Archives for the month of: May, 2014

The first step in making slow cloth is getting the wool off the sheep. Geraldine Heffernan came out to Riverdale Farm to work her magic as part of the Spring Sheep Celebration on Saturday. She explained, in her heavy Scottish brogue, how the sheep relax when they are in certain positions. It’s all about pressure points. They certainly looked relaxed as she worked.

A good sized crowd gathered around to watch the performance. In a matter of minutes she had deftly removed a years worth of growth with nary a nick on the lamb and the coat in one piece. Geraldine’s assistant had the hard job of winding the hand cranked mechanism. It must be the only way when out back and beyond with no access to electricity. The duo switched up to electric as you will see in the second video but it wasn’t much faster.

Shearing the sheep at Riverdale Farm – click on the link to see the second video.

I was grateful to see the care she took, especially around the tail and other tender bits. We all had a laugh to see shorn sheep jumping up at the door to watch the current customer getting a “do”. I think they felt much better without their heavy coats.

Happily Shorn Supervising the sheep shearing

The fleeces are bagged individually. Each one will be processed the same way. First, skirted; which means all the really dirty bits (or as I like to say “poopy bits”) are cut off and thrown out. Occasionally a spinner will talk about “spinning in the grease” when you spin from an unprocessed fleece straight off the sheep. It’s not for everyone as there is a decidedly “sheepy” smell and it is messier but oh, the wonderful feeling of lanolin on fibre and skin. It’s silky!

When washing, care is taken not to felt the fibre while removing the dirt and excess lanolin. This can be a BIG job! Some fleeces need repeated washing. It doesn’t remove the vegetable matter so then it’s time to pick and card the fleece. It can be done with hand carders but goes a lot faster with a drum carder.

I like to create big batts of fibre that I can tear off in strips. And now it’s almost time to spin!

I had planned to write about other things today but with Thailand’s military announcing the country is now under martial law, my thoughts are with the wonderful people I met only a few short months ago.

On my second day in Bangkok, I made my way to The Jim Thompson House, hidden at the end of a quiet soi in the heart of Bangkok. I had heard the story: he came to Thailand as a GI, fell in love with the people and culture but most importantly, saw an opportunity to bring Thai silk to the western world.

The compound consists of six traditional Thai houses cobbled together without a single nail! The garden is more a jungle with paths – the scale of the foliage is huge.

The tour guides took us through his living quarters, beautifully decorated with Asian antiquities he discovered during his travels. Unfortunately, he mysteriously disappeared in 1967 on a trip to the Cameroon Highlands; went out for a walk and was never seen again.

Eight families wove the silk for Jim Thompson. They lived on the other side of the canal in a small Muslim community called Ban Krua. I was interested to learn the community still exists on a much smaller scale.Following the signs to Ban Krua

The reality is that hand weaving in Thailand is a dwindling business. I spoke to a few women who previously worked as weavers but could earn more money doing other things.

Luck was on my side, however. I made it back to the area on my last day in Thailand. This time crossing the footbridge to Ban Krua and following the signs to the weaving community. As far as I can tell, the “community” is now one family with two looms in a crowded back room.

I walked in the open door to find an elderly, shirtless gentleman asleep while a young child watched television. Where were the weavers? I was horrified that I had just barged into their personal space!  It didn’t matter. They welcomed me and showed me pictures of the family with Jim Thompson, led me to a room filled with silk scarves and shawls  but best of all, I got to meet the weaver and see her in action!

It’s a humbling experience to watch her weave. She is working with two shafts and the finest silk thread, creating simple, beautiful fabric. And at lightening speed!

I think simplicity is where it’s at.Saying goodbye to my host

Sheep Shearing cartoonIt’s that time of year again. The sheep at Riverdale Farm have full winter coats that must be shorn for the summer. Sheep Shearer, Geraldine Heffernan will be working in the Lower Francey Barn at 11:30AM and 1:30PM

There will be farmer demos in the same location: Goats @ 10:30AM and horses at 12:30PM

Enjoy live demonstrations of the steps to turn fleece into yarn & fabric: from skirting and washing, picking and carding to spinning and weaving, all in the Meeting House.

Children can try their hands at lots of activities including felt making and hand sewing projects. It’s a great opportunity for families to experience an aspect of farm life and see ancient fibre techniques still in use today.

And it’s FREE! Call 416-392-6794 for more information.



Last night I enjoyed Harriet Boon’s presentation on natural dyeing at the Toronto Guild of Spinners & Weavers. Harriet told us about a number of workshops she attended in far flung places around the globe. I’m going to add travel to Chang Mai, Thailand and a dye workshop with Patricia Cheesman to my bucket list. Perhaps it’s more realistic to continue my own research and experimentation here at home. I have every intention of creating an indigo vat this summer.

What were my “take aways” from this presentation? There are many natural mordants to play with. How about oxalic acid from rhubarb leaves? It’s the perfect season for that… and a pie or two!

I also remind myself not to be in a hurry. Let each step take the time it requires. We live very scheduled lives and it is tempting to impose our schedules on a process that nature controls. I’m going to let my intuition guide me. Fibre will swim in mordant and dye pot until it whispers to me “I’m ready!”

Apropos of nothing, this was on the blackboard at the Etobicoke Guild yesterday and made me laugh out loud!

This was on the chalkboard

Japanese Calligraphy


Some experiences loom large in my life and stay with me a long time. Last night was one of those magical experiences. I went to  “Kigami and Kami-ito: A slide lecture and paper thread-making demonstration by Hiroko Karuno” at the Japan Foundation. Social magic happened, from the moment I entered the door I ran into friends and acquaintances. A bunch of us happily scooped up front row seats!

I have always had an affection for and attraction to Japanese culture. A few years ago I took a workshop to learn the basics involved to spin paper into fibre. It attracted me on a number of levels. First of all, I was intrigued to learn what else I could spin on my little spinning wheel. Secondly, I liked the idea of creating fabric from paper in a way that could be cut and sewn into wearable garments. The idea of taking something that would otherwise have to be recycled or end up in landfill and give it a new life is very attractive to me. But interestingly, I had no knowledge of the long history of traditional Japanese paper making – Kigami, Kami-ito, Japanese paper spinning or Shifu – Japanese paper weaving. And so my education began!

As we watched Hiroko’s beautiful slide presentation we learned the 6 rules of traditionally made Japanese paper. In order to be called Kigami the fibre must be locally grown. Kozo is typically used. They use only one of the three layers, the white inner bark. Traditional bleaching methods are used. The fibre is cooked in a mixture of wood ash and water to soften and a root called nevi (sp) is added. I didn’t catch exactly what function it serves.

The paper is only made during the winter months of January to March after which layers of paper are left to dry on a board and then aged for two years!

Traditional Japanese paper differs dramatically from pulp paper as it doesn’t dissolve in water. Hiroko recounted that as recent as the Meiji period people would throw their account books down the well when cities were threatened by fire!

We all leaned in to learn how Hiroko prepares the paper  for spinning. She made it look so easy as she went through the many steps. Having taken a workshop, I know it’s not as easy as it looks. You can see my attempt next to Hiroko’s for comparison. Fine paper thread spun by HirokoNot so fine paper spun by me

My senses were truly blown when we were able to handle the finished skeins and woven cloth. Hiroko used natural dyes to infuse colour to the fine threads. My brain had a hard time registering “paper” when holding such finely woven fabric.

If I were to use only one word to describe last nights experience I would choose “Zen”.


Hiroko Karuno demonstrates paper spinning


The Skein

The clock read 5:09 AM. I was awake and thinking about a single skein of yarn. I’m reading your mind – you think I’m very disturbed!

This is the story. Back in December of last year my guild, the Etobicoke Handweavers and Spinners Guild had a challenge – bring a skein of yarn from your stash and choose one donated by another member. The challenge? Weave a project using that skein and ONLY yarn from my stash and present the finished project at our June meeting, the last meeting of the year.

So far so good except, as you can see, the wee skein is still a skein and the months and days have flown by. I have three weeks to do this.

As the birds woke up I pondered my stash and thought the perfect yarns to complement this skein are probably living among my hand dyed and hand spun yarns.

I’ve pulled together a selection that could work: 2 skeins of hand spun wool and mohair in a heathered pink, 2 skeins of hand spun brown Shetland wool that I over dyed with cochineal ( I also over spun it to create a bouclé yarn) and 2 skeins of commercially spun yarn dyed with logwood.

The Palette

I like this palette but will wait until tomorrow night to wind the warp ~ This evening I’m off to the Japan Foundation to enjoy “Kigami and Kami-ito: A slide lecture and paper thread-making demonstration by Hiroko Karuno”



I ventured out to High Park in hopes of seeing the cherry blossoms in full bloom. It seems mother nature did a real job on the trees this winter. The extra cold temperatures mean there are fewer blossoms, instead the trees are developing leaves. That must be survival mode.

The park was full of people enjoying the warmest day yet. We are craving sun, heat and the rebirth that comes with spring. Rather than stay with the crowds I took a path less travelled to explore the marshland along the pond.

Mama swan let me get very closeShe showed me her eggs

Before long I came upon a swans nest with mama sitting proudly upon her eggs. She let me get quite close and I stayed very still and quiet. I guess she decided I was no threat because she stood up and showed me her eggs! There were three very large greyish, blue/green eggs in the bottom of the nest.

She left her eggs to work on the nest

I thought she would sit back down but no, it was time for housework. She started foraging for choice reeds to pull into the nest. As she worked she gradually slid out of the nest entirely and swam freely in the water. It was really remarkable to see her select a perfect reed, yank it out and place it in the nest.

As she worked the daddy swan glided over. Before long he was hard at work by her side. I have to confess that I was a little worried that he might not like me being so close to the nest but I might as well have been wearing the cloak of invisibility. He took absolutely no notice of me!

Daddy swan returnsConstruction work for two

And then it was mom’s turn for a break while dad did some household chores and watched the kids (to be).

It's dads turn to stay homeOff goes mama for some R&R

I get so much inspiration from nature.

It was the perfect time to weave the last bit of linen warp on the table loom. Linen is notorious for not playing nicely… unless you know what it likes! Two things I keep in mind: linen has no stretch and it loves water. So I opened the windows wide to the spring rain and glorious smell of green things growing and wove away!

Aside from an awkward grouping of threads in the middle of the warp, all is good!

These are hot off the loom and will transform with finishing into lovely little mats.


Aside from an awkward grouping of threads in the middle of the warp, all is good!

It was just a small warp – 3 yards, to test if I truly learned what was taught at a recent linen weaving workshop. Jette Vandermeiden is my all time favourite weaving teacher. She offered a 3 day intensive workshop on linen. She stressed that it was process oriented, don’t worry if you only weave a few inches. The only problem was that I was coming down with something and my brain turned to mush. Try as I might, I created one mistake after another and created an ungodly mess!

By mid-morning on day three, exhausted and feverish, I felt the rush of tears as I saw my warp dissolve into a pile of linen spaghetti. NOooooo…

Jette, The Weaving Fairy, came to my rescue. I went outside to visit the sheep. In the end I was able to successfully weave my sampler but I wondered, could I do it again?

Now I know the answer is a resounding YES!

These are hot off the loom and will transform with finishing into lovely little mats.

I finally did it, started a blog… today! It took a while to come to the realization that I have a lot to say about the making of slow cloth. Yes, it is a thing. I don’t purport to be an expert but you may enjoy reading along as I explore the creative process. I may be knitting, weaving, spinning my own yarn and dying the yarns I create. Or maybe I’ll explore some slow cooking in the kitchen, if the spirit moves me. Come join me as I explore slow cloth!