Tag Archives: fiber

Visiting the Oaxaca Wool Mill: Lanera de Ocotlan

In 1996 Englishman Graham Johnson came to Ocotlan de Morelos from Mexico City to open a woolen mill.  The mill was designed to streamline the production process for making yarn and weaving cloth from local churro sheep wool* without sacrificing quality.

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Graham was a tinkerer. He loved machinery, especially the old carding and spinning machines that were being replaced by computerization. He bought these up, shipped them to Oaxaca from the United States and the United Kingdom, and refurbished them. Often, he would find or make the parts to keep them going. Many were 30 and 40 years old already.

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Over time the mill diversified and made luxuriously soft merino bed blankets and throws, fancy yak hair mecate horse reins, cinch chord for saddle belts, colorful wool tassels to decorate saddles, horse blankets and rugs for home decor.

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They kept a supply of all types of wool to work with and blend, continuing to experiment to produce soft and durable products. In addition to merino, the mill cleaned and spun cashmere, mohair, Lincoln and other breeds. They still do.

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Then, Graham died suddenly from a heart attack in 2009, and there was a question about who would keep the business going.

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I remember when I first met Graham on one of my early visits to Oaxaca. It was probably 2005 or 2006. The mill was running at full capacity and you could hear the hum of machinery as you walked down the open corridor separating the rooms where the work was done.  It was impressive then what these old machines and talented local employees could do.

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Now, when I revisited with my friend Scott Roth, who has been working with weavers, wool, dyes, and the hand-loomed rug weaving process for over 40 years, I could see the changes. Scott brought with him replacement parts for some of the machines. Machines that were working ten years ago now need repair. Old belts, bearings, wires, cogs and wheels break, wear out.

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For the past two years, Graham’s 37-year old daughter Rebecca has stepped in and is learning the operation. The mill is 25 years old and Rebecca is determined to keep her father’s dream alive.

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At her side are Rosalba (Rosie) Martinez Garcia, who has been there for 18 years and knows just about everything about the mill.  Helping are Angel Laer Ambocio Perez (above) and Alejandro Maldonado Santiago. They know a thing or two, too, although their tenure is much shorter.

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Rebecca loves textiles. She loves yarn. She wants to supply all types of yarns for knitting and weaving and other fiber arts. There are beautiful rugs and blankets stacked on shelves that were made before her father passed that are for sale.

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Spare parts for anything is essential here in Mexico. Equipment can be old. It can still be good, functional, valued. If one has the necessary parts to keep it going. Graham wasn’t the only tinkerer here. People save, cobble together, recycle, repurpose. Things get jimmied together and continue to work. People here learn how to be resourceful with what they have. It’s something I’ve learned being here.

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As Scott and Rebecca worked out numbers to complete their transaction, I wandered the mill, remembering Graham. A cat ran across the corridor to hide. A young tree struggled to grow up from the crack in the concrete. A rusted yarn holder cast shadows on the adobe wall. I loved being there, another part of the textile heaven that is Oaxaca.

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Where to Find It: Lanera de Ocotlan, 119 Benito Juarez, Ocotlan de Morelos, Oaxaca, Tel:  951-294-7062. Email: Rebecca Johnson at  becky_madonna@hotmail.com for an appointment to visit. Directions: Continue straight past the Zocalo and the Mercado Morelos two blocks. The wool mill door will be on your left. It is unmarked.

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Footnote: *Local wool is shorn from churro sheep which were brought to Mexico by the Spaniards with the conquest in 1521. The sheep are raised in the high mountains above Ocotlan in San Baltazar Chichicapam. The mountain range separates the Tlacolula and Ocotlan valleys. The altitude there produces a soft, dense fleece. There are still some, like Yolande Perez Vasquez, who use hand carders and the drop spindle to produce the best yarn, but this is a costly, labor-intensive process that yields a premium yarn that is very dye absorbent. Few weavers are able to pay the price.

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Natural Dye Workshop Yields Glorious, Colorfast Textiles

Working with natural dyes like cochineal that yield red, indigo blue, wild marigold (pericone) and fustic to give us yellow, is like being a pastry chef and following a recipe.  It helps to know a little chemistry or have a willingness to learn.

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Indigo dye bath percolating

Eric Chavez Santiago, who is one of Mexico’s most knowledgeable natural dye experts and our workshop leader, takes us through the steps to use a non-toxic process to mordant wool that we will  use to dye cochineal, fustic and wild marigold.  Wool that we dye with indigo requires no mordant but another set of intricate steps that will guarantee a result of intense blue and its variations.  See the green bloom in the photo above. The chemistry here is to allow no oxygen to enter the dye bath. Stirring is a no-no.

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The intense colors we get depend on a number of factors, including the original color of the natural wool, the amount of dye for the recipe, the length of time in the dye bath, the number of dips, how little dye is left in the dye bath, and whether we use an acid (lime juice, for example) or a base (baking soda, alum or ashes).  Eric has developed an extraction technique for the cochineal that yields the most intense, concentrated color.  The extract can be saved and refrigerated for later use and then refreshed.

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In the three-day Oaxaca Natural Dye Secrets workshop, we go through the basics and then tackle more advanced dyeing techniques using acids, bases, and over-dyeing.  Over-dyeing is when you first dye your fiber with the base color such as red (cochineal) or yellow (fustic or wild marigold).  The red is then dipped in the indigo dye bath to yield various shades of purple depending on the shade of red.

Next Workshop:  March 6-12, 2014

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This is not a complex process, but requires attention and following the recipes.  By the end of the workshop, participants have color samples with specific formulas/recipes for all the shades from yellow to green to pink to red to orange to purple to blue.

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During the workshop, we also experiment with shibori dye techniques using indigo with 100% cotton fabric.  The resulting pattern depends on how we fold, wrap, package, or tie the fabric.  Some use rubber bands, string, marbles, sticks, and other materials to manipulate the design.

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Everything depends on whether the material is a protein (animal) or cellulose (plant) fiber.  Cochineal only works best with protein fibers that are mordanted in advance.  Indigo is not really a dye but a stain and only coats the surface of the fiber (which you can see through a microscope).  Indigo works well with protein AND cellulose fibers.  And, wow, does it attach to everything it touches!

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Assisting Eric with the workshop is his wife, Elsa Sanchez Diaz.  As his partner in life and this workshop, Elsa takes detailed notes about the formulas that Eric is using so that there is a record of the colors achieved.  She also helps the participants to complete their samplers with tagged formula notes at the end of the workshop.

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Our participants come from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Northern California, and Kansas.  They include novices and experienced fiber artists/dyers.  Several had never been to Oaxaca before.  One is an English professor, another a faculty member in architecture and interior design, another a mixed media artist, and two professional weavers.  Everyone came away with a great experience and more information than they ever dreamed possible.

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Next Workshop: March 6-12, 2014 

If you can’t attend this workshop, let us know!  We can possibly schedule the next workshop to suit your travel schedule.

Felt Fashion Workshop: Oaxaca Style Art To Wear

We’ve invited Jessica de Haas back to teach this popular workshop again in 2014.  Here is your chance to escape winter, roll up your sleeves and make an extraordinary felted wool garment that will bring ooh’s and aah’s.  For seven nights and eight days, from January 30 to February 6, you will experience the textile culture of Oaxaca, and create naturally dyed felt fabric that you will make into wearable art.

If you ever wanted to felt wool and use it to make a garment that is unique, comfortable and stylish, this is the place for you.  If you want to build upon what you already know and add to your skill set, join us!  We use easy-to-construct indigenous Mexican patterns to show off your design creativity.  If you aren’t confident, don’t worry! The place itself is an inspiration.

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Our expert instructor is fiber artist-clothing designer Jessica de Haas, from Vancouver, B.C., Canada.  She is joined by Eric Chavez Santiago from Oaxaca, Mexico, who will demonstrate natural dyeing techniques.  The wool roving we use is dyed by Eric who works with cochineal, indigo, wild marigold and other local plant sources.

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About Your Instructors

Jessica owns the clothing design company Funk-Shui in Vancouver, B.C. and is an award-winning, internationally known fiber artist, fashion designer and teacher.  Her work is published in leading books and magazines. She recently completed an Arquetopia artist residency in Oaxaca, and taught and exhibited at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca.  See her website for bio and designs.

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Eric Chavez Santiago, founding director of education at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, is a weaver and natural dye expert.  He has taught natural dyeing techniques  in Oaxaca and at U.S. universities and museums since 2006.

I attended the workshop this past year (Feb 2013). Wow! Jessica was a fabulous instructor, practical and inspirational, and a total delight. The village of Teotitlan is an experience in itself and will immerse you in a totally different and vibrant world. The B&B and especially the meals were awesome and conversation around the table with other workshop participants was totally fun and absorbing — a bunch of creative, independent and feisty women! And, you can’t lose — even I made several shawls I’m very proud to wear. Highly recommended! –Leslie Larson

Our Itinerary

Working with Jessica in the courtyard of our B&B, we will first make pre-felts and samples.  Then we will embark on creating lengths of felted fabric enough to make one garment.  You can also choose to felt on silk or cheesecloth that results in lighter weight and beautifully draping fabric. After your fabric is dry, you will have the option to cut and sew it into one of several indigenous Oaxaca styles:  the huipil (tunic), the blusa (blouse), rebozo (shawl), boufanda (scarf) or quechequemitl (cape), or modify the basic pattern into a design of your own.  We give you a pattern book to choose your design!

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This workshop is for all levels of experience!  You do not have to be an artist or experienced felt-maker to attend.  We welcome beginners who have never worked in hand felting and more advanced fiber artists. This is a perfect residency for university students, teachers and artists who may want to explore a different medium, too.

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We will provide you with patterns for the basic indigenous designs that can be adjusted to fit.  If you want to contemporize them, we can help you tweak and make adjustments. If you have sewing or pattern drafting experience and want to experiment on your own, you are welcome to work on an independent design project.

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We are based in the weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle where for generations families have created wool textiles.  During our time together, we will go on local field trips to gain design inspiration, and meet and talk with weavers who work with natural dyes.  Some weave wool fabric for wearable art as well as sturdier floor and wall tapestries.  We will see examples of the types of garments that can be created from the felted fabric we make.

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Supplies to bring (preliminary list):

  • Cotton cheesecloth, preferably pre-colored, 5 to 6 yards (3 to 4 meters) or more
  • Embellishments: beads, sequins, buttons, ribbons, embroidery thread, yarn and other embellishments  (we will also have a supply on hand that you can use, too)
  • Non-stick shelf liner, 20 inches wide x 5 ft. long (minimum length), one roll
  • Sewing kit: sharp scissors, needles, threads, tailor chalk 

Note: The materials listed are enough to make one garment. If you wish to prepare a more complex or elaborate garment, we will offer more dyed wool roving for purchase and we suggest you bring more cheesecloth. We will provide a source list upon registration.

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Here is what is included in your registration fee:

  • all instruction
  • 7 nights lodging
  • 7 breakfasts
  • 6 dinners
  • naturally dyed merino wool roving for one garment
  • silk yardage for nuno felting, enough for one garment
  • pattern booklet and natural dye recipes
  • sewing machine to share with needles, thread
  • selected embellishments, yarns, threads
  • guided visit to Oaxaca textile museum and galleries

Workshop is limited to 10 participants.

Daily Workshop Schedule:  Arrive Thursday, January 30 and depart Thursday, February 6.   7 nights and 8 days with options to extend your visit.

Day 1, Thursday, January 30 – Arrive and settle in to your bed and breakfast posada in Teotitlan del Valle (we send directions)

Day 2, Friday, January 31 – Jump right in to make partial felts and laminate samples with silk and cheesecloth. We will make an actual mini- scarf during this session, as well as fabric samples. (B, D)

Day 3, Saturday, February 1 – Take a morning field trip to the village market and church for pattern inspiration from the local environment. After lunch we will work on designs using the partial felts and inspiration from the morning studies. (B, D)

Day 4, Sunday, February 2 – We take you on a field trip to visit Eric Chavez Santiago for an indigo dye demo.  In the afternoon, Jessica will demonstrate her method for using acid dyes and free-motion embroidery. You’ll then start on making felt for your final project/garment. (B, D)

Day 5, Monday, February 3 – Continue working on your project. In the afternoon Jessica will demo the art of making felt flowers. (B, D)

Day 6, Tuesday, February 4 —  Field trip to visit local silk weavers. Continue to felt, embellish, sew and finish your project.  Completed project Show and Tell with photos before dinner. (B, D)

Day 7, Wednesday, February 5 – Oaxaca City Textile Walk and Shop with Norma (B)

Day 8, Thursday, February 6 – Departure (B)

(This is a preliminary daily schedule and subject to modification.)  

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Workshop Fee:  $1,595 basic cost per person includes shared room and bath, double occupancy. Single occupancy with private bath, add $300.

Extension Options: 

Option 1:  Stay an extra day and take a Zapotec cooking class on Thursday, February 6, depart February 7.  Includes one night lodging, breakfast, lunch, cooking class and recipes.  $115 USD each.  2 person minimum.

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Option 2:  Friday, February 7, Ocotlan Market Day with stops to visit famous wood carvers, embroiderers, and potters.  Excursion includes transportation, 2 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 2 suppers, and 2 nights lodging on February 6 and 7, with a February 8 departure. (Note: does not include cooking class on February 6.  If you choose this option, Thursday, February 6 is on your own.)   $165 per person.  2 person minimum.

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Option 3:  Cooking Class and Ocotlan Market Day Combo.  Combine both Option 1 and Option 2 for a special price of $250 per person.  2 person minimum.

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Arrive early or stay later!  Add on nights in Teotitlan del Valle at $50 per night, or Oaxaca City at $125 per night.  Let us know your preference and we make all the arrangements for you.

About Our Workshops, Retreats and Programs.  We offer educational programs that are hands-on, fun, culturally sensitive, and offer you an immersion experience.   Our workshop leaders are experts in their field, knowledgeable, have teaching experience and guide you in the learning process.  Our goal is to enhance your knowledge while giving you time to explore and discover. 

About Lodging and Accommodations. To keep this trip affordable and accessible, we stay in a local posada/guest house. The food is all house made (including the tortillas), safe to eat and delicious. Vegetarian options are available.

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Your registration fee does NOT include airfare, taxes, admissions to museums and archeological sites, gratuities, liquor/alcoholic beverages, some meals and some transportation.

Deposits, Reservations and Cancellations.  A 50% deposit is required to guarantee your spot.  The last payment for the balance due (including any supplemental costs) shall be paid by December 15, 2013.  We only accept Payment with PayPal.  We will be happy to send you an invoice.

If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email.   After December 15, 2012, no refunds are possible; however, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space.  Your registration is transferable to a substitute.  If you cancel before December 15, we will refund 50% of your deposit.  We strongly recommend that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip, since unforeseen circumstances are possible.

To register or for questions, contact:  normahawthorne@mac.com  I am happy to set up a Skype call with you, too.  Skype name:  oaxacaculture

Indigo Blue, Color of Kings: Oaxaca Natural Dye Workshop

If you are looking for hands-on instruction, a cultural immersion into natural dyes of Oaxaca, and would love to have an experience learning from the Museo Textil de Oaxaca’s director of education Eric Chavez Santiago, please contact me.  We organize programs for museums, textile guilds, fiber artists, designers and anyone wanting to know more about hand-dyeing with natural materials.

Here are some of the topics Eric talked about during the second day of a workshop we organized for Sydney, Australia’s Walter G & Company that focused on indigo dye recipes and using indigo for over-dyeing:

DyeWorkshop-34 DyeWorkshop-15Royals around the world coveted indigo as a symbol of their wealth, power and prestige.  When we think of the color royal blue, what comes to mind is an intense, deep color that saturates the fabric and draws attention to the person wearing it.  Indigo was used 6,000 years ago in Egypt, sought after by the Pharaohs who procured it from traders who traveled the tropical belt of Africa.

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Indigo is mystical, says Eric.  In Africa, dancers pray for an abundant indigo harvest to give them an abundant life.  In Puebla, Mexico, there is a traditional story that warns pregnant women not to approach an indigo dye bath.  If they do, the power of the color will disappear.  But indigo is a chemical process, says Eric, straightforward and scientific.

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Today from Oaxaca, Mexico, to Africa, to India, to El Salvador, to South Carolina, USA, over 40 different indigo plant species, some of them wild and native to each region, are cultivated for dye material, explains Eric. In Oaxaca state, the wild bush grows along the Pacific coast, is cultivated, fermented, dried into blocks, and sold to weavers and dyers, who grind it into a fine powder for use on protein fibers such as wool and silk, or on plant fibers such as cotton.  Our workshop focuses only on dyeing wool, since cotton takes much longer.

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This year, in 2012, Oaxaca had the largest harvest of indigo ever.  Over 400 pounds of dried leaves were picked.  Oaxaca’s indigo produces one of the most powerful, intense colors in the world, along with the indigo of San Salvador.  The color from India and Africa pale in comparison. This is good for local weavers who are turning to the use of indigo for its color-fast results and organic properties that ensure environmental sustainability.

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During this second day, we used an indigo recipe developed by French chemist-dyer Michel Garcia.  Eric has studied with Michel Garcia and uses his fructose-based recipe along with hydrogenated lime.  The fructose reduces the oxygen in the water, stabilizes the water, and suspends the indigo to yield a more uniform, intense color.  One only needs to stir gently with a wooden stick or fingers!

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To pulverize the rock-hard indigo, ancient dyers used a metate and mano de metate.  Today, Eric uses a coffee grinder — one for blue indigo, another for red cochineal.  He dissolves a bit of the indigo in a small sealed jar of water filled with marbles, and shakes it well.

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There are many indigo dye recipes available on the Internet along with recommendations for making dye baths, so we are not going into that here.

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During the two days, we dyed a range of primary reds and yellows using cochineal and pericone.  On day two, over dyeing these colors with indigo, we were able to make a broader range of greens, oranges, browns and blacks.  All in all, the two days resulted in over 20 stunning colors — all color-fast, durable and natural.

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We are happy to organize customized workshops and plan a series of open-to-anyone-interested two-day workshops starting this summer, just like we did for Walter G & Company principals Lauren Bennett and Genevieve Fennel with friends Lara Zilibowitz and Tempe McMinn.

Omar’s Hat: Spinning and Knitting Hand-Dyed Wool Roving in Oaxaca

Knitting IMHO is a form of weaving, so I fit right into Teotitlan del Valle where weaving is the culture.  Fiber and textile artists tend to experiment with different forms of the art.  But first, a bit about the wool.  This is 100% super wash merino roving with a 23u top that I bought from DTK Knits in Apex, North Carolina.  I love the variegation of color that they achieved and the softness of the wool.

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They hand-painted it and put it out in the sun to dry.  Sun-dried, solar dyed!  The 4 ounces I bought cost $18.00 USD.  I brought several of these types of skeins with me to use for felting projects over the next few months, although I will be dyeing wool roving here, too. As I showed Federico and Dolores my stash yesterday, they ahhed and oohed, and we talked about what it might be like to spin the roving.  I could then knit a hat for Omar and then one for Eric.

First project underway.

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Federico grabbed a bamboo bobbin and attached it to the spinning wheel.  We then separated the roving into strands thin enough to spin, but thick enough so it wouldn’t fall apart.  That took both of us.  Then we were ready to go.

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After the bobbin was full, I put it into a sealed plastic bag with one end open to pull the tail of the thread through.  That way, the bobbin stays intact.

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Next, I made a sample swatch to figure out the gauge or how many stitches to cast on to fit Omar’s head.  Since he wasn’t there, I measured Federico.  This wool knit up at about 3 stitches per inch and Federico’s head measures 23″ so I cast on 74 stitches using a #10-1/2 (or 6-1/2mm) needle.

Omar'sHatKnit-6I knit two inches of length and then decreased four stitches in order for the rim to turn up and show the purl side.  Then, I will continue knitting until I have about 7″ of hat.  Then, using double pointed needles, I’ll begin to decrease every two stitches until there are four stitches left.  Take a crochet hook and pull the yarn through the four stitches and tie off.  Bring the yarn through to the underside and weave it in.

Resources

I buy ecru merino roving to dye from Paradise Fibers.  I order dyed roving online from various Etsy resources like Rachel Jones’ On the Round, who spins and dyes near Portland, Maine.  I met Rachel last summer at a street fair and loved her wool.

And, here’s the start of the hat!  Didn’t it knit up beautifully?  And, P.S. We still have space in the Felted Fashion Workshop here that starts February 2.  Ask me about coming to the one-day dye workshop component, too.

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