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Friday, 31 March 2017

Visiting Tacoma and Spinning Targhee Wool Tops

I arrived in the USA just as it started to rain. The Tacoma bus pulled up outside SeaTac Airport with a strong smell of burning rubber, grubby snow sprayed up from the gutter and the men waiting in line pulled down their beanies, hunched their shoulders and swung aboard with a grouchy energy which seemed to me distinctively American - as seen on TV and films, only now in real life. Even walking in the cold dusk along wide, empty sidewalks was thrillingly strange. Well, it was til the wheel came off my suitcase while crossing an intersection with a dozen traffic lights, counting off the numbered streets, struggling uphill to reach the welcome safety of my Airbnb.

I'd heard that everything in America is bigger and perhaps that accounts for Tacoma's chief difference from Wales. It is called The Gritty City. Just imagine Neath Port Talbot on steroids. Vast freight trains crawl through town, enormous container ships on the Puget Sound would dwarf Cardiff Bay and instead of the South Wales Valleys, when the clouds lift, a whopping great volcano appears. Much like home, I was told real prosperity ended here in the 1970's and as I wandered up from Downtown through the neighbourhoods,Tacoma's style did seem half way between a nineteenth century boom town and an episode of the Jetsons. Maybe not much of it looks glossy, but oh, the vitality of the place, wish we had the funky graffiti, the activists founding public schools for art and science, the liberalism, the warmth, the doughnuts and coffee for breakfast.
The more people I met, the more at home I felt. Some were so interested in plant dyes, I was invited to give a presentation at a campfire dinner. Too nervous to eat, once I got into my stride and people were smiling, I fairly rattled along. Tacoma has a jam packed and friendly yarn shop with a massive selection of buttons and a knitting group rich in political satirists. Anticipating weak beer, Fox News and an alien ideology, I was so wrong, the local breweries are outstanding, conversation is as stimulating as the ginger mix in the Mad Hat Teahouse and you know, I came away thinking I might actually fit in better there than I do at home. Anyhow, I'll end this lovesong to the Pacific Northwest with a picture of the curious bark of a Madrona 
Tree, growing at Point Defiance. Thanks to Cheri for all her kindness, driving me along the coast trying to spot whales and sharing a place of such beauty. 
Lest I get carried away, I'll remind myself that America provides quite a challenge for anyone whose lifestyle choices include lots of smoking and loitering. The highlight of my visit to Tacoma was attending classes at the Madrona Fibre Retreat. The teachers were superb, I am still inwardly digesting the moments of illumination and dreaming up beguiling projects rather than sticking to a practice regime for my newly learned knitting techniques. 

Here is some Targhee wool I bought at the Madrona Retreat Market Place.The fabulous saturated red tops were dyed by Abstract Fibres. The millspun yarn is from Brooklyn Tweed. Targhee sheep are a new American breed, developed during the twentieth century during the shift from farming for wool to raising lambs. Not much fibre quality has been sacrificed, to the touch, the combed wool is irresistibly soft, still crimpy and full of bounce. I meant to read up all about Targhee and plan properly, make samples for some organised and intentional spinning - only I didn't.

Mouldering about at home, wiped out by the aftermath of a bout of flu, instead of tidying and cataloging my stash, I divided the red tops into three equal strips and have spent the last few evenings spinning them short forward draw, around 10 twists per inch, aiming to make 3 singles which would ply up at double knitting weight, to match the Brooklyn Tweed Arbor yarn.  The first two singles went well, this is a lovely wool to handle, very easy to manage. Then I lost concentration on the third section, spun it too thick and not nearly so even. Far from preserving long colour changes, I have ended up with a marbled and barber poled yarn.
Which is not far off the red Arbor dk weight and pretty much totally gorgeous anyway.
How lucky for me that I fell into bad company at Madrona, met the kind of woman who says, go on, buy both, when you can't decide on your shopping. Thanks to her, I do have another four ounces of Targhee tops in an equally glorious orange and grey colourway and may yet be able to write a considered assessment of this lovely fibre.

Here in South Wales, the days are lengthening and tomorrow the moon will be spot on for sowing weld seeds. The nights are still cold, so for now, I shall just blow my nose, brew up some honey and lemon, light the fire and remember Tacoma while knitting with American yarn.


  1. A visit to make you think..of many things

  2. What a nice tribute to America and what it has to offer. I love Great Britain and especially Wales, but I am an American with a french Mom, who lives in the Southeast of the US. Think Jack Daniel's whiskey (Tennessee). :-) Maybe you can visit SAFF in North Carolina sometime. Usually end of October.

    1. Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair

    2. That does look like a great fibre event and my friend BG has a definite taste for Jack Daniels. Not very likely I shall travel so far again, but who knows, life is long and full of unexpected turns. I do appreciate the suggestion and am glad you like Wales :)

  3. Here in New South Wales, Australia, the only place it's ok to smoke when at the shops is standing on the very edge of the concrete gutter and at least 10m away from awnings, bus stops, restaurants and beaches! I'm on patches but i think i need the gum as well! Nice to see pics of your trip the red yarn is gorgeous.

  4. Mmm. I do sometimes think to myself, I would rather spend 10 minutes in an enclosed room with someone smoking, than 10 minutes in am enclosed room with a car engine running. Don't suppose we will see cars banned from going within 10m of awnings, bus stops or restaurants. The Targhee is lovely to knit, you don't often see such a good red from an indie dyer.

  5. So pleased to hear you enjoyed the Targhee. Sometime I will relate to you the funny story of how I bought mine. I thoroughly enjoyed spinning the blend of Targhee and alpaca and then knitting it into a shawl.

    1. Sounds a good blend. I've been spinning my other dyed tops and knitting warm shawl/scarf type objects, but I did buy some undyed Targhee too and I do have alpaca in stash somewhere. Maybe I'll get the drum carder out. Thanks :)