Tuesday, April 3, 2012

I Need a New Hobby Like...Part 2

Here is the second hole to the head...and this one 'requires' an even longer explanation...but one I think some of you will find interesting.

But first -- thank you all for taking the time to share your opinion on the last post...I'll try to respond individually, but I feel better knowing many of you believed I was justified in my frustration. As to whether I'll take that next step or not, I haven't yet decided. We'll see.

Alternative title: The Generosity of Friends Part IV

Some of you have noticed and commented on the lit
tle teasers I've included in my Friday review posts showing that I started to learn to spin. I resisted this urge for a long time despite watching and admiring the spinning talents of my near and far friends. I resisted because I like to knit and felt like while I loved the idea of spinning...it would eat into my already very sparse knitting and art time. And then something changed.

Like so many animals, elk shed their winter coats in spring. It is quite animal dependent what they shed interestingly enough. Some seem to only shed guard
hairs, others a fluffy 'wool' undercoat with guard hairs, while others seem to only have that 'wool' shed which is very quick to mat into a thick mess that gets pulled off in one long piece of almost 'felt'. Once I started knitting, I wondered if that woolly part could be spun into yarn. I mean, they spin cat and dog hair so surely this would work? But I didn't pursue it. I think because I'm so busy and because, unlike now, the mortality of these special animals wasn't something I dwelt on. I obviously knew they wouldn't be around forever, but I had 'plenty of time' to see if I could save a piece of them.

I don't normally take pictures of them at that time of year cuz the shedding process is not particularly at
tractive, but this is one I dug up from my 2006 field season (that's J hard at work!). You can see in the photo below that the animal on the left is about halfway through her shed (front of her body has shed, back hasn't yet) while the animal on the right is just at the start of it.

Last spring, I took my friend Anne up to visit with the girls and they were near the end of the shed. I told Anne that I had wondered if you could d
o something with this and being the fearless one that she is, she instructed me to bring her a bag. Which I did. Shortly after that, I left for the field season and when I got back, she showed me that she had cleaned a bit up (which is a tedious process with all the guard hairs) and that Sue has spun a little. Not only is it amazingly soft and warm (Sue compares it to qiviut), it seems like it spins quite well too.

When the idea first came to mind of using this fiber, I had the thought that I'd love to get enough to make a sweater for J and a sweater for
me...so we'd always have the girls with us. While that is still a consideration, I have a different idea now for a variety of reasons I'll explain in a different post. But I figure what better way to be 'wrapped' in our girls than a blanket? A post on that will come soon when I ask for your suggestions on a pattern (I have my own ideas since it couldn't be 100% elk...but you may help with ideas of something better!). So below you can see what I am dealing with. On the left is what comes off the animal...top right are the guard-hairs removed, bottom right is the remaining fiber. It took me about 15 minutes to clean that amount...after I realized that a pair of tweezers helps immensely. Though now that I understand the process a bit better, this year I'll likely be more selective with collection and that should help.

Back to spinning...After getting it cleaned up, I was perfectly fine to let the amazing Sue spin the fiber for me no matter the cost. And then one day at knit night, as I was basically mesmerized
by watching 3 people spin (who try to enable me constantly!), I started to pay more attention. And Anne, who can pick out subtle interest like a freakin' hawk, put a wheel in front of me and said 'treadle'. I did and a feeling of calm came over me. I left that evening with a drop spindle and ball of roving in hand...and emails waiting for me at home showing videos of how to start. Which I did (picture on left). A few weeks later, I was allowed to progress to a much nicer spindle (a Jenkins spindle), also lent to me by Anne (picture on right). Oh, what a difference... A few minutes on that spindle and I knew that I had to clean, spin, and knit the elk fiber completely by myself. It'll take decades probably but that's okay. I'm all about the process (remind me I said that in a few years when I'm only a tenth of the way through cleaning the first bag!).

Now -- I know that I could do this faster on a wheel, and I resisted the temptation to even look despite the enabling of my friends (Sue found a screaming deal for one for her daughter, bought one for herself, and Meg broke down and got one as well...all within the space of a few months!). But then a deal fell into my lap I couldn't refuse. Rue had seen that I started to learn to spin and one day an email showed up asking me if I'd like to take her Ashford Tradition (double treadle) off her hands for the price of shipping. She's graduated to a new wheel and this one was taking up space.

Um, yeah!!!

This showed up
a couple weeks ago...

Not only a wheel that looks almost brand new, but a wooly winder (I don't know the significance of this piece of equipment yet!), and a bag of beautiful roving to play with. Again, I'm just completely blown away by the generosity of this community. I doubt I could have gotten this good of a deal scouring Craig's List but even if I could, I love that I'm using a wheel that a friend learned to spin on. There is something incredibly special about that.

I haven't used it yet...I'm trying to find time to have Sue come and check over the wheel and to hold my hand through the beginning...but I hope that happens soon. We've decided on a swap...she'll help me learn the wheel and I'll repay her with some french onion soup. Seems like a good deal!

If you haven't been able to tell, the procession of events to get to this point is very special to me. I have a bag of fiber that contains hair from some of my favorite animals (including 3 very special girls that we lost last year). It gives me a bit of comfort to know that I have something small that is tangible from them that eventually will be turned into something warm. And I have the support and generosity of friends near and far that pushed this from a remote idea into a reality and I'm overwhelmed by that.

And the timing is perfect...it's spring and the girls are shedding again. For as many years as I can, I'll be collecting as much as I can. Because 5-10 years from now when they will likely all be gone and I can't physically take comfort from them as I do so often now, a blanket will always be a physical reminder.

How perfect would it be to end this post with a skein of my first hand-spun yarn? Alas, I don't work that way...I practice and learn and change things until I feel like my first skein will be 'great'. I'm not there yet...not quite that fearless. But maybe soon?

_ _ _ _ _

Now playing: The Lumineers by The Lumineers (just released...what a perfect surprise today...thanks Mel!!)



melissa said...

oh rach - i can not even begin to tell you how happy this post makes me.
aside from the fact that i am super excited you're learning to spin, *and* that you got a wheel, but that you're learning to spin so you can take the fiber from your girls and turn it into yarn, so you can have a permanent reminder of them?!?! oh you might make me cry just a little.

aknitter said...

I love the evolution of this story, and I can't wait to watch it unfold in the future! The picture of you and J snuggled under a blanket made of yarn you spun from the girls, just makes me smile from ear to ear! Ambitious AND I know you will do it.

Mel said...

There IS something incredibly special about all of this. Rue's wheel, the girls & a legacy of their presence, the spinning and your friends Anne & Sue encouraging and teaching you? My heart just busted wide open. Thanks for sharing this community-love story with us!!

Jacey said...

Oh, Rachel. This post seriously made me tear up a little. I'm so excited that you're learning to spin. I'm so excited that you will have such an incredible keepsake to remind you of the love you have for your special animals. I'm so happy that Rue was able to share her first wheel with you. I adore you for your courage and ambition. Truly.

evergreenknits said...

Fantastic! One more (textural) dimension for you to interact with your girls, to literally spin them into your life.

I've spun with Isis's hair. I periodically raise the idea of making Mountain Man a sweater with it, but he just thinks it's too weird! Also, it's not as if he needs a fuzzy white sweater in Phoenix. But I still get a good chuckle out of it.

Ann said...

The wheel looks great. My 1st wheel is an Ashford too & I love it. It will be a beautiful experience to spin the girls' wool & knit a blanket out of it.

Denise | Chez Danisse said...

Oh, Rachel. Such a beautiful progression. Makes me smile, and I'm clearly not the only one. Thanks for sharing this with us.

knittergal said...

that's a great story of how you have come to spin! I hope you have many happy years spinning up the blanket and then enjoying the warm, comfy and full-of-happy-feelings blanket! I think it was all meant to be!

elizabeth said...

I've never heard a more beautiful transition to spinning! It is so calming, so meditative. I love that you've joined us! Now if we can just get Jacey to get out her spindle...

Bubblesknits said...

That's just like mine!!! :D I've had two or three different wheels and that one is still my all time fave. I can't wait to see what you make with it.