Lively Fibers, Deadly Dyepots

Friday, November 13, 2009

On the terrifying ecstacy of multiple options.

There are just too many things I want to do. I fear I've become a professional fiber dilettante.

How do other spinners find time to knit? I don't mean swatching and making the occasional scarf, but hardcore Elizabeth Zimmerman type fascinating science and art type of knitting? I look at my vase of knitting needles with longing but right beside it are my spindles, my Bosworths, my Greensleeves, smug in their baskets on my no-room-for-coffee table, confident and secure that I will choose them. They're usually right. I have drawers and bags and bins full of spindle balls of yarn confronting me daily with their un-knit existential angst.

Then there's the issue of color. Color! My drug of choice. Do I spindle skein after skein of matching yarn that I can knit into a garment? No. I can't stop myself from trying every single combination of every single length of fiber in my possession. No two spindle balls alike. I wear black! I would never wear the acid trip of boggle-hued handspun I hoard so jealously. I'd love to learn to knit socks, but when can I do that when all I do is dye fiber and spin and dye more fiber and spin and read more spinning books and spin some more?

Now I get to say something pretentious and snotty; I trained as a painter. My beloved indulgent father blew his hard-earned life savings on a very expensive degree for me from a very expensive art school and now I'm sitting here not on piles of cash earned from my illustrious career in art, but on piles and piles of wool and silk and alpaca. That don't match. That I only knit scarves and hats and swatches from because all I want to do is freaking spin.

Yarn is just more paint to me. Paint that I can "squeeze" out in endlessly long stripes of color as though from so many tubes of sexy greasy oil paint, the crazy expensive paint colors, the $40.00 tube of super special magic cadmium yellow or cobalt blue. The sensation of spinning and watching the stitches interact in a knitted swatch is exactly the same as painting. There are no giant heavy stretcher frames or any smell to annoy the neighbors, no harmful solvents, just easily contained and cleaned acid dyes and poofs of fiber all over the place competing with the continually copious shedding of dog and cat hair.

Maybe yarn lacks the potential profundity of a painting, but then as far I'm concerned most paintings suffer that lack as well. That's not a bad thing, either. Color for color's sake is one of the best, most honest things. When I come across something good I feel it with my eyes. It's a tangible physical sensation that I can only describe as exhaling through my pupils, silly as that sounds. I pass a cool painting in some gallery window downtown near Columbia college or a Japanese maple tree slaying the world with that rage of intense red that's blindingly bright and dark as sin all at once, and I swear I can feel my eyes go oooooooh as though a breath rushes out of them. It's an eyegasm. (As Wash would say in Firefly, hey, some people juggle geese.)

Purple prose about the color red. Ha.

Wheel spinning is different, though that troubles me. I can make enough yarn for an actual garment on my Baynes, but then I get so caught up in that process as well that I never knit that sweater or skirt I start out thinking I'll knit. Don't even get me started on my drum carder, or my handcards, or dyeing fiber, or how much I love flicking straw and burrs out of the wonderfully spongy, lanolin-rich wool I buy from Homestead. I love the random colors of someone else's dyeing, like eating someone else's version of my own favorite recipes and finding them just as good, if different. My husband drives me out to The Fold in Marengo and I come away with locks, silks, undyed top, different kinds of dye other than my old standby Jaquard. I ogle the double drive wheels and looms and examine all the yarns that I want to learn to make, every kind of yarn, every single kind.

You can probably tell I'm still in my first five years of spinning. I love every kind and preparation of fiber and feeling lanolin on my fingers turns me on. Does that ever go away? And how is this attraction to sheep's oil any different from my attraction to linseed oil in paint? It's brushstrokes I roll into balls or skeins. Maybe this is my abstract period in yarn, when I'm just in love with the process and smell and being covered in delightful little poofs of unusual color that kind old ladies pick off of me in line at the grocery store.

I used to think it was kind of strange to make yarn for its own sake, or felt for its own sake. I'm over that now, but I still hope to sit down and learn to knit constructions beyond my current fixation on scarves and throws that always end up way too long because I can't stop trying out all my nutty yarns.

Because I know there's a divide in the spinning community between traditional and "art" spinners, I'll state for the record that it was the art yarns that attracted me and the super technical traditional yarns that sucked me in and cemented my commitment to the craft. I love both. I want to make both. I'm not really a group player who joins guilds or groups, so I operate mostly in isolation (solitude would be a better word because I happen to enjoy working in isolation or with the company of one or two treasured and much more talented friends). I scour used book stores and libraries for spinning books, knitting books, especially old ones, and I watch videos on YouTube.

I started spinning right after evacuating from Katrina, so I've been doing it for a while, and I have confidence that my yarn doesn't suck, so I'd like to start selling it. I pride myself on being as thorough and meticulous in my craftsmanship as I can possibly be, but I haven't had "formal" training. I am aware of the issues experienced spinners have with less seasoned spinners undercutting in what they charge for their yarns, and I will be conscientious when I start offering things for sale soon. Just getting this out of the way because I want to be clear that I'm open to criticism, both of my product and my business practices. I want to learn more. I want to hear from the nice supportive softies and the jaded old farts and everyone in between. Got a beef with my yarn? Please bring it to my attention, if you have the time.

Enough with the disclaimers and too-earnest presenting of my butt for flamethrowing. I'm probably more fun than this. I've resisted all this social networking stuff forever, but I will post my little pictures and show you what's on the spindles and the wheel and the needles and in the dyepot. Also, cats. There will be cats. The hubby is a crafty critter as well, so he'll make appearances, and just for comic effect I'll probably post stuff from my art journals and my efforts at jewelry making and eventually weaving.

OK, gotta swatch. I've recently been turned onto this Falkland wool that makes me want get naked and whirl like a dervish in my living room with the curtains open as the soft fluffy roving winds around my corpulent limbs until the neighbors call the cops and I end up on YouTube, humiliated forever, disowned by family, shunned by friends, yet absolute in my knowledge that it was worth it. The fiber is that good. Hedonism in the extreme. Scandalous. Scandalous.