Monday, February 25, 2013

The Winter Wool Weekend

Sal's wool was drying by the fire. Only the cord-thick tips were still wet. In the middle of all the workshop chaos I couldn't help but stare at them. A few hours earlier they had been on the whether's back, coated with lanolin and wet from damp snow. Now it was clean and smelling slightly of lavender from the castile soap I had done the last few washings with. I reached over to turn them on the drying-basket, probably for the fifth time that hour. I wanted any excuse to touch it. I have been living with sheep for years, knitting even longer, but the magic of making fabric from a beloved animal has never been lost. What had me so entranced was how shiny and pearl like the locks were. Lustrous was what Kate had said, one of the workshoppers, and it really was the only word that would do. What I was gently touching was so precious. Not in the way that jewelry or babies or other delicate things are precious, but in the way of how very much it meant to me. I was holding the beginnings of real warmth in my hands. Raw wool is embers you can touch.

Throughout the two days that was the Winter Wool Weekend here at Cold Antler, a lot happened to that wool and the person fondling it. That wool was washed, dried, carded, and spun into single-ply yarn on a drop spindle. The I borrowed a pair of thin knitting needles and knit them into a small rectangle. Since my spinning is like my life, scrappy, the little project was not a poem as much as it was a folks song. Since the yarn was lumpy and I didn't relax it or ply it with another thing yarn the square was distorted, writhing like a little angry toddler throwing a temper tantrum. Any respectable knitter or spinner would have tossed it into the fire but I looked on it with enough pride to light up the room. What I was holding was cloth. It was made entirely by my own hand with nothing but a sheep, some soap and water, some hand carders and a few sticks. In a world where new sweaters cost 9.99 at Walmart I might as well have just waved my wand and worked a spell. I made cloth appear. I felt unstoppable

Between the story of Sal's Swatch there was much going on. This weekend's workshop had readers from across the country (one as far away as San Francisco!) and a living room full of fiber, critters, and stories. We spent two days living the wool life.

Saturday was all about the production of wool. We started with sheep in the field and ended the day with the drop spindle and the spinning wheel. I took all the folks outside and stood around a circling flock as I talked about homestead sheep and their many uses and blessings. I was holding a grain bag, so it wasn't hard to snip a fistful of Sal's top line off and bring it inside with us. No one slipped on the ice and everyone seemed excited to see what was ahead for the haircut's progeny.

I showed folks how to wash raw wool, step by step. We started by letting everyone touch and smell the raw wool, actually get lanolin in their hands and know what to expect from a raw fleece. Fiber expert, Kathryn, who was here to help with the workshop and has bought her fair share of fleeces, told us what to look for in raw wool. We talked about the healthy barnyard smell it should have, and what else to look out for such as diseased or matted wool and other signs of badness. With that done, we went to washing the bit of pilfered pre-yarn. In the living room it was gently placed in a basin of soapy water and then (without irritation) lifted out. The dirty water was replaced. It would take five total soaks for the water to pour out clean. With that done it was set in front of the fireside to dry.

With the wool having to dry, it would take a bit before I could start carding and spinning it so I sat back and listened to Kathryn yeah us about spinning. She brought along her wheel, a model called the Ladybug and my antique Ashford Traditional was also there beside her. She talked about wheels, tools of the spinner, and roving and then sat down with anyone who wanted to give it a try. People got a personal lesson, always starting with getting the body used to the motion of the treadle, the song of the spinning wheel. Just hearing its near-silent whirring was peaceful. Since spinning wool is a form of production, and we are so used to an industrial world, we were all a little shocked at how beautiful it was in its quiet way. Kathryn made sure none of us got frustrated with our lumpy beginnings. "It's not about making beautiful yarn, not now anyway, it's about training your body and mind to do the work." And so people got into training. People who weren't learning to spin were working with drop spindles, or sharing samples of things they had spun or knit at home. At these workshops everyone is a student and every is a teacher. Elizabeth was on the daybed showing people her spindle technique while Mari was helping me repair my Ashford so I could learn to spin on it. All these people made the day great. By the end of it I had a working wheel, and had spun some rough work onto it. Sal's wool was carded and on a handmade spindle, and everyone who wanted to know something had asked, touched, or figured it out. I call that a day well spent.

Sunday was a slower pace, but just as fun. It was a glorified knitting circle. Part show and tell, part story, and part lessons. Three people arrived having no idea how to knit and left with rows on their new needles (thanks to Liz and Kate!). I spent the day running around between the wheel (spinning may be a new form of meditation at this farm, for I was LOST in it) and making my Sal yarn into a little swatch. We shared our current projects, wore hand-made items, and did our best to encourage the beginners who all seemed to have a knack for the needles. Out of this whole weekend it was seeing the those people learn a craft, and be able to do it on their own, that I was most happy about. Workshops here are never polished and rarely organized but people do come not knowing a thing and leave with the skills and will to make things happen.

A man and two women now know the basics how to make fabric out of string because of a farm in the mountains and the amazing people drawn to it. I know that's not a big deal, but to me it is just like that handful of embers. A spark can start a bonfire. In a few months those people may be wearing hand-knit hats outside to greet the a cold morning. Warmth is worth a lot, and good people are worth even more. But when you get to combine them together on a snowy day you have something special. Thank you to all who took the time to come here. You're what makes this farm sing.

4 Comments:

Blogger Lelainia N. Lloyd said...

Jenna, I would frame that square in a thick frame (almost a shadow box) and write in simple pencil "Sal" underneath. I think it would look beautiful on the wall like that.

February 25, 2013 at 11:15 AM  
Blogger Alassel said...

What an excellent weekend. I've been spinning for almost a year (literally - I learned at a class the first weekend of March 2012), and while I'm not terribly interested in doing fleece processing myself I'd like to watch it some day. Not for the first time, I wish that your farm was closer to me so I could attend your workshops. :)

February 25, 2013 at 4:48 PM  
Blogger almost 6' x 2' x 9' said...

Sounds like a great time. I love the Sal swatch. And I too wish your farm was closer. I live in Southern California and have been following your blog for a few years now.

February 25, 2013 at 11:19 PM  
Blogger Jenny said...

I think Sal's swatch is beautiful.

February 25, 2013 at 11:25 PM  

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