Back to Craft, Urgently

So a couple of Saturdays ago, a field trip that I organized for my local almost-spinning-guild finally happened. Four of us met at Webs (America’s largest yarn store – and they’re not kidding) for 9am, and we carpooled up to Northfield to Balky Farm, and another of our group met us there. The original plan had been to go see the sheep shearing and then look through/buy fleeces fresh off the sheep. But the shearer arrived on Friday and had brought an apprentice, which meant that the usual two-day job took only one day for all 140+ sheep. When we arrived, we realized this had been completely serendipitous – the shearer, apprentice, shepherd skirting, the sheep and then our group would¬†never have fit in the barn. We would have absolutely been in the way!

Instead, we naturally took up all the space going through the boxes and boxes of fleeces.

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I can’t adequately express how many fleeces there were. Maybe a hundred? Those are my hands and Rachel’s hands inspecting fleeces – picture shot by Liz (thanks, Liz!!)

These fleeces are large. They are beautiful. They are some cross of varying amounts of Shetland/Dorset/Finn/Romney/Cheviot, not necessarily with all of those breeds in there. There were a LOT of sheep, so there were a LOT of fleeces. The five of us went through them all. So. Much. Wool.

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I believe this is one that Liz bought – a Cheviot fleece. Thanks for the photo, Liz!

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I can’t remember whose fleece pile this was, but this gives you a bit of an idea of what we were doing – all these on this skirting table went home with us. (Photo by Liz – thanks, Liz!)

 

 

Stewart sends some of his fleeces to Prince Edward Island to one of the remaining mills there where his wool is processed and woven into blankets. He sells these at the markets he vends. The shears are what the sheep were shorn with –¬† that makes for very strong hands! And in the bottom picture, you can see many, many happy sheep out in the spring sunshine chomping up new grass. Thank you, sheep!

The shepherd, Stewart Balk, keeps these sheep as a labour of love. He explained to me that his father loved shepherding with all his heart, and Stewart grew to love it as well. He does have another job that I am given to understand pays other bills, and the sales from the farm keep it going. The five of us want to keep this farm going, so we plan to support it as best we can. Very local wool from sheep kept by the happiest shepherd I have ever met, and those of us who visited this farm came away enchanted and determined to make Beautiful Things with the fleeces we bought!

I bought two. I had planned to buy only one, but came away with two. I don’t know what I was thinking. We’ve already made plans to visit the farm next year.

Of course I started to wash them. Yes, I’m packing up my stuff to move in a couple of weeks, but I figured I could at least start washing one of them and see what it would look like. So in went a couple of large handfuls.

 

So on the left, the orange bucket is either the wash water or the initial soak water – I can’t remember, and honestly, both looked very similar when I was done with them. I had started with the white fleece, which you can sort of see a bit of in the bag next to the blue bucket. SO DIRTY. This white fleece is so much whiter than it looked fresh off the sheep. The middle picture shows a bit of clean fleece. I know, I know, it doesn’t look clean, but trust me, it’s squeaky. It no longer smells of sheep, and the remaining vegetable matter is easily combed out. The picture on the right is of the dark grey fleece – I have not washed any of that yet so that luster in that picture is actually mostly lanolin, but watch out. If this cleans as nicely as the white, this is going to be an utterly gorgeous grey.

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I left this picture large so you can see how fluffy this wool is! I combed it, and although there are still tiny bits of VM left, they’ll come out with spinning. This wool is SO SOFT.

Okay, so I just couldn’t wait. I took the top that I’m holding in the picture above and spun it, then chain plied it so I didn’t have to muck about with multiple bobbins and swapping them around (I have a project on the spinning wheel and I didn’t want to change anything). Behold my three ply yarn!

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It’s not perfectly spun – but that’s not the point! The point was to get an idea of what a finished yarn would look like. This yarn is the softest, most delicious I’ve ever spun. See that faint sheen? That’s the luster, and I can promise you that that’s no lanolin shining because I washed it all out. That’s the shine of the natural fiber!

Possibly tonight or tomorrow (in any event, this weekend), I will wash this wee skein. Yes, this wool has already been washed, but after it’s spun and plied, it should be set in some warm water (and sometimes soap or detergent). This causes the fibers to relax into the finished yarn, so there’s some fluffing up that happens called bloom. If there’s any residual lanolin, which is often the case, or other substance (for example, combing milk, which aids in keeping static at bay when you’re combing), that’s the time to remove it. This has neither, but it still needs to relax and bloom. This step can also involve some agitation, which can slightly felt the fibers resulting in a tweedy or otherwise more sturdy yarn. It’s all about what you’re after as a finished yarn in that case. Because I’m pretty sure I want to weave with this yarn, I will probably not add any huge amount of agitation. I love the luster, and there will be further wet finishing when the cloth is woven and off the loom, so.

I promise to take a picture and post it next time! And hopefully, I can get a few handfuls of the grey washed, combed and spun so I can get an idea of what that’s going to look like.

Honestly, creating this wee skein was a balm to my soul. I have so much to do, but took about 30 minutes to make some yarn. I can’t wait until I have a space and the time to have the option to decide to make something on the weekend without a giant list of must-get-done’s looming.

I am still trying to spin for a few minutes every evening before I go to bed to try to make progress on the blue merino wool I’ve got:

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I’ve added a bit of extra twist in here because I know I have a habit of underspinning, and this yarn will be a true three-ply. I have no idea what I’ll do with it! We’ll see what it looks like when I’m done.

I know that yarn looks mighty thin – I’m inspired by my friend Rachel who spins the most gorgeous cobweb-thin yarn. I want to spin just like her when I grow up so that I can weave beautiful, drapey wool cloth!

By the way, if you want to see the size of some of the fleeces and really gorgeous close up photos of the locks, you should ABSOLUTELY go visit Rachel’s Instagram page! Just go. Look. You will not be disappointed. I promise!

The Freak-Out Explanation and Update

So, after three weeks of freaking out, not sleeping, crying all the time, feeling the cold hard edge of panic just a breath away from absolutely slicing me open, I went to an appointment to meet my oncologist. I had thought this was to discuss genetic testing, possibly get blood drawn for that, and to discuss the medication I’d be going on after my surgery.

What happened was that I found out things had been done backwards.

It’s not that I got good news, it’s that I got the news I should have gotten before having the meeting with the surgeon and nurse when I was given two choices: lumpectomy with radiation, bilateral mastectomy. Instead of my radical choice, I’ve been put on tamoxifen for the time being, I will get genetic testing sometime in the next few weeks, and after getting the results I will have lots of time to decide what to do next. The tamoxifen will keep any cancer from progressing and that gives me time. I did not have this exact information before.

It’s been hard to disseminate this information among my friends. I’m so tired and worn out and I just don’t want to talk about it anymore. But I realized after a few people had seemed relieved at this bit of a reprieve, and then said almost as an aside that my initial course of action seemed kind of rash, that that initial decision had not been not received in the proper context. It may be that I will never be able to convey that context, but I thought I should try. I want to be understood, and I want people in my position to be understood. There really is logic behind the freak-out, and I almost feel like some of the comments about my rashness are a bit of a negative commentary on my character.

When I was seven years old, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember the trip to the doctor. My brother and I stayed in the car while our parents went in to the office. It was just about 1980 and kids could stay in the car unattended for an hour while no one batted an eyelash. The one very clear memory I had was of my mother walking out of the office on her way back to the car, leaning on my father, crying her eyes out. She was to have a mastectomy right away. Chemo would come. Radiation would come. My mother, being very conscientious, had me feel the lump she had found before surgery so I’d know what to look for when I grew up. It was about the size of a pea and hard.

The next two years were awful, and I can’t even imagine what it was like for my mother. She went through several rounds of chemotherapy, and a few rounds of radiation. Her right breast had been removed, the lymphnodes removed, and that side of her had been radiated so much that her skin had turned black and blistery. Her hair fell out. She vomited more often than she ate. She slept on the couch all the time, and tried hard not to take the morphine she’d been prescribed because it made her hallucinate. There were special heating pads my father would prepare for her by dropping them in boiling water and then, fishing them out of the pot again, wrapping them in towels to lay on her chest and arm.

She lost weight, became gaunt and slightly yellow, and she smelled different. I realized years later that she smelled sick. I don’t remember her crying as much as you’d expect, and she tried hard to be a good mother to my brother and me even though she could barely get up off the couch.

The cancer spread. I learned the word “metastasized” when I was 8 years old. She would spend a couple of weeks in the hospital at a time. Sometimes a month. She died there in the wee hours of the morning, and her mother, our grandmother who was staying with us at the time, took the phone call. Grandma told my brother and me later that morning when we woke up. It was a Saturday and it was June 5, 1982, and my mother had just turned 42 three weeks earlier.

I was nine years old. I have been worrying about breast cancer for almost exactly 37 years. Since then, I’ve kept my eyes open for scientific articles about cancer, I’ve tried to eat right and exercise, I’ve avoided things that might cause cancer, I’ve just assumed that I would reach about 42 years of age and then my number would be up. I know medicine is much different now – intellectually, I know this. I have read about it, I have read the clinical trial information that had been translated for filing the trial results with the FDA at my last job* (it was for this study), PET scans are a thing now, genes have been found, genomes have been sequenced…but when you’re 7 and you watch the most important person in your life literally wither and die because of a thing called cancer, it changes you on a level that stays with you always. I can’t imagine a different life, and I know people who have not experienced this cannot understand mine. So when I was told I had cancer, and days later was whisked into a conference room with a surgeon, and a nurse, and I was given a choice of what to do with the information I had, there was no amount of “but medicine has come such a long way, you’re not going to die” that was going to quiet the crying, worrying child inside of me. Instantly, I wanted to get that cancer out and all possibility of it ever coming back, so of course I chose bilateral mastectomy. It was visions of my mother’s blackened chest, her sickly smell, and her death that rose up in me when I was told I had to make a choice.

I am not freaking out as much now. The words have lost some of their power as I’ve gotten used to them, and the oncologist’s information was what I needed. I may still get a bilateral mastectomy, or I may just opt for the lumpectomy. I don’t know yet. Either way, I’m on tamoxifen for at least 5 years. I am so tired, and still so sad, and so worried. In between, I am packing to move, and I’m trying so hard to not worry about everything else.

Thank you, dear readers, for trying to understand. I promise to write more about things I am making.

 

 

 

* Although I had read in depth about tamoxifen at that job, I did not fully understand what it did. While I may have read the patient information leaflet original and translation, I sort of think I only read the prescribing information in the clinical trial data, and the treatment results. If you think that’s relevant information for when you get cancer, I invite you to read the doctor information leaflet for ibuprofen that contains all the side effect and adverse event information, and all the statistics – I guarantee you’ll never take it again, especially if you’re not a statistician. And you won’t remember what ibuprofen is actually for because you’ll be focused on terms like “coffee grounds vomit” and “liver failure”.