Last month San Juan Island members of the San Juan County Textile Guild looking for a place to set up their equipment found a home at Tucker House Inn. Our living came to life with the soothing sounds of their spinning wheels as the members worked on their project for this year’s upcoming Sheep-To-Shawl demonstration at the San Juan County Fair.
The process of hand-crafting yarn from shorn sheep is an ancient and slowly-disappearing art in this age of high technology and warp-speed schedules. One of the members, Annette Dysart, raises the sheep here on the island. The sheep are shorn annually and the resulting fleece is examined and sorted into the most useful parts for spinning. Then the fleece is gently washed in hot water and allowed to air dry slowly. After the tedious process of picking through the fleece to remove all grass, short ends, and seeds, it can be dyed if desired. In this case, it was colored a brilliant turquoise blue, representing the ocean. Dried and dyed, it’s now ready to be carded – combed into straight lengths – (with a machine), and turned into Roving, which is the step they were working on in our living room.
Estimating the amount that can be spun in a two hour stretch is highly variable, but 100 yards of singles (that’s once through the spinning process) is probably average. But it goes through the wheel again with two strands to “ply” it, that is, twist it in the opposite direction into a usable yarn. (The yield of 100 yards of singles would be 50 yards of plied yarn.) This particular yarn will be woven into a lovely shawl, to be raffled off to some fortunate fair-attendee. Overall, it takes about 800 yards of the 2-ply warp for one 22”x72” shawl, and an additional 450 yards of two-ply for the welt, a total of 1250 yards – all made by hand.
You can watch the spinner in action every third Thursday at Tucker House Inn; or at Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm on Sunday, July 18, where they plan to make a “practice” shawl with some alpaca added to the wool during the carding step. You can view the finished shawl at the San Juan County Fair, Wednesday August 18 to Saturday August 21, and can even buy a raffle ticket for it.
The San Juan County Textile Guild has been in existence for over twenty years. Classes and workshops are held in a variety of fiber arts including knitting, spinning, crocheting, weaving, basketry, tatting, felting, and dyeing. The Guild supports community education and conducts activities at local schools and senior centers.
For recipes and more information on what’s happening around the island, or about fresh, seasonal foods grown locally, check out the blogs on Harrision House Suites, Coho Restaurant and Experience San Juan Island.