Be like me, I’m rug-free
A friend of mine knitted a sweater from the hair of her pet dog. She didn’t knit the sweater FOR the dog who shed the hair, but people still thought it odd. If dog hair isn’t an acceptable knitting material, why is sheep hair OK?
Take it from one whose nose knows. A bag of freshly sheared wool smells no better than barbershop sweepings. One whiff and I knew the phrase “dyed in the wool” may have evolved from “something died in the wool.”
We once borrowed some sheep and grew our own sweaters out here at Clear Creek Ranch. My wife refers to that yearlong process as our “Dunces with Wools” period. The goal was sweaters by Christmas. Fleece Navidad! When we started, I couldn’t tell a yarn from a tall tale. I can now.
Before we could stick to our knitting, we had to learn to spin yarn. A lot of it. This involves much woolgathering, and not of the type I’m used to doing. You’ve got to barber a sheep, wash the fleece, recondition it, dry it, card it, tease it and spank it before it’s ready to be spun.
We tried two methods of spinning. The low-wheel method involves hand, eye and foot coordination, which was asking a lot of me. I only need hand-to-wallet coordination to purchase already-spun yarn at the local skein shop, or an already-knitted sweater with sleeve lengths that match and seem intended for me, rather than a knuckle-dragging orangutan.
I was assigned a simple drop spindle, which isn’t much more than a weighted stick. The end result was lumpy, but technically, it was yarn. Apparently Mahatma Gandhi used this method. Well, Gandhi is dandy, but the spinning process takes so long that I see why he rarely had more to wear than a diaper.
We ended up with several miles of wool string. So now what? Knitting is woman’s work, I asserted, and quickly learned that, knit-wit though I be, this ancient Arabic art was gender-neutral until the early part of the last century. But no amount of needling would change my mind. I needed a mechanized alternative that didn’t require me to handle sharp objects.
That old early ’70s ballad by the Carpenters you hear in the background (“Weave Only Just Begun”) should tell you where I’m headed now. Aye, captain. Loom-and-doom, at something less than warp speed.
I can barely thread my shoelaces. Rigging a loom to spit out a woolen throw rug was an achievement akin to launching the first space shuttle. Soon I was launching my own shuttles back and forth, and, occasionally, into space when my mind drifted. The day my airborne shuttle shattered the sound barrier (and a large dual-paned window) was the day I was permanently grounded.
“Can’t I braid something?” I pleaded. My wife promptly fainted. I once styled her hair into a French braid. It took an entire Scout troop a week to unravel the lopsided Gordian knot of clove hitches, sheepshanks, windsors, and half nelsons I’d tangled on the back of her head.
When she revived, she handed me a “little kid” loom – the kind you make potholders with. DON’T run all-wool potholders through the washer and dryer. Shrinks them to the size of a coaster, or “mug rug.”
Mine are lumpy and uneven, so the average cup teeters and spills. The only cup that doesn’t spill is the one with the wavy bottom that I “threw” in pottery class. But my feat of clay is a yarn best spun another time.
Mike Drummond is a Nevada County writer whose column appears on Tuesday. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945; or e-mail him at email@example.com.
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“There is a cult of ignorance in this country … nurtured by the false notion that ‘my ignorance is as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov, 1980.