Healing Handcrafting

exploring process and healing through fiber arts and handcrafting


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In the Presence of Masters

I have not written in a good long while because my work with fiber stalled out a bit. I am one of those people who struggles with some of the more rare side-effects of antibiotics and of late, this has been quite an issue. BUT, I am here to say that yesterday was a gift beyond gifts, and has helped me to find my bearings again.

The Marshfield School of Weaving is hosting a five-day spinning class this week. I was only able to attend one day of the series and was not sure what to expect, but I went ready to absorb anything and everything I could in this limited time. I went to this school last year to take a plant dye class with Joann Darling. You can read about that here. Attending class yesterday, I knew I would have the opportunity to meet Norman Kennedy, the man who started the school in 1974. He has taught spinning and weaving, he speaks Gaelic and sings old and beautiful waulking songs and other traditional songs that can be sung to help keep time during the melodic and repetitive processes of carding, spinning and weaving. He joined Bruce Engebretson who was a visiting teacher from Minnesota. I had never taken a class from individuals who were so steeped in their craft and wondered what it would be like. I was definitely nervous. Primarily self-taught, I prepared myself for having to re-learn ways I do things. I was right to get my mind in order for that type of expansion.

I traveled down with my spinning wheel, some roving, my spindle, a batt I carded from Border Leicester that I processed myself and dyed with willow bark, and a whole lot of eagerness.

Let me say this, I took a lot of pictures but don’t want to post them without permission from those who are in them, so please pardon the lack of visual detail.

Driving up to this school in Marshfield offers the chance to resettle the mind in its own right. I was so struck last year by the functional, humble beauty of the barn, the rooms, the tools and the “stuff” kicking around. It is entirely calming and completely not intimidating. When I walked in, I was warmly greeted by Bruce, Norman and the four other women in attendance. They were in their groove already because they had been together all week, but at no time did I feel like an odd man out. What shocked me was that I, according to Bruce, was not carding wool at all correctly, so I learned his way. The old way. And it took a long time. So long I worried I might have dyslexia in my hands. For real. But he was kind and patient and kept at it with me. I had introduced myself already to Norman and tried not to be too intense; I have wanted to meet him for a long time after I saw this YouTube video.

While I was fumbling through carding wool, I showed Bruce the batt I brought. I think I just wanted him to know that I know how to do at least something and he was into it, and he asked me to show Norman when he came back in the room. I’ll not go into all of the mini moments that were incredible, but showing Norman the willow-dyed batt led to him showing me how to spin off of a distaff. I had never even seen a distaff in person before, and here was this beautiful man, in his 80’s, with a long white and golden pony tail and kind face, spinning my wool onto a spindle with the merest flick of his hand, his other hand totally free. He commented on the luster of the wool, the strength of the yarn it can make, and he told stories and historical bits about the use of these ancient tools. I was in awe and in love, and then he let me learn.

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It took some doing, but soon enough I was spinning right from the distaff onto my wheel. He said I was doing pretty good for a beginner. I’ll take it.

Later, we watched Norman prepare flax and place it onto a distaff to spin. As he spun he sang a tune in time with his treadling. We watched Bruce load and use very old combs to prepare gorgeous wool for spinning. I watched in awe a woman use a walking wheel… truly incredible, and I learned about the spindle that was on the wheel that Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger on. Norman told stories of how it was long ago, when children worked alongside their parents all day, when fiber craft was not a luxury or a hobby, but when it was a necessary and integral part of life. Bruce talked about how children would prepare wool all day and how women would spin all night. I think about this all the time, about how so many fairy tales are about old women saving young women from the fate of spinning all day long, so that they could go about with their husbands and be in their world. Habetrot is one such goddess. More to come on this topic in the future, but I suspect that fairy tales and ancient myth show us the trajectory of the feminine archetype in relation to fiber art and craft. Habetrot and her magic family are underground, hidden away from view, a foreshadowing of changes to come, both positive and negative, to the ways in which people relate to one another, the relationship between people and Earth and the ways we understand and experience time, work and patience.

Some other highlights for me include being called a lass, having my spinning wool technique ridiculed in the most kind of Scottish ways, and simply enjoying the company of people who were all there to learn and be in the company of masters. It was truly a wonderful day.

And, I will be fashioning my own distaff and spindle soon. Tales to come…

 

 

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How to Fit Fiber Work Into a Full and Multifaceted Life, One Glimpse

Yesterday began early for me. It promised to be a full day with lots of seemingly unconnected tasks and engagements. I really wanted to dye wool though. I’d already steeped marigolds and coreopsis the day before and I had some clean whitish Shetland to play with. After looking through the wonderful natural dye book, Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dyes, by Rebecca Burgess, I decided to quickly get an alum mordant bath going to prepare the wool I had on hand. 

I’ve taken over half our garage with a dye pot section, a carding section, storage for weird, beautiful driftwood and other gifts from the world I collect on the way. I’ve got a scale out there and some paints set up for my kids. 

So, at around 7:30am, the alum/Shetland mordant bath was going, and my marigolds were on some heat. I weighed 7 ounces of wool to be dyed, and used 0.7 ounces of alum. Not much, but my dye bath operation is small, and I love little batches of specially dyed yarn for weaving or embellishments on crocheted and knitted items. 


Once that was all set, I got on with my morning. Took care of my littles. Made a work call. Took everything off the heat and ran some errands, came back and after rinsing the wool in warm water, put half in with the strained marigold bath and set that to heat, and put a quarter in one bell jar with the coreopsis flowers and bath, and a quarter in with half coreopsis and half marigold dye mix. The jars were set in the sun. 


After an hour on a simmer, I took the marigold bath off the heat and let it cool for the remainder of the day. 

By then it was almost midday and it was time to switch gears completely with my kids and fully engage in what we three were doing. 

Tending to life while tending to the practice of working with wool can be difficult sometimes. Some tasks require a chunk of uninterrupted time. Others can be worked into and throughout a life. I imagine that was how it was done over the ages, but I don’t know for sure. There are chores and responsibilities that lend themselves to certain seasonal tasks. Tending to dye baths can be done while gardening, cleaning up outside, doing laundry, caring for children, and even making that business call. Having a dye pot operation set up outside or in the garage helps as messes are far easier to clean up and create less smelly havoc than in a kitchen. 

I was able to rinse the wool after dinner. It is still drying. A late in the day rain storm put an end to the sharp, hot, drying sun. I’ll post pics of the final outcome soon. 


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Let the Dirty, Smelly,Wonderful, Softening Labor of Skirting, Washing and Carding Wool Begin!

This week, I grabbed the bull (or sheep) by the horns (in my imagination), and started processing a whole lot of wonderful wool. After my son, then my daughter and then I got through strep throat this summer, I needed to really get in gear and re-find my focus. Knowing that this week would be hot and sunny, I decided to use the sun’s marvelous power to do most of the work of scouring for me. But I’ll get to that. I started with some lovely Shetland I picked up about a month ago from a wonderful couple who absolutely adore their sheep.

Here is a picture of some of the beauties with their summer do.

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When I first began working with raw wool and learning how to spin, I’ll admit to just jumping in and not doing a whole lot of homework first. I remember with my first fleece, I felt guilty about not using every last bit of wool, but for the very dirty parts. I washed and rinsed and washed some more, picked, flicked, carded and re-carded. I could not bear to waste it. I’ve since learned that there are different parts of a fleece that are much better than others, that seasoned spinners do not use every last bit for yarn, but might use the not wonderful parts for stuffing for toys, compost, insulation, etc… Before starting on these fleeces, I found a bit of literature that is so incredibly helpful on the topic of skirting fleeces. People who take the time to share this sort of expertise in such a generous way are really so kind. I am grateful to them for describing so well what they know. Check it out if you are looking for some skirting fleece information.

You can see below the pile of wool from one fleece, already skirted, and another two waiting to go.

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Then it was time to scour. I like doing this before carding and spinning, but I know many do not. I do not overly scour, I don’t think, because I love keeping the lanolin feel as much as I can, but I do want it to be clean. I wish I had taken a picture of my hands post-skirting. They were shiny and soft from the lanolin. I never grow tired from the irony of having silky, soft hands after doing the hard and dirty work of skirting a raw fleece. It is a marvelous metaphor, I think. We must get our hands dirty in life. We must fully dig in. Work. Feel. Love. Grieve. Get into the thick of it. We will be made softer, humbler, and maybe even shiny every now and then, if we allow ourselves to be hewn by the at times roughness of life.

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While I love hard work, carrying pot after pot of hot water outside to fill my bins in order to scour wool is not what I had energy for. It occurred to me that the sun could do most of the heating work. So, I filled the bins with hose water, plus two big pots of hot water to get a jump start, and then some soap. After the water rose to a lukewarm temperature, I added the wool and let it soak for a long time. Later, I passed it to the rinse bin of warm water and let it soak some more. I did this with all three fleeces and have to say, I see no reason to go back to another way, at least not while it’s so hot! With the lids on the bins, the water’s temperature rose very significantly, but slowly, making the scouring a gentle and simple process.

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I love the look and smell of drying wool. I see bits that will get shaken or carded out once fully dry. Mostly I see fingerless mitts, a hat and hopefully a big fluffy cowl to keep warmth and raw beauty alive in the midst of our stark winters.

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Oh, last but not least, I’ve started some solar powered dye baths using in one jar, marigolds and in another, coreopsis. I think I’ll dye up some of this white Shetland tomorrow.

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