Friday, July 27, 2012

Thread Finds from the Treasure State

"The Treasure State" ... a nickname of Montana because of the gold and silver and copper that have been mined from various areas within the state for well over 100 years. But this state of my childhood (and hopefully of our retirement) has more treasures than those of economic value. Its mountains and plains, rivers, lake and streams, critters of all sorts and abundant plant life, and plenty of space ... lots of space! ... all come together to form one treasure that is available to anyone and everyone who takes the time and energy to enjoy it.

Frankly, I believe it's the people of Montana that are the real treasures of the 21st century. During my recent 2-week stay there, I met some real jewels.

One of them, Debbie Rodgers, owns this store, Willows & Wool. I found out about her from a young lady who was in the vendor area of the 2012 Sapphire Quilt Show spinning yarn, both on a spindle and with a wheel. That's what is really cool about quilt shows ... all sorts of fiber artists show up! The young lady told me about Willows & Wool and handed me a business card. Located in Corvallis, Montana deep in the heart of the Bitterroot Valley, I was quite happy to go and hunt this store down. I had not explore Corvallis as of yet and my Mom was a willing participant in the hunt. She's nothing if not my main enabler of anything and everything to do with craft!

Can you imagine showing up to work at a place like this? I not only can imagine it, I dream of it. Those are some of the Bitterroot Mountain Range in the background; presently obscured a bit by haze from the Chrandal Creek fire that is still quite active. One of the problems of living and visiting Montana is that fire is ever-present during the summer months. The people are stoic about it, being aware of the restorative power of nature which often needs fire to clean out the old and bring in the new. Thankfully, this fire poses no threat to the people of the Bitterroot Valley, but it does put a smoke blanket on the view of awesome mountain peaks.

I can't believe I neglected to take photos inside the shop! I recalled the thrill the first time I entered into a quilt shop and seeing hundreds and hundreds of bolts of fabric lining shelves from ceiling to floor in a rainbow of color. A fiber store is even more exciting the first time! Not only is there a rainbow of color, but such a grand variety of fiber ... both animal- and plant-based fiber. My head was spinning. (Pun intended.) And all the "toys" to go along with weaving and spinning.

I bought a couple bags of fiber, one of which is shown here. Locally raised alpaca, I get a kick out of the package label showing the actual animal the fleece came from!

Alpaca is incredibly soft and is not cheap. Since I am still a newbie spinner, I do not want to spend  a small fortune on fleece and fiber while still at the beginning of my learning curve. But this package was quite affordable and it was LARGE. There's enough fleece to spin plenty of yarn for a serious project. And I love the color. It can be dyed, although I've not yet learned about dying natural yarns. But the color is gorgeous on it's own and someday brown will really become the "new black."

Debbie was gracious enough to give me a discount on this fleece too, because of the debris that remained in the roving, even after was seems to have been plenty of washing and prepping. The feel of the fleece is soft and dry, hence proof it's been washed enough. I do not know enough about prepping fleece to know why bits of straw and other farm debris remains in the fleece, but there they are, and their presence brought of price of the fleece down to a "steal."

I found that it was easiest to pick the debris out during the actual spinning. The flecks of straw stand out from the fiber when getting a good twist going. Remember, I am a newbie, so this extra effort is not bothering me too much. Actually, it's giving me some lessons about the properties of alpaca fleece! (And yeah, lemonade is one of my all-time favorite drinks.)

This fleece is so easy to work with ... so soft, and the pre-drafting done by the folks of Misti Mountain Treasures sure has helped me keep my spun yarn somewhat consistent. To think this is only my thread attempt at spinning yarn! Not bad, don't you think?

I couldn't help myself! I've seen this sticker around on various items ... most of them souvenirs.
A parting shot of the signage for Willows & Wool. I was grateful for the sign because it made finding the store a lot easier to find from the road. The store is actually one of the outbuildings on the owner's spread. Debbie does not have far to commute!!

So if you are a spinner or a weaver (whether weaving fabric on looms or baskets from willow) do take the effort to visit Debbie and her store. She is a most gracious hostess and so are her two Boston Terriers who will greet you with a wiggle and a smile.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Seeing Threads on Vacation

Whilst visiting Mom in Montana, along with having a grand time sightseeing, hiking, horseback riding and all the other wonderfully fun things to do in western Montana, I saw that there was a quilt show sponsored by the Sapphire Quilt Club which is based out of Stevensville. Stevensville is a lovely little town located at the halfway point between Missoula and Hamilton nestled in the Bitterroot Valley. The Bitterroot Range is to the west, and the Sapphire Mountains are to the east. And yes, there really are sapphires in some of those mountains ... I've plucked a few of my own a few years ago from Gem Mountain. The Bitterroots get all the attention because of their awesome snow-capped granite peaks cut from glaciation, but the Sapphires have their own charm and allure. If you ever find yourself in that neck of the US woods, you will have an afternoon of fun washing gravel and finding gems.

Of course I would have to attend the quilt show! I mean, what quilter wouldn't take in a show when travelling, when possible? So Mom and I put on our comfortable shoes and headed into Stevesville. We had no idea where the high school was located, but it's a small town so we figured we would find it even if we had to drive all over the town. Fortunately, the club had signs out on Main Street and along the route to the venue.

All my experience of quilt shows has been here in my area of Texas. Dallas puts on a grand display, Plano does a great job too. I worked at the Mesquite quilt show last year when I was working for BERNINA Sewing Center of Garland. I was curious to see how a small town handled their quilt show ... and I was not disappointed. Of course, it was on a much smaller scale that what I am used to, and the vendors were rather few, but some of the few were quite interesting. They had 200 quilts on display, again small in comparison to here, but art is art no matter how big or small the town. I found some beauties and here are pictures of my favorites. I neglected to make note of the quilter, which is something I will make sure to do the next time I cover a quilt show. Anyhow ... here's a sample of Rocky Mountain fiber art:

This is a real beauty! I love the attention to detail this quilter exhibits.

I loved the colors in this one. A nice traditional quilt with a bit of a twist, and very good use of the neutral color palette. Sometimes neutrals can make the quilt appear washed-out, but this quilter did a great job with contrast and tone variations.

I'm a sucker for bargellos! Or is it bargelloes?? Some rules of spelling English escape me.

Anyhow, this caught my eye as bargello usually does. I love the colors. But what really fascinated me was the quilting ...

The quilter used a circle quilting pattern on the lights and leaves, feathers and swirls on the darker portions.

I fell in love with this one instantly. Dutch-styled embroidery done in cross-stitch with various blues on a cream-colored background fabric and expertly quilted.

Here's a closer look at the motif detail.

This one is my favorite! Why it didn't get "Best of Show" I have no idea. I did not take a photo of the Best of Show because, frankly, it didn't float my boat. I doubt I'd make a good judge at a quilt show! My criteria is simple ... does the quilt take my breath away? This one did.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Some Montana Threads

This trip has not been entirely about hiking, exploring and reconnecting with the threads of my much younger days. This western Montana community has quite active crafting people...from quilters to knitters and crocheters to spinners to card makers and scrapbookers, let alone artists and woodworkers and so many more. Oh, and plenty of musicians. I spent some time shopping and here are my thread purchases. I found the mercerized cotton crochet thread (Aunt Lydia's in Dusty Rose) in a cute general store and pharmacy in Stevensville, Montana. The huckleberry ice cream from the old fashioned soda fountain in the store was delicious!

In Missoula there is a store called Loopy Knit/Crochet on Front Street. Fabulous yarn shop where I found the raspberry colored sock weight yarn spun from merino wool and silk; along with the sea mist colored lace weight yarn spun from 100% baby alpaca. Is there a softer yarn other than baby alpaca?? (That's natural fiber, of course!)

I'm so looking forward to getting these finds home and started on something. I'm not sure exactly what to do with them, but it will come to me when I sit down with yarn and hook.

I'm sure these will give me some ideas of what to do with the yarn. These books I found at The Book Exchange on Brooks Street in Missoula. Two great reference books at two very, very good prices ... and no sales tax to pay. Talk about a satisfying book purchase, which was made after eating a very satisfying lunch at a local eatery near the book store.

I've been working on a project while visiting with my Mom, and hiking, exploring, etc ... but alas, no picture taken of the piece. My camera is getting rather full of pictures and I need to spend some time clearing out the photos I will not be using to keep the number of photos to organize down to a workable level.

I have 4 days remaining before darling daughter and I need to set ourselves on our long journey home. There is still so much I want to do, but doubt I'll be able to do it all. But before I leave here, I hope to get back to Blodgett Canyon up the Bitterroot and have a chance to get out of the car and on my feet to have my breath taken away by the awesomeness of glaciated cliffs and a canyon floor littered by thousands of boulders and rocks left behind by the retreat of massive ice sheets. I saw the area from the car, I need, and I mean NEED to see it from my feet.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Returning to a Thread

Some 42 years ago, the government moved my Dad to Missoula, Montana. When he and my Mom settled in to life in Missoula, Dad requested that this be the last transfer, and he had enough seniority that his request was granted. So here is where I spent some of my most formative on a hill overlooking Rattlesnake Canyon. We are not sure why it is called "rattlesnake" as one hasn't been sighted in years, and whatever sightings there has been, they have been extremely rare. Nonetheless, it's a nice name, one that lends some pizzazz to a person's living environment.

This hill is just up the street from my childhood home...where my Mom still lives and the memory of my dear Dad remains. I wandered this hill, and those around it, for what seemed to a teenager's mind to be ages. Now the hills are more populated and homes have been crawling up the slopes of my hills...and yeah, I think of them as mine. Probably 1000 other people considered them to be their own. I guess that makes us brothers and sisters in a way so let me say "Howdy" in my Texas-influenced voice to all my brothers and sisters.

I'd roam these hills alone at times, other times with some friends. I had a friend who owned a horse, and she pastured her horse in the field just across the Rattlesnake Creek Drive from Lincoln Hills Drive...which is now all built with homes. She was allowed to borrow a horse from neighbors a few times and together with our trusty steeds, we roamed these hills. I spent so much time in these hills that one day I figured out that I was a person, unique and with a mind that like to think deep things when wandering the hills. It was sort of like a Descartes moment "I think, therefore I am." I used to tell folks I found my soul in those hills, and left my heart there too. Without realizing what was going on, I had my first of many spiritual awakenings.

So early this morning, I leashed up my Mom's dog, McDuff, and together we went roaming. I'm 40 some years older, out of shape, but I still trekked up the trail that has been cut for the use of those who love these hills. My hills have changed. Not just built with more homes, but trees are gone, new ones taking their place. Most of the trees there are younger than my absence from these hills.

I have a feeling I may know these trees, but at the time I knew them, they were not conjoined. No matter, it was good to revisit some old friends. By the time I was taking this picture, I was on the downhill return of my "hike" feeling warm, toasty and refreshed, even though the climb was a tad rough on this out-of-shape body. I left some sweat up in the hills, taken away by the cool breeze of a western Montana dawn. This tree has a lesson for me, but I still need to meditate on what it was telling me. I will know soon enough; hopefully it will be a tender lesson, not a harsh one. But no matter, a lesson is a lesson, and they are always for our benefit, if we survive them. I'm just glad this tree survived whatever took away all its brothers and sisters that I knew 40 years ago.

Norman Maclean came from these parts and he was haunted by the waters. I am haunted by the trees. Either way, I understand what he meant by stating all things merge into one. Because I was 14 years old this morning, without losing any of the lessons I gained these past 40 years.

No one, and I mean no one, has done a better job expressing what if feels to be in western Montana than Norman Maclean. The world saw the movie (and a very young Brad Pitt in what was probably his breakout role) and some have read his writings. Those of you who have seen the movie but never read the book, do yourself a favor, find a copy and read it. Than man wrote the most beautiful prose I have ever read, and I have read a lot.

I will leave you with a quote that has a whole lot of meaning for me:

“My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. 
To him all good things-trout as well as eternal salvation-come by grace 
and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.” 

― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Traveling Threads

Road trip! The only way to travel. Well, in my opinion, as my hubby would say if he were here at the moment. But he's back in the heat of Texas holding down the fort whilst darling daughter and myself are in Missoula, Montana visiting with my Mom and awaiting my oldest son and his family to come for a week-long vacation in the area.

Flying is for the birds ... literally.

There is so much to see when on a road trip. Things that are so much more to look at from the ground. After all, even birds don't cruise at 30,000 feet. I know flying will get you from one place to another in a matter of hours, whereas it took my three days to get to Missoula from the Dallas area of Texas, but I got to see some awesome sights. Even the grasslands of the Texas panhandle are awesome in their own way.

Awesome can be scary, though. The picture on the left is of the Wyoming skies when we drove through the Wheatfield area June 30th. For about 10 miles I felt I was driving on another planet. Blue skies were only a memory, a dream. On this planet, the skies were a yellowish-green and the canopy of clouds were tinged in brown.

Here was the cause of the otherworldly feeling I experienced. I have no idea the name of the canyon and hills of the area, but this picture was taken at the rest stop just north of Wheatfield on Interstate 25.

Seeing wildfire from a safe distance brings a mixed bag of emotions. The energy is mesmerizing. A person is humbled by the ferocity of wildfire. It reminds a person that so many things in life are outside of our control. But a person also realizes that there is life ending under this mesmerizing, ferocious force of nature. Not necessarily human life, although that is a reality more often than it should as was noted in the Colorado Springs fire that was still on-going at the time this Wyoming fire was starting. Animal life is lost too. And the life of grasses and trees. Of course, new life always comes in the aftermath ... and there are those species of plant life that requires fire in order for seed to germinate. Fire is nature's way of doing some serious housekeeping and redecorating.

No fired in Missoula ... yet. The hills are lush and green because of a cold, wet spring followed by a so-far mild, wet early summer. I can't get over how green the place looks; so unlike the image in my mind when I reflect on my childhood home. But soon enough, the dry hotness of summer is going to come and dry up all those lush, green grasses. That potential of fire will be all too real, too much. It drives me to distracted nervousness thinking about it ... so I will stop thinking about it. Let me focus, instead, on the Montana threads I can find and revel in!

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