Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sheep to Shawl

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.


  1. I love this shawl!! What's the pattern name? Delayed gratification can be pretty sweet. I'm really loving spinning the wool I use for projects first instead of going to the LYS to buy yarn!

  2. Hi there... what a lovely thing to say about Lucy Lu. She was a twin and had such a great fleece! I miss the sheep terribly and yes I loved them and took pride in the fleeces that they produced. When I sold the farm, Lucy Lu and her sister when to a farm in RI where Paul loved them as I did. Good homes and well cared for.
    Your spinning and knitting skill shows. What a beautiful shawl!
    love to you guys out there!

  3. That's a beautiful shawl! It does look so soft. Also, I'm so impressed with all of your skills and talents in the steps it takes to make it, from raw wool on. Sometimes I think I want it both - the real results plus fast time. Even when I do homemade things, I still have never gone from such a complete beginning to end as you have, nor have I put so much work into anything...probably in my whole life.

  4. What a gorgeous shawl! It must feel so good to finish a project like that, but it's great too that you obviously enjoyed the process of making it. I don't consider myself a particularly crafty person (I think all my creativity has gone to music) but I really appreciate seeing the things that others create with their hands. I love that they are one of a kind and so much love goes into them. And I have also used Pride and Prejudice while working on particularly long's a great movie for that. :)

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  6. WWWOOOOWWWW!!! That's amazing! the time, the detail, the perseverance! Wow! Now there is a true heirloom.

  7. What a great work of art. I wonder if the State Fair has a category for handiwork like this. If so, I am sure you would win a prize!

  8. Uhh...I think my comment got deleted so I'll try again.

    That shawl looks amazing! Fantastic job!!! It must feel awesome to have done the entire process yourself! :)

  9. Beth! This is amazing! . . . I feel like you and my mother should compare notes one day. I just sent her this link knowing she will be overcome with the process and detail of your work.


I do so love comments. They make me feel important.


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