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~~*  Black Sheep Newsletter............Issue 128............Summer 2006  *~~


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THE HOMESTEAD: Back from the Gathering, 2006


The Kromski Spinning Wheel

The Kromski Wheel at Singing Falls

It promises to be another sultry day here in the Cascade mountains of southern Oregon, one hour's drive from the sprawling metropolis of Medford. Past 100 just like yesterday. 85 degrees at night inside this small house, our cooling system consisting of one nice chrome fan I like to set on the kitchen table and all the windows open with screens inserted, lace curtains moving in a summery breeze.splash dot!


I found myself outside until late, the stars twinkling above me in a dark azure sky. Sitting on a yew wood bench under a towering willow tree, unfurled cabbage roses breathed out their fragrances. It was a perfect night to reminisce about the past two days spent at my favorite fiber show, the Black Sheep Gathering. What a special year for me and I'm sure for many.splash dot!


It seems that every year we attend is special and I only wish I'd kept diaries of each. It was our 12th year straight at the Gathering this year and special in its own way. Quite a few years we have fallen head over heels for some Angora goat and taken the animal home with us. If there is a birthday or anniversary and Stan asks me what I want this year, I always answer "a new goat."splash dot!


There have been years, however, that we visit the Gathering and don't bring a new goat home – only information about Angora goats taught to us by some expert in the field. We've listened closely to those Texas goat judges who impart their wisdom to us in a class or even while judging. One year it was a class on Angora goats and the color genetics. Every year we meet new people and forge new friendships with fiber artists and shepherds or goatherds who seem to be distributed all over the country – all over the world.splash dot!


It's a chance to come home and once again evaluate our own growing herd. In the case of a buck with a too narrow horn set, (that space between the horns should be two fingers wide so that another animal's hoof doesn't get caught there, subsequently breaking a leg because he can't get out.) So, how does a goat's hoof get caught between another goat's horns? you query. They do the darndest things, trust me. Fleece has always been a prime consideration when I look at goats since I'm a hand spinner and weaver. I've let horn sets slide a few times in favor of fleece. However, I can see readily why an Angora goat judge would be picky about horn sets.splash dot!


Well, this year proved to be extremely special to me. First of all, I got to spend an entire day with my friend Julie Mahoney (one of the vanguards of colored angora goats back in the "old days".) It had been a few years since Julie had attended a Gathering and the event was a treat for her this year, a time to touch bases with a lot of friends and acquaintances. Julie's love of the fiber arts had not diminished one iota even though she and husband, David, are no longer Angora goat breeders.splash dot!


She and I were there for nearly the whole day on Friday. As we drove there, I gave her one instruction only: "Julie, please keep me away from the Angora goats this year. I never get to see the booths, the displays, the artists' lovely garments and I rarely get to see the shorn sheep and goat fleeces being judged. This year I want to see the spinners in the sheep-to-shawl contest. And maybe I will buy a new spinning wheel! So, I've got to look at spinning wheels..."splash dot!


It was asking a lot of her, of course. Keep ME away from the Angora goats? That would be like trying to keep me away from Chocolate/chocolate-chip Haagen Dasz ice cream in the height of summer.splash dot!


With her help, we managed to thoroughly avoid the goat pens and have a wonderful day of walking around the fiber festival. We walked all over the place, in fact, and saw more wools, dyed silks, knitted garments, sheep and goat marionettes, dyed fiber locks than we'd ever seen in our lives all in one place! What a majestic job those who sold their wares did on their individual booth displays! It was like being in a museum of fiber arts.splash dot!


Stationed outside the main entrance of the show was, again this year, the big tent belonging to Sandi Sands and her husband, Coyote. Coyote was wearing gold buckskin and Sandi, in her long skirt all flounce and ruffle, smiled widely as she helped customers in her "shoppe" filled with items they usually display at rendezvouses all over the country. The official greeter stationed at the opening of the tent was their overweight Australian shepherd, Chekala, whom they said had "overwintered well."splash dot!


Inside the pavilions, the echo of baaaaaaaaaaaa resounded, providing rich orchestration as we strolled among the booths and fingered soft yarns and felted hats, delicate shawls and the glossy woods that made up the machines, whether carders, flickers, wheels or pickers.splash dot!


I talked to another "goat lady", this one from Washington. She and her husband raised the famed cashmere goat that has always been so intriguing to me. She wore small knitted cashmere "gauntlets" on her hands as she spoke of her herd of goats. She talked about harvesting the lovely, soft cashmere -- how she carefully combed the soft down undercoat (the cashmere), separating it from the coarse guard hairs. Cashmere is non lustrous and contains no medulated fibers at all. I thought of her and her herd the next day when I discovered that a delicately crocheted shawl made from handspun cashmere won the Grand Champion Ribbon and Black Sheep Cup this year.splash dot!


Our next stop was a booth filled to the brim with stacks of colorful and unique hand woven wool rugs from Mexico, woven in the old "Zapotec" style. We were quick to learn that all the color found in these rugs was from natural dyes. Powdered cochineal provided reds, rust oranges and vibrant pinks and chamomile (a close cousin to it, the weaver said) turned the wools gold and brown.splash dot!


These rugs were hand woven by a family of Mexican weavers going back three generations. I asked the Mexican weaver (who was fluent in English) how old he was when he first began to weave. He looked up at the pavilion's ceiling and thought a moment before answering me. "I was seven." What a rich heritage had been passed down to him. It was evident he loved his work and was passionate about weaving.splash dot!


We moved on. Next was a table filled with soft, warm, felted hats made from natural colored wools and deerskin leather dress created especially with some modern day Pocahontas in mind. The artist sat there at the table, awl in hand, sewing yet another hat together. Next to her was yet another artist knitting Pygora yarn. What a beautifully soft yarn that is, made from the undercoat of the Pygora goat. The small Pygora goats come from the marriage of the Pygmy goat and the Angora goat and their fiber is incredible. This goat, like the Cashmere goat, has an "undercoat" of soft downy fiber that is used for making yarns.splash dot!


One of our excursions early on took us to the sheep to shawl contest. Early Friday the spinners were spinning away on their wheels, oblivious to the world around them (or needing to be.) Concentration registered on their faces and their deft handiwork of spun yarn was lovely as it glided onto the bobbins on their spinning wheels. (I was taking careful note of the spinning wheels these spinners preferred and saw a lot of those upright tilted ‘travelers' that are so popular.)splash dot!


During the whole day Julie and I greeted many friends we had not seen in awhile, fiber artists and lovers of sheep and goats like us. Every time I tried to corner Peggy Lundquist, editor of this fine editorial, she was busy talking to someone at her and Rich's booth stationed right in front of the swinging double doors of the main entrance. Well, Peggy, at least I can tell you I tried to stop by and say ‘hello' - maybe five different times!splash dot!


Julie and I drove home happy, our senses satiated, especially since right before we left the Gathering on Friday we had one more stop to make: yes, we stopped to view all the colorful angora goats waiting there for Saturday's show. I got my "goat fix" after all. And that's when I first spotted him. He was a three year old black buck, black as midnight, his fleece curly as a woman's newly permed coiffe. Oh, that black buck was majestic.splash dot!


The Angora Goat Show

On Saturday morning I was back at the Gathering. I toted along not only my Black Sheep Gathering canvas tote bag, my check book and my dreams, but my dear spouse, Stan. I had not told him yet that I wanted both that black buck I'd seen and a spinning wheel. After all, I could break it to him slowly. I didn't have to rush anything.splash dot!


It was the usual three hour drive from home, but we have made that Angora goat show for the last eleven years in a row and were not about to miss our twelfth year. Excitement, like an electrical charge, was palpably in the air when we entered the goat pavilion. Or maybe I'd just had too much coffee that morning.splash dot!


Whatever the case, as soon as we arrived we jumped onto those creaking bleachers like football fans do in autumn and spent a great few hours watching Judge Fred Speck from Texas do a super job explaining why he was judging the way he was as he carefully placed the Angora goats. As usual, a terrific goat judge can be also a great teacher. Judge Speck was all that. The more he elaborated on succinct points, the more we absorbed all he said. And as usual, the judge was looking primarily at fleeces. The finer the fleece, the more he liked the goat. Kemp and medulated fibers have always been anathema to goat judges and that's what they check for when they look over goat fleeces.splash dot!


At one point he even put a great fleeced goat with a too narrow horn set in front of a goat with a great horn set but lesser fleece. He told us that it was a hard decision for him to do so, but fleece was his primary consideration.splash dot!


As it turns out, since I know you are wondering by now what happened, we didn't return home with any goats in the back of the pick up truck this year. My husband decided we didn't need another buck right now. The breeder selling the buck pretty much tempered things, too. What a downer, I thought, as I looked at those black curls on the three-year old buck one more time.splash dot!


"I've never had a buck climb fences before. This one does," the breeder said, not too optimistically. Seeing our dismay, she quickly added, "in breeding season, of course."splash dot!


I recalled another buck we had on the farm who was a "fence climber", the field fence becoming rungs on his ladder to the stars, or rather the doe pen. I think he could have walked a tight rope to get to the does in breeding season. Remembering him, I decided we didn't need another fence climber.splash dot!


The goat show ended and that's when an important part of my day arrived. Taking my husband's strong Polish hand, I led him across the sheep pavilion while shepherds took firm hold of their gorgeous bodied show sheep and led them to and fro. We crossed the sheep pavilion's threshold and were walking over to one particular booth I had seen earlier.splash dot!


"I'm thinking I want a spinning wheel, honey," I said to him as we walked along. "You know I've been eying these Polish Kromski wheels for a long time..."splash dot!


"No, not really. I didn't know that..." he responded, looking at me from just over the rims of his gold framed round lens spectacles. "What's wrong with your Ashford?" he then asked.splash dot!


Well, I wasn't going to cajole and neither was I going to beg. My wonderful Ashford Traditional wheel, much as I loved it, was over 25 years old. Lately it had been a traveler. Not that I had been traveling with it, mind you, but rather, as I treadled, it would slowly travel. It seemed the treadling got difficult at times and the wheel would just scoot further and further away from me, inch by inch over the oak floor of my living room. At times my leg was quite extended as pedaled along. I would finally have to stop my spinning for a second and pull my chair close again. (I'm sure it is just an adjustment that must be made somewhere. That's what it always is with the Traditional. It's always been a wonderful wheel and never really "breaks." All wheels need periodic adjustment and can get temperamental without them.splash dot!


In the meantime I'd been surfing the net looking at those lovely Kromski wheels, just for a change of pace. Another spinning wheel couldn't hurt.splash dot!


We strode over to the booth I'd been saving for last – the booth with the magnificent Polish-made wheels. The salesperson sat me down at the double-banded model I'd especially liked, the Kromski Symphony. It had two treadles, one for each foot! I had only treadled with one foot on my Ashford. I wondered if it would make a difference in my spinning. Would it be easier, in the long run, on my body parts?splash dot!


I pulled the demonstration wheel close to the chair I was sitting on and took the lovely white wool roving that was handed to me. Within 30 seconds there was a small group of people gathered around watching me spin on that fancy looking Kromski. I think the fact that I was drafting wool with the "long draw" method intrigued them.splash dot!


Mastering the Long Draw

I love that way of drafting yarn. That's how I first learned to spin yarn and that's how I still do it, except when I'm spinning ‘tailspun' right from the mohair locks when I use the short draw. Anything carded, however – be it roving or a batt, wool or mohair, is perfect for the long draw.splash dot!


First you must reduce the tension on your wheel. The long draw utilizes both of your hands and it really doesn't matter which hand holds the rolag (I hold the rolag in my right hand and draw out with that hand also.) My left hand gently pinches the yarn about 9 inches forward of the spindle's orifice, guiding the twist. The great sweeping motion of the right arm until it is fully extended, over and over again, is what makes this way of spinning a bit novel. One is continually treadling the wheel and at the same time always drawing out on the yarn.splash dot!


The long draw is another one of those techniques that is best learned after viewing, but once you've mastered it, the long draw is a fast way to spin. With patience and practice, it's one of those ways of spinning that will finally come naturally and can nearly be done with one's eyes closed. Not quite, though, since you'll have to monitor the evenness of your yarn continually as you draft. I feel like a spider when I'm spinning with the long draw.splash dot!


Showing Off

The Kromski Symphony was doing great. The sales person said that some people, if used to treadling with one foot alone, had a hard time using two feet. That was not the case with me. I took to that wheel like a duck to water. The wheel hummed along. It was going faster and faster and I continued to sweep my right arm outward, the rolag held in my right hand becoming smaller and smaller.splash dot!


I was having fun and showing off a bit I must admit, and a small group of folks had stopped to watch me spin. My feet were treadling, the yarn was flowing into the orifice speedily and I was answering a question from someone in my "audience." Faster and faster the wheel turned, its well-turned spokes all a blur now.splash dot!


Then, unexpectedly, we all smelled something akin to lighter fluid. Right after that we smelled smoke. Oh no. I had read somewhere that if a person spins fast, the orifice on their wheel will sometimes heat up. I had never heard of anyone spinning so fast that their wheel caught fire, but leave it to me, I thought to myself...splash dot!


the spinning wheel with Acuva

The Kromski Wheel with Acuva smiling

"How fast am I spinning this thing, anyway?" I turned to my husband in astonishment, slowing the wheel now with my left hand and stopping my feet from exuberant treadling. "I think I'm making this thing smoke!"splash dot!


A couple of people chuckled. "They're starting the barbeque grills's Saturday dinner at the Gathering and lamb on the grill." Phew! I wiped my brow. One more crisis averted.splash dot!


We ended up purchasing the wheel. Stan carried the big box filled with a new wheel and accompanying Lazy Kate out to our truck. This time there was no goat riding home with us. Instead, there was only the big box marked Kromski & Sons. On the box was the statement, Fragile, Handle with Care. I can assure you, I will.splash dot!


Author's Note: My Kromski Symphony wheel is made from European birch and alder, both woods very light in color. After putting the wheel together we finished it with a good coat of tung oil. A few coats of almond furniture oil came next. The wheel has kept its light coloration, though some prefer to stain their wheels dark cherry (very pretty) or golden oak. Mine retains its natural light color. This wheel is a beauty, for sure – from Poland with love. Good spinning to you!splash dot!


goats butting heads


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Alexandra Scribe
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Stanley & Alexandra Petrowski
34620 Tiller Trail Hwy.
Tiller, Oregon 97484