Making & Motherhood

By Rachel Bingham Kessler

Working with fiber and caring for a little one go hand in hand quite nicely. One year ago, as I began my 3rd trimester with an ever increasing busy baby growing inside me and a belly that kept lowering until finally walking felt like the biggest chore, I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen to my fiber work and where it would go once our son was born.

In what I thought was my last month carrying him around, often one hand under my belly and wanting to mow anyone down in sight who was in my way and didn’t have an ice-cream cone for me, with my husband’s help, I made it to our state’s fiber fair to teach a class and load up on fleece. The Maine Fiber Frolic is Maine’s premier fiber festival held in early June at the Windsor Fair Grounds. For 15 years It’s been my secret joy driving the back roads to soak up Maine springing all around and spending the whole day at the frolic to wander as I please.

Over the last two years, I had the pleasure of teaching natural dye classes. Last year I was one month away from my due date and after finishing up a sold out class and forgoing a rest for hunting out my fleeces and picking up my indigo seedlings, I was over-heated, hungry, exhausted, and I’m sure looked and sounded like a grizzly bear. My husband was the smart one to have been napping in the shade while my class took place so he’d be ready to drive us home when all was said and done.

Four days later, not feeling much better, but stubborn and determined as hell, I set out to dye 10 lbs of handspun yarn to get it ready for my shop so I wouldn’t have to think about it once the baby arrived. I pulled out half my yarns from their cold soak and got several skeins of Icelandic and Shetland dyed up in beautiful bright pastels. Greens, pinks, purples, and oranges. They looked like sherbet flavors. I added more yarns to my remaining baths of indigo, cochineal, goldenrod, lichen, onion skins, rosehips, and jewelweed. That jewelweed was left over from the summer before when we collected it at Medomak for my foraging class. It kept beautifully in a bucket in my studio for an entire year with out molding.

I went to bed beyond exhausted but incredibly anxious, obsessing about all that was yet to be done. The next morning at 6am a zipping pain woke me with a start and my waters broke all around the house in dramatic movie-style fashion and our lives changed forever. Rónán arrived Sunday morning, 3 weeks and 3 days early. Yarns left in pots long forgotten about.

Making with a baby by my side has helped me propel into my creative space with less thought of preciousness and more thought for planning. More thought for spending time with any given material and less time for agonizing about not reaching my own expectations for anything finished. The three of us-me, baby, and fiber-all flow together and around each other like seaweed, shells, and the tide. He naps, I hang out in my fiber studio rearranging books, poking at lichens under a microscope, ironing fabric for a new tunic. He’s up, I put him in his jumper seat and card away until he gets hungry. I knit while he plays at my feet. Sometimes it’s for 1 minute and others it’s for a glorious 10 minutes.

It has been a wonder for me to witness him discover colors and textures. Being 10.5 months now, Rónán is busy as ever and also seems to have a keen eye and pointer finger for tiny details. A button, zipper, anything small and shiny, he never lets it pass his way with out checking it out with his tiny finger. The piles of fluffy fleece and spun yarns I have tucked in the corner of our living room inside a wicker basket–he finds joy in making his way to that spot, standing up, pulling out yarns and tiny fistfuls of fleece to wave it the air with his ear piercing war cry of joy. He inspects the basket with his tiny finger and starts to try and reach for the wheel, which he never does, but he never stops trying. Though once he got hold of the drive band which is just a long piece of cooking twine and he looked so proud.

I no longer set quotas for myself but instead look back on the week or the month and realize, oh! I still managed to spin 3 fleeces in 3 months. And dye them. And no one fell apart or lost sleep or forgot to eat. It really is working. And I’m filled with more zeal than ever for digging my hands in fleece, thankful for quite evenings of spinning and sunny afternoons of dyeing. All the while going with this little guy’s ebb and flow of sleep, eat, play, sleep.

Update from Dana

Once a month, we’ll be updating the blog with a post from one of the retreat instructors.  This month’s post is from Dana who will be teaching a 4-Harness Weaving Intensive at camp this summer.  Here’s what she’s been up to:

I was a year and 5 months overdue to weave my best friend Evie the table runner she had asked for as her wedding present. The reason for the delay was that I had a five-project warp on my loom for quiet a while, and the weaver’s code is that you must finish what’s on the loom before you begin another project. No cutting allowed. So, I was stuck having to finish other things before I could tackle her request.

Fortunately, I had decided to create a table runner that needed more planning that I could do off-loom. I wanted to make her and her new husband a piece with lots of intention and process behind it. In 2011, I was the apprentice for a weaver in South Portland who was a master in Ikat and dip-dyeing. I learned about resist dye and wove a three-panel piece in weft Ikat. I had never done what I did for Evie’s runner– I wanted to dye both the warp and weft, creating a wave in the design. This being the first time, I wasn’t quite sure how to do it, (which is why there are more stripes than waves) but I was determined to make this meaningful, beautiful, and most importantly, something Evie would be proud to have in her favorite dining room space.
I went to PortFiber (thanks, Casey!) and bought 2-100% silk Habu Textile cones of yarn and took to the dye kitchen. I wound off the cone into a skein and dipped 3/4ths of the skein into a green colorway and the other bit into a blue colorway, leaving a bit of white for speckles in the weave. What I should have done was either wound the weft skein the width of the table runner (about 6-7″) so that the color change would be more fluid rather than stripe-y, or dipped the skeins in differently. There’s a lot of math to it, something I’m working on!
That said, I’m happy with the outcome of the table runner. I loved weaving it; I was always eager to get to different sections of the warp to see how the weft would interact with it. I love the sections that have a bit of white static in the warp, as well as the depth and richness of color. After I sent the table runner to Evie, she called me (I wasn’t available to answer), then left a series of texts messages of love of our friendship. That woven piece meant so much to her and she loved it so much that she’s repainting her dining room to match.

Making In Maine

By Casey

Hello Medomak Fiber Friends!

We instructors decided it might be nice to write monthly to let you all know what’s going on in our daily lives here in New England!  December is my month, so here’s the scoop:

The daily hustle and bustle over at PortFiber is becoming more hustle-y and bustle-y. ‘Tis the season. A small business owner’s work is never done, which is kind of part of its appeal. I get to wear many hats, but my favorite hat is my dye splattered one. I don’t actually have a hat that I wear in the dye kitchen, but I really should invest in an apron. (I digress.) I love getting back there and playing with color, or processing a fleece. I just recently started offering small batches of washed fleece or carded fleece from a variety of farms throughout Maine. It’s called the Maine Fiber Club and there’s a new Maine wool offering each month. For December, I’m offering Gotland locks or batts. Silky grey locks, so beautiful.

Saturdays in the shop have been busy, busy, busy with classes galore. I started teaching the Spinning 101 class again and I had five new students! I love watching new spinners create yarn. I’m giddy with excitement when they pull their first skein off a niddy noddy! EEP! It’s so great.

Other classes that have started up include tapestry, 4-harness weaving, and last month, a ginormous group of felters were in to felt away the afternoon, under the patient instruction of fellow Medomak fiber retreat alum, Kathleen Gerdes. It’s quite satisfying to walk around the shop when there is so much creative activity going on. I’m so grateful to be able to be doing what I am doing.  If you want to following shop happenings, check out PortFiber on Instagram or on Facebook.

Huge group of felters in the shop!

In my personal creative life, I’ve been knitting, spinning, and weaving for the holidays. I finished a pair of handspun, handknit socks and cast on for another pair. And I’ve been weaving a set of log cabin dishtowels on a rigid heddle loom for some newly wed friends. I’m hoping to work through some of my stash fiber and yarn this winter. I’ve got socks on my brain, which you will find reflected in some of the classes I’ll be teaching at camp this year!

Handwoven dish towels in progress. Plus Jackson, my doggie 🙂

I recently started taking Swing dance lessons, too. I took an 8-week six-count swing class, which was a blast. And now I’m taking a beginning Charleston class. It’s through The Portland Swing Project, a group in town that teaches lessons and hosts social swing nights to live music. So much fun! The class is attended by 40-50 students at a time and we switch partners every couple of minutes. It’s a blast and a great way for me to avoid being a complete hermit this winter.

I’m looking forward to spending some time with my family this week. Christmas time is a nice time to reconnect, eat lots of food, and relax! I hope you all have had a nice December! Please stay in touch and let me know if you have any questions about this year’s retreat.

In Fiber,



2014 Registration is Up!

Hi Fiber Friends!

Man, the time has just flown since arriving back to real life after this year’s retreat.  The air is cool in Portland today and the sun is shining.  I am loving this cooler weather and the smell of the leaves and the chance to start wearing warm, wooly things!

Good news for those of you who are ready to register for next year…the registration form is now up!  Classes and field trips have not yet been announced, but they are sure to be excellent.  Did you know the 2014 retreat will be our tenth year?!  And did you also know that If you send in your registration and deposit before December 31st, you will save $100?!

Though autumn is a welcome change, it’s not too early to start thinking about next summer!  Click on the Tuition & Registration tab and get to filling out that form!  Looking forward to seeing you all next July!

Yours in Fiber,


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