23 October 2011

Spinning Yarns

When the first hints of autumn are in the air, it always leaves me feeling simultaneously (and incongruously) domestic and restless. It's pretty much the only time of year that I, the eternal home-body, long for travel and adventure. Something invigorating and enticing in the crispness of the air, the sharper colors of skies and clouds, the lengthening of shadows that accompanies the shortening of days.

But it also puts my domestic side into high gear - baking, making soups, trying new recipes... looking to make the most comforting of comfort foods. It's also time to brush the dust off my knitting bag and pick up the projects that got shelved a few months ago when the thermometer started hovering around 100, and the thought of a lapful of wool seemed oppressive. Now as the temperatures finally, mercifully start to drop, that same cozy work in progress seems very inviting.

Last weekend, the sunny skies and steady breezes invited me to even better things.

I have some raw fleece that had just been waiting for the right day to be washed in preparation for spinning. So I set up my tubs of water and pulled out the bags of fleece - some Romney and some Icelandic (I love, love, love knitting with Icelandic wool, but have never spun with it before - adventure!)

Now, raw wool looks nothing like those fluffy white sheep you see in nursery rhymes and pictures of The Good Shepherd. It's dirty and smelly and filled with heaven-knows-what that the sheep has picked up in the barnyards and pastures since its last shearing. After you get rid of lots of vegetation and the messiest locks of wool, you wind up with something like this:

So you set to work with hot water, detergent and a good bit of patience (and I may love to work with Icelandic wool, but I swear this particular sheep provided some of the filthiest wool I've ever seen):

After a few rounds of soaking in a series of dish soap laden baths, it's time to rinse:

That's looking a bit more like something I'd want to work with. (The wool on the left is from our dear Icelandic, it's got some grey in it; the wool is actually finally clean!)

Time to put it out to dry. It dries very slowly....

You can see that the light was starting to fade at this point in the day, but still, quite a difference between the first photo of Romney wool, and the now clean fleece:

But it's still not ready to be used. Now it's time to card the wool; it may be clean but it's still got its share of tangles to work out before it's going to be lovely to spin:

Now that's starting to look like that beautiful, fluffy, cloud-like wool we see in pictures:

And it's finally ready to become something useful, or lovely, or better still both useful and lovely:

As I went through a long day (or two) of working with this fleece, my mind kept drifting back to the biblical image of the Good Shepherd.

The sheep he cares for and carries are not perfect, fluffy, clean, story-book sheep. They're dirty and muddy from wandering lost, or getting into muck of their own choosing. Their fleece is tangled from forays into brambles; it's full of bits and pieces of rubbish that's been picked up on the way. But still he loves his sheep and picks them up with as much joy as he would if they were a clean new lamb.

And he has the patience to wash their wool, work through the matted tangles and twigs and briars, helping them to become both lovely and useful (although he loves them just the same when they are muddy, I think it delights him so to see them become the wonderful creations they were meant to be before they wandered off into the muck and briars).

A good day to sort and wash, to card and spin, to pray and give thanks for a patient shepherd who can teach me even when I've chosen to take a day an just indulge in a favorite pleasure. Using my joy in the work of my hands to teach me His even greater joy in the work of His hands.

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