Origins

Posted by Daniel Brewer on

The origins, of the strange, the awesome…

Ok, just weird.

So, someone asked, after reading my little “About Gnomespun” blurb, how I got into spinning and dyeing. It’s something of a complicated story, thus why I refer to it as an origin story (also it makes me feel like a super hero, and who doesn’t think that’s fun?).

You see, I grew up on a small sort-of-self-sustaining hobby farm. This may require some explanation, especially for those of you familiar with big farms.

My parents believe in being capable. That is, they like to know how to do things, such that – if they needed to – they could get by without too much outside help. They never went so far as homesteading, but instead struck a balance, with a hobby farm.

A hobby farm is a farm that doesn’t quite function like a traditional farm. That is, we didn’t make (or try to make) a living off the farm, and it was only self-sufficient by a very limited meaning of the term. It was a small “hobby” farm (though don’t let the word “hobby” make you think it was easy) of 4.7 acres. Just small enough we had to worry about neighbors not liking the sounds or smells (has to be 6 acres in order to ignore neighbor complaints of animal sounds/smells). Luckily, we had nice neighbors.


We raised:
sheep (Corriedales), goats (mostly Nubians, Toggenbergs, and Alpines), chickens (something black, something gold, Rhodies, and several varieties of bantams), geese (Grey Toulouse), and pigs.

And, of course, a dog and a cat or two or four (depending on the time)

The goats were milked (after being taken to visit the daddy goat), the sheep (a pair) happily bred and made lambs (usually in February in the far back corner of the pasture, during an ice storm) which along with the goat kids and goslings, were either eaten by us, or sold to the Portuguese guys who would come by every spring.

We also had large gardens, and a small orchard.

I grew up shaking apple trees, milking goats, helping sheep give birth, and finding out my bottle-fed baby goat Oreo was, in fact, growing up to be a billy, and not a nannie (she, was a he). It was a good time.

Along with this, my family did all those associated things, like pickling and canning (which I’ve been doing myself for a few years now). So, during the course of learning how to do things, my Mother bought a spinning wheel, and Ashford Traditional, in the days when they had single treadles, little ornamentation, and one ratio.

Mom never did a lot of spinning, we didn’t have the time to put into great prep, and never found someone to do it for us at a price we could afford (two fleeces just weren't economical in a time of far fewer small mills). However, she did learn how, and so my brother and I learned the basics and played around on it despite never being able to get more than about 6 inches of “yarn” made at a time (and totally not understanding plying).

Fast forward a few years. I’m 7. Grandma comes to visit (she lived in Los Angeles at the time, now she lives in NC). Grandma crochets. I have a lovely rainbow afghan she made me when I was a kid.

She was making something or other, and I asked what she was doing. “Crochet” she said. And when I expressed more interest, she asked if I wanted to learn. Wham. The fiber bug had infected me.

Crochet slept in my blood for many years, until about 6 years ago, when I started graduate school. I discovered that crocheting helped my mind to settle, and gave me something to do while I spaced out after long days of intense thought in lab. So, I started making scarves and box fold hot pads.

And then, my Grandma’s 80th birthday came around. In return for the gift she’d given me, I made her this afghan, which is about… 8-10 feet square

And that’s when it started to hit. I didn’t have to make things that other people had made. I could come up with my own designs, my own patterns. My brain started to turn…

And so, about a year and ~1,000 hours later, I had designed, and crocheted, from scratch, a full length, a-line skirt, lined it with silk that I had hand dyed myself. All because Mom made a passing comment

This was where the bug really took hold and wouldn’t let go, ever again. You see, it’s really my Parents’ fault. If they hadn’t been so competent, and encouraging of competence and capability, then this would never have happened. I mean really, who thinks it’s a good idea to go from granny squares to fitted garments and hand dyeing silk?

Oh right. Me.

Because my family’s modus operendi is, “If you don’t know how, find a book or someone who does, and then you can learn.” Basically, that, barring physical limitations, there’s no particular reason you shouldn’t be able to learn to do anything. So, it never ocurred to me, despite having never sewn a garment without a pattern or dyed anything more complicated than tie-dye, that I couldn’t do these things, given enough time, patience, and research.

Then, I doomed myself. A friend pointed me to this thing called “Ravelry.” Twice, actually, before I bothered to wander over there. Oh. Boy. You see, once I was there I found a local knitting group. I asked if they would mind having a male crocheter, and they were more than welcoming. They were my people.

A month and a half later, I asked them to help me learn to knit. Two weeks later, I started to knit the Thuja socks. I was hooked. I love crochet, and will always love it. But knitting makes sense to me. That is, I have a natural affinity for the structure, the way the stitches form the fabric. Damnit. ‘Cause really, I needed another hobby, right?

Well, another… month? After that, I succumbed to the spinning bug. Again, you can blame my knitting group. The bastards… I mean wonderful people include quite a few spinners. So they kept bringing these soft, luscious fibers and beautiful handspun yarns which we’d all ooh and ah over.

Now, something you have to understand about spinning. It’s a disease that wants to be spread. There’s something in a spinner that makes them want to convert non-spinners. All the protestations of, “But I don’t have time! I don’t need another hobby!” were for naught.

It wasn’t long before I gave in, and planned to borrow my Mom's old wheel to see if I could do what these talented people were doing.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, I found more people on Ravelry, the most sincere, and adept enablers I have ever met. These wily people who instantly decided (before I had actually begun to spin, mind you) that I should not only spin, but make a business of it. “Uh, sure, why not?” I laughed.

And then… came the Sheep and Wool festivals. I spent a bunch of money at New Hampshire sheep and wool, hung out with Bowerbird, who I knew from college, and had a good time, screwed around on one of the newer Ashford Trads, and reminded myself what I was doing again. Ok, I was ok. Spent a lot of money, but I thought, “No problem, I can stop whenever I want, I mean, heck, I haven’t even started yet! I don’t have the wheel yet!”

Ha. Ha. ha. Hush you, I can hear you laughing.

Yeah. Because clearly, the bug wasn’t hooked yet (or so I kept telling myself). You see, then I went to the MA Sheep and Wool festival, and ran into these people I had somehow managed to miss at NH.

 

That’s right, the Tsock Tsarina and Jennifer.

Now, let me tell you at this point, I have had like two or three really brief contacts with Tsocky on Ravelry, and I don’t think any with Jennifer. I was (am) a bit infamous among a certain subset (and if you don’t know why, I’m not telling, yes Silver I am still planning that colorway someday), but still I didn’t know these people…

Suddenly, I’m being informed, not asked, informed, that I’m going to Rhinebeck. And encouraged, encouraged! by people I’ve hardly met, to spin yarn and sell it! What? Guys, hey! I haven’t actually spun anything yet, remember?

But there is no stopping destiny. And so, sure enough, there I was at Rhinebeck. And here I am now... 11 years after that fateful first Rhinebeck. I've become a dyer, I've learned to weave, I've designed and published a sweater pattern...

So, how did I get here?

Blame my parents.

~The Gnome


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  • Now I know why when you were around I always felt warmth and earth and joy. How did I not know these things about you??? I mean, besides your artistic prowess and creative genius…

    Angie Soucek on

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