thing, but I really thought I had only gotten halfway up the palm.  Apparently there was some fugue state knitting in Panama (which happens - I am a stress knitter). 

And then I remembered what happened to the other skein. 

Somewhere off the coast of Costa Rica. 

Somewhere off the coast of Costa Rica. 

Not visible in the above photo: the carefully wound ball of 3 Ply Romney > Cotswold in Sitka bobbing somewhere in our wake.  

I was sitting on the fantail taking a break after dinner, preparing to cast-on for the afore mentioned mittlet based on the lock gates, and I just dropped it. I dropped my perfectly wound ball of yarn onto the deck, and we were in just enough of a seaway that rather then stop, it rolled right under the rail and off the side of the boat.  I did not expect that to happen, but I should have known that losing a skein of yarn overboard at some point in my boat career was inevitable. 

I mourned my inability to continue Fantoosh  for a few days, and then I began a glove/swatch in honor of the Cordova Gansey Project. 

I very much enjoyed working on my little gansey glove, but at times I felt like the landscape was mocking my poor yarn planning.

 

 


I Wish I Was in Cordova, Alaska.

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,


We are alongside in Petersburg, Alaska today and I have taken advantage of my morning off to run to a coffee shop and catch up a bit on all the Instagram postings from participants in the Net Loft's Fiber & Friends: Fisherfolk 2016 gathering . Much as I love Petersburg, and my job, I am so very bummed that I am not in Cordova this week sharing in all the gansey knitting, indigo dyeing, and general crafting. 

So, hello to all of you in Cordova at the moment.  For those of you on Instagram #cordovaganseyproject is full of gorgeous ganseys, and #fiberandfriends2016fisherfolk is likewise a tag to check out. 

The Net Loft commissioned a run of my Straw's Farm Island Sheep Gansey yarn.  If you are interested in working with gansey yarn spun from Maine island sheep, please buy through the Net Loft first, but if you have a color way in mind, or the color you want is sold through, please get in touch - I have a bit more of undyed yarn at home, which I will begin working with again during the middle of July. 


A Very Overdue Craft Roundup

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,


In amongst all the farm visits I actually managed to get a fair bit of crafting done, though as usual I let myself be lazy about blogging. 

First up, I worked up a few more dye lots of my Straws Farm Island Sheep gansey yarn for the Netloft’s Cordova Gansey Project.  For this batch I experimented with larger skeins, and found that I actually quite enjoy working with them.  Anyone interested in this yarn should contact Dotty at the Netloft (and anyone interested in knitting ganseys should check out her site and the Cordova Gansey Project on principle).  

I let myself play with the darker blue end of the spectrum

 

While my indigo vat was in use anyway I decided to start messing around a bit with shibori.  I’ve only dyed the one piece so far, but I am very pleased with the result.  I will definitely be exploring this a bit more. 

 Next, for Christmas this year we received a generous Amazon gift certificate from a family member and with that in hand we decided to finally buy the sewing machine that we had been eyeing for months.  It arrived somewhere around the middle of my break, when the piles of indigo dyed gansey yarn were taking over every available craft space (and crafting moment) so it sat in its box, abandoned, until I returned home in April, at which point I very bravely opened it up and set to re-learning how to use a sewing machine.  

I have can’t explain why exactly, given that I was a fairly competent user of sewing machines in high school, but for some reason I find myself intimidated by sewing and sewing machines.  It may have something to do with all the beautiful handmade clothes on my Instagram feed: something that I used to do for a lark now comes with Standards, and The Right Way to Do Things, which always piques the interest of my internal, merciless, Editor of All Things Craft.  Once she starts paying attention, seemingly simple tasks become fraught with Great Import and I find myself ripping back rows and rows to address mistakes that only I can see.  My internal editor does make me better at craft generally, but she also kind of sucks the fun out of doing them.  I am working at achieving a balance, wherein I let her know that I appreciate her critical eye, but could she please just shut up sometimes and let me have fun.  We’ll see how that goes…. 

Anyway, I began to reacquaint myself with the sewing arts by tackling Grainline Studio’s Stow Bag.   My internal editor would like to point out a few wonky seams and some less than skillful use of bias tape, but I am overall quite pleased by the results. (I’ve also never sewn with bias tape before, so yay new skill!).  As a project bag the Stow Bag is everything I could want - simple, easy to knit out of, with just enough pockets to hide the fiddly little notions that tend to collect in the bottom of my project bags.  I am planning to make quite a few more when I get home this time, to keep practicing those new skills before I move on to clothing (gulp! maybe even involving fabric that I have dyed!). 

 

And then, as noted in my last post, I finally made my peace with the slightly rumpled ribbon on the button band of my Epistrophy by Kate Davies, which I then wore quite proudly to the New Hampshire Sheep and Wool Festival.

As always my rotation home went waaayy too quickly.  I am already plotting all the crafty things I want to try when I get home in July.  

 


Spring is for Farm Visits

by Sarah Lake Upton in


I spend much of my winter in Central America (very warm, when my New England raised self should be cold) and much of my summer in Southeast Alaska (requiring long underwear and wool hats in July) and every six weeks I get to go home and experience the seasons in the order I expect them to be in, before six weeks later I head back to the opposite climate.  The effect is a disorienting strobe light of seasons.   I leave home when the leaves have fallen and the first snows are nigh, spend six weeks with near constant sun, ninety per cent humidity, and an oppressive heat, then return home to find feet of snow.  Later I will leave home just as the leaves are spreading new green in the first breath of summer, only to work in a place where my knitwear will find heavy use, and return to find the leaves exhausted in the heat of high summer.   I never realized how much I was conscious of the turning of the seasons until I stopped being subject to them.  My major seasons are not longer “fall, winter, spring, summer” but “Columbia River, Central America, Baja, Alaska”.  The Maine farm calendar acts as counter point to the rhythm of my new style of year, at least as it pertains to sheep and wool.  Spring and early summer is the time for shearing, and therefore the time farm visits and wool buying.  

Because of my boat schedule I often miss the actual shearing day, but as soon thereafter as I can manage I appear on the farm, shipping boxes in hand.  ‘

This most recent rotation home I visited two farms.  Next rotation home I will visit two, or possibly three, more (and maybe even more than that, depending on how ambitious I feel and how much money I have left in the fleece buying/yarn processing account after the second two visits). 

First up, mere days after I arrived home, were the luminous Coopworth fleeces of Buckwheat Blossom farm.  In a very real way I owe the existence of Upton Yarns to Amy and her fleeces.  Years ago, when I was just settling back onto land (for the first time, or possibly the second depending on how one counts these things) and proudly joined the Buckwheat Blossom Farm Winter CSA (because that is the kind of thing people who live on land get to do) I came across a skein of Amy’s two ply Aran weight Coopworth yarn, in natural gray, sitting on the CSA pick-up table between jars of her home made kim chi and jars of whole milk yogurt from a nearby small dairy herd.  The yarn had a texture and color unlike anything I had ever seen, luminous and silky, with a strength in the hand. It was so unlike anything that I had ever seen before that I couldn’t even immediately identify it as wool.  Eventually I bought enough to knit myself an aran which has only improved with age and wear (original photos on Ravelry, where I go by “puffling”).  Her yarn inspired me to throw myself into researching breed specific yarns, which led quite naturally to natural dyes, which led to a crankiness as the dearth of local yarn (much easier to find now - I think a lot of us in Mid-Coast Maine were feeling a similar frustration at the time, and reacted in similar ways) which led me to experiment a bit, and then buy a couple of fleeces from Amy and start Upton Yarns.   

So it is with a sense of gratitude and pride that I return every year to buy her fleeces, which I then send off to Stonehedge Fiber Mill to be spun into gransey yarn, and occasionally a 3 Ply DK weight.  Every year I find her flock a little larger, and her fleeces even more beautiful.   

 
Each of these bundles contains an individual, magical, fleece. Amy usually includes the name of the sheep that grew the fleece somewhere in the bundle as well, but most of the time Amy doesn't have to look at the name tag to recognize the former wearer. 

Each of these bundles contains an individual, magical, fleece. Amy usually includes the name of the sheep that grew the fleece somewhere in the bundle as well, but most of the time Amy doesn't have to look at the name tag to recognize the former wearer. 

 

I went to the farm intending to photograph the whole fleece choosing process, but I was quickly overwhelmed by fiber enthusiasm and completely failed to be a proper photographer.  I arrived to find that Amy had already set out a selection of fleeces she thought might interest me, which of course they did.  

I managed one photo for Instagram purposes, which I also then sent to a friend of mine (Sarah of FiberTrek) to see if she wanted to share a fleece for handspinning, which we almost did before both of us remembered the size of our respective stashes.  (I added the fleece to the darker brown gansey yarn pile).  

Once the fleece had all been weighed and boxed up I went to meet her flock, who were clearly enjoying their summer hair cuts.

Amy still makes her own incredible aran weight yarn, which she sells at the winter farmers market in Brunswick.

photo credit - Sam Upton  Willy of Two Sisters Farm (on the right) and myself with a stack of boxes soon to be filled with fleece (on the left). 

photo credit - Sam Upton  Willy of Two Sisters Farm (on the right) and myself with a stack of boxes soon to be filled with fleece (on the left). 

Wise to my own failings as a photographer when fleece is involved, I brought Sam with me on my visit to Two Sisters Farm.   Willy keeps a large (by small farm standards) mixed flock of BFL, Northern Cheviot, and Scottish Blackface on one of the most quintessentially beautiful Maine farms I have ever had the pleasure of exploring.  I learned about her Scottish Blackface through the Maine Fiber grapevine, and initially approached her last year hoping to make use (somehow) of such interesting fleece.   I still haven’t quite figured out the best use for her Scottish Blackface (I’m working on a second experiment this year) but while I was looking at the Scottish Blackface I fell in love with her BFL, which makes a really lovely 3-ply DK weight.  

photo credit - Sam Upton

photo credit - Sam Upton

photo credit - Sam Upton

photo credit - Sam Upton

photo credit - Sam Upton - Not all the fleece makes it to the wool boxes - sometimes the sheep can't wait until shearing day to start getting rid of their winter coats. 

photo credit - Sam Upton - Not all the fleece makes it to the wool boxes - sometimes the sheep can't wait until shearing day to start getting rid of their winter coats. 

Kate Davie’s Epistrophy, knit with the BFL DK weight yarn spun from 2015 fleece,  in Aspen (lighter green) and Tongas (at the yoke). Buttons from Fringe Supply Company

Kate Davie’s Epistrophy, knit with the BFL DK weight yarn spun from 2015 fleece,  in Aspen (lighter green) and Tongas (at the yoke). Buttons from Fringe Supply Company

I'm looking forward to my next most favorite time of the year, when all the fleece that I mailed out to Deb at the mill comes back to me as yarn.  I'm already dreaming of the colors I will get to play with. 

edited because I am "puffling" on Revelry, not "puffing" as autocorrect would have it. 


In which I am ridiculous and perhaps alarming to a guest

by Sarah Lake Upton in


Yesterday evening while doing my rounds I noticed a guest wearing a very lovely version of Mary Jane Mucklestone’s Stopover Icelandic sweater.  Being the overenthusiastic knitter that I am I stopped her and without any lead-in said, “That-is-a-lovely-Mary-Jane-Muckleston-Stopover!!” 

The guest looked very confused and a little bit alarmed (I was in my engineering uniform of crew coveralls, which I’m sure only added to the non sequitur of the thing).  So I tried again, but more slowly. “Your sweater, that is a lovely Mary Jane Mucklestone Stopover”.  To which she still looked confused, but less alarmed.   As it turns out, the guest is not a knitter, but her daughter is, and so knowing that her mother was planning to head to Alaska the daughter joined in the #bangoutasweater Instagram knit-along in February.   

 I asked her to send my complements to her daughter on her knitting, apologized profusely for being alarming and weird about her sweater, and feeling quite embarrassed about the whole thing, went on about my business. 

And now I’m not even sure why I’m blogging this story except that I am still excited to have come across a sweater from the #bangoutasweater knit-along in the wild.