Forgive me, fiber darlings, as the golden falling walnut leaves and the true approach of autumn sends me into paroxysms of nostalgia – you see, I’ve completed a very long personal fiber art project, and will not hesitate to use it as an excuse to wax sentimental 😉
Translation: This is a long personal reflection post and a project with no patterns. 😉
It was almost 4 years ago exactly that I decided to give my still new (to me) Ashford Traveler Double Drive spinning wheel a good workout by ordering several pounds (!!) of Alpaca fiber that I got on sale.
I had already been working with drop spindles at this point, but I was excited to take advantage of the larger, faster batches one could produce with the wheel. I dug into the first pound with vigor, producing a tight and even dark brown set of yarns… but like lots of large projects, the initial momentum got lost and it took me several years to finish spinning the rest of the fiber.
In the mean time I learned and experimented with lots of other things, and even added more alpaca fiber to the hoard, including a raw fleece gifted to me by a friend (not much of that one went into the final product – hand carding is a workout!!)
The fleeces followed me, like a little herd of alpacas themselves, though many phases of life in the past four years. I spun and played with them, dreamed with them. They reminded me all the time of the farms and ranches I worked at when I was younger and traveling the United States, work-trading as a farm hand at communes and eco-villages. Every fiber of them passed through my hands eventually, to twist together on the wheel or spindle – how many thoughts are in these fibers? How many dreams?
At once point I got exuberantly experimental about natural dyeing again (my first forays consisted of tea, coffee, turmeric, and a failed pokeberry batch way back in 2009-10 or so), so I started collecting the vegetable waste from my day job in the produce department and brewing up a big batch of avocado dye from the pits and skins. Raw material, collected and transmuted again. How many hands picked the fruit? How many dreams did they dream?
When I dive, I deep dive. I want to know the parts of a process like I know the breathing of my lungs, intrinsically, so that my fingers can read the dreams. To me, that is the way to respect – respect what, I don’t know. The energies it took to create everything around me? Maybe. It is gratitude, definitely.
When the fibers were carded and dyed and spun and plied and washed and dried, I took them to my fatter knitting needles: the 9.00 mm circulars from my interchangeable set. (I remember the super long knitted scarf from a decade ago, and how I tried to cram so many stitches of recycled cotton onto a cheap plastic yard sale needle and snapped it into oblivion, losing hundreds of tiny knit stitches to my cold-sweating terror…)
Good thing my tools have evolved with me.
I knit and knit and knit, practicing my speed-purling, practicing my yarn overs, dropping stitches and switching to garter occasionally. I never got the bug for delicate knit patterns, I like my knits huge and stupid and chunky and easy.
I knew it was going to be a big folded rectangle essentially, with two arm holes. Simple. A large serape-like shell could be worn over other winter layers, since not all of the yarn I used is next-to-skin soft – but holy heck is it warm! Alpaca fiber is also naturally water-resistant, enhancing this wrap’s qualities as outerwear.
I played up the textural aspects of this piece, letting my big dumb rectangle be the blank canvas for every nuanced lump in the fiber. It was handspun; it was messy, chunky, uneven, perfectly imperfect. I did not want it to look sleek, cosmopolitan, curated. It was my glorious mess. So I did what I learned to do best in the grueling hours of the windowless rooms in studio art at Indiana University – turn imperfections into advantages.
(Mostly) planned dropped stitches provided visual breaks vertically, and lines of garter stitches complemented and accented the color changes horizontally, creating a weathered and distressed texture that plays up the lumpy, bumpy, mismatched yarnscape. The large needles allowed plenty of looseness in the stitches to give the otherwise square shell garment a flattering bit of drape. The rough visual style belies the incredibly squishy loft of the bulky alpaca yarns.
I can’t believe I spun 100% of this garment – it is my first large project to be entirely handspun. Some parts are a little scratchy, I’ll admit, and it certainly needs a second wash (it’s fragrant in a strongly camelid sort of way at the moment) – but this piece will warm me now in a special way, because so much of my story is now shared with it.
I get really excited when I finish a piece that’s taken me years, to me they feel like a victory! Previously, the Stump had been my longest-held project (3 years), but now the Alpaca Wrap (4 years) is the record holder 😉
And here’s my advice to every artist who may have had the tough moments, like me, that make dreams feel like impossibilities: Patience, patience, patience.