Healing Handcrafting

exploring process and healing through fiber arts and handcrafting


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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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Felted Rocks, Kids and The Beginning of Something New

I’m excited. In a nervous in my belly, hopeful, anticipatory and grateful kind of way. Tomorrow, I’m going into my daughter’s kindergarten class to do a felting project with the children. Felted Rocks, to be exact. And later in the week I’ll do the same project with two 2nd grade classes (my son is in one of them). I have come to seriously appreciate the benefits of working with, touching, experimenting and playing with fiber, and I feel utterly compelled to teach things to do with fiber-craft to kids.

The felting rocks project begins what will be a five- to six- week journey that picks up after the holiday break, and I will keep track of how it all goes here. I am calling my unit From Farm to Frame. In January, we will start with a dirty, smelly, lanolin rich fleece (or part of one), wash it, dye it, card it and in the end make a felted “painting”.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been gathering materials for this project, thinking about why this is so important to me. One memory came to mind; the first time I skirted a fleece on my own. It was the big, smelly, creamy fleece of a Border-Leicester sheep that my friend Susi secured from a local farmer. I remember thinking, “dang, that smells”. But it didn’t offend me, and really, I got used to it very fast. I remember, after picking debris out of it and removing a lot of the gunky stuff, noticing how soft my hands had become. I was delighted to realize that it was lanolin! Lanolin had made my hands soft and shiny and smooth. I stood there in the warm May sun and it occurred to me that in the process of doing hard work and getting my hands dirty, that I had been softened, conditioned and made-over. I’d say that was a turning point for me, about two and half years ago. Since then, I’ve wanted to know more about why and how working with fiber can be so grounding and therapeutic in all of it’s stinky and at times tedious moments.

I want kids to have this. I want them to see a whole process through that involves fiber from a local farm. I want them to experience the rawness of the material and experiment with what they can turn it into. I want them to have an antidote to stress, pressure and worry. I want them to have a chance to touch nature and maybe appreciate the animals they pass on many a Vermont road.

I’m so grateful that teachers are letting me into their classrooms with these projects. Let’s just hope that the kids enjoy it. Tomorrow’s project will be a good introduction for all of us, I think.

pictured above: rocks gathered from Lake Champlain, felted rock experiments, many bags of wool and a whole lot of roving to be organized for the classes, more roving because I thought it was pretty, and some of the colors that the kids will have to choose from.