This is another guest post by Spencer, who’s really enjoying posting to this blog:
As the oscillating fan blew the smell of freshly washed fleece over toward the dinner table for the third night in a row, it occurred to me that there might be something wrong. Not wrong. That’s too strong a word. It occurred to me that there might be something off.
And then I wondered if others might be struggling to survive the unusual circumstance of having a spinner and knitter incrementally take over what once was a quiet home. The conquest starts so slowly that you don’t even notice it. A few skeins of yarn appear at the top of the bag you’re carrying back from the farmer’s market one day, and then they are followed by small boxes that arrive via UPS. You think this is going pretty great as you slip on your first hand-knitting hat just in time for winter. “It’s amazing!” you say, and relax on the couch to the sound of knitting needles tap-tap-tapping away.
Those small boxes from UPS are now full of roving, which then needs a spinning wheel which then needs a niddy noddy, and soon entire fleeces are arriving in large boxes marked with postmarks from small islands off the coast of Argentina. Now you’re in the thick of it.
“Honey, I was thinking of having my sister stay in the guest room for a few days?” you say one day. The truth, of course, is that you’re dipping your toe in the hot waters of a yarn-based obsession, and the indirectness of your comment is immediately detected.
“You mean the yarn room?” she succinctly replies. And it’s true. The guest room hasn’t been a guest room for some time now, it’s so thoroughly adorned with bats of wool and hanks of yarn and knitted objects in various states of composition or decomposition — it’s hard to tell which.
Later that evening, trying to smooth things over, you say “I really love that you’ve found this hobby.” She pauses the Craftsy class she’s watching on short rows just long enough to say “Mmmm-hmmmm” while attaching the longer cable to her interchangeable knitting needles. To be honest, what you’re really wondering is if those interchangeable needles (the ones in the leather case) are made of surgical steel or titanium — they look elaborate and could be worth more than the car that’s out in the driveway full of black plastic bags that were put there to heat up in the sun to kill moth spores that are suspected to be on the fleece that just came in from Idaho.
One way to look at things is that you’re afraid: afraid that the wool and yarn will literally overwhelm you all, filling up the house and spilling out of the windows and chimney like the overflowing bubble bath in the kids book you used to read to your son before it was replaced with a book about sheep.
Another way to look at things is that you secretly love this hobby, this obsession, this deep interest in getting back to basics in such a fundamental way — and yet you’re conflicted, because you also loved using things around the house like the dining room table, the floors, and the hallways. New circular walking patters have emerged as entire doorways are off now limits and screens of drying bats form new obstacles. The dog makes its under the screens as if nothing has changed. We should all be so flexible.
Yesterday, I snapped the following picture, thinking that I’d need some evidence for the friends I have decided to call in for the intervention. Allow me to describe the scene captured in the photograph. I would have used the better camera, but it was lost one day while we were running around photographing knitwear for Etsy. So here’s what you see in the image: With drying wool in the background (at left) and the carding machine barely cooled down (at right) after an hour or so of cranking out blended bats, a package has arrived from Canada. (The package is in the foreground at the left.) The contents of this package from the Great White North? Fluffy sheepy bits from the four corners of the world. Apparently one is softer than another, another lighter than another, and all four are said to be quite different from the Corriadale that is emitting that lovely, sheepish odor in the background. The receipt is being examined at center stage, and apparently everything listed on the packing list was included in the box. Oh joy.
We live in the era of the store-bought. In fact, our parents lived in that era, too, so we’re so deep into it that it’s hard to even know that it exists. Fabric is seen as a single object, not a composition of many threads. A sweater is something to buy at the store, wear for a while, and then put in the bag to be taken over to the Salvation Army. The things around us do not appear to be made, they’re just acquired, used, and either saved or discarded.
A cottage industry is defined as “a business or manufacturing activity carried on in a person’s home,” but I don’t think I’ve ever really witnessed one before. Not first hand. Depending on what you’re manufacturing, cottage industries surely take different shapes and sizes and involve different levels of colonization of the home. For spinning and knitting, rooms get temporarily taken over for drying and carding wool, for instance, but when the drying and carding are done, that room can return to its previous state of composure.
My true confession is that we never really used the dining room. Certainly not for dining, as we prefer to eat at the much smaller, more intimate kitchen table. So to have this cottage industry on site that transforms a fleece into bats that are then spun into yarn that is knitted into a sweater or blanket or hat is actually quite amazing. I may joke about the smell (“Like napalm in the morning!”) or the fact that a strange ball of felted wool fell out of the dryer yesterday (“Oh, that’s just a dryer ball,” I was told), but it’s actually quite an adventure. I like seeing so many different processes going on, and it’s nice to think that a simple wool hat can carry with it so many rich histories, each involving people and good craft.