Blogger tells me this is my 400th blog post. Groovy.
I've spent the last couple weeks of my life knitting this:
My mom likes to use spinning stuff as an object lesson on the importance of sufficient preparation. I think this shawl is an excellent example - hours and hours and hours of preparation went into it before I even started knitting. And it is worth it. I don't know if you can tell from the pictures, but the drape of this thing is unbelievable. It is soft (The Squeaker has been rubbing it against his cheek, chirping "Soft!") and completely wonderful. The wool has almost a shine to it that you can't see in the pictures. You could never just go out to a store and buy something like this. It has to be made by hand. You can't cut corners, either, or the finished product would be nowhere near as luxurious.
Here is the story of this shawl
It is made of 100% lambswool grown by a friend of mine in Vermont. The lamb this wool came from was named Lucy Lu, a merino ewe lamb. This is the natural, undyed color of the wool, a recessive gene known as "moorit." If you look closely at the pictures, you can see striations within the shawl, due to the natural variation of color within the sheep. My friend, Alex, really loved her sheep, and I think it shows through in the wool. It takes a lot of dedication and love to raise soft, fabulous wool like this. Alex specialized in breeding sheep with black and moorit wool. Most large-scale wool farmers selectively breed to remove the colored genes because white wool is easier to dye. But I love the creamy smooth, neutral brown color of this moorit wool.
Alex sent the raw wool to my mom, and I scoured it myself in my mom's bathtub, a process that took the better part of a day. To scour wool, you have to let it soak in hot hot water with dish soap for 20 minutes or so, to get most of the dirt and lanolin out. Then I dragged the wet wool out of the tub and put it through the spin cycle of my mom's washing machine. This I did three times with soap, and three times with regular water to wash the soap out. Then of course you have to let it dry.
After that, I combed the wool using my English combs, a very time consuming process just by itself. It can take an hour and a half to process a single ounce of wool using English combs. The finished yarn is so worth it, though - smooth and even and almost completely free of slubs.
Spinning enough yarn for a shawl takes a long time, mainly because when you spin yarn that fine, it takes absolutely forever to get enough yarn onto the bobbin. And then there's the plying. When I actually sat down to ply all that yarn, it took me the better part of the five hour version of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth. Pioneer women sang as they plied and plied and plied and plied plied...
And you have to wind the yarn to a skein, set the yarn, wind the yarn from a skein into a ball, which took about two days, since I don't have an automatic ball winder. The knitting itself only took about two weeks, which is hardly any time at all comparatively speaking. When I was all done with the knitting, I wet the shawl and blocked it, and that required the use of about 150 individual pins. I left it to dry for slightly less than 24 hours. `
This morning I declared it finished and the height of luxury. Not including the time it took to raise and shear the wool, I would estimate that this shawl represents at least 200 hours of work. And it was worth every minute.
I think most worthwhile things in life are like that, whether you want to go to college or get a good job or have a meaningful relationship or eat healthy, homemade food. We live in an age of supreme instant gratification (Most of this week my motto was, "I want a hot dog and I want it NOW!"), but knitting my shawl has been a good exercise in the rewards of delayed gratification.