This post is part of the #MyFiberStory Instagram challenge. The tag for today is #MyWhy and while it is easy enough to say that I knit and spin because I live in a cold climate and need all the help I can get to keep me and my family warm, there is more to it than that.
During the holidays, I made it out to a yoga class which was part restorative yoga, part vision board and part intention setting.
Intention setting isn’t the same as making resolutions. Its about examining the ‘why’ behind a resolution and deciding to incorporate that why into your life. So for example, rather than saying I want to lose xx pounds, dig a little deeper and discover why. Is it for health, social pressure or vanity? Whatever the answer, keep asking yourself why until you finally get to the little nugget of truth that you can use as a touchstone to guide your decisions through the year.
Part of the class was deep relaxation and during this time, part of my brain went to sleep – but part of my brain was very active. A very odd and different sensation and suddenly I knew, as surely as I knew my own name that this was the year to let go of fear and to stop letting fear hold me back. I admit to a great deal of fear as I write this and put my intentions out into the world, but now I can ask the world for help too.
This is the year that I’m going to really put my fibre-y ideas out into the world. I have a number of thoughts that are still taking shape but I’m quite excited by all of them. They involve connection with other artists, confidence in my skills and belief that I have something to offer, trust in my creativity and honouring myself by saying yes to things that excite me (even if they scare me too) and saying no to things which no longer serve me. This is #MyWhy.
Yesterday, we put up our Christmas tree – but not in our usual location. The past few years, it’s been in a fairly central location in the house but we found it interfered with traffic flow. Add 12 people, 2 big dogs, a nervous cat and factor in uneven floors because the house is almost 200 years old and …well, it was always a little precarious. So this year we moved it.
It’s out of the main traffic area, but still quite visible. In order to make this space work though I had to move a chair, a small side table and a couple balls of yarn. I had at one time used this as a knitting area but have since moved to a different spot. Under the table, was a wooden box with a handle which I had used to hold active projects. I picked this up at a furniture market in Beijing.
Oddly, it was full – I didn’t think I had anything in it. I found some early spinning attempts, some fibre I haven’t yet spun and a plastic bag. This bag is a bio-degradable type plastic and was so old, that it was disintegrating in the box!
Inside, I found this.
According to Ravelry, I started this in July of 2012. Yes, it’s 4 1/2 years old.
I haven’t the faintest idea why I stopped working on it. Based on some of the photos I took at about the same time, it was blazing hot but the entire mitten was done except for the thumb, and that isn’t much of an effort at all. According to my project notes, I didn’t like the way the pattern was written for the thumb (the pattern has you stop working on the mitt, knit the thumb, use a 3-needle bind off to attach it and then finish the mitt) so I had used some waste yarn to mark the spot, finished the mitt and then was going to pull out the waste yarn, pick up the stitches and knit the thumb. I had got as far as pulling out the waste yarn and had picked up the stitches. All I needed was to knit for 20 minutes to finish it. I can’t for life of me figure out why I stopped.
So I finished it. And cast on the second mitt.
Pattern: 5-9 from Anna Zilboorg’s Magnificent Mittens & Socks.
Yarn: Illimani Yarn Royal I (Royal Alpaca).
I mentioned in the Part 1 post that I’ve never processed a fleece by hand so it’s a fair question to ask why would I start now after the industrial revolution successfully removed this kind of drudgery from women’s lives. There are piles and piles of beautiful yarns available for easy purchase in my little town, let alone the bounty of the internet. So why bother making it.
One reason is that I have an interest in history. Lanark was once a major center for textile production in Ontario, much of it wool. In fact, the last working mill here, the Glenayr Kitten Mill closed in 1997 – which really wasn’t that long ago. The wool mill in the big living history museum near here is (for me) a fascinating place and I wanted to try my hand at it. And finally, I have a lingering, probably highly romanticized fascination with ‘traditional women’s skills’. By this I mean household production tasks which traditionally fell to women such as yarn and cloth production, candle making, beer and cider making and food storage and preservation. I do all of this except the candle making – I have to draw the line somewhere.
This is where the interest began and is still the root of why I’ve put effort into this but over time it has morphed into something more. Last October, Instagram exploded with #slowfashionoctober where everyone who had anything to do with fibre was talking about how and why they were pushing back against fast fashion. This really struck a chord with me (and the rest of the world considering the 1.25 million hits returned by Google) and gave me an opportunity to really think about not just why I was knitting, but why I was making yarn.
Clothing with Terroir
I realized that I wanted to create garments that had a sense of ‘terroir‘. Much like a wine or cheese has a taste of where it was produced, I wanted my clothing to have that same feeling. Subconsciously, I have been moving in this direction for a while. All the fleece I have – wool, alpaca, and llama was raised on farms very close to me. There is mohair and angora around here too, but I don’t have any (yet).
Ulysses lived 20 km from me. The mill which did the processing is 26 km away. Short of raising sheep in my backyard (which local bylaw says I’m not allowed to do), you can’t get much more local than that.
Part 1 – Background
(This is part 1 in what will become a series of related posts)
Two and a half years ago, I was at a small fibre festival in McDonalds Corners in rural Lanark County (yeah, I know most of Lanark is rural, but this place is really in the woods) where I bought 500g of washed Blue Faced Leicester fleece. Oh, it was lovely and soft, but it was short – too short for the mill which was why this shepherd was selling it for hand processing. Full disclosure – I’ve never processed a fleece by hand.
No problem, I thought. People have been hand carding and combing wool for far longer than the process has been mechanized. I can take care of this. Besides, it’s only 500g. Not like it’s the entire fleece.
I’ll pause here while you have a good laugh.
I don’t have a drum carder. I do own a set of hand carders but I’m not handy with them. I understand the basic premise of what I’m supposed to do, and perhaps 10 minutes with someone who really knows how to use them could change my opinion of them. But I’m not there. I find them awkward and I hated using them. So the fleece sat in it’s bag. Every so often, while stash diving I’d see it and open it up. It really is lovely stuff but I was never going to get it all carded.
Two years later, the fleece was still in its bag and I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it. Then I heard about a new fibre mill which was opening locally! I contacted them and – Hallelujah – they could take the fleece and process it.
I drove over on the appointed day and handed over the bag. Remember me saying it was short – yeah, they looked at it and weren’t sure they could do it. Disappointment must have showed on my face because the owner said to leave it with him, that maybe he could blend it with a minimal amount of something else, just to get it through the machines. That is exactly what ended up happening. The BFL was blended with 10% nameless wool as a carrier medium to get it through the machines.
So why is this called the Ulysses Project? Well, Ulysses is the hero of The Odyssey which took place over 10 years. There were lots of twists and turns and side adventures in the story of his return home from the Trojan War. Ulysses was also the name of the ram who provided the fleece. Since this particular project has been going for more than two years and also has some twists and side adventures, I thought the name was fitting.
There is a fun Christmas tradition in my family. I’m not sure when this tradition started but I know it was my maternal grandmother who started it. We all have the same hand knit Christmas stocking – they have our names and the year of birth in Fair Isle at the top and a Santa Claus worked in Intarsia on the leg.
I think it must have been a Herculean effort for her when she started. A stocking for her, and my grandfather, their four children, children’s spouses and all the grand kids. To be fair, I’m the eldest grandchild so there was time to make stockings for grandchildren. But there are eight of us. That’s a lot of hand knit stockings! And now the grandchildren are (almost) all married and having babies of their own. And those babies all have stockings.
My grandmother died about twenty years ago and that’s when my mother took over knitting the stockings. My partner and my son have stockings made by her as do the spouses and children of many of my cousins.
Last year, the pattern was passed to me. I am now the keeper of the stocking pattern and it’s my role to produce a stocking for new babies and spouses. I have three to make this year.
I still have the first page of the original hand written pattern and a ‘chart’ of sorts which was produced later for the Santa picture. But the chart I have doesn’t match the pattern on my stocking so I’ve made a new one (and then I changed it a bit. Don’t tell.).
And maybe I’ll actually write the second page of the pattern which is about turning the heel and knitting the foot and toe.
I’m not sure who I’ll be passing it on to. I know my niece has learned to knit. Who knows, maybe in another 30 years, she’ll be the keeper of the pattern. And oddly, for something that is more than 40 years old, it doesn’t look all that dated. Then again, I’m looking through the lens of love and nostalgia.
Edit – by popular request, I am making the pattern available. You can download it from here
Ya know – I think there might be something to this idea of consciously choosing to view challenges and obstacles as opportunities. Of responding rather than reacting. I’m starting the draft of this post on November 21 and even though there have been some difficulties, globally and personally this has been my best November in years – possibly ever.
I ended October with a list of all the great things I was going to do for myself. I was going to journal regularly. I was going to go to yoga. I was going to pay more attention to diet. As it turns out, I did none of those things (all these things appeal to me but I’ll save the question of why I never did any of them for another time.) I made a few notes in the journal, but not the brain dump I was planning. I never got to a yoga class and my diet was average at best – if Shiraz is a food group.
But here I am, after attending the funeral for a friend’s 41 year old husband who died in his sleep of no known cause and after hearing about a break up in my family which involves an unborn baby (she’s since been born and honestly, I’m not sure I’ll ever get to meet this child I have a close blood relation to). After the outcome of the US election. I’m looking at all these events and I know that in previous years I would have struggled with them. Yet here I am. Smiling and knowing that I cannot effect change in any of these situations.
I’m heartbroken by events, but I’m not broken. I’m mystified by other people’s decisions but not discouraged. And I have great faith that I’ll be able to repeat what I’ve learned next November.
Hey look – I have a few more things finished!
This is my Qiviut that I was spinning a few weeks ago. I’m calling this a finished item because it now looks like actual yarn. I’m still thinking about what I’m going to make with it. I have 235 yards of a heavy lace / light fingering weight yarn. Any suggestions?
Socks. This is my third pair of Hermione’s Everyday Socks.
Seriously, if you don’t have a pair go cast some on!
I didn’t show this last week with the rest of my work basket tour but it’s been lying around for a while now. I think this is the first thing I’ve ever knit – and finished using my hand spun yarn. I’m pretty impressed with myself for getting something even enough to consider measuring gauge.
The yarn is a handspun made up of Yak, Merino and Silk. How decadent is that!
This blend came from Noble Fibre Mill in Almonte and the pattern is Alhambra by Anne Hanson of Knitspot fame. You can purchase this pattern from here. I’ve made this scarf several times; usually to give as a gift but I do have another version of it for me made of cashmere and silk. This is the great joy of knitting (and spinning frankly). I can knit the lux things I can’t afford to buy and in the case of the qiviut, I can’t even afford to buy the yarn – but I can spin it.
And lastly, I have a cowl to show you. The yarn is called Alpaca 60 by Estelle Yarns and it fell into my bag while browsing in the yarn shop last weekend. I have no idea how these things happen.
Anyway, this is quite a bulky yarn and I don’t often knit with bulky so I’m always so surprised at how quickly things knit up with it. This cowl was a few hours of pretty mindless knitting and then it was done.
The colours in the second picture are closer to true. My initial thought was that these aren’t my colours and that I was going to give the cowl away as a Christmas gift but the more I look at it (and touch it – oh, this is gloriously soft), I think I might keep it for myself.