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I can be a wolf in sheep’s clothing now

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and since I have an essay to write today for my non fiction professor, I have no time to amuse you with flippant descriptions of my life altering week. So, assuming my readership misses me (allow me my delusions), I thought I might just leave a “picture essay” to wet your appetite. Actually, I’m writing a piece about my spinning class today, so I will post it later to offer a more lyrical and detailed accounting of this endevor. It was such fun. I’ll never look at the world the same again. Really.

Take my hand, and let me show you a small sampling of what my eyes (and hands) feasted upon all week.

These are my new friends Lucy and Norman (in that order). I know they are true friends, because they were willing to get naked for me. (Only a friend that has true trust in you would do something like that.)  They have body oder, I’m told, but since I can’t smell, it doesnt interfer with our friendship. They are not very bright. They are timid and can’t protect themselves from any kind of preditor. They die easily and require a great deal of maintence. They have no personality like goats, dogs, horses, donkeys or llama, making them almost monotone creatures. They travel as a click like girls in high school incapable of thinking independantly.  I now understand why sheep are used to describe people who follow the crowd. But they are cute in a fuzzy, dumbish way. Lucy is a Coridale, and Norman is a shetland blend. Norman is what they call a “black sheep” even though he is brown. I figure, since my parents always told me I was the black sheep of the family, that he and I would hit it off, and we did. These sheep have deep, odd voices, not like the cute bleeting sheep on cartoons, but more like sheep with a cold – I would have named one”Froggy” (from little rascles) had they been mine. As a whole, they cured me of ever wanting sheep. Mark loves Lucy and Norman for that. 

This is how sheep wool begins. It is cut from the animal in a huge rug, then you cut off the flanks, tummy, and neck area to discard the rough matted wool (of store it for other uses, like felting). The square wooden thing-a-ma-bobbers are wool cards. They are like huge brushes that you use to brush out and prepare the wool. You can do fiber or color blends this way too. You must wash the wool first in huge tubs with shampoo or detergent, careful not to adgitate it or it will mat and turn into felt. Use warm water. Then you hang it out to dry, or place it on a screen so the air can circulate around it. You should pick out debris and sticks first, of course.

If you want your wool to be colored, you must dye it. We used all natural dyes. Rit is for sissys. This is a “rainbow” pot. After conditioning the wool with a solution of alum and creme of tarter to make it colorfast, we layer it (wet) in a pot using cheesecloth to keep the dye materials from getting caught in the just cleaned wool.  You can add any ingrediants you wish. We used marigolds, madder root, walnuts (still green) and cochnile (which is a bug). We made several layers. After sitting a few hours, it came out in the multicolors you see here. Beautiful! Nature has such a wealth of amazing surprises if you get intimate with her.

This is how many marigolds you need to make the nice warm yellow orange you see here. The duller gold is from lichen, which is moss growing on trees. You’d think that would turn things brown or green, but it comes out yellow. As you can imagine, a gardener would have a fit if you decided to visit his bounty on dye day. I will tell Mark to plant marigolds, but I will leave out the details about why. On the day they dissapear, I’ll blame it on a goat or something. Ha. I am already plotting…. 

This is how we crushed the bugs we used to make red. No fancy bowls for us – we used a rock. This is the cochnile bug from Mexico. Only the girl bugs make red. Funny, that is the opposite of nature – having the girl be the one with the color pigment. I couldn’t help but wonder how they seperated the males and females. To turn them over to look at their privates wouldn’t be time efficient, if you ask me. I also worked with Indigo – the most facinating stuff of all. To make this natural plant work, someone must pee in the pot. No kidding. We used a different acidic agent for the class (too bad – would have given me a colorful story to tell) but still, the process of dying with indigo is remarkable. Next to this picture is my carded wool (washed, dyed and brushed) which I prepared for spinning. This is more work than it looks. If I made pink, I could have used it to play tricks on friends by telling them it was cotton candy. We also had a hand-crank machine carder, which I used as well, but this apparatus is rather expensive, so I wanted to be proficient with the hand cards before I left the class, to assure I could do some of this stuff at home.  


This is the wheel I learned to spin on. As you can see, I like spinning because you can actually do it with nails.

This is a picture of me spinning, (just to allieviate your fears that I might be turning into a menonite or something). I look much the same, although viewing these pictures now, I’m thinking I need to spend less time developing my mind and more time developing my arms. Yuck. Ah well, what good is a pretty package if inside you are nothing but an empty box! I will wear long sleeves for awhile – heck it’s winter. This huge wheel was just as easy to spin on as the smaller wheels. The size means nothing but a different ratio of rotations to the bobin. They fool you by making it look big and important. Spinning wheels look complicated, but they are the simplist machine ever. I was amazed at how simple spinning is (not to do it uniformaly and well, but just how making yarn or thread is accomplished.) I can now spin now on a hand spindle or even with my hand against my leg. I am sure you will be impressed to learn I am multi-talented in the yarn developement catagory. I tried all kinds of wheels to find out what kind I am most comfortable with. I felt I had to if I wanted to buy one (which I do). It was great fun adventuring with all different styles and brands. I tend to like big, textured yarns, so I need a wheel with a big bobbin capacity. I also like Scottish tension. I like the Ashfords, but mostly I fell in love with the Luet. (This means nothing to you, but it makes me sound proficient, so I wanted to throw it in.)

This is my teacher, Martha, who also taught us about fiber blending. She showed us how to use angora, and even demonstrated this cool “parlor trick” of spinning right off the rabbit. Do I need to mention how much that delighted me. I can’t wait for my next party, cause I have every intention of making my friends smile with this nifty trick. I know how to use Dahli’s fur now, and I can spin with yak or camel too. As far as I’m concerned, the weirder the wool source the better. Why not experiment. The lord wouldn’t have made the world so interesting if he wanted us to live in a box. 

This is a picture of the yarns I made this week all from raw wool. All of them are made with natural dyes – lichen, marigold, walnut, cochnile, madder, and natural wool colors. You can also see the sample book I made to keep track of it all. I have pages of wool samples (every breed of sheep is different, ya know and there are thousands of breeds.) And I have angora, goat and other wool samples too. I also have all the dye swatches so I can reproduce them someday. I love my wool notebook, because it is filled with information and small observances I had during the experience. I love these first skeins of wool, because they are made of earthly things, so natural and simple, yet so beautiful too. I now have an understanding of what people did in the past to make all kinds of textiles  – felt, yarn, fabric and thread. I understand how early cloth was put together and colored. I will never go into a museum and see a rug or costume and not have a greater understanding and appreciation for the talent and work that went into making it.  I see the world in color now – not just the surface color, but all the colors that lie hidden in nature (for example indigo is just a green plant and when you dye with it, the fabric and the water is a dull yellow. Only when you lift the item inside and the air meets it, will it oxidize and turn blue like magic before your eyes. – Now, I ask you, how did they invent that !?!)

I confess, I do not want sheep anymore. I do want a spinning wheel, and loads of fiber, and yesterday, Neva and I took a walk through the forest and gathered a huge gallon ziplock of lichen. I plan to color our easter eggs with natural substances this year. What a fun project! I am now facinated with natural dying, and I am taking a weekend class on dying with mushrooms (they give you yellow and green and blue and red – amazing) next month. 

I’ve expanded my world in the simplist way. Feels good. Now – what shall I do with this wool? Hummm…. I’m thinking I need to learn something about knitting next.
No animals involved. Mark will be relieved.

This was written on the board in the class, and I understand it now in a way I don’t think I would have a year ago:

“Our Ability to hold and to live in the memory of the primal creative source is an essential thread that binds together the fabric of all existence.”
 – J. Lambert –

I feel grounded – as if I understand the world better now, thanks to my slowing down and taking the time and trouble to convene with nature in a way that is more poignant than just taking hikes and gardening. It is good to wake up after years of groggy napping in a convienience world.
I’ve never been one too keen on church. But now, I think, in nature, I’ve found my church. Hendry David Thoreau would be proud of me, I think.


About Ginny East Shaddock

Ginny is the owner of Heartwood Yoga Institute. She is an ERYT-500 Yoga teacher, C-IAYT Yoga therapist, RCYT & Ayurveda Counselor who loves nature, gardening, and creative arts. She has an MFA in creative writing from Lesley University, and a BA in Business Administration from Eckerd College. She teaches writing and is the creator of the memoir writing program, "Yoga on the Page" combining the teaching of yoga to writing personal stories with integrity, intention, and heart.

3 responses »

  1. You might as well be Ralph Waldo Emerson with that last line of your entry!Your yarn is beautiful…can’t wait to show the pictures to my friends. Impressive.


  2. Of course, I do know Ralph’s philosophy – I am more deliberate in what I write than you might think. . . Pictures do not do justice to my yarn. It is really, really, really pretty. All this time I thought I was meant to spin yarns (tell stories) and NOW I find out I can do it literally too. Amazing, our hidden talents.


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    At the Heart of Ginny: I can be a wolf in sheep’s clothing now



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