May 20 • 10:57 AM

Getting friendly with fleece

'Friends of Fleece' knitters spin yarns in Imlay City

Busy hands and beautiful yarns show off a sampling of the various and beautiful purple yarns available today. photo by Iris Lee Underwood.

Mary Duncan of Imlay City knits with what she terms Monet acrylic yarn while Kay Schell of Rochester enjoys drafting wool to knit a pair of socks. photo by ir.
January 23, 2008
These women are not Tennyson's solitary "Lady of Shallot," spinning and weaving a mirror's reflection of the landscape from a tower window. Heaven forbid. They are 'Friends of the Fleece,' modern women in fellowship: Talking, laughing, spinning, knitting and weaving their designs.

It's their custom, a ritual they hold fast every second Monday of the month at 10 a.m. in Imlay City's Methodist Church. They empty bags full of colorful fiber on the tables, hand-shorn wool and innovative yarns the spinners find irresistible.

"I've been a knitter since my mid-twenties," says Deborah Horowitcz of Imlay City. "My mom and grandma knitted, and my daughter spins, knits and weaves. I guess you can say we're fibery people."

Like the myth of Moirai, the Three Fates, Horowitcz's spinning lineage is a powerful feminine force, weaving various colors, shapes and textures of human lives into a beautiful, complex whole. She understands the value of companionship, the interweaving of bits and pieces of her soul like a tightly knit cloth that is not easily destroyed.

"It's really cold here, I'll tell ya. I had to learn to spin wool when I moved here from Arizona. It's not like spinning cotton and silk. I had to slow down the spinning and use less twist on the yarn," Horowitcz explains.

Typical of many fiber artists, she's working on several projects simultaneously: socks, hand-warmers and scarves. She admits she's a

"sock freak," attracted to bright colors.

"My feet are always cold, and my husband's are always hot, so I can't knit for him," she says.

Historically speaking, when England's Industrial Revolution replaced the spinning wheel with the production of inexpensive cloth, the ancient spinning sisterhood crumbled. It was the boycott of British goods, including manufactured cloth, during the Revolutionary era that restored the home production of textiles in America. Once again, women took their destinies into their own hands: Spinning wheels became a symbol of independence and freedom.

Today, the contemporary American woman, blessed with food, clothing and shelter, spins more for personal gratification and gifts than utility. She meticulously selects the fiber for her projects and happily spins and knits for family and friends. And when the spirit moves, she knits something for herself.

"I like working with purples," says Ruthanne Morningstar of Dryden. She holds a lush, grape-like fiber in her hands as if it were pure gold. "I'm going to make myself a scarf with this."

Weaving is Morningstar's middle name. She totes her yarns in hand-woven baskets; she warms her feet on rugs from braided wool.

"I just finished a red sweater for my grandson," Morningstar beams. "I'm making chenille bath mats. They make nice gifts with handmade soaps. Oh, and I'm knitting lots of socks."

An appropriate pride carries conversation amongst the women, sharing finished projects, works in progress, ideas, designs and stories. When the spindles rest for lunch, Yvonne Henderson models her 'Einstein coat,' a blue ribbon winner.

"It's called an Einstein coat because it's so simple to make that you feel smart when it's finished," Henderson laughs. "It took eight pounds of fiber, and it's all from my own animals. I sheared them and took the wool to Zeilingers in Frankenmuth to process and dye the fiber. I spoiled myself," she says and hugs herself.

Mary Duncan of Imlay City knits with what she terms Monet acrylic yarn while Kay Schell of Rochester enjoys drafting wool to knit a pair of socks. photo by Iris Lee Underwood.
As the women munch on their potluck, Margot Liba of Addison Township instructs how to braid roving (washed and combed wool): Wash it in hot water and dry to shrink to create felt for making braided rugs.

"Attach the braids with carpet thread," Liba says. "And you can also make coffee mugs and chair pads from the braids. I'm making a vest from my felt."

"The size of the braid is determined by how thin you pull the wool," Mary Duncan of Imlay City adds. "And when you felt, use agitation with hot water and a bit of soap. Rinse in very cold water. The more often you wash and dry, the tighter the felt."

"Repeat the process until you're happy with the felt," Morningstar says as she braids her roving.

Liba, an artistic mentor, demonstrates through this volley of suggestions. "There are a lot of artisans in our area," she says.

"Our group is made up of lots of women who love sharing their talents," Duncan nods. "I call it intelligent curiosity."

Indeed. Take Maura Furie of Kingston, for instance, who learned to knit with her sisters from the same booklet from Kresge's.

"If you like a challenge," Furie says, "knitting is a good place to be in our creative world. There's always something new to learn. And styles that go out always come back, like Aran knitting (Ireland), and Shetland lace from the islands north of Scotland. And Swedish double knitting with two strands of yarn at the same time."

A knitting designer, Furie couldn't be happier with the mix of the traditional fisherman and workman sweaters and the new designs using beads, ribbons and other embellishments.

"There's so many blends of natural fibers today, including silk, soybean, bamboo and hemp. The mix of plant fibers with animal fibers is endless," Furie says.

"Every month there's something new someone brings to the group," says Friends of the Fleece President Carol Engelbert.

"Yarn is very exciting right now," agrees Linda Johnson of Burnside as she knits a sock. "This yarn has Aloe Vera blended in it. I'm on a sock kick, and this yarn is perfect for socks."

Johnson is working on a Turkish heel, also known as a peasant heel, on circular needles, which makes the project easy to pack and carry. She also brought along a new project that makes her eyes light up.

"It's called a flower pounding quilt," Johnson says with a smile.

Her sorority gathers to see what on earth she's pulled out of her bag. The Moirai are laughing, weaving a fresh color, an original print in the fabric of Friends of the Fleece.

But that's another story.

For more information

about Friends of the Fleece, call Ruthanne Morningstar at 810- 796-3895. Experienced to newbie knitters are welcome.

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