One of the things I had the opportunity to do this year was to become part of a fleece to shawl team. These teams are usually five people - four spinners and a weaver - who enter competitions where they start with a fleece which they card, spin and weave into a shawl in a limited amount of time - usually 3 hours.
I had thought about doing this a few years ago and mentioned it to some of the Spin City folks. One of the girls said she went and watched a bit of the competition at Rhinebeck. Her basic review was "Those people didn't look like they were having any fun", so I was no longer interested. I pretty much don't like doing anything unless it's fun or I can make it fun. Oh well. On to other things.
Every December we have our annual holiday party at Galway Pub. Last year's party ended with Christina yelling "SHEEP TO SHAWL! SHEEP TO SHAWL!" So I guess we're forming a team. With this crowd, at least I wouldn't have any question if it would be any fun.
I took a road trip in January with Jenny to pick up the loom she was buying to use for the competitions. It was only fair, since she took me to pick up my loom in November. Hers was smaller and folded up nicely to fit in the car. A definite plus!
One of the first things we did was comb and spin warp. We each dyed our handspun warp a different color, so we could decide whose looked best and try to replicate it. Which explains the color scheme of our first shawl.
So I missed the first actual practice at Jenny's house. But I heard about it. I heard it took 9 hours to make the shawl. I saw the pictures of it, which had been appropriately nicknamed The Mexican Placemat. Ay Carumba!
With those results, I didn't see how we would ever compete at Rhinebeck, which was the goal. But we continued to practice once a month. We'd either do demos, or we'd just meet at Jenny's place and do a run-through as if it was the competition. I attended the demo at Philipsburg Manor. It was a lot of fun, but very cold. I managed to sprain my ankle right before we started the demo. So I did most of the carding that afternoon.
I missed the next one which was at Queens Farm because I was in Maryland that weekend. But I attended every one after that. Most of them were at Jenny's place, and people would bring food - Lesia would always bring these AMAZING goat cheese stuffed peppers. For a while I refused to spin unless there were peppers.
Christina decided to pursue an amazing career opportunity in North Carolina. Sure - get us all riled up and then run! I can't blame her. It's not like any one of us wouldn't do the same. I was happy for her, but sad because I would miss her smiling face and her infectious energy. We did a conference call to discuss our plans - weave patterns, dye, costumes, etc. It was really the only way to get all of us together until
Our time got better. The shawls got better. We decided to ply - it would even out the yarn and it would get us our length faster. Jenny tried different weaving patterns. My favorite was the diamond, but it was a HUGE PITA. Not suitable for speed.
I had a couple spin-ins at the house over the summer. Lynn played with some indigo out in the yard. I combed and combed and combed for warp. The white cheviot was a joy to comb! The grey was uber messy. It was like I was combing a pile of hay that happened to have some wool in it. I combed the grey outdoors, sometimes until it got dark. I've gotten pretty good at combing. A lot of the Spin City members helped out by combing and spinning warp, which Lynn then dyed for our actual competition shawl.
In August, we entered our first actual competition in the Ulster County Fair. It was a lot of fun and everyone was super nice. We made a futile attempt at bribing the judge with cookies before the competition, and then we were off to the races. We were definitely the loudest and most giggly team out there - a feature we improved upon at Rhinebeck. We were having a great time and before we knew it, we were off the loom and twisting fringe. First ones finished, but we finished fourth out of four teams. Our shawl - which had measured the correct size when we took it off the loom - had shrunk while waiting for judging. It was great to have our first ribbon, but we still needed improvement. At least the judge was able to give us some insight as to what we needed to work on, in addition to adding extra length to account for shrinkage. In fact, he liked us so much he joined the meetup group that evening!
Two more demos before the big day - one wsa at the Garden State Sheep Breeders Festival. Dawn bought a couple fleeces for 2014. We continued improving our time and our skills, while having a damn good time doing it. The other was at the Kings County Fiber Fair in Brooklyn. We had a little issue with the warp, so we got a late start, but we finished in a decent amount of time and we had a beautiful shawl in the end.
And before we knew it, Rhinebeck was here. Like Christmas, you wait anxiously all year for it and then it flies by like a rocket. I was working at the Loop booth on Saturday, when Christina came running into the booth, sat on my lap and gave me a great big hug. Nothing brightens your day so much as seeing a long lost friend!
It was Sunday morning. I hadn't slept much all week because I was staying up late every night putting the team banner together. It was exciting to finally be there and setting up, trying to make sure every last little thing was in place in time. I had my four cups of coffee and was ready to go. 0.o just before 10, we got in our huddle and each said a few words. Christina told us we were the best bitches ever. At 10:00 we were off and carding, spinning and weaving, punctuated by cheers of ADVANCE THAT WARP! We were drawing quite the crowd with our I Love NY tee shirts and our Lady Liberty foam crowns. Not to mention glitter anywhere we could put it. Because GLITTER. I saw so many Spin City faces in the crowd. It was great to have so much support from our fans.
Dawn and Lynn spun, then handed off to Christina to ply, who then handed the plied bobbin to me so I could wind the weaving bobbin and load the shuttle to hand to Jenny, who would then weave. When Christina had to go up and give her talk, I jumped in and plied. Lynn would help Jenny straighten the warp from the opposite side of the loom. The teamwork was amazing! I wish every time I had a team project it would go this smoothly. We were like a well-oiled shawl machine.
Just like at Ulster, we were first off the loom. But this time we had plenty of extra length. We were twisting fringe when Red Hook Spinners beat us to the judging table. We got our shawl to the table shortly after they did. Now to wait for the third team to finish. During the competition they had announced that Spin City won the award for Best Use of Natural Dye. We were the only team that used natural dyes. One team didn't even use the featured breed. It seemed so simple to do these things to get the extra points.
When Elmendorph Handspinners got their shawl to the table we paced around nervously while the judges measured and wrote notes on their clipboards. They finally brought the shawls forward and announced third place - Elmendorph Handspinners.
My heart was racing as they brought the red ribbon out and made what seemed like the slowest announcement ever: "Second Place goes to......................................................the Red Hook Spinners."
My eyes got wider. I didn't want to scream just yet, because I thought it would be rude, but all I could think was HOLY SHIT WE WON!!!!WE WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONNNNNNN!!!!! When they finally announced "In First Place - Spin City!" I let loose. The cheers were so loud I'm sure people in the city could hear us. I think we had the larger fan base than the crowd was expecting. The next half hour or so was all hugging and crying and lots of picture-taking. It was such an amazing feeling to work toward something for so long, and win first place as first-timers in the competition.
I had entered yarns in the skein and garment competition at Rhinebeck for years, and had won lots of ribbons, but never a blue one. Now I'm glad. It was way more special winning my first blue ribbon at Rhinebeck with friends than it ever could have been doing it alone. I am so proud to be part of a team of such amazing, talented and fun people!
Now if you'll excuse me, I must go comb some shetland. Rhinebeck 2014 will be here before you know it.