Now for what is probably my favourite of the five Wovember subjects, and probably the last one I’m going to write about this year – working with wool. Not ‘wool still walking round the fields and bleating wool’ or ‘wool fresh off the sheep’s back wool’ this time, but the wool well and truly off it, and – phew – washed.
Nice and clean, without any extra bracken, daggy bits, dried poo, semi-dried mud, huge thorns, strange unidentifiable lumps (ergh) or traces of reddle,
like this delicious Teeswater. Too beautiful to use, though maybe it would make a good prop in a fantasy / historical drama, for someone called Jason to steal. Golden it most certainly is. Working with wool like this is wonderful, but as I’ve been going through all my photos, I’ve realised something else. Something really obvious, when you think about it. And that’s the fact that working with woolly people is even more wonderful.
One of the things I appreciate most about the Woolly World is just how collaborative it is, and not only virtually, on sites like Ravelry. Take knitters. They, I decided some time ago, are just naturally sociable. Here’s our knit and natter group, scrutinising each others’ patterns (note Colours of Shetland and one of Jamieson’s US pattern books; don’t know about the source of the orange baby but I think it’s either a) stuffed, b) seriously drugged or c) a doll):
It has been going for some time now; we meet in a local pub and are just following a fine old Welsh tradition, the noswaith weu. We used to clear the bar, with the darts team retreating to the snug in fear and trembling, but they’ve got used to us and our potentially dangerous implements. In fact we’ve been challenged to a match – darts not dpns, though learning to use them is allegedly the penalty they pay if they lose – a challenge which was made at the village’s Beer Festival last year and which has yet to be played out. Elegant, refayned, ‘ladylike’ knitters, we’re not. Mind you, that photo’s not so much working with wool as being prepared to work with wool. As are we, after we’ve had our first drink and a chat.
It’s not just knitters who gather together in groups, of course – spinners, I think, are even more sociable (and again there’s local tradition to back us up – communal spinning of an evening around the fire was common in many farmsteads). But when it comes to really getting down to it and actually working with wool, the Sunday Market Spinners are much more disciplined than the Every Other Monday Knitters.
Er, once we’ve had coffee, possibly a bacon sarny (we meet in a cafe, in their upper floor gallery), been to the farmers’ market and loaded up with eggs, honey, wild mushrooms, cracked black pepper sausages, goat’s cheese – oh, yes, and chocolate. But when we start, we do get a lot done. Really. And it’s very encouraging, as well as inspiring, to see what other people are up to. The SMSes are an informal group, but some of us belong to branches of the Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers as well (good for workshops and wonders like Winghams’ sampling days). Whatever the setting, whatever the circumstances, we learn a lot from other wool addicts, whether that’s mastering flick carding,
(here working on a very crimpy BFL cross) or helping a new spinner who has inherited her mother’s wheel, but who had never used it.
An essential part of spinning groups, whatever type they are and at least as far as I am concerned, is spreading the word. Whether that means convincing gobsmacked coffee-shop customers that an ancient craft is still going strong, or bolstering the ‘British wool is best’ message of an open-farm day,
(spot the matching wheels), doing our thing in public is vital. Spinning doesn’t just belong in a Disney-cartoon, Rumplestiltskin, fairytale world, or in the past. It belongs right now, and nobody has to wear national dress while doing it. Unless that’s their thing, of course: spinners are also, generally, remarkably tolerant of people doing whatever works for them (in my case, that would be dodgy technique and absolutely not a stovepipe hat).
But it’s not just fibre production. Dyeing wool, for instance, is something I enjoy doing with other people. I love seeing what everyone else does, what the effect of dyes is on different yarns – overdying a coloured fleece, for instance. Yes, it’s interesting doing it by yourself, but it’s great fun to share the experience. Again, the sharing might be through an organised event, like our Guild’s annual dyeing picnic which gives us an opportunity to play with many different possibilities, even dye baths which look like, well, boiled-up boots:
Or it could be a more impromptu gathering of three or four friends over a primus stove on a summer’s day. There is something about deliberately changing the colour of wool which I find even more satisfying if it’s been shared, and other people’s preferences are so interesting, and can affect what you yourself do (or not, ahem). Take one day a couple of summers ago; there were three of us. One, a very experienced indie dyer, was taking the chance to experiment with some unusual space dyeing combinations. Another was dyeing enough for garments, being systematic and having a clear aim in view.
And me? Well, I was – completely unconsciously, honest – channelling my inner Goth:
apart from the skeins of indigo dyed wool, which (nterestingly and possibly not surprisingly) are still awaiting a use. Soooo predictable. I even managed to produce a good black, though it has bleached out somewhat in the washing. Not so much Dracula’s black as Victorian pauper trying to do their best with third-hand mourning from the shonky shop black. Oh well.
But when it comes down to it, whatever you do, and however many people you do it with, it’s getting the stuff on the needles that provides the ultimate satisfaction:
A cold evening outside; inside, closed blinds, a good DVD, a happy wood stove and a happy knitter. Here working with some hand dyed handspun, making up a long wrap-it-right-round-and-strangle-yourself cowl which she’s just finished. Right in time for what the Daily Express assures us is ‘killer snow’. Bet it doesn’t happen, but if it does, I’m ready. Thanks, sheepies!