Sarah Jane Humke

The life of a traveling, reading, writing, spining and knitting shepherdess.

Masham Sheep Fair Weekend September 30, 2010

This past weekend I once again ventured North.  On Thursday I left the Chapel in the morning and headed towards the Yorkshire Dales once again.  I wanted to visit a few places that I hadn’t been able to see the last couple of times that I had been in that neighborhood.  The drive up isn’t too hard, it’s mostly M1 or A1 then a bit on the A684.

First I went to the Wensleydale Longwool Sheepshop just outside of Leyburn.  The road to the shop is well-marked from the main road and I had no trouble finding it.  It’s down a long, single-lane road that was nearly coated in pheasants out catching a few rays of sunshine.  I didn’t take any photos of the shop as the light failed as soon as I got there, but it does look much as it appears on their website.  The Wensleydale yarns end-up with a lovely sheen, much like the sheep themselves.  I did see a few of the sheep in a field, but it was too difficult to get the car stopped in a safe way in order to photograph them.

A horn key chain that I picked up.

I then went on to Hawes, which I had stopped at with Barbro and Malin on the way to Scotland.  I had kicked myself that I hadn’t gotten a little shallow pot or mug from the potter across the street from the ropemaker’s workshop as they had lovely rams on them.  So, I got a little shallow pot to put odds and ends into as well as stopping in at the ropemaker’s and getting a small present for the neighbors helping to keep an eye on Mal at home.

The rams head is the symbol for the area.

I then headed East towards Newcastle and Sunderland.  I reached Sunderland easily enough and found the cafe where I was going to be meeting my friend Veronica as well as the lovely Suzanne from Knit Camp.  The knitting group was quite friendly and the cafe that it was held in served quite tasty and reasonably priced food.

After the knitting group, Veronica rode with me back to her home in Northumberland.  It’s a fair trek, but it was an easy drive since there was no-one else about at that point.  I was introduced to her kitty and given the grand tour.  She lives in a pretty old village, though in a practically brand-new house.  On my bed, there was a little pile of treats.

Yep! Reeses Pieces baby! Aren't I a lucky houseguest?!?!

The next day I got-up with V and drove into the suburbs of Newcastle.  She got me sorted for the Metro and she went off to work and I went off exploring.  First up was the Bill Quay Community Farm.  It is a city farm plopped between the river and quite a lot of houses.  I didn’t have any trouble finding it and had a good wander around.  They didn’t have a lot of different breeds of sheep there, some Jacobs and Hebridean but the whole farm was charming with lots of sculpture and imaginative reusing of materials.

This Jacob Ram just wanted to get his picture taken...

and why not? Totally photogenic!

Flying pigs

Does this statue remind anyone else of Season 2 of True Blood?

I then went into the city proper where I hunted down The Knit Studio in the centre of Newcastle.  Anyone traveling to Newcastle really should hunt down this shop if, for nothing else, to know what knitting stores can be in this country.  Anne Makepeace, the owner of the store, has found an amazing space in the 13th century Blackfriars Priory building.  Since it is on the 2nd floor (1st to folks in the UK) it has high ceilings and nice tall windows and plenty of space! There are 2 comfortable couches as well as a large table to sit at and tons of beautiful antique display cabinets full of yarns, notions, kits and books.

(I do have photos of the shop, I just can’t get them off my phone right now.  Gotta love technology!)

Rainbow colored lace? How could I resist?!

After hanging out a bit there and having lunch in Newcastle’s Chinatown, I wandered back to my Metro stop.  There I went to Fenwick’s, which is a department store chain in the Northern part of the country.  It is really a lovely store, reminding me greatly of Marshall Fields before it was bought by Macy’s.  It has a nice little haberdashery department, though the yarn selection was really lacking.  However, it did have a fun food hall where they did sell assorted American foods and candies.  I then took the Metro back to the area where V is working currently.  I have to say, the Metro was quite nice to deal with.  It was clean, not too crowded (unlike London) and was very much on time.  Highly suggest using it.  Anyway, we drove back out into the wilds (it does, in fact, feel very much like you are driving off into a very wild place in this neck of the woods!) where I finally got to meet Veronica’s partner and we all went off to a neighboring village to compete in a village hall quiz.  We were doing quite well as a team, at one point we were even in first place, until we got to the Northumberland questions.  Sigh.  I got out my knitting….  However, it was a fun evening and I was quite excited by the geography section of the quiz as it had US states on it!!!  Of course I got them all correct:-)  (My Grandmother would turn in her grave if I hadn’t!!!!)

Saturday we got up fairly early and took off North.  We were headed towards St. Abbs in Scotland, home of the lovely Woolfish.  I’ve met lovely Louise at a number of yarny events, most recently the iKnit weekender.  She always has lovely stuff for sale and I was excited to go to her knitting group, which is held in her HUGE conservatory of her house.  The ladies there were lovely and the scones were to die for!!!  We then walked down the hill to the shop and had a good nose around, buying a few things. One of the things that I thought was most interesting was how they displayed this huge amount of yarn… in the fireplace.  Their shop is in the old smithy’s and thus there is a huge fireplace full of a wool and silk chunky yarn!  It’s great!  Once again, would totally suggest stopping by the shop if you are in the area.

The yarny fireplace

Seriously, it goes WAY up!

Totally makes me look at the warming possibilities of a fireplace in a new light!

I got a few skeins of that luscious bulky chimney yarn as well as a few tiny little balls of sock yarn.

We then took a turn down to the village of St Abbs, which is charming.  It’s an old fishing village and the North Sea is very much in play..

St Abbs

After nearly getting soaked we got back in the car and headed South again, ending up in Alnwick.  Alnwick is a charming village with a fair number of businesses and, quite possibly, the largest used bookstore that I have ever been in.  It’s called Barter Books and it takes up the majority of a largish train station.  It has a huge non-fiction section, though it’s craft books were thin on the ground.  However, because of its size, it was open and easy to navigate, none of the claustrophobic rat-packiness that you quite often find in used book stores.  Once again, would strongly suggest checking it out if you are in the area.

Our way home got a tad interesting when I missed a turn, and the GPS didn’t mind..

We saw this handsome man and wondered about his halter.  Is this for marking the ewes that he has bred?

The next day was the Masham Sheep Fair.  V’s local spinning guild had a coach that was going for the day which we met in a nearby village.  All of the people on it were quite nice and it was relaxing to get to actually ride through the Yorkshire Dales for once, rather than driving!  We arrived in Masham around midday and we immediately jumped into the fray.  The first port of call was the fleece sale.  Both V and I looked over the fleece and walked away empty-handed.  The selection looked throughly picked-over and though there were a few interesting breeds left represented, they were in such a condition that we passed on them.

We then went over to watch the sheep show, which was amusing and educational at the same time.  Anytime that you get to see sheep dancing…..

After the dancing sheep we went and visited the craft stalls and judging area.  This was held in the Masham Town Hall and thus had nice bathrooms.  I got a few things here including some Swaledale aran-weight yarn and some Falkland tops.

Sorry about the photo, I tried to get a little bit out of the middle and had a yarn prolapse!

Falkland Tops

Then it was time for the sheep!

There were children showing sheep (which is always cute!)

There were children in a parade wearing a sheep, or to be more precise, a golden fleece.

In general, there were sheep everywhere!  I then got a few sheepy items at various stalls that were raising money for various good things…

A Sheepy tea towel.

A Sheepy mug.

A Black Sheep Brewery Masham Sheep Fair t-shirt.

Some sheepy (and cow-y) postcards.

And I stopped in at the guild stands as well and got this batch of Cheviot roving.

There weren’t just sheep at the Fair, there were also dancers!  Some of them with flowers on their heads!

Morris Dancers getting down.

Belly Dancers in Town Square.

Belly Dancers in Town Square.

Back at V’s house, we set to sorting her fleeces out on her deck.  She has the ability to find fleeces far and wide thus had quite a backlog of fleeces awaiting skirting, sorting and logging into her fleece logs.  By bedtime we were both smelling even more sheepy, but had gotten a fair number of fleeces squared away.

It was a great weekend and I saw a lot.  I’m slowly getting it through my head that this is a small country thus their animal shows are small as well.  The atmosphere of the Fair felt a lot like the county fair back home, only smaller and, well, more British:-)  If you are up in that area of the country when the fair is going on, I would strongly suggest taking a day and checking it out.


What I’ve been doing lately September 21, 2010

I’ve had a ton of people asking me what I’ve been doing since KC.  The week after KC I spent in Shetland with the J&S group.  I will blog about it, but I have a lot to write (and until recently, hadn’t felt like writing all that much!)  However, what I have spent a lot of time doing is spinning.  For whatever reason, I get back from KC and Shetland and instead of the spirit moving me to knit, it moved me to spin.  First off, I plied a bunch of the samples that I had made at KC and Knit Nation (which I will also write about!) I just Navajo plied them since they were already a mix of stuff and I plan on using the resulting odd yarn in one of my scrapghans.  I always make sure that there is at least a little bit of handspun in each one that I make.

Then I plied two bobbins of singles that I had spun (ah-hum) last winter from a fleece that I had gotten at Rhinebeck in 2008.  Now, here’s the ironic part of all of this.  I took two classes on how to spin laceweight this summer.  One at KN and one on Shetland.  When I plied these 2 singles that I had spun last year they came out about as fine at the J&S laceweight.  Doh!  However, I can now spin even finer, so will definitely be spinning more for lace!

Barbro gave both Malin and I a gift of “Wild Fibre Blends”, which is a bag full of bits of silk, wool, sparklies, all sorts of stuff.  You are supposed to card it into something to give you a “wild” yarn.  It’s not something that I would have normally gotten for myself, so I’m glad that Barbro gave it to me as I had a lot of fun mixing this with some dark Corridale.  It made a fun batt which made this:

I also had a batt and a half from Fyberspates.  The half was left over from my class at KN and the whole one I purchased over a year ago at the Ravelry Day in Coventry.  I spun these both up and Navajo plied them as well.

Then I got into a super sparkle batt that I had gotten at Woolfest in 2009.  I learned a couple of important lessons with this one.  First off, a good scale is really valuable when spinning.  Second, do make a test strand when you are plying.  I had decided that this was going to be a 2 ply, so I had weighed the batt and divided it into 2 equal parts which I then spun-up.  So far, so good.  I then plied the singles making a nice enough yarn, but not what I had been aiming for precisely.  I should have just stopped there, and tried something else, but I was fully invested in the path that I had started down.  So I kept pressing on, plying and plying until I got to the end of one of the bobbins.  There was still a few meters on the other one, so I decided to just Navajo ply it to be done with it.  Imagine my dismay when I realized that the Navajo plying was giving me exactly what I wanted!  Doh!  I think that this is definitely one of those “live and learn” moments!

I also did something that I’m pretty sure is naughty.  I was trying to knit a shawl with the sushi roll that I dyed at KC in Jon‘s class and I was getting really annoyed with the little bumps caused by the unraveling of already knitted yarn.  So, I yanked the whole thing out and skeined it and then washed it and weighted it to pull out the ridges.  I don’t think that doing that in itself is all that bad, but the fact that I didn’t knit it straight from the roll makes me feel a bit guilty.  However, it made some really pretty yarn I think!

The Sushi Roll photo I took at Camp

The Sushi Roll Skeined...

...and in all it's bouncy glory.

The other thing that I have been doing is reading, a lot.  I got into the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon which starts off in Scotland and kicks around a lot, but is essentially a Scottish story.  I had heard about it from my German roommates while at KC and decided to look into it.  Well, I’m now on book 5 of the series and given that these bad boys usually run well over 1000 pages… well yeah, it is a bit of a guilty pleasure:-)

*I edited this post to change the title a bit as I realized belatedly that I had already used that one.  Opps!


In Which I finally blog about Knit Camp September 18, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sarah Jane Humke @ 9:52 am
Tags: , ,

I have sat down to write this post at least a dozen times.  At first I was going to edit carefully and only talk about the good stuff that happened at camp.  But I couldn’t do that when my stomach was still feeling like I was going to throw-up whenever I thought too much about it.  It’s very unnatural for me to, for lack of a better term, air dirty laundry in public, but I don’t feel as though I can keep silent any longer as more and more comes out into the open about the lies that the organizer spread.

Last year I went to the Rav day in Coventry with a friend of mine.  We enjoyed it and I didn’t think that it seemed all that much more disorganized than knitting events that I had been to in the US.  Other than the horrid weather, I thought (as an attendee) that it was a pretty cool day.  After that day, there was mention of Knit Camp on the Rav boards and I thought that it sounded really cool.  I joined the Rav group to get updates about what was happening and got more excited as the tutors were added and more fun things announced.  I sent the link out to friends of mine all over the world and some of them made plans to join me in going to Knit Camp.  When the registration went live I was one of the first people to sign-up and I was fully booked with 7 classes, self-catering accommodation and an excursion.  Over the next few months I ran into the organizer a couple of times, once at the opening of her store and once at Wonderwool Wales.  Both times I told her that I would be more than glad to help out before the event stuffing envelopes or whatever needed doing.

About a month before the event the organizer contacted me and asked if I would be willing to take over the organization of the volunteers as the person that was doing that was a bit overloaded with rescheduling folks from tutors who had pulled-out.  I said sure and also volunteered for handling questions on Rav as there seemed to be a lot of them that weren’t getting answered.  I made sure that the organizer was completely aware that I was fully booked for classes and that I didn’t really want to pull out of them at this point as well as the fact that I wouldn’t be able to be up there much before the day that the event started as I was having friends fly in that were driving-up with me. The organizer said that they would work around that and then offered to refund my accommodation and any excursions that I went on in return for my helping to chaperone them.

At first it went ok.  I enjoyed helping people answering questions on the boards.  The organizer had never seemed to have time to do this so there were a lot of them.  However, as time went on a few cracks started to show.  It got harder and harder to get questions answered from the organizer via e-mail, which I just put down to the fact that she was getting busier as it got closer and closer to the event.  I kept hearing about things that I thought that would have already been done quite some time ago still not being done.  The organizer was always reassuring that she would get to it them next day.  My accommodation and excursion refund were always the same as well…tomorrow.  I started getting panicked e-mails and calls from vendors who didn’t know if they had a booth or not and they were worried about the marketplace taking place at all.

However, things were progressing and I thought that maybe she was one of those folks who just procrastinated until the last-minute then went on a massive spree of work.  The organizer went on a couple of times about the travesty that was the Scottish Wool Centre, but truthfully I didn’t pay much attention about it until she said that she and one of the other folks doing the bulk of the organization would be there for a day right before the event and would be out of reach of cell phones and internet.  This didn’t seem like such a good idea to me but I figured that she must have had some sort of back-up contact for while she was out of reach.

On the Saturday before the event, I had gone out with my house guests to pick-up some last-minute travel bits and to show them a bit of the area of England that we live in.  I came back to an e-mail from the organizer saying that one of the tutors and another person supposed to be at Knit Camp were being detained by immigration because their work permits weren’t in-hand.  Upon reading this, I know I turned green because my husband took one look at me and asked what was wrong.  I actually had to put my head between my knees for a few moments so that I wouldn’t throw-up.  Now I moved to this country about 19 months ago.  Anyone who has had a read through my blog will know that I am pretty thorough person when it comes to paperwork.  I moved here with 4 cats and 2 dogs, which by the time that we got here was well over a ream’s worth of papers and about 9 months of slogging through US, UK and EU bureaucracy   The paperwork for the human members of our family was dealt with by the hubby’s workplace and was all taken care of well in advance of us coming here.  I would never have agreed to come otherwise.  What happened to those ladies was the thing that haunted my dreams as I prepared to move here, and here it was actually happening to them.  Now, I will be very honest here.  I had never even thought about the work permits for a couple of reasons.  First off, I didn’t know that they were needed.  I had never heard anyone talk about them before when it came to events like this.  Second off, if something like this was needed, then I would have assumed that they had been taken care of a long time ago!!!!

By this point, I had learned who the back-up contact was for the organizer… me.  To say that I was grossly unprepared for this would be an understatement.  I hadn’t even been told that it was going to happen, and here I was fielding questions from folks all over the world, freaked-out to the max, with precious little idea of what the hell was actually going on.  I knew that there were tons of tutors that were in transit to the event at that moment, but I didn’t know who exactly was already in the UK and who was still to leave.  I was getting e-mails from tutors wondering if there was going to be someone to pick them up at the airport or train station and all I could do was tell them what I knew which was, “I don’t know,” and to give them my personal phone number in case someone wasn’t there.

The next day my friends and I were set to leave for Scotland.  We weren’t going straight to Stirling as we had planned on seeing some of the Yorkshire Dells and staying at an inn about an hour from Edinburgh.  We had a good day, though it was hard for me to enjoy things as much as I should have as I was worried sick about what was going on in my absence.  However, I hadn’t gotten any panicked text messages or anything, so I kept on.  When we got to the inn, we found that the wi-fi didn’t work with my computer for some reason, so I was unable to check my e-mail.  I texted a few people to see if everything was ok and got very little information in return.

The next day, we drove to Stirling.  I had a volunteer meeting at noon and had precious little time to prepare for it.  There was no organizer in sight as she was off trying to sort out the work permits problem.  The place was chaotic and panicked and it didn’t seem a good start at all.  I had my meeting and went and checked-in to my accommodation and then tried to help set the chaos right.  That is more or less what I did for the rest of the week.  I spent most of my time at camp trying to answer people’s questions and helping the tutors, who were all very professional despite the insanity that swirled around them.  I got really good at saying sorry.  Sorry for not knowing the answer to the questions, sorry for tutors not having their supplies or in some instances, classrooms, sorry for not knowing what the hell was going on.  I watched good people, people who had done their part of the organization of Knit Camp pretty much flawlessly take angry comment after angry comment about something that they had no hand in whatsoever with grace and good humor even though it was clear that they really wanted to have a good cry.  I consoled these people and others after they were publicly “fired” for not having the right attitude.  I watched the people who had volunteered to help go through much, much more than folks ever should have gone through.  I went to most of my classes, but didn’t get much from most of them because I was either too stressed to really learn, or I was in and out, dealing with problems.  And I tried to do all of this with a smile.  I would go back to the flat that I was sharing with one of my friends and 5 other lovely ladies and my face would hurt from smiling so much and I was shaking from all of the stress.  I lost a ton of weight at Knit Camp between the running around the convoluted Cotrell building and the fact that my stomach was in so many knots that I could usually not eat all that much.

I hadn’t known that when I left the house on Sunday that I was never going to be able to check the Knit Camp e-mail again.  To anyone who e-mailed me after Sunday morning, I am sincerely sorry, but I never received it.  When I got to Stirling, the first bit was so chaotic for me, I was scarcely able to tell which way was up at any given moment.  I didn’t have time to check the internet and didn’t know how to get onto it.  Except for the one post that I made on Ravelry at one of the tutors insistence, I was completely off the internet for several days.  When I finally had a few seconds in which to check my Knit Camp e-mail, I couldn’t get to it.  According to the message that kept appearing when I was trying to log-in, someone was trying to hack into the account and it was automatically shut down.  I was never able to access it again.

There were a few bright spots; I’m not going to say that it was entirely horrible because it wasn’t.   I had a blast at the pub quiz acting as the MC.  I had been looking forward to that night a lot and it more than lived-up to my expectations.  I met an awesome relative that I hadn’t seen since I was too young to remember her (What are the odds?!!?).  I met a TON of really cool people from all over the world who managed to still have fun in spite of the problems.  My roommates in the flat were amazing and so generous with the crazy girl who came back in every night practically vibrating from caffeine and tension.  I saw and heard about tons of impromptu knitting lessons where someone would say, “I’d love to learn how to do that but it looks so hard…” and another person would pop up and say, “Oh, that’s easy!  Let me show you!”  I finally got to sit in the jump-seat of a tour bus (I know, odd small goals…) and I completely got over any shyness that I may have had hanging about (you can stop laughing now, I’m serious!).

I owe a HUGE thank you to my friend who more or less kept me sane through the whole thing.  She would come along every few hours and ask when was the last time I ate/drank/sat down was and generally the answer was, “the last time I talked to you,” at which point she would hand me a snack/drink/force me into a chair and stand over me until I did as she ordered.  She listened to me babble in double speed and helped me sort things out.  She would keep me in check of the time and saved me a seat whenever I was in need of one.  She literally led me around the blasted Cotrell building by the arm until I had finally gotten the layout of it.  She was a blonde angel and I owe her big-time.

Folks on the trip that I took to Shetland after Knit Camp asked if I would ever do it again.  I don’t remember what my answer was (I was still rather hyped-up and would remain so for a few more days to come) but I know the answer now.  I would love to do it again, so long as it is with someone who has done at least a few well-received events in the past.  And I would question both vendors and tutors from their previous events to make sure that nothing fishy had gone on.  If it was something that had never been done before, I would only be involved if I was in it from the beginning and had more of a say in what was happening.

I’m appalled at both what has happened since Knit Camp and the things that I have learned about previous events/businesses that the organizer had been involved with.  Had I known even a small amount of it prior to becoming involved, I probably wouldn’t have.  Some folks may say that there was a lot of stuff over on the “other” Knit Camp board about this stuff, as well as in other threads.  I can honestly say that I didn’t realize that these threads/groups existed until I was calming down a very freaked-out vendor while at Knit Nation and she kept talking about things on the Knit Camp group, which I had just checked on my iPhone.  I had no idea what she was talking about and asked her exactly where she had read these things, and that is when I learned that there even was another group.  Doh.

Given that I am also in the refund-less and zoodie-less camp, I feel that it is right to post this.  I know that many of the tutors signed contracts that gagged them from saying anything, but I never did.  Also, the organizer, nor any of the groups or companies that she was the head of, ever employed me.  I don’t feel that I owe any allegiance to anybody except for the folks that attended the camp either in the capacity of camper, tutor or volunteer.  These folks are the reason that all of us that were in the trenches stayed, not the organizer.  I really hope that everyone gets paid/refunded, though I am not terribly optimistic about this.  I’m saddened and sickened by the thought of how much money is owed to various people and organizations.  I really hope that at the very least the organizer is not able to ever set-up another company, at least not until everybody effected financially has been paid, with interest.

Lastly, I would like to say thank you to all of the tutors.  Y’all are made of awesome sauce, on so many levels.