Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Shearing day

Three bags full

View from the skirting table

Weather here in the northeast interfered with the normal run of late winter activities. Some events were cancelled, some went on without us, and some were rescheduled.

Shearing day was a reschedule. Usually the end of February or the beginning of March, the event at Winter's Past Farm's was delayed until the end of March. According to our shearer, most shepherds in this region have pushed the date by about a month this year. 

Sheep in queue
The fleece skirting table is our domain. There were three of us on this detail this year. We clean up the newly-sheared fleece, bag it, and keep moving. Our goal is to get rid of most of the worst. K. keeps her sheep covered, which results in a significantly cleaner fleece, but the neck area always has hay bits from the feeder and the tail--well, no need to explain the stuff at that end. It all needs to go.

This is just the first pass, but if we don't remove the bulk of of the hay and excrement, they will contaminate the entire fleece. It will be worthless. 
The coat comes off

The market

The market for small shepherds is spinners and other fiber artists. The circle is small. It's important to maintain credibility as a shepherd who produces clean fleece. 

The fleeces go to market in various states. Spinners and felters may buy a sheep's entire fleece, but the fleece is often spun into roving, which is clean and ready to spin. 

Fleece that doesn't meet the quality mark for spinners is still useful and makes its way to markets as craft products that are often felted.
The ram goes first

From the sheep

The ram was first. He is a big one, but under the shearer's control, docile and quiet. 

As the fleece falls from the sheep, it's always a delight to see the color and luster of the wool beneath. 
The color and luster beneath

When the sheep has been shorn, haltered and moved away, the skirting team moves in to pick up the fleece from the ground and move it to the skirting table.

To the skirting table

As pickers, our goal is to keep up with the shearer, that is, we need to be done with skirting by the time the next sheep is shorn. (Sorry, no photos this year of the fleece on the table.)

Bagging the rolled fleece
The fleece skirting table, seen below, has served us well. M. made the wood frame table about 10 years ago. PVC pipes, which roll within a solid wood frame, allow us to move the fleece around, let the less desirable bits fall through to the ground, and provide a solid base to roll the fleece for bagging. The unit sits on two sawhorses.

A dear departed friend, who was a member of this team for years, declared us official members of the ISSPP (International Society of Sheep Poop Pickers). 'Tis true. We pick a lot of poop.

One step closer to market

The bags are full, but the fleece isn't ready for market. K. will open each bag and in many cases, lay them out to thoroughly dry. (It's been a particularly wet year here.) Then she'll go through each of them again to ensure a clean fleece with quality fibers. Some is sold before shearing as fleece and some as roving. And some will go to local and regional markets, including Maryland Sheep and WoolKing's County Fiber Festival in Brooklyn, or Rhinebeck

Truly, a direct to consumer operation.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sleeping beauties

Embroidered pillow case,, detail. c.1955
Photo by Maurice Marietti
Did you have a hope chest? I didn't, but I was clearly at the end of an era. When I graduated from high school in 1961, every graduating woman received a silver teaspoon in a pattern of her choice and a miniature Lane cedar chest from a local merchant. 

Embroidered pillow case. Flower basket.
c.1955. Photo by Maurice Marietti
It was expected that each would marry soon, complete the silver setting and purchase a full size cedar hope chest in which to store her linens. Some did. 

In preparation for marriage, young women were expected to bring to marriage a hope chest filled with basic homemaking needs. One of these was bed linens. 

Well before high school, my grandmother nudged me into compliance with preparation for domesticity. She gently advised me that I would need nice pillowcases and guided me to patterns that my young fingers could execute. (Of all the stitches, French knots were my Waterloo.)

No surprises that kittens were a pattern chosen by a 12-year-old. I didn't really mind working them, but tomboy that I was, embroidering items I never intended to need was definitely not a priority. Let's just say, they languished in drawers, but I did complete two sets of pillowcases because I have them. Both are obviously the work of a neophyte embroiderer.

Pillow case, crocheted edge. c.1950.
Photo by Maurice Marietti
In a giant leap to skilled needlework are my grandmother's worked pillow cases. I have three. Surely they, too, were intended for my hope chest. There are three sets. The hem of the one at right has been cut in a "V" shape with a simple crocheted edging to finish.

Pillow case, cut work. c.1950.
Photo by Maurice Marietti
Another is cutwork, a surface embroidery technique in which sections of the fabric are cut away and the edges reinforced with a simple buttonhole stitch. Although difficult to see in the photo, the design is reminiscent of a southern belle with a broad skirt and flowers flowing from her shoulders.
Pillow case, crocheted edge and
butterfly c.1950.
Photo by Maurice Marietti

And here is another butterfly! Last week, my blog included a lady's handkerchief with a butterfly motif. This one differs in that the butterfly is  sewn onto the pillow case. Its antennae were embroidered on in with a running stitch. It matches the crocheted edging. 

These very ordinary pillow cases are part of my treasure trove. Of little real value, they are special to me alone. I'm surprised that I have saved them as most--if not all--have never served any useful purpose. And yet, they have traveled with me for many years and over many miles. They are part of me.

Embroidered pillow case. c.1955
Photo by Maurice Marietti

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Stylish and functional: The lowly handkerchief

Butterfly handkerchief detail. Photo by Maurice Marietti
Handworked items, especially those used every day, hold a special place in my heart. They stir memories of times past and of the people who worked them.

Among the textiles I've saved over the years are nine handworked handkerchiefs, all family pieces. I look at them and memories of my grandmother and great-grandmother flood back to me. 

Handkerchiefs like these were everyday items. Any lady with a sense of propriety carried one and the more beautiful, the better. Although practical necessities, they were also social signals, conveying not only the lady's needle skills but her status.

This was before Kleenex, which was introduced in 1924. I surely have these as my grandmother thought I should carry one, but I never did. However, I certainly remember those who did. The last wave belonged to my grandmother's era, who was born 1899. I estimate the end of the practice to then end of WWII--and the early 1950's at the latest. At least in Ohio.

Cotton 'blanks' were widely available. In my town, the five-and-dime stores--Woolworth's and Kresge's--offered these squares of finely woven cotton, which were hemmed on the edges. They came in various qualities and some featured machine embroidery in one corner. The handkerchief second from the left on the bottom row in the lower photo is an example. 

The crocheted 'Butterfly' hankie, at top right, was surely a showstopper when pulled out of any lady's purse. Although the edging on three sides is simple, the insertion of the butterfly demonstrates much more skill. The 'blank' hankie was cut to the shape of the upper butterfly wings, machine hemmed and finished with single crochet. Lastly, the butterfly, which had been worked separately, was sewn on.

Handkerchiefs with crochet, tatted, and hairpin lace. c.1940-50's
The oldest hankie is the tan one on the top row, far right. It was made by my great-grandmother, who was born in 1874. I barely remember her, but I remember her house and that she was nearly blind. Even so, she kept crocheting. The edging is simple so I suspect this was done later in her life, likely in the 1940's or early 1950's.

The other hankies were made by my grandmother. Her art form was crochet, but not the shortcut form that uses a big hook. She created delicate, beautiful edgings and small items. One of the most beautiful things I recall her making was a delicate, crocheted shawl. (Unfortunately, I don't know what happened to it.) Four of the hankies shown demonstrate her crochet skills. (The blue-and-white second from the right, top row, and the three on the left, bottom row.)

My grandmother was also skilled at tatting (the blue, bottom right) and hairpin lace (the two at top left: the white with pink-and-white edging and the yellow with yellow-and-white edging.)

I don't  ever recall seeing her knit. I sort of remember that she could knit, but preferred the crochet hook. Fortunately for me, she was a patient teacher--and my needlework mentor. As a young girl, she taught me to crochet, tat, as well as hairpin lace and its bigger brother, broomstick lace. I remember crocheting a red bucket-style purse with a round bottom and a gathered closure. It must have been 'beautiful'--as such self-made creations are to 10-year-olds--but I have no regrets that is not among my textile treasures.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Regaining studio rights

My workroom has sat idle for the past two decades. Well, not exactly idle, but it certainly has not been used to its intended purpose. About 30 years ago, we added space to what had been a laundry room with a pop-out addition. The washer and dryer remained at one end, but the rest was my workroom. It is being resurrected to its most worthy calling.
I've been calling it a workroom as I feel unworthy to call it a studio. Yet. I'm furiously working toward regaining the right.
As I clean and organize my space, which is very well equipped, I'm uncovering a treasure trove. Shelves and cubbies hold sketches, samples, and swatches as well as records and design ideas. So much inspiration that I'm a bit overwhelmed!
I have so many things on my want-to-do list that I think my biggest challenge in this new world order is to develop a master plan to allocate my time. An acquaintance who is also newly retired has decided to focus on one project a day. Not a bad idea. 
Knitting. Hand knitting is an evening task, for the most part, but I have a vintage knitting machine that currently resides beneath a large and ingenious worktable. Every time I knit a large section of stockinette, I think of that machine. M. designed the table for the rather narrow room to fold up against the wall. And, yes, you guessed it. For the knitting machine to become usable again, the table must be clear. It almost is.
Spinning. I've been spinning with my new Ashford Joy double treadle wheel, which was a very thoughtful retirement gift from my dear husband. I have made a personal commitment to the1764shepherdesscall to action for "15 in 15." Spinning 15 minutes daily isn't a huge commitment and strikes me as a manageable goal. I can already see progress. I'm nearly done with the Coopworth fleece. The Tunis is next.
Kumihimo. I've probably made the most progress here. Last summer, I updated my book, Kumihimo: A Systematic Approach to the Ancient Art of Japanese Braiding on the Marudai, and started teaching again. I had a class at the 2014 Garden State Sheep & Fiber Festival and will be with the Princeton Chapter of the Embroiderers' Guild of America in April. 
The challenge with teaching kumihimo is equipment. Although disks are readily available, they are make-do substitutes for a marudai and weighted bobbins. The advantage is that people can see if they like braiding before they invest in the proper tools. The disadvantage is that braiding on the disks is clunky and the resulting braid suffers from lack of uniformity. I'm still noodling how to make the introduction to braiding the best possible experience.
Weaving. My eight-harness Harrisville floor loom takes up most of the workroom space and has stood idle for much too long. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with the rug that is about two-thirds complete. Maybe I'll try to complete it, but the warp is wonky, so I'm prepared to cut it off and start again. It's a pity I didn't at least finish the rug. I still like my design.
I also have an eight-harness Schact table loom and stand for samples and travel. That may be my first foray back into the world of dressing a loom. I rejoined the South Jersey Guild of Spinners andHandweavers and plan to work up some samples for the next weavers' study group meeting. A good goal.
And more immersion awaits me at the MidAtlantic Fiber Association (MAFA) conference in July. I signed up for Su Butler's  course on warp painting, which is obviously popular. It's full! I'm looking forward to experiencing dyeing and weaving with a creative bent.