Introduced to a “New” Fiber @ OFFF

Last weekend I attended the annual Oregon Flock & Fiber Festival (“OFFF”).  It was a lovely event!  My attention was caught by kitchenbroomsa vendor display I’d before never seen:  Squire Brooms of Bay Center, Washington.  The owners, John and Margaret Simurdak, had a beautiful display of handmade Shaker-style brooms.  Like all of the vendors at OFFF, John and Margaret were happy to chat about their craft and demonstrate some of their techniques.


Broom Tying Box

I learned, for instance, that what I’ve always thought as “straw brooms” aren’t made from straw.  They’re made from broom corn.  Surprised, I asked if they were made from actual corn tassels.  No, explained Margaret, they’re made from a  sorghum plant.  I came home with a beautiful kitchen broom and, being me, curious about the sorghum and history of American made brooms.broomcorn

There are over 200 varieties of sorghum.  The sorghum Margaret was referring to is Sorghum vulgare, commonly known as broomcorn.

According to Washington State University Extension, “Broomcorn (Sorghum vulgare) is not actually corn, but is instead related to the sorghums used for grain and syrup (Sorghum bicolor).”  The Sorghum vulgare variety is used for making brooms because, as explained by broomcorn2the University of Wisconsin Extension, “It differs from other sorghums in that it produces heads with fibrous seed branches that may be as much as 36 in. long.”  (Picture from Root Simple, which, by the way, notes that according to the OED,  it should be written as “broom corn” not “broomcorn.”  Oh well, maybe the Americans prefer the later!)

On the website of Lorenzo’s OK Seeds I read that “Benjamin Franklin is recognized as introducing broomcorn to the United States in the early 1700s.  In 1797 farmer Levi Dickenson from Hadley, Massachusetts, used a bundle of broom corn to make an extremely good broom for his wife and word of mouth took over.”  Wikipedia notes that Dickenson soon “invented a machine that would make better brooms, and faster than he could. In 1810, the foot treadle broom machine was invented. This machine played an integral part in the Industrial Revolution.”

I wondered why the plant is called “broomCORN” if it is actually a sorghum plant.  According to Broom Shop, “By about 1810, the sorghum used in brooms, had acquired a new name, Broom Corn, as the British called all seed bearing plants, ‘corn.'”   On this website I also read that the U.S. “broom industry flourished until 1994 when foreign brooms were permitted into the U.S., duty free. The remaining small factories struggle to compete with Mexican-made brooms, while individual broom makers … make a few thousand high quality brooms each year and tell the interesting stories of our history.”

I am happy to own and use a Squire Broom.  Interestingly, Lorenzo’s OK Seeds also notes that broomcorn is “now being used as a fashionable ornamental plant in garden beds and for borders by discriminating landscapers and gardeners. The gently waving, colorful and heavily-laden seed heads will add visually stimulating dimensions to your garden that are difficult to achieve with other plants.”

Well, I know what I’m adding to my new garden!  Has anyone grown this?





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UA & Grand Dames of Weaving

In an August with uncharacteristically hot and muggy days (temperatures reached 107°F/41.67°C!), I temporarily turned my back on my knitting.  Instead, I worked on improving my weaving skills.  Of course, even though retired the researcher in me cannot be stilled, so as I poked around on the web for weaving tips and ideas, I was particularly thrilled with historical finds.  One of them is the University of Arizona’s (“UA”) online digital archive.

ThorpeBlogPicTake a peek at “Heavy Mats for Bath or Bedroom” (1958).  It was written by Heather G. Thorpe, the author of The Handweaver’s Workbook (1956) that I recently found at a thrift store.  “Heavy Mats” was published by Lily G. Mills Company of Shelby, North Carolina.  According to blogger The Vintage Traveler,

In the late 1940s Lily Mills [founded in 1903] helped finance the Lily Loom House at Penland [Penland School of Arts & Crafts].  Weavers who attend classes today still work in the Lily Loom House.  In return, weaving instructors at Penland wrote booklets for Lily Mills, such as Practical Weaving Suggestions.

Tidball10ProjAccording to The Vintage Traveler, Lily Mills published Practical Weaving Suggestions  between 1940 and 1971. And the name doesn’t mislead: The projects are indeed practical.  For instance, volume XXI – “10 Projects on a Long Warp” by Harriet Douglas Tidball contains instructions for a warp from which a weaver could make an array of projects.  (I have my eye on the aprons!  One long warp, several varying aprons … birthday and holiday gifts for a year!)

AtwaterCoverPicAGallingerCoverPics I focused on rug weaving through our hot summer, I was pleased to find more rug-related possibilities in Volume XXVI written by Osma Couch Gallinger – 10 “Easy to Weave Rugs” and Volume 1-61 “No-Tabby Weave and Tufted Rugs” by Mary Meigs Atwater.

BarrettApronsCoverBut then my attention was again caught by aprons!  Ruth L. Barrett’s apron patterns are featured in Volume 2-65 of Practical Weaving Suggestions.  As one of the model is wearing pearls, perhaps her apron is a  practical version of the “hostess apron.”

According to various sewing blogs I’ve read, hostess aprons are making a comeback.

ApronsLucyEthelFor those of us of a “certain age” who grew up watching I Love Lucy or Leave It to Beaver, aprons were de rigueur for housewives.  The styles ranged from every day to special occasions.  Here Lucy and Ethel are wearing the everyday apron (sturdy cotton, large pockets, providing a lot of coverage).

ApronLucyFrilly (2)ApronHostessBut we’d also see Lucy in the hostess versions (thin, often diaphanous, frilly, not a lot of coverage).  From this picture of Lucy wearing a hostess apron, it seems as though she decided to do a bit of quick dusting before guests arrived.

But I have digressed!

If you weren’t already familiar with the University of Arizona’s on-line digital weaving archive, I urge you to take some time and explore the site!


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Rigby Cloth Stripping Machine

Rigby1Rigby2Buried deep in the 33 pounds of 2-inch fulled strips of wool (see my earlier post) was a Rigby Cloth Stripping Machine, Model B.  I had never seen or even heard of this gizmo before, but friends of mine had (and were both amazed at and not a little jealous of the find).  So, of course, I poked around the internet to see what I could learn about the Rigby.

The Rigby Cloth Stripping machines are clamp-on machines that cut strips used for braiding, hooking, and weaving.  It cuts a single strip from 5/8″ to 2″ wide.  The user controls the width by adjusting the cloth guide (the red lever in the bottom right hand of the above left picture).

Built in Bridgton, Maine, the Rigby Cutting Machines have long been beloved by rug braiders, puncher and hookers.  You can find them sold on sites like Etsy with prices ranging depending on both the model and the condition.  (It appears as though this Model B would sell somewhere between $100-200.)





Among the rug making supplies carried by Halcyon Yarns is the Rigby Finger (#7 Finger for the 7/32″ cutter head for the Model H and #8 Finger for the 1/4″ cutter head) and extra heads for the Rigby Model C.

According  to Makanda Moon, the Rigby is still made by J.D. Paulsen Rigby Precision Products.  Here’s its business information.


rigby3-3Currently my Rigby is visiting my Friend E.  Friend E is an avid needlewoman (both needlework and sewing), hooks rugs and spins.  Friend E was very interested in seeing how the Rigby works.  She said it was easy to figure out and easy to use.  After clamping it to a table, Friend E experimented with some pink fulled wool strips and sent me pictures.

As I said in last week’s post, I paid $20 a a thrift shop for 33 pounds of 2-inch fulled wool strips.  What I didn’t share in that post is that the purchase also included the Rigby Cloth Stripping Machine.  Most definitely a find!

Has anyone used this machine and, if so, for what?

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Wool Strips for Rug Weaving

Last weekend I attended Fort UFortUmpqua.jpgmpqua Days in Elkton, Oregon (pic source).  I enjoyed watching the period recreations (e.g., blacksmithing, dyeing, baking in big cast iron pots, etc.).  Not surprisingly, I especially liked the room at the fort used by the Elkton Fiber Group where the members demonstrated an array of fiber-related arts and crafts, including spinning, carding, and weaving.  (For more information about the Elkton Fiber Group, contact ECEC.)


Wooly Worms

Admiring a cotton rag rug in progress on a 200 year old handmade loom brought over many years ago by a Norwegian immigrant to Oregon, the weaver told me she also buys “wooly worms” – selvedge edges of Pendleton’s wool blankets – from Pendleton Woolen Mill to use as rug weft.  The mill store is in Portland so I knew I’d have to pay it a visit.

Two days later, however, I stumbled across a surprisingly good find at a local thrift shop:  two very large bags of strips of variously colored fulled wool wrapped into wheels, each strip about 2in/5cm wide, as well as 2 cones of linen thread (rug warp weight).  As I was on my bike, there was no way I could bring them home, so I paid for bags, cycled home and returned with my car.

Most of the wool strips are plain weave, though there are several tweed and a few textured:

I pulled out my scale and tape measure and did some calculations.  The 2 in/5cm fulled wool strips totaled 33 lbs/720y (14.9k/658m).  Quite a find for $20, wouldn’t you say?

My hunch is that these beautiful items belonged to a maker of braided wool rugs, as also included in one of the bags is a partially completed, beautifully braided and stitched, heart-shaped wool rag rug.  Further, there were more colors and yardage needed for a  unfinished single small wool rag rug, each roll carefully wound tight and fastened closed with a pin.

I’m always amazed by fiber-related surprises I’ve found at thrift shops!  Have you ever been surprised by fiber supplies or related accessories at thrift shops?



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Hope Springs Eternal

As I blogged earlier, I had hoped that 8-year old Granddaughter F and I would be weaving side by side during her visit with us this summer.  Well, as Alexander Pope said, “hope springs eternal in the human breast,” so I guess I’ll keep hoping.

CottonLoopRugWeavingI felt a flicker of hope when Granddaughter F noticed my floor loom warped with colorful weft and walked up to it, dragging her fingers over the material.  When I asked her if she’d like to sit on the bench and try weaving on the rug, I received a very definite (albeit polite) reply:

“No thank you.”

Later that day I steered Granddaughter F to the Cricket.  Before she arrived I had warped the loom and Cricket_warped_F (2)woven a few inches, sure in the knowledge that the smaller sized loom would tempt her to try.  “Would you like to try weaving on the Cricket,” I asked?

“No thank you.”

RugLoops (2)My last ditch attempt to stir up some interest was to let her cut the finished rug off my floor loom.  Granddaughter F brandished my long scissors with not a little excitement and enthusiastically cut the warp.  After she walked on the rug, I pointed to the Cricket again and said it was ready for her to try out if she wanted.

“No thank you.”

Later I twisted and trimmed the fringe threads.   Granddaughter F helped me roll up the woven, fulled and/or felted rugs that to date I have made or purchased for our new house.  The feel of the different types of wool got her attention!  (Hurrah – a SPARK of some fiber-related interest.)

AlpacaSkeinFionaWhen we visited Eugene Textile Center, Granddaughter F feel skeins of various wools.  She could tell the difference between alpaca and sheep’s wool and decided she liked the feel of alpaca wool best.  Pointing to this large skein, a hopeful look in her blue eyes, Granddaughter F asked if I would weave her a pillow out of alpaca.

So, though as of yet she is not interested in weaving herself, Granddaughter F likes to feel wools, can distinguish between alpaca and sheep wool and likes the idea of receiving handwoven gifts.

Progress – well, at least enough to feed the hope eternal in my breast.

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Crater Lake

Leaving knitting and weaving at home, Thor, Granddaughter F and I met up with the rest of the family and spent several wonderful days in Crater Lake National Park.  We were happy (oh so happy) to exchange Willamette Valley‘s muggy heat wave for the pleasant summer weather of the higher altitudes of the Cascade Range and especially enjoyed the cool nights. We never tire of the scenery; it’s always breathtaking.  Here are some photographs we took (using just our iPhones) of the lake from about 7,100f/2,164m:

On this visit we added something new:  One night drove back up to the lake’s rim, bundled up, sat at the caldera rim in chairs, marveled over the Milky Way (!) and watched the star show in the cold night air.  It was a perfect, clear night (if you didn’t mind the chilly wind), an absolutely amazing experience.

Crater Lake is one of top ten dark sky locations by the National Parks Dark Sky Team.  According to the Crater Lake Institute,

Star gazing at Crater Lake is best on nights without clouds or a full moon. On such an evening, the stars are too numerous to count. They appear so bright, that one might be tempted to lay down, and take off one’s shirt to get a “star tan.” Venus and the Milky Way appear to cast a shadow. By full moon, the light intensity is such that colors are discernible to the unaided eye.

The beauty of the night sky at Crater Lake is largely due to its isolation and the extensive amount of land surrounding the caldera that is preserved in a natural state.  Along with large tracts of wilderness comes a virtual absence of artificial lights allowing the pupil of the human eye to widen and become receptive to distant stars, some of which are thousands to millions of light years away. At Crater Lake there is no light pollution from nearby settlements and cities. There is no light pollution from night advertisement and local traffic.

At Crater Lake, the transparency of the night sky is enhanced by the summer climate. The humidity of the air and the frequency of cloud cover is low in the High Cascades of South-Central Oregon. The views of the night from the 7,000′ elevation at Rim Village are optimum because of the low density of tree cover and the unobstructed view of the horizon is all directions created by the pre-historic collapse of Mt. Mazama.

As we have neither the skills nor the equipment to photograph stars, I found this time-lapse video on YouTube (shot by gryfinryder) that will give you an idea of what we saw (sans the snow).  For some excellent pictures shot by a professional natural history photographer, take look at Phil Colla‘s work.  One of the pictures taken at Crater Lake he shares is of the Milky Way!

If you’ve not seen this brilliantly blue lake (the deepest in the U.S. and 9th deepest in the world), it’s worth a visit!

Rested and relaxed, Thor and I returned to a cooler Willamette Valley with Grandson O.  It is still too warm to comfortably knit, but my loom … 🙂

Have you taken a vacation or trip this summer where you left your fiber work behind?!

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Designing Patterns for Punched Rugs

As I wrote in an earlier post, thanks to a mini workshop I took from Wooly Walkers at the June 2016 Black Sheep Gathering, I have added rug punching to my fiber arts.  After making smaller projects, I want to to design and punch a rug for our new house.  My research into punch and hooked rugs patterns has revealed that American folk art – decorative and whimsical – seems most popular.  I, however, have never been fond of American folk art so I wasn’t sure how I would proceed.

RugDesignHRecently Thor and I were browsing the aisles of a large bookstore, and my attention was caught by this 1,000 piece puzzle titled, “Hoffman House Rug Design.”  In 1957  Franklin Lloyd Wright designed this rug for the home of one of his clients, Max Hoffman. (For some reason, the rug never made it to Hoffman’s House.  It found a home in Wright’s own house, Taliesin, in Wisconsin.)

Admitting that my eye for rug patterns was drawn to designs influenced by the art and designs of Piet Mondrian and, especially, Franklin Lloyd Wright, I started looking at images on the web for ideas.  Here are some nice ones:

Then Thor and I started drawing.  Here are some drafts:

We’ve moved on to experimenting with colors.  Here are a few drafts:

It’s taking a while, but we’re getting closer.  As these pictures reveal, our designs are not even close to American folk art – which is lovely, but just not us.

Do you make rugs and, if so, what kinds of designs do you like to incorporate in your rugs?


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