Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time. Thomas Merton

Monday, April 26, 2010

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Why the Neighbors Think I'm Crazy: A Tale of Two Fleeces

Twenty feet (20' 4" to be exact) of sheep's wool stretched out to dry in the sun on the walkway in the front yard.

Remember when I said that I didn't think there would be more fleeces in my future? Well, I was wrong. When the local fiber shop did not have any of the types of wool that I like to use for my beginning spinners, I was thinking of having to order it from internet sources, a time-saving, labor-saving thing to do, but not very economical when I am, for all intents and purposes, doing these two workshops for the fiber guild as a member-volunteer and only charging the participants a supply fee which has been prepaid. Because there is also preparation on my part, I did not want to have to wait for shipping, either.

So. . . . I started digging in the plastic storage boxes. Guess what I found? Two fleeces that were in great shape. Mostly. One was a complete Suffolk fleece that had passed its time in suspended animation quite well. This fleece came from one of the museum's sheep and was given to me during one of the Spring Farm Days a few years ago. This just happened to be the bag of wool that was on top of the Romney fleece I mentioned finding recently. The other was an entire Cheviot fleece that was given to me about two years ago by a spinning student of mine whose family raises Cheviots. Boy, was I delighted to find this great supply of Cheviot fiber! Now all I had to do was wash and wash and wash and wash fleece. My favorite thing? Not exactly, but I did discover with the Romney that the trampoline makes a great place to process wool. I'll spare you all the nasty details of how I spent a day and a half, Monday and yesterday, washing two fleeces and drying them on the trampoline. Of course, it rained Monday night and and was cloudy part of Tuesday, so that slowed the drying process.

Did I mention that I am in a time crunch here? Yes, the second of the spinning workshops is Saturday. Today was a beautiful, sunny day, so I made use of the warm concrete surface of the front walkway to dry the Cheviot. I think the neighbors always wonder what on earth I'm up to whenever some strange thing appears on the front porch or the yard. The back yard is mostly shady, so the front often provides a great place for me to work on things that require lots of sun, like drying papier mache projects such as masks, bowls, jars, hams. Hams? Yes, I am the faux food queen, having saved the living history museum $800 one year by making life-sized fake hams for the smoke house. Had they ordered them from a real fake food company (yes, I said that), they'd have paid $200 each for the four they wanted. Someone realized I was adept with papier mache and I was drafted to make hams. They even brought in a smoked country ham to the museum for me to photograph and examine to use as a model, but more on that at a later time.

Back to the fleeces. I spread the Cheviot out on the front walkway. I hoped the cats would stay out of it and they were quite cooperative. Until the very end when Pester decided to make biscuits in it. Here are a few photos of the lovely stuff drying. With cats.

Petcat relaxes by the fleece.

He becomes overwhelmed thinking about all the work that has already gone into processing and finding out that I am not yet finished.

Pester takes her chances and gets closer.

She can't resist making a few biscuits, but I keep a sharp eye out for any additional cat shenanigans.

I did mention two fleeces at the beginning of this post. I left the Suffolk fleece drying on the trampoline. I decided to use Kool-aid to dye a major portion of it so that the students could have fun with some colored wool and could experiment with blending on the drum carder. Kool-aid is a quick, non-toxic, readily available, and inexpensive way to dye protein fiber like wool. I did not want deep, intense colors, so I experimented and got just about what I wanted, but the photo doesn't show the colors well because of the shadows from the trees and the washed out areas caused by the sunlight. The flavors/colors I used were Orange, Cherry, Strawberry, Black Cherry, Lemon-Lime, Yellow, and Berry Blue.

Now all I have to do is get all the little bits of pecan blossoms, leaves, beetles, and other delights out of the fuzz so that I can card up roving for the students and they will have a good supply to card themselves.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunny Bunnies

Matilda and Gabby enjoy some time outside in the playpen.

Mopsy relaxes a bit, then decides to squeeze into that good hidey hole.

LillieBun likes the shade. Later she checks out the recycled litter box as a good place to hide.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Not Very Large Array

Here are a few of the hand spindles I will be taking to the workshop I'm giving at the Cullman Fiber Guild tomorrow in Cullman, Alabama. I want to give the participants an idea of the diversity of this simple spinning tool.

Back row left to right: a Turkish-style low whorl made by Sickinger, a Bosworth high whorl, a low whorl and a high whorl of unknown manufacture, a Schacht convertible that can be used as either a low or high whorl spindle; front row left to right: a mini high whorl and a CD high whorl of Lehman manufacture, a mini high whorl of unknown manufacture with a whorl made of Labradorite

My apologies for the grainy photo quality. I was experimenting with various aspects of lighting and white balance because I got too much reflection from the flash on the polished surfaces. This was the best shot--if you can call it that.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


I had a pleasant surprise today. While digging around in plastic storage bins in the garage for something completely unrelated to spinning, I found a bag containing a lovely Romney fleece that I had forgotten about. In fact, I thought it had been necessary to throw it out when we had the garage fire. The photos that follow show the fleece spread out on the trampoline, the color variations in the locks, and the staple length.

This fleece was given to me for Christmas in 2001 by my first spinning teacher. It was beautiful. Because I was a novice spinner and had not processed a whole sheep's fleece before, I was reluctant to try to scour it. I was afraid I would ruin it and end up with a felted mass of fiber. It was winter and I really wanted to wait until warm weather so that I could work on it outside, but I was afraid that if I waited too long it would get really sticky and nasty if I left the lanolin, dirt, vegetable matter, sheep crud, and other rather unpleasant stuff on it. However, it was very clean for a raw fleece, so I decided to wait until warmer weather. For several weeks I would just open the box it came in and look at it, feel the fiber, smell the sheepy smell, and think of the beautiful yarn it would make.

As the months passed, I finally got up the courage to work on it a little at a time, pulling out a handful of locks and washing them in a series of wire mesh colanders in a dishpan at the kitchen sink. I'd place a layer of locks in one colander, then put another layer in the second and third colanders, stack them one inside the other, put a fourth colander on top to keep the locks in place, then proceed through the washing process. The mesh colanders were great for processing wool because I could wash, rinse, and dry a batch of locks in the same container. The mesh construction allowed air to flow through the fiber and shortened the drying time. As is often the case, things came between me and my beautiful fleece and I had to put it away for a while. That turned out to be a very long time and eventually I forgot about it.

While digging in the garage a few years later, I found the box marked, "Romney fleece." I gasped as I realized how much time had passed and dreaded opening the box to see what a ruined mess I might find. To my relief, the fleece was in good condition. I took it up to the living history museum where I worked and finally got it all washed and dried. I spun up a little of it as other duties permitted, but there were always several fleeces from the museum's sheep to be processed and spun, so I brought it home to work on. Again, other things in life took priority over the fleece. It was put away with the best of intentions of getting it all spun when things calmed down, then it just sort of faded away and drifted out of my mind. During this time, I acquired a few other fleeces or parts of fleeces that I scoured at the museum or here at home when time permitted. I probably had five or six from various breeds that needed to be carded and spun. As always, these were stored in cotton bags and placed in storage bins with herbs to deter moths.

When we had the fire in the garage, many storage bins and boxes were destroyed or damaged. Cleaning up seemed to be a never-ending process that was also mentally and emotionally draining. I had to throw away some of the fleeces I had accumulated. The Romney turned out to be one of the three that survived and were put away once again for that time in the future when I might get the urge to mess with fleeces. That was eighteen months ago.

Washing and carding fleece has been very low on my to-do list for a long time. In fact, after having gotten over the novelty and past the need to process raw wool a few years ago, I decided I did not want to acquire any additional fleeces and would only spin fiber that had been prepared by someone else. I have rarely worked with anything other than commercially prepared fiber since then.

You can imagine how surprised I was to find this fleece while searching for some missing hardware. When I saw the bag in the storage bin, I knew it contained wool, but I never dreamed it was the beautiful Romney fleece. I laid it out on the trampoline and found that it was in incredibly good condition, especially after nine years of intermittent care. I've begun to pick it apart and hope to get it spun up over the coming weeks.

I have also discovered that the trampoline makes an excellent space for working with fleeces. Hmm, does that mean that new fleeces are in my future?

I don't think so.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Monday, April 5, 2010

Scenic North Alabama: Old House near Stevenson, AL

We passed this interesting old house on the road to the Bellefonte Nuclear plant near Stevenson, Alabama. You can see the tops of the Bellefonte cooling towers in the background. Click on the photo for a better view of the towers.

This house reminds me somewhat of the house in McEwen, Tennessee that my father lived in during part of his childhood. The family had moved to Humphreys County from Benton County around 1915 when my father was about nine years old. I do not know if the house was already built on the property when my grandparents bought it. Although there was a small amount of acreage for farming (five acres), my grandfather supported his wife and eight children as a railroad telegraph operator and later station master at the depot in McEwen. I have dim memories of my grandmother talking about milking, churning butter, tending chickens, and being engaged in various activities related to vegetable gardening, so there must have been enough farming going on to provide at least some of the family's food.

The truncated pyramid shape of the roof is similar to that of my grandparents' house, but their roof was higher and the chimney came right out of the center of the roof where the point of the pyramid would have been. The house had a functional second story that provided sleeping space, but I was never allowed to go upstairs. Unlike this one, their house was elevated a good four feet off the ground in front and even higher in back because of the slope of the ground. It had a veranda that ran along the front and the east side. The well that supplied the family with water was located right outside the kitchen door in an enclosed back porch. Because of this and the door on the west side of the kitchen that opened to nowhere but a drop of about five or six feet to the ground and offered a view of the outhouse a number of yards down the back side of the hill, I have often wondered about stages of construction of the house. Unfortunately, by the time I had questions to ask about the house, there was no one left to answer them.

My grandfather died in 1958. My grandmother continued to live in the house until the mid-1970's when she could no longer take care of herself and had to be moved to a nursing home where she died in 1976. The house was sold in the 1980's and the new owner razed the structure. I have no photographs of the old house. Maybe that's why I liked this one.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter Sunday

No. 37 Scenes from the Life of Christ: 21. Resurrection (Noli me tangere)

Fresco, 200 x 185 cm
Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua
Web Gallery of Art

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday-- Entombment

Tempera on wood, 44,5 x 43 cm
Berenson Collection, Settignano

Web Gallery of Art

Good Friday--Lamentation

No. 36 Scenes from the Life of Christ: 20. Lamentation (The Mourning of Christ)
Fresco, 200 x 185 cm
Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua

Web Gallery of Art

Good Friday--Crucifixion

Two more from Giotto

No. 35 Scenes from the Life of Christ: 19. Crucifixion

Fresco, 200 x 185 cm
Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua

Tempera on wood, 45 x 43 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

both images from Web Gallery of Art

Good Friday


No. 34 Scenes from the Life of Christ: 18. Road to Calvary
Fresco, 200 x 185 cm
Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua
Web Gallery of Art

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Holy Thursday--The Last Supper

The story continues with the scenes from the Passion of Christ.

I've decided to use Giotto's Scenes from the Life of Christ frescoes for Holy Week (see Sunday, March 28, Palm Sunday)
Today's: No. 29 Scenes from the Life of Christ: 13. Last Supper 1304-06
Fresco, 200 x 185 cm
Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua
Web Gallery of Art