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Little Fluffy Clouds

This week’s washed wool: A lamb Cotswold

I sold a wheel this week. Life circumstances are such that I needed the funds more than I needed the wheel. It was an Ashford Country Spinner 2, the first wheel I’d purchased for myself after learning to spin. I learned on a Louet S10, graciously loaned to me by a kind neighbor who taught me how to use it. The CS2 was easier for the art-type yarns I’d fallen in love with making, but has the same tension system as the S10. It was a good wheel, and I enjoyed using it right up to the day I sold it. Its new owner seems to have already fallen in love with it, and named it after me, which was really sweet.

Things here have been tricky lately. There’s a lot going on in my personal life that I don’t blog about, and it tends to muck with my plans in many unfortunate ways. I try to remain hopeful that this, too, shall pass, and that there will be a better normal at some point in the not-to-distant future. For my part, I’m grateful that I’ve established routines and habits that nurture and support me and my family. As a single mom, it’s always a challenge to meet everyone’s needs. For so many years, my needs got pushed aside, or put on “as resources are available” status. No more. Prioritizing my health, in all facets, is critical to the health and well-being of my entire family.

Still haven’t quite figured out how The Yarnicorn is going to fit into that picture. I love what I do, but I worry it may not be enough. For now, I wash the wool, I spin the yarn, I keep up with the industry news… With so much in flux, I really do have to just wait and see. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes. I’m excited to see what it may become.

Fluff and stuff

Stripped batts, ready to spin

This has been a demanding week, and I’m glad it’s Friday. There’s a lot of turmoil in my life right now, and sometimes it’s hard to see the light at the end of what feels like an endless slog through a dark tunnel that *might* be full of spiders. One of the things that helps to keep me grounded is a daily commitment to spin yarn for 15 minutes. Sometimes, I spin for a lot longer, but on rough days, I set a timer for 15 minutes and then I’m out. The process of spinning yarn is grounding to me, and the softness of good wool is soothing. Playing with bright colors can brighten my mood, and mixing them up shows me of how beauty can be created by contrast.

There’s also a reminder in this practice: little things add up. Keeping each of my “spinning appointments” means I’ll eventually see finished yarn. 15 minutes isn’t much, but over time, it makes many skeins. That’s an important reminder for my brain, which likes to have everything figured out in advance and gets super frustrated when that’s simply not possible. All I have to do is keep showing up and putting in good work, and there will most often be something neat to show for it at the end.

Tension

New singles yarn on the niddy-noddy always looks so perfect! Everything is in order, in straight rows under even tension, and it all looks organized.
But as soon as I let go of that tension knob on the niddy noddy, all of the stored energy in the yarn wakes up and coils and it gets all kinds of chaotic. This is usually when I start to panic that I’ve overspun my yarn and everything is ruined.
Instead of freaking out, I put the new yarn into a warm bath. I have learned that this approach is useful for both yarn freakouts, and human freakouts, too.
And nearly every time, unless something has truly gone wonky, a bath and a bit of adjusting will render even the silliest of singles into a more organized skein. There’s a bit of twist to it still; it’s got no ply to move against, so that twist energy will always give it a bit of direction. But it’s a perfectly serviceable singles skein.
This is one of the things I like best about making yarn. The process is soothing, and a call to be patient, and a lesson in how things are created over time. But there are all these little hidden secrets in it, too. I started for the yarn, but have stayed for the deeper meaning.
Every skein tells a story.

Going Slow

One, leetle BFL/Wens lock at a time…

I wash my fleeces in small batches. My methods are similar to those documented in detail by Deb Robson on her blog. Maybe someday I’ll make my own post, but she’s so thorough in her description that I don’t feel a need to. I use sifting trays, and Unicorn Power Scour (which I sell, because I love it that much). I wash about 12 ounces at a time, because I like to watch how things are going, and I only wash about two trays a day, because my back will complain if I try to carry more. This makes it a fairly slow process.

I am not naturally a fan of slow, which makes a lot of fiber processing an excellent opportunity to practice patience. Rushing a fleece can leave it unclean, if you’re lucky, or felted, if you’re not. It’s the starting point of what will be a time-consuming labor of love. Every time I start a new batch of wool, I have to remind myself to give it the time it needs, from start to finish, so I don’t make waste of it.

I am not from a culture that values slowness. I am American, and our worth is too often measured by our productivity. It’s an ugly trait I’m working hard to unlearn, and I’m grateful that so much of my work naturally lends itself to that unlearning. One of the things I love most about fiber arts is that invitation to move slowly, be fully present, and enjoy each step of the creative process. While I’m still not a patient person, I feel richly rewarded for my practice toward that goal.

Out in the cold

It is finally acting like “actual winter” where I am! This past weekend, we got a good helping of snow to fit with the freezing temps. I love the snow when I’m inside and warm and cozy. Maybe a little less when I need to go out in it, but even then, the early snows each season still seem magical to me. After I get my girls to school, and before I settle in to work each day, I take 15 minutes to myself for a short walk. For the past week, this has been my view: a peaceful stream, frosted trees and a pathway hidden by snow and ice. Makes for slightly slippery going, and I enjoy the added reminder to be mindful.

I don’t mind the cold. I have a puffy, full-length coat, warm, sturdy boots, and enough wool to keep most of my block warm, if needed. I leave a warm, safe place, explore for a bit, and return to my warm, safe place. It’s tranquil. Even though I understand that being out in the cold, exposed or without somewhere warm to retreat to, could be dangerous, it isn’t dangerous for me. I am aware of this, and it keeps my spirits high. I also notice myself keeping watch for those who might not have it so simple, even when all I find in need of my assistance are inanimate objects. I try to do what I can to stay present and pay attention, and it carries over from my walk to my work.

This past week, I watched as the fiber arts community took a good look at itself and how issues of race and privilege manifest in our spaces. If you aren’t aware of what happened, there’s a discussion thread on Ravelry that serves as a good starting place. And that’s what I think a lot of us are hoping this moment turns out to be: a good starting place. A good opportunity for those of us who have the privilege of feeling warm and welcome in fiber arts spaces to open our eyes to the experiences of those who don’t feel the same, or may not even have access to those spaces at all. We heard part of our community saying, unambiguously, that they’ve been left out in the cold. How do we hold space for that, as a community? How do we correct course so that all are invited and welcomed into our spaces?

I am still young in my anti-racism journey, and I become more aware each year how much learning, and unlearning, I have to do. In the past, I have felt like I didn’t have anything particularly eloquent or insightful to say, and so I haven’t said much of anything publicly. I recognize now that this, too, is part of the problem. By refusing to say, however clumsily, that I am paying attention and engaging with this work, I have left room for interpretations of my space(s) as uninformed, at best, or perhaps even unfriendly. The lack of a clear welcome can leave people feeling excluded, whether or not that is the intended message.

I don’t claim to have answers, or any sort of specific wisdom or insight to share. I don’t claim to be “one of the good ones” or an “ally” or any other sort of label-wearer. I am listening. I am learning. I am unlearning, and rewiring, and doing what I can to broaden my perspective beyond what is easy, and common, and comfortable. Not everyone has that comfy coat of privilege to insulate them from the harsh realities of discrimination, and the fiber arts community, however friendly, is not immune to the diseases of racism and prejudice that plague white culture, and the world at large. I understand that this isn’t the kind of problem one person can solve overnight (or at all), but this is my welcome mat. Here, in my little corner of the fiberverse, this is my porch light turned on. Whoever you are, however you came to find this place, you are welcome here, and I invite you to share your stories. Come in, and be warm.

Also? There’s wool! Freshly-washed wool.

Thawing in a freeze

It is COLD where I am today. I’m originally from southern California, and while I haven’t lived there in well over a decade, I believe my internal thermostat may be permanently adjusted to think 70 degrees and sunny is the default. It’s sunny here today, but that’s about all it has going for it! Temps are finally below freezing, as they should be in this area in mid-January. Nothing strange about that.

What’s strange is trying to thaw my fiber practice and previously-routine wool working habits and routines, especially when everything else is so quiet and still. Over the past few years, I’ve had to fight for my health, my sobriety, and then, when my husband abandoned my daughters and me (again), my sanity, as well. Wool and fiber art and all those little loves got put on freeze while I used what resources I had to keep everything else running. If you’ve done this sort of thing, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, I hope you never have to. All I can say is that I’ve experienced “tired to the bone” in a way I hope to never experience again.

Still, I am an artist. And while I can pause my art and redirect my energy elsewhere for a time, I need to work. I need to create. I need my hands in the scouring trays, picking the VM out of fresh locks, picking the fibers to blend and feeling the twist at my fingertips as I spin. These things aren’t options, they’re a vital part of my identity and I need to keep time for them. So, one week at a time, I’m gently nudging some other responsibilities aside to make space for my wool practice again. I’ve made time each day to spin, and set aside one day a week to wash wool. It’s not much; this isn’t anywhere near the amount of time and energy I’ll need to resurrect a business. But it’s a slow thaw. While everything around me is frozen solid, this little seedling is trying to wake up.

Good thing wool is warm!

Welcome Back!

What can I say? Life happened, as it so often does. My last post was literally years ago, and while I’d love to tell you that I’ve been on a grand adventure between then and now, well… Okay, it was an adventure! I can say that much.

Welcome back to my little corner of the yarniverse. I haven’t been saying much, but I’ve been here, creating, watching, and working on projects as my time has allowed. I’ve also been adjusting to life as a single parent, and trying to figure out how to do right by my children without completely losing myself (and my sanity) in the process. It hasn’t been easy, but it has made me aware of how important wool and wool work is to me.

I feel like we’re in a weird time with wool. Social media makes anti-wool campaigns go viral, so I’m seeing and hearing a lot of really messed-up messages about wool and its uses. But I’m also dialed in to the frequency used by wool lovers and growers and their supporters, so I know that the toxic advertising messages *are* being argued. The end result remains to be seen, but I want to do my part to keep wool. Wool saves lives. Not just in an environmentally sustainable, fire retardant, breathable textile sense, but also in a “keeps this fiber artist from going all-the-way mad most days” way that is critically important to me and mine.

So here I am. I’m not promising lofty content or fabulous, curated images. I’m not promising anything, really. I have a big year ahead of me, a divorce to finalize, and a small business that still needs a good launch (someday). What I’ve also got is a calendar reminder to say something every Friday, and I’m going to try to make good on that commitment this year. What you might see are some cute pics and maybe a tutorial or two, along with a ramble and maybe the occasional rant. What I hope I will eventually be able to communicate is the myriad ways wool keeps my heart from freezing over during these trying times. When I figure out how to share that on the internet, I will. For now, here is a picture to sum up my week in wool:

I made a 2019 Intention to finally spin my hoarded stash of Zebisis fibers. Maiysha was my dear friend, losing her was tragic, and holding on to her work has been a small comfort. It’s time to use these now, and I hope to honor her memory in the process.

Where I’ve Been

Breed Yarns Sampler

Hello, neglected little blog! I had started the year with such high hopes of blogging regularly.

Sigh…

All is not lost, however. While I have been very quiet on the internet, I have been quite busy in the world! I feel like I owe you stories of the fantastic classes I’ve taken this year. I’ve met some of my fiber heroes (Judith MacKenzie, Deb Robson…), and taken all kinds of fun classes that have dramatically expanded my fiberverse.

At this point, I feel like there is simply too much to summarize. I’m hoping to blog more frequently so this sort of data backlog doesn’t happen again, but I make no promises. More than anything, I am reconnecting with my fiber mojo this year. That’s worth a bit of radio silence, I think.

I’m sure as I go forward, there will be a time and place to remember these stories.

We can talk later.

Fleece Friday!

Isn’t it floofy?!  Pardon my squee, but I love washing fleece.  There’s something magical about watching all the grunge disappear and seeing the reveal of gorgeous, squooshable wool. The lock above is a Cormo/Merino cross yearling fleece.  It was the first fleece I washed this year.

 

 

It doesn’t look as nice when you start.  Kinda dirty, and greasy, and it smells like, well, sheep.  I’ve come to love that smell, as it means new fluff is on the way!

Washing from raw gives me a chance to get to know my wool.  Sometimes, I pre-sort the locks.  This one is Norsk Pelssau, which I had never played with before.

Here you can see two rows each of 3 different samples from the same breed (and some Cormo/Merino drying in the back).  Handwashing is a great way to get to know the characteristics of a new breed.

Gammelnorsk Sau
Icelandic
That’s today’s project, a particularly grungy BFL.  I love how, even when it’s filthy, it has the most gorgeous curly purly bits!  The part in the lower right corner of that pic almost looks like boucle to me.  And then, once it’s all washed and dried, hopefully I’ll end up with something like this:
How can you say no to that?!  Freshly washed fleece is one of those fiber arts joys you just have to experience.
While I have quite a few sources for fleece now (most of which I guard fiercely; there’s only so much wool a sheep can grow between shearings!), I’ve recently enjoyed purchasing smaller quantities of new-to-me breeds from The Spinning Loft.  The Norsk Pelssau, Gammelnorsk Sau, and Icelandic pictured above all came from there, along with this lovely Scottish Blackface:
No affiliation, I’m just happy to recommend The Spinning Loft because everything I got was wonderful quality.  They have a great selection of breeds to choose from, and the smaller quantities might be less intimidating for some than the idea of a full fleece.  Go!  Try!

Maryland Sheep and Wool 2014

 early morning welcome

 

We go early.  Really early.  The girls fall back to sleep in the car.  We eat breakfast there, sometimes in the car, sometimes egg sandwiches from the Lions Club.  We head for the same spot, first thing: Fleeces.

We queue up and wait, as patiently as we can, for 9 o’clock.  Then we try to read and feel and listen and pick quickly, without getting mowed down or buried in bags of fleece.  It would be a decent way to go, but not today.  We have so many other things to see!

And so begins our annual trek to Maryland Sheep and Wool, one of the fibery things I look forward to all year.  The first day is for fleeces, exploring and finding friends.  Some years, stalking a few special purchases and getting tasty snacks is all we do.  It’s a huge festival, and by the time we’ve walked all the barns and seen all the sights, we’re all pretty tired.  This year, the girls had such a fun time on Saturday, they wanted to go back on Sunday.  Since we’re only about half an hour away, that was a pretty easy decision.

Breakfast time!
Day Two was more of a leisurely affair.  More time to stroll and see, and far fewer people, especially in the early hours.  Crowds are hard for me.  The girls, however, help a great deal to neutralize that.  They’re happy to start up a conversation and give free hugs to pretty much everyone.  Makes for a much happier experience, even for their extremely-introverted (okay, antisocial) mother.
Sheep can be friends, too
We had more time on Sunday to take pics, watch judging, and see the talented sheepdogs do their work.
Now we have a year’s worth of goodies to enjoy, and so many good memories!  It’s hard to pick from all the wonderfully talented vendors at the event.  I already have a fair bit of stash, but I couldn’t help but pick up more gorgeous fiber to spin, some new spindles, and a yarn bowl that is, IMO, the perfect way to commemorate the event.
Also, fleeces.  Oh, the fleeces.  So very, very many fleeces…  Here’s my favorite pic of the fleeces my oldest helped me pick this year:
She’s a wonderful helper, and often sees things I wouldn’t necessarily think to look for, like that glorious Gotland cross.  She also helped me find a new-to-me breed, Montadale:
Crimp is love.
We picked out two Montadale fleeces, and we’re test prepping a batch right now.  If all goes according to plan (because I’m told that actually happens sometimes, right?), they’ll be used for a group event on Ravelry.  I’ll post more when I have progress pics to share.
For now, it’s time to find homes for all the new loveliness.  Thank goodness for the glorious studio space at our new home!  No more bins of fleece all over the bedroom.  😉