Great Scot! It’s Tartans and Plaids!

“I’ll take Category 1 for $400,” and answers in the the form of a question were things you would have heard during Mary Stichter’s interactive Jeopardy-style program on tartans and plaids. The friendly competition resulted in chocolates for correct answers and a wealth of information for those attending the April meeting.

Did you know:

All tartans are plaids, but not all plaids are tartans.

Tartans are always woven in twill with the same stripes repeated in the warp and the weft. Traditional tartans were made of wool. The stripes in plaids may vary in pattern, color and size.

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Iowa has an official state tartan.

A recent Guild project was weaving the Iowa Tartan on a guild loom, so some Guild members have woven their own Iowa Tartans!


The official Iowa Tartan was approved by the House and Senate on Tartan Day (April 6) 2004.

You can design your own tartan.

Here are links to sites that will help you:

Maybe you’d prefer to design a plaid.

Here is a link for for a tool to help you:

Some fun facts:

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Thanks, Mary, for the entertaining and informative program. Thanks also to Karla Stille for sharing how she designs plaids using algebra and transparent overlays.

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Spring Open House and Sale


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Modified Rep and Waffle Weave Class

Learning about weave structures, selecting yarns, planning designs, warping, and weaving all packed into one weekend!

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Upcycling and Repurposing with Fiber Arts

What do you do with clothing and other fabric items you no longer need? If you are an average American, those items could amount to seventy or eighty pounds per year! Our March program presenters shared ways we can repurpose and upcycle textiles in imaginative ways.

Linda Miller utilizes a variety of fabrics for her woven rugs including old chenille bedspreads, used bath towels, blankets, and denim jeans. She prepares the fabric by tearing or cutting it into strips. To determine the best width for the strips, Linda suggests twisting the fabric. A pencil-sized twist usually works well. Then she joins the strips together before weaving.

You can make rag rugs even if you do not have a loom. Other techniques include braiding, crocheting, toothbrush, and knotting. A quick Google search will result in detailed tutorials for you to try.

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Gail Murfey searches for treasures to upcycle at thrift stores and yard sales. One of her favorites finds is t-shirts. Gail demonstrated how one shirt can yield up to thirty yards of yarn.

Click here for a tutorial so you can make your own t-shirt yarn.


This yarn was made from a tie-dyed t-shirt.

Gail also keeps an eye out for wool sweaters which can be repurposed into hats, mittens, bags, pillows, scarves, and toys, to name a few. She shared some very cute accessories which had been transformed from not so attractive sweaters. Gail suggested that we look at the inside of an ugly sweater. It might actually look nicer than the right side.

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Wool sweater fabric can be felted, used as is, or the sweater can be unraveled for its yarn. Gail scored a pink cashmere sweater which she unraveled, skeined, and soaked to remove the kinks. Using her spinning wheel, she plied it with a soft gray merino wool to make three skeins of scrumptious yarn.

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Just a word of caution: beware of moths. Put unknown wool in the freezer for a few days just to be safe.


Sweater Surgery is a valuable resource for repurposing sweaters.

Gail sometimes buys items at thrift stores just for their uniques buttons and closures which can be used in other projects.

Thanks, Gail and Linda, for inspiring us to look in our closets and cupboards to find treasures of our own to repurpose and upcycle.


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Spinning Classes

Learn to spin your own yarn with a hands-on class led by experienced instructors from the Northeast Iowa Weavers and Spinners Guild. Classes for either drop spindle or spinning wheel are being offered. Sign up now by clicking on the link below.

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The Joy of Basketry

Twenty-five years ago Maribeth Woolsey thought it would be fun to make a basket, took a class, and never stopped. She shared some of her baskets with us during  our February program.


Maribeth presented the February program on basketry.

Baskets come in all shapes and sizes and are made from many different types of materials. Maribeth told us the only limit is our imagination. She has used materials as diverse as scrapbooking paper and knitted and felted wool.

A more traditional material is rattan or reed. Rattan is a variety of palm resembling  a vine. Most rattan comes from Indonesian rainforests and can be harvested sustainably.  Rattan is also used to make furniture. For basketry the reed can be cut into different shapes and sizes including flat, flat oval, half round, and round. Each type has its own function.

Some baskets are free form. Others, such as Nantucket Lightship baskets, are made over a mold which is later removed and have a wooden base.

Maribeth used a variety of techniques and materials to weave these baskets.

Many cultures have a tradition of basketry that predates the use of pottery. Coiled baskets were made by Native Americans from flexible plant materials such as grasses, pine needles and corn husks. Some were woven tightly enough to hold water.


Maribeth made this coiled basket from pine needles.

Other natural materials used to make baskets include willow, cedar bark, black ash, and grape vines. You may find plants growing in your back yard that could be used for making a basket!

Maribeth’s favorite basket is a multimedia rainstick. It was made from a cardboard tube and brads. Lead shot inside the tube falling through the brads make the sound of rain. She used a variety of materials to adorn the outside of her rainstick.


Maribeth’s favorite–a multimedia rainstick.

If these baskets have inspired you to give basketry a try, you are in luck. Maribeth is also the president of the Iowa Basket Weavers Guild which will be meeting at the Northeast Iowa Weavers and Spinners Guild in May. They are offering five classes, and members of our guild are invited to enroll. See the information below for details.



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Be Friends with Wool

If there was just one thing Ellen Sakornbut wanted us to remember about her January program it was this: RELAX! It’s just wool. It’s not rocket science or brain surgery. Don’t be intimidated by wool.

However, getting to know wool takes practice–lots of it. Ellen passed around samples of yarn and asked us to quiet our brains and use our senses to examine each one. Look at its staple length, crimp, and luster. Feel it for softness. Listen as you snap it for its strength. Is the wool’s lock structure dense, triangular, wavy, spiral, or double coated? How would you describe its hand–elastic, bouncy, drapey?

According to Ellen the fiber’s breed is not that important. More important is what can be done with the wool. She urged us to be realists and not fiber snobs. Different types of wool give us a variety of opportunities: different spinning techniques, dyeing or natural, blending, weaving, knitting, or felting. We limit what we can do if we demand a particular micron count or breed. Learn to use a fleece to its best advantage.

When choosing a fleece it is helpful to know that sheep breeds fall into four categories according to their wool’s characteristics: primitive, longwool, down, and fine. That being said, there can be huge variations in wool coming from the same breed and even in wool coming from the same sheep from year to year.

The primitive breeds are generally Northern European fat-tailed sheep. They often have a long outer coat and a short inner coat. Their long triangular locks are prone to picking up vegetable matter. Learn more about some primitive breeds in the following slideshow.

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The long wool breeds are often named after the geographical areas of their origin. Their long locks are soft, silky, lustrous, and strong. Long wools usually felt well, and the locks can be tail-spun for art yarns. Some of the well-known long wool breeds are pictured below.

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The down breeds get their name not because they are downy but because they originated in the Downs or southeast England. Down breeds are often thought of as meat sheep; however, their wool is springy, resilient, and resists felting. The crimp is often spiral. Here are some examples of down breed sheep.

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Fine wool sheep have a very small fiber diameter of twenty-five microns or less. The dense fleece is used for very soft clothing. Most fine wool breeds are either Merino or have descended from Merino. This silky soft fiber can be fragile.

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Some last words of advice about wool from Ellen:

  • Learn to be an opportunist.
  • Be open-minded.
  • Learn how to work with the wool, not against it.

Thanks, Ellen, for another educational and entertaining presentation.

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