Wednesday, July 23, 2014

shepherdess dreams

The heart wants what it wants.
~Emily Dickinson

I suppose it could be deemed a sort of insanity, to respond with glee to a feed bag of stinky, greasy, dirty sheep fleece left at the farm gate. To take that fleece and spread it out under the trees to remove the worst parts of it, and to give that process a name as pretty as "skirting" might lead the physician to nod in concern.

To take that still-filthy sheet of animal fibre and put it in your bathtub, the one your children bathe in...well. That would just about confirm the diagnosis.

My children joined in the process of cleaning a raw fleece, rejoicing when it started to look whitish after about the fourth bath. My daughter found one miraculously snowy fluff, about the size of a cotton ball, that was free of vegetable matter (or VM), and pressed it lovingly to her heart.

After leaning over the tub of scalding water and not agitating the wool (while trying to carefully pick out bits of every piece of flora that grows locally: milkweed seeds, grass seeds, straw, spruce needles, and so on), I finally surrendered to the VM, as prolific as constellations in the night sky.

As the fleece dried in the sun, many of those flecks fell through onto the table, then even more sifted down as I carded it on my ancient drum carder. In the spinning, my lap was covered with tiny bits of straw. By the final plying of two strands together, I had to just accept and love the bits that were left; they were twisted in tightly enough to stay. 

The creamy white of this East Friesian's fleece came to life in a simple improvised hat pattern (loosely based on the Dustland Hat). I made it as a gift for the shepherdess who left that smelly bag at my farm gate. I picture her wearing it out to the barn next Spring, on one of those nights when her ewes are lambing, a simple hand-made reward for all her dedication and care.

I may be crazy, but I'm now avidly following this blog (after reading this beautiful and inspiring book), and just got Paula Simmons' Raising Sheep the Modern Way through inter- library loan. It might not be enough to knit clothing from fleece to finished piece. 

It's funny to think that a century ago, most small farms had a few sheep to provide clothing for their families, and now it seems like the maddest notion ever, to add a few fleece-bearers to our little homestead. But I've got a breeder lined up for when I take that leap and trust that the moment will feel right when it is. 

I will someday be a shepherdess too, wearing a barn-hat I made from fleece to finished piece.