Wednesday, March 5, 2014

How to pronounce Qiviut

I admit that I let my emotions get the best of me when it comes to my language. For most young Natives their grandparents or great-grandparents had their language taken away from them by boarding schools. For me it was my own mother that grew up only knowing how to speak Inupiaq. She was called names and her hands were slapped with a ruler for speaking Inupiaq when she went to school. The teacher demanded that she speak English, as if the command itself would make learning a new language easier. The pain of losing my mother tongue is closer with only one generation between me and the reason for me and my children not knowing how to speak Inupiaq.

I was born in Nome, Alaska and lived there until I was 8. There were certain words that were only said in Inupiaq, partly out of habit but partly because there is no English equivalent. There is a word that simultaneously conveys empathy for pain inflicted on others and pain felt by the speaker. Phrases that convey feelings of love and pride. A word that describes causing someone to become shy and quiet. Words used by an exasperated mother of four young children like "that's gross/dirty/disgusting", "stop that/too much", "you bad/mischievous kid! (kind of a joking phrase)". Words to describe traditional food and the weather.

I used to think that I don't know enough of my culture's language but I surprise myself that I can figure out words that my family uses on social media. At the same time I'm not a fluent speaker, I can't form sentences, and I can't spell most words without guessing. The standardization of spelling Inupiaq didn't happen until the mid to late 70's and we moved away before the movement to save our language began.

Qiviut is the fine and extremely warm inner coat of musk ox. Qiviut means down and could mean down of a bird or down of musk ox. In the spring musk ox lose their warm down and it comes off in small sheets of fiber. The price of qiviut is high because the cost of living in the Arctic is high and the domestication of musk ox has only happened for the past 60-70 years. 

All this to say that I own my frustration when I see knitters and fiber enthusiasts attempt to form their own spelling of the word qiviut. Here is one of our words that survived scrutiny, something that describes something that doesn't exist in the English world, something that was chosen to be used instead of an English word (case in point: the animals are called Musk Ox by everyone, not Oomingmak). Something that belongs to my culture is being mangled and mutilated, mostly unintentionally, and I have the right to be bothered when I do see willful ignorance. Willful ignorance combined with bullying and people in power on influential forums like Ravelry all lead up to how bastardizations of language are made. I'm doing what I can to keep my language intact.

So, for the lesson about pronunciation. I also have to explain that I lived in Iqaluit, Nunavut in Canada for almost 4 years. Children K-6 are required to take Inuktitut and French classes. I was taught that the Inuktitut alphabet is broken up into vowels and consonant-vowel combinations. I'm not sure if Inupiaq is treated the same way but I tend to view the breakup of words the same for both dialects. With a word like qiviut the smaller parts of the word would be qi-vi-ut. The Oomingmak Coop's site says it is pronounced like: ki-vee-ute (oot like in boot). That letter i after the v means something, it's not just there to be pretty. I also think the i after a v is hard for English speakers and most misspellings tend to drop the second i.

A bonus lesson about the word qiviuk. Jacques Cartier decided to make our lives harder by calling their brand of qiviut and qiviut-blend yarn and products by the word qiviuk. Inupiat and Inuit both have singular, dual, and plural forms of nouns. The k at the end of qiviuk denotes a dual form and it means that the subject is exactly two hairs or feathers of down. It might be a play on words because the Qiviuk brand is a 2-ply but I always imagine two little 10-18 micron-wide fibers. I've seen people claim that the two words are interchangeable but they are not.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

39th Annual Black Sheep Gathering

This year's Black Sheep Gathering was June 21-23 and the weekend went by too quickly. My faithful fiber-festival-attending friend Lynda helped me plan our trip and find more people to join us. We were going to have a group of 4 but one had to back out at the last minute (she was sorely missed). Evanita is a fibery friend that went to St Distaff's Day with our Redmond Knits group and her birthday was the night before the gathering started. My birthday was 4 days before the gathering and I asked my husband to take Friday off of work as a present to me. 

Of course I didn't start packing until Thursday, the day we left. My daughter's last day of first grade was Wednesday and at first she was excited to help me pack. I taught her how to roll up clothes to make them more compact and she packed me a snack of Ritz crackers and pretzels inside of a kid's snack cup, a banana, and an apple. She started to say that she wanted to go with me and for a minute I thought it could happen. But this is a vacation for me, and being a stay-at-home mom means having a vacation where the kids stay home. And it wasn't only a vacation, it was a special birthday extravaganza. She started to cry and list reasons she wanted to go (the only real reason was she wanted to sleep in a hotel room) and at the end of the hours-long tantrum I was ready for the break.

I picked up Lynda and Evanita at 5 pm and we left. Traffic was horrible from Redmond to Tacoma and what normally takes 40 minutes took 2 hours. The drive was supposed to be 4.5 hours, but somehow we made up for the traffic jams and got to our hotel in Eugene, Oregon by 11 (?). We stayed at the Timbers Motel because the rates were good, it was a mile away from the fairgrounds, and it was near restaurants, Starbucks, and Voodoo Doughnuts (which we never entered). Our room was a double queen with a squeaky sofa bed and it was larger than I expected.

Friday morning we got up early and at Starbucks met fellow fiber addicts that knew each other from a group on Ravelry. We decided to walk to the fairgrounds, mostly just to see what it was like and how feasible it really was, I'm glad we did after the long drive the night before. I ended up walking about 7 miles that day.

The main reason why Lynda and I wanted to attend was to listen to Judith MacKenzie judge fleeces. Our friends told us that as she judges she speaks about what she sees and that we'll learn a lot listening to her. BSG is also supposed to be the largest fiber festival on the west coast and there are more than 100 vendors. Judging began at 10 am and the marketplace opened at 9 and we arrived on time. Before we made it to the vendor's booths we found Judith walking to her car and I got to talk to her for a few minutes. Evanita's main goal was to see Ed Jenkins and buy a couple of his Turkish drop spindles. We saw the mad rush of Jenkins fans and it was the busiest booth I saw all weekend.

Judging is held in the Wheeler Pavillion across the parking lot from the vendors and animal barns. Listening to Judith is well worth the walk and I recommend getting in early to get a good seat. Sitting in the front row near the middle would be a good idea next time.

Judith judging fleeces, she's the woman wearing black without an apron
This is a description of Judith's judging style from the BSG website: "Judith judges fleece as only she can – with depth of knowledge honed by years of practice, scientific and historical knowledge, patience, creative informality, personal perspective, great humor, and hands-on expertise that demystifies any process." Sums her speaking style up well. (And now I regret not taking notes, but at the same time I don't have a favorite breed yet so I don't know which division I want to focus on.)

If a fleece was large and took up the width and depth of a table Judith would say that you wouldn't want to meet the sheep in a dark alley or that it mated with a polar bear. A friend said that Judith can feel the micron count of a fleece, which is really impressive, and it upset tool-carrying lab technicians. Judith would sadly pull a fleece out of the division it was entered into and put it into another division because the micron count was incorrect. A fleece would remind Judith of a funny story and she'd take a break to share what was making her smile. Before judging the Shetland division, she gave a brief history of what makes the breed unique. It is an ancient breed that behaves more like a pet than a herd animal. Sheep naturally have dual coats (most furry animals do) and some Shetlands still shed their inner coat and would rather be plucked than sheared, which explains their behavior.

During breaks from sitting and listening to Judith I'd walk quickly through the vendor's booths and on Friday I did a pretty good job of not buying fiber that was just for my enjoyment. I bought fiber for teaching new students and maybe bought one batt for me. I was proud of myself. For that one day.

Somehow I ended up buying a Jenkins spindle. Evanita's spindle held singles in a beautiful pattern that looked like a God's Eye. When I lived in Mobridge, SD I would follow my mom to a children's program held in an old church (I think the woman bought the building for $1). We made God's Eyes and were taught some of their significance, but mostly I remember them as being one of the first times that I worked with yarn and sticks. I also bought the spindle because I might find myself being unhappy with spinning pure qiviut on my wheel(s) and need to keep my drop spindle skills honed. Lynda also bought a Jenkins and she got the smallest model for spinning very fine lace-weight singles.

Friday night we stayed up way too late knitting and spinning on our new Turkish spindles. It turned out to be the way that we celebrated the summer solstice.

Saturday morning we got to the fairgrounds by 9 and thought there would be a much larger crowd than Friday. Before juding began I bought some pottery that I fell in love with Friday afternoon. I wanted a matching set to replace random pieces in my kitchen and I also got a yarn bowl in the same glaze. I thought it would help me avoid buying a drum carder or other large prep tools or more fiber. It was supposed to be my splurge of the weekend.

I feel asleep dreaming about the colors in the glaze
I was able to watch the judging of Shetland fleeces and glad I didn't miss it. I'm forgetting how the timeline worked out but I think breakfast wasn't substantial enough and we quickly ate lunch and were back just in time to see Judith award the champion and reserve ribbons.

Judith said that she knew as soon as she saw the merino fleece that she wanted it to get the champion ribbon but it took her a few moments to make sure that was her final decision. I missed seeing it win first place in its division. I'm glad that we went to the show fleece preview so that I could really look at it up close:

First place and also Champion (best in show), a unique multiple color Merino fleece

The preview gives everyone 30 minutes to browse the fleeces and form a plan for which fleece they would like to buy. I didn't know which breed/division I wanted to look at and I'm attracted to wool that is locky and looks kind of like a little washboard. But I also like high crimp wool that would do well spun in the woolen style.

Each fleece has a comment card where a volunteer listens to Judith judge and writes down what she says based on a category or characteristics. I happened to find this dark grey (not quite black) fleece that said "Suitability as a handspinning fleece: Good for Cowichan sweater". I got excited. I got so excited. I don't know what sheep breed were used for Cowichan spinning, the answer might be in the Working with Wool book but I gave that to Lila and haven't found another copy. I'm sure when I find it again I will read it cover-to-cover obsessively. I wanted to ask Judith which breed would be a good match but I didn't get to talk to her beyond the little time that we saw her in the parking lot. I decided that I should listen to a fiber expert's suggestion and try to buy the fleece during the sale.
"Good for Cowichan sweater", a CVM fleece in a dark grey, division 8
I've never been to a show fleece sale before. Lynda held a place in line outside while Evanita and I hemmed and hawed a bit more over all the beautiful choices. A rumor started that the fleeces were moved so that we'd have to find what we want all over again. When the doors opened my heart began to pound a bit, like when you're on a rollercoaster and you finally start to climb up the big first hill. The organizers told us to be nice, not elbows, no running. The fleeces were not moved (the doors were only closed for 10-15 min) and I made a beeline to division 8. The table looked almost empty and my heart sank. But there my fleece was! A volunteer told us that once we touched a fleece it was ours and I'm sure that helped keep many shoppers from wasting time arguing over who saw it or intended to buy it first. I had read the card for the light fleece next to the grey one before and decided to grab it as well.

This CVM fleece was next to the dark grey one in division 8
The line was long for the credit card line and before the sale started Judith's friend Rolly had called me letting me know that a donated loom was ready for me to pick up. So I decided to just write a check for both fleeces. One of Evanita's choices was gone but she found a different one that she had first eyed earlier and decided to get it. We all agreed that these fleeces were cleaner and nicer than any other raw fleeces we've seen or bought before.

While walking through the parking lot back to the van it occurred to me that between the three of us (Lynda will help use/buy the fleeces) we had bought 3 bags of wool. Lynda said "at the Black Sheep Gathering" and the folk rhyme was complete.

Rolly's husband had a loom to donate to Judith in the bed of his truck. In the heat of the day and after the excitement of buying show fleeces I met them and the three of us moved the loom into the back of my van. I didn't stop to think of asking for help from more young people. We figured out how to make the loom fit. Andrea was the contact between me and Rolly and I knew it was possible that the loom could be coming home with us but there was no confirmation (I didn't write my address down and Andrea sent an email to a host that I don't use very often).  But Andrea was sitting listening to the judging and introduced me to Rolly so it worked out. I'm glad I drove the van in case I needed to pick up the loom.

Mystery loom: beautiful wood waiting to be cleaned
I don't know much about weaving looms. The loom is 6 harness (the foot pedal things that move other things) and 45-46" wide. I haven't seen a maker's label on it and Lisa thinks that it's handmade and she likes how it folds up. I'm going to clean it and do some minor repairs, even though I've never owned a loom before. The back of the van looked impressive with the loom, three bags of wool, and all our other treasures but I forgot to take a picture.

My plan to not go overboard on fiber fell apart after loading up the loom. Cowichan sweaters need natural colors but I also love dyed fibers. Dyed fibers feel fun to spin and the transition from one color to the next is fun to watch flow through your fingers. I found myself justifying purchases more than I should have.

Saturday night was a potluck dinner hosted by the BSG committee. A large barbecue cooker provided cooked lamb and the side dishes were brought by everyone else. A band sang country songs and the fiddle/violin reminded me of Nome for some reason. Free food is always yummy and we got to make new friends while eating.

After the potluck we watched the Spinner's Lead. I wasn't sure what was going to happen. It sounded like it was supposed to be people that have never handled a sheep before were going to be told to lead one around by a harness and it was going to be hilarious. What actually happens is people enter a contest with handmade items and write up an introduction and story behind the item. They wear or display their work and borrow a sheep. The second sheep didn't behave and I was scared someone was going to get hurt. The stories and sheep were adorable.

On Sunday we had a looser plan to go back to the gathering and hang out. I snuck off to see if I could find Tom Livernois, wheelwright of the beautiful Magnus Drudik wheels. I'm on the long, long, waiting list and I wanted to meet Tom in person. Tom and his wife Tracy run McTavish Farm Shetlands. I told Tom that I fell in love with Shetlands during the gathering. I didn't know the breed was as small as it is and they are cute with their fluffy coats and skinny, fur-less legs. Tom told me that I'm about 6 years out on the waiting list and there are two more years of waiters beyond me. He showed me a very sweet lamb and we pet her through the pen. I went back to get Lynda and Evanita because we didn't pet any of the show sheep out of respect for the owners and a mild fear of how the sheep would react. We all enjoyed petting the soft lamb. Lynda asked Tracy if we could put an order for a fleece in next year. Buying a fleece directly from a shepard is the next logical step.

The last shopping we did was the worst for my will power. I don't remember when I found my treasures but one of the most exciting for me was finding a small selection of Aztec spindle weights. Judith has a small box of 6,500 year old spindle weights from South America, including small woven dolls made of fine cotton, and spindle wood. She handles the items with a sacredness that I really respect and appreciate. The seller told me that she bought them from a collector and there is no certification of age but she also knows that they weren't excavated recently.

There was a mawata silk hankie knitting demonstration hosted by one of the dyers behinds Abstract Fibers. I love the shine of silk but I don't really enjoy spinning top and silk blends are a bit frustrating for me. I could see my daughter helping me open up the hankies and my intuition was correct. The hankie shopping spree spurred more shopping sprees. I might not need fiber for the rest of my life.

The drive home was long and rainy. We watched a pickup truck traveling in the opposite direction after it spun out come to a quick stop while hugging the concrete guardrail. At first I thought the truck was swimming because of how it was moving up and down while kicking water our over the rail.

We're planning on attending next year. If you are a spinner and live nearby it's worth the drive. Vendors that I've seen at other local shows bring out more of their fiber inventory. BSG also supports colored sheep, which goes against the global wool industry. BSG supports the preservation of rare colored breeds and Judith said while judging that dark wools overdye beautifully.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Cowichan Sweater class with Barb Brown

Vogue Knitting Live held its first event in Seattle this year and I heard about it early enough to sign up for a day long class on knitting Cowichan sweaters. The class was taught by Barb Brown and even though I was ten minutes early for the class I missed Barb's introduction of herself. When I walked in she had already started and I understand the need to start early when there is so much material and knitting to do for each student.

Front of vest
Cowichan sweaters are a Canadian national treasure. They are iconic and known world-wide. I've wanted my own Cowichan sweater ever since I moved to Neah Bay and attended my first Makah Days celebration where at least one First Nations family travels from Canada every year to sell Cowichan sweaters, hats, and slippers. The sweaters are hardy outerwear made with thick, natural colored wool knit on needles smaller than what would usually be used in order to give the fabric a tight weatherproof construction. The sweaters are a continuation of Northwest traditional fiber arts with design motifs inspired by woven blankets, baskets, and Coastal art.

Barb gave us small skeins of bulky yarn from Custom Woolen Mills and I was surprised to learn that the yarn was actually 6 "plies" of roving, which is fiber that has yet to be spun into yarn. Every time you knit or crochet, the action of working with the yarn introduces twist (or takes it away) into the yarn. Since the yarn is not spun yet, whatever style of knitting you perform creates a twist in one direction or the other, and the thicker the unit of fiber the less twist is needed to keep the fibers together.

Barb is also a pattern designer and gave us a pattern for a toddler sized vest that we used to make a teddy bear-sized vest. The thunderbird design came from a basket that was given to her mother (or grandmother?) and she told us that we could use the design however we wanted since she created it. I think she tried to be careful to teach us that what we were doing is making Cowichan-type sweaters since it is important for people to recognize and acknowledge authentic Cowichan work.

Inside of vest
I knit in the continental style, which means I hold the yarn in my left hand and I have attempted to do colorwork before. I think I had forgotten that colorwork is not really easy to manage for me because of how color changes and tucking in non-working yarn means that I have both the main color and accent color in my left hand. I'm sure with more practice I could learn how to manage the strands while knitting in the style that I'm used to, or suck it up and learn how to knit with both hands. My hands and arms began to hurt because the yarn is so thick and the fabric is knit tightly. I can really appreciate how strong the hard-working woman are, and they must develop an amazing stamina to be able to finish an adult sweater so quickly. A morning of knitting and I was ready to go to lunch a little early. I knew that if I pushed myself I wouldn't be able to enjoy knitting in the afternoon.

It was very important that we knit enough to be able to learn how to do the amazing Cowichan 3-needle bind-off, which is a technique that Barb said she hasn't seen develop anywhere else. Barb's pattern includes written instructions but I could see why learning it in person would be much easier. The bind-off is worked on the shoulder seam from the shoulder in towards the neck and it creates a double braid that is visible from the front side of the sweater.

The shawl collar was not the correct scale for such a small garment and I will have to undo it and put something else on. Students groaned when they realized what the collar would look like, which was a very wide lapel. It was a sour note to end the class on but I think the 3-needle bind-off was worth it and I now want to see how it would work on the toe of a sock.

Vogue Knitting Live had a marketplace and I bought a book that I had been meaning to get called Working with Wool: A Coast Salish Legacy and the Cowichan Sweater written by Sylvia Olsen. She gave a talk about the book at Knit Fit last November and I wasn't able to buy the book from her. This is a wonderful book for lovers of Cowichan sweaters. She gives a good history on Northwest traditional fiber work. I haven't been able to read the whole thing yet and this weekend I gave it to Lila, who also fell in love with the book instantly. Once I find another copy I'm sure that I will read it cover to cover.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Aunt Lila's First Class

The view at Cape Flattery
When I moved to the Makah reservation in Neah Bay I was 14 and had been living in arctic Canada for a few years. Moving back to America and to a small, fairly isolated town at that age was hard and suddenly all the practice I had moving and making friends didn't help me fit in. We felt like we didn't have an accent but Neah Bay gets a lot of tourists so they asked us "Are you from Canada, eh?". Mary was in the class a grade below mine and we became best friends. It didn't take long for me to start calling her parents aunt and uncle and for us to refer to each other as cousins.

Mary's mother Lila is a kind, quiet woman full of love and stories. Lila taught me how to make pie crusts (I just remember one trade secret) and made every generous meal a cooking lesson. She worked or volunteered at the head start and would send Mary and I on frog-hunting adventures. She would drive us in her yellow VW Beetle down logging access roads and spot the frogs while staying near the car, yelling at us "Oh there's one! Oh, get it get it!". She would also take us for walks along Neah Bay's beautiful beaches and take us berry picking in the forests.

A couple of years ago Lila bought a used Ashford Traveller and she told me that as a child she would sit at her mother's feet and move the treadles while her mother spun yarn for sweaters. The wheel she bought had a few small pieces missing, the flyer was a couple millimeters too short and kept popping out of the maidens, and the wheel had a chunk of wood missing.

I planned a small class at the end of January with the help of Judith MacKenzie and my friend Lynda. I had specific people in mind that I wanted to teach how to spin: Mary, Lila, and Tanya. Judith donated her time and for the first class I wanted us to focus teaching on Lila. We held the class at the Makah Marina, it has a small kitchen and large windows with a wonderful view of the bay and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I was planning on giving Tanya my first wheel, a Louet S17 kit, but Tanya was unable to attend. The wheel Lila bought wasn't working so the Louet went home with her. Mary was too sick and stayed home and my friend Marisa went to Neah Bay with Lynda and I in her place.

Lila was so excited to finally learn how to spin and when she gets excited she cooks. She made so much wonderful food: elk stew, clam chowder, tuna sandwiches, a veggie plate with dip, cookies, pie, and cake. During lunch she told us the funniest story about a rooster that would come inside for coffee at breakfast.  

After lunch we were surprised to see a new student arrive. One of my brothers, Dwight, lives in Neah Bay and works with his friend Ringo as part of the spill response team. Lila's husband told Ringo about the class and Ringo told his wife Christen. I didn't know that Christen would be interested in learning how to spin and she took to it right away and told Judith that she wants to learn because it is a part of her heritage. Dwight came by and hung out and watched us spin. He knows how to build strip canoes and I would love to convince him to help build spindles or wheel parts someday.

Judith teaching Lila how to spin on a Louet S17
 I showed Lila the long draw method that I recently learned and it was fun being her teacher. It felt like the roles that we've had for so many years had suddenly been reversed and I enjoyed seeing another side of her personality. She asked great questions that I don't have the answers for yet. She was so happy to finally get a good introduction to spinning and was excited to practice at home. I called after the class was done and she told me that her goal is to spin enough yarn for 3 Cowichan sweaters.

Marisa learning how to spin on Judith's Jensen wheel
Neah Bay and the marina would make an awesome location for a spinning retreat. Lynda, Marisa, and I stayed at a 2-room hotel that is built upon the site of the house that my family rented when we lived in Neah Bay. Our landlord told me that there was a portion of a dog hair blanket that was stored in the attic, sadly it was thrown away. Our room was on the second floor which meant we were sleeping near where the blanket was stored.

I went home excited and inspired to become a spinning instructor so that I could teach more people and offer classes to more people in Neah Bay and elsewhere. And now the obsession with Cowichan knitting begins because so far the women that want to learn how to spin want to learn to make yarn for Cowichan sweaters.

A lot has happened since this first class: I have a bulky flyer and bobbins for the Louet, I took a Cowichan sweater class, and I have a new wheel. I'll try to write about the new equipment and fiber soon, but for now Mary is finally well enough to go home and we're going this weekend. Looking forward to going back to one of my hometowns.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Story of my LIFE!

Hello and welcome to the beginning of my hopes and dreams and passion and life-calling.

My name is Demarus and I am a fiber addict that has finally found her place in the world.

I tend to want to tell my life story so let me just get it all out now so that later on I can write concise updates on this ambitious project. My heritage is a mix of Inupiaq and European and a teeny bit Comanche and Siberian Yupik. I was born in Nome Alaska to parents that were themselves mixes of Inupiaq and European, my father was from Wales and my mother spent her early childhood in the ghost town of Lost River. My extended family is huge, someday I'll draw it out and marvel at it all.

I grew up feeling as if every female member of my family knew how to sew fur, sew fabric, crochet, and/or knit. And also knew how to cook, clean, raise children, fish, gut seals, camp, and drive a 4-wheeler. And knew where the best places and times were for digging muzzu and picking sura, akpik, blueberries, cranberries, and wild raspberries. So I grew up feeling that because I am a woman also, I am capable of learning and knowing many things.

Both of my parents are artists and both made line drawings and carved walrus ivory. I grew up believing that I can use my hands and I can draw. I am a little proud of my fearless attitude towards crafts and arts. I'm not saying that I believe that I am able to make beautiful or good arts and crafts, but that I am able to at least try it and make something that functions.

We moved around often and if we didn't live near or on traditional Native land, we always searched out a powwow or gathering. My childhood was the pan-American Indian experience. When I was 13 we were living in arctic Canada and many local Inuit women made crochet toques with the word "Iqaluit" on the side and sold them. A teacher offered to teach us how to crochet after school in her home. I enjoyed crochet but for some reason I really wanted to learn how to knit. There was no one that could teach me, and if they were there I didn't know them. My mom made baby outfits out of yarn using a K-tel Knitter but it wasn't technically knitting so she couldn't teach me. She did own a copy of Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Needlework and my stubborn "I can learn how to do anything" self was already armed with yarn and a pair of metal knitting needles. The continental method suited me since I learned how to crochet first (with both methods yarn is held in the same hand) and I was able to do the knit stitch correctly.

Something went wrong when I purled and I didn't interpret the illustrations correctly. I didn't know that I was twisting the stitches and I tried to make a sweater anyway. My step-dad suggested that a sweater made with red and grey stripes would be nice. I didn't get past a few repeats of the stripes because the back section was just too wide and very stretchy (that's what happens when every stitch is twisted). This failure in function didn't stop me from continuing to crochet strange hats for one of my younger brother and calling myself a knitter even though nothing knitted came out the correct size.

Right before I began 9th grade we moved to Neah Bay, Washington because while we were in Iqaluit my mother read an issue of National Geographic that highlighted the Makah culture. What is unique about the Makah nation is they are the only Native American tribe beside the Inupiaq and Yupik to hunt whales. My mom loved the idea of being with people that also have whales at the heart of their culture. So we moved to Neah Bay and rented a house on Front Street and it's only very recently that I learned of a special relic that was in the attic above my bunk bed.

The Makah are also unique in their history of fiber arts. They wove sleeping mats, clothing and hats out of the softer inner layer of cedar bark. They kept a special breed of dog solely for harvesting fiber, keeping the dogs on an island or in caves to keep them away from other working dogs. They spun the fiber into yarn, sometimes mixing anything else that was soft enough to add - like feather down, and then wove the yarn into precious "dog blankets".

The Makah are also unique for having an amazing museum (most tribes have lost artifacts over time to grave-robbers), the result of a mudslide that preserved at least 6 longhouses in Ozette village and then erosion that occurred during the enlightened early 1970's, when the American atmosphere supported the novel idea of allowing a people to keep their artifacts. The mudslide preserved wood and fibers, including drop spindles, thigh spindles, and weaving looms. I vaguely remember looking at the looms during visits to the museum, at the time I was more interested in the replica longhouse and the sacred feeling standing inside of it.

After high school I started attending the University of Washington in Seattle and had many adventures in college and awesome summer jobs at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA. I still haven't finished my undergrad degree but I view my partial college education as very important. I do wish that I had known how my love for yarn would influence me now. If I had known then I would have chosen to study fiber processing. I would love to learn the technical side of commercial mill production. Instead I studied Environmental Engineering, a little Microbiology, and then found an interdisciplinary environmental studies program.

Even though I couldn't knit correctly I got a job in a small LYS (Local Yarn Store) when I was about 23-24 and my boss took pity on me and taught me how to purl correctly. I can't remember how I was doing it wrong before and I ended up creating my own weird way of creating tension with my thumb for purl stitches. Apparently it's very unique and interesting, famous knitters have even told me so. I got married and moved to Redmond, just east of Seattle, and started to raise a family.

My mother moved back to my hometown of Nome, Alaska and I started to visit her every summer after I had my first child. It's very important to me that my children have a connection to the tundra, the berries, the fish, and the people. At first during my visits home, my aunt and I would get excited if we saw a lone bull musk ox in a valley several miles out of town. Then the herds of musk ox started to learn that they were safer having their calves closer to town. One spring my mom called me, excited to have found qiviut (kee-vee-ute) on the tundra while picking sura. Qiviut is the very fine and warm undercoat of the musk ox and in yarn form it's worth about $90 an ounce. My mom had gathered about 10 pounds that first spring and summer.

I had heard about qiviut before and wasn't interested until my mom started gathering it. I suddenly wanted to learn how to spin it myself. The Puget Sound area is very supportive of fiber arts and I started attending fiber festivals hoping to buy a spinning wheel. I think my first drop spindle was purchased at the spring fair at the Puyallup fairgrounds. The first year that I went to Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival (OFFF) I was pregnant with my son and the hormones did not mix well with the frustration of trying to learn how to move your feet and hands at the same time. I ended up buying a Louet S17 kit because it was cheap and there was no sales tax in Oregon. Looking back it wasn't the best time in life to start a new hobby and having a newborn to care for did keep me from learning right away. I don't really remember how I learned since I didn't have any friends that knew how to spin. By the time that I took an introduction to spinning class at the Weaving Works in Seattle I already had the basics down.

I was visiting a friend named Nicole from Neah Bay and her mother Lawanda was watching me knit a cowl with qiviut yarn. I had just finished taking a qiviut processing class in Nome with my mom and the yarn and pattern were part of the class. Lawanda started asking me questions and I told her about the yarn and how I was learning how to spin so that I could make my own qiviut yarn. She asked if I've ever heard of Judith MacKenzie, a world-famous spinning instructor with books and DVDs published. I knew that she lived in Forks and hoped that I could somehow take a class with her or meet her somewhere. Lawanda told me about attending Judith's birthday party and how she knows her not as a spinner but as a friend. A week or so later I had a banquet ticket to the Madrona Fiber Arts retreat and at the end I saw Judith talking with The Yarn Harlot, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. With huge stars in my eyes I had an excuse to introduce myself and told Judith about talking with Lawanda. I gushed to Judith about my excitement about being near such famous people and she told me that they are just normal regular people.

Judith offered to help me with spinning and gave me her email address, but I was not confident with my spinning skills and didn't contact her until several months later. Sometimes I go through dry spells with hobbies and there was some kind of roadblock with spinning that I didn't realize was happening until I took a class that showed me what the roadblock was. Spinning worsted had been hurting my hands because I was clamping down on the fiber with both hands. My friend Lynda and I took a class together at OFFF last fall and I fell in love with the woolen technique of spinning. Woolens taught me that I can let go of the fiber mass, that there is an organic, intuitive, abstract movement within spinning that occurs without much control or work on my part. The fiber moves on its own, grabbing itself, flowing out of my hands. Suddenly spinning was fun again.

Mary is my best friend from high school and her parents live in Neah Bay. A year or more ago her mom, Lila, bought a second-hand Ashford Traveller. When she was a child her mother would spin yarn for knitting sweaters and she would help treadle the wheel with her hands while her mother spun. Spinning wheel mechanics were still foreign to me the first time that I saw her wheel and I also felt like I didn't know enough myself to teach her how to spin. The next time I saw her wheel I was able to tighten up some screws and bolts and figure out what little pieces were missing. I got to know Judith and we were talking about Canoe Journeys, she told me that she attended one year and her and her friend were so happy to see this revival in tradition and culture - she almost had tears of joy in her eyes. We talked about the dog blankets in Neah Bay a few times and she said she would like to see the Makah weaving them again. I think the blankets are a huge important part of regalia and potlatches and economy. The combination of a family friend's desire to learn to spin, travelling the American Southwest and seeing Navajo looms in person last summer, and hearing a spinning expert reinforce that the blankets can come back created an idea and a passion in me to help bring spinning back to the Makah.

And this is where this project comes full circle to me. Anything dog related has been my pet peeve and I believe it is because my parents had a husky that had a litter of pups when I was 5-6 months old. There are pictures of me next to the puppies and they must have climbed on me and licked me. I've always hated any by-products of dogs... but at the same time it's not that I hate dogs themselves, I've always been able to tolerate them because they are a part of life. And even with this deep, ingrained loathing of dogs that is a part of MY fiber and being, I will love the idea of spinning dog fiber because it's important and the work is greater than my history. Judith said that she thinks it will take years to bring weaving dog fiber back, and I'm okay with that because it will mean slowly getting used to working with dogs and dog fiber.

The reason why this blog is called Native Twist is because I have other fiber-related dreams. I would love to see a mini-mill in Nome to process Alaskan qiviut and create jobs and a much-desired product. I would love to own a weaving studio and serve tea and provide a place to work and meet with friends. I love the idea of teaching anyone that wants to learn how to work with yarn. I am open to combining anything fiber-related with anything Native American-related.

Judith, Lynda, and I have taught one class in Neah Bay and I will write about that soon. I'm excited for what lies ahead in this journey and thank you for joining me.