Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Rooing Gutes!

Sweeping up the tufts of dog furballs around the house yesterday made me think of the Gute sheep we saw on Gotland. They were "rooing"...naturally shedding their fleeces... the way primitive breeds of sheep do, and I was able to capture a pretty good picture of it.
I took these photos of a small flock of the Gutes that remain on the south western shores of the island. In 1920 only 20 of these Viking age sheep remained, but thanks to efforts on both Gotland and Faro, this breed seems saved from extinction (tho' I wouldn't say it's thriving based on how hard they were to find!)

Originally belonging to the Finnish Landrace family of sheep, the Gutes from Gotland were horned (even the ewes and sometimes with 4 horns, not just 2!) and came in many colors, as you can see from the various photos here. The Vikings, who frequented Gotland, crossed them with Romanov and Karakul sheep that they brought from their travels in Russia. As a result, the Gute genes were diluted, the animals lost their horns, stopped rooing and became all grey. This crossed sheep, then became it's own breed and is what we know today as the Gotland (Palsfar) sheep.
I'd have loved to have found a fleece of Gute to buy while there so I could experiment with it- I imagine it felts really well- but the Gutes were hard to find and, as you can see, they still had their fleeces on anyway! Bunches of their wool was lying all about the paddock that the sheep had already rooed (sp?), but I could only reach a few locks that had dropped on the ground and nobody was around to inquire about purchasing a Gute fleece, so I'll have to content myself with felting this absolutely gorgeous Gotland fleece I was able to purchase there. The Gotland ewe pictured here with her triplets was grazing in the yard of an amazing 13th century church in Tofta.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Do you make to sell or sell what you make?

The quilters were in town for the big annual Vermont Quilt Show last week. Groups of them stop back in each year when they're in Vermont and new ones find me. As one group checked out & left the store, I heard one say to another "oh, there was just so much to see and so much to feel there wasn't enough time"(they'd been here over an hour)to which another in the group responded "that is just the coolest shop we've ever been in, seriously, EVER, don't you think?"!
So I had to share (not because these remarks were so unusual... I am paid compliments directly about the shop remarkably often) but because it caused me to think about what aspect of the shop it was that made it stand out so memorably with that group that had essentially "knit-shop-hopped" the eastern seaboard on their way to the show.
This reflection led me back to that recurring dilemma I grapple with constantly ... for those of us who have turned our passion into our livelihood - do we make/do what we think will sell, OR, do we reserve our time & energy to make what we creatively want to and then hope the money will follow? I usually do some of each, but always ending up erring on the side of doing what I think more people would actually make and wear than making what I creatively want to (afterall, it's not the ohs and ahs that keep kibbles in Chloe's bowl!).
And yet, it seems to be these "outlier" projects that elicit the oohs! that seem to leave the lasting impression and which seem to be one of the main reasons so many out-of-towners hyperventilate when they visit(I wish I had tape recorded 2 ladies who stopped in from Montreal last was about an hour of that famous scene from When Harry Meets Sally!).
So this year, newly reinspired by the art and traditions witnessed on my recent vacation to Russia, Estonia & Gotland, I'm testing that "field of dreams" approach and going for broke....I just chose 6 projects from my queue of "projects-I-want-to-do-that-probably-nobody-will-buy-material-for-because-no-one-in-their-right-mind-would-want-to-take-the-time-or-spend-the-amount-of-money-they-cost-to-make-them" and I've decided to treat myself to the indulgence of putting the time and money into them even if nobody ever buys the materials to make them too!
A new approach for me....let's hope I can stick to it. It sounds so obvious... of course you do what you're inspired to do and the money will follow, but since my vendors don't accept oohs and aahs for payment there may be times throughout the year that my resolve wavers!
If you struggle with the create vs. make to sell balance, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pink Silkworms!

If you've been to sheep & wool shows or seen colorful silk cocoons for sale on line (like the ones I dyed here), they are cocoons that have been dyed AFTER the cocoon was spun. And, importantly to the fiber artist, the dye will disappear from these pretty little cocoons once you enzymatically remove the sericin (the substance the worm ejects along with the silk protein to makes the cocoon hard and help protect the worm from predators while it develops into the moth). And you'll be left with either white or tan cocoons, depending on whether the cocoons dyed were the cultivated Bombyx Mori (bright white) or cocoons of the wild type moth (which eats leaves with tannin in them so the silk they spin is "discolored" a lovely earthy tan color). But now the Singapore Agency for Science, Technology and REsearch has come up with a way of integrating the color into the actual protein as the cocoon is spun! So the cocoon is colored and the silk remains colored after removing the sericin. Even the worm turns the color of the dye it is going to produce (see photo below)! I'm not sure how I feel about this advance in fiber technology yet. The aim is to reduce the need to commercially dye silk to make it cheaper and I suppose this might be a better thing for the environment? Anyway... this week a customer (whose husband is a chemical engineer, I believe) brought in an article from one of his trade journals about introducing fluorescent rhodamine dyes in with the mulberry leaves so that the worm eats the dye right along with the leaves so the dye molecule is actually integrated into the fibroin protein of the silk and becomes a permanent aspect of the silk fiber. The range of colors so far developed are nothing to write home about (in my mind, anyway) and the story is still out on whether the color will be light fast and also whether the integration of the dye into the protein molecule changes the strength, sheen, or softness of the natural silk. But I thought it was interesting to know about, so thought I'd share it...

And by the way, if you want to learn more about how silk is harvested from cocoons or how to knit directly from the coccoon, I have more information here on the website. Here are a few last photos of some 8th generation Vermont silk cocoons I raised here a few years back!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Back to the Future?

I finished up my Gottland project but forgot to photograph all the finished projects before shipping them off for XMAS gifts, so I only have these 2 knitting accessory pouches for show & tell....I ended up using them as a canvas to play with some embroidery stitching and as good practice for putting in zippers....after knitting 4 of these, I think I could add zippers to knitted garments in my sleep! The only mittens I ended up knitting -so far- from the Gottland fleece was a pair of solid dark gray pop up paws for my brother Eric, who resides on the Outer Banks and spends lots of cold blustery winter days casting from shore with his fishing buddies.

The fleeces were lovely to work with....I really enjoyed the way they felt to spin and knit. The lanolin was quite nice for my dry fingertips. I still have quite a bit of the fleece left and will spin it up at a finer gauge later this month so I can knit up a couple pair of the Gotland mitten patterns for store models. I was disappointed that the patterns I had intended to knit for XMAS just didn't look great at the gauge of yarn I had spun you work with what you have and these accessory pouches were fun to make and will be well used.

In the meantime tho', I've taken a break from spinning the Gottland and returned to a felting project I've been working on "on and off" for the past couple of years....felting every breed of sheep I can get my hands on! It's been fun to seek out representative fleeces of the various breeds...some typical (Cormo, Shetland, Icelandic, Wenslydale, etc) and other more unusual breeds (California Red, CVM, Tunis, Polwarth, Teeswater, etc), to see how differently they felt and how different the fabrics rendered are.

In addition to felting a 30 gm 10x10 sample of each, I'd been making a finished product of each, but realized recently that I'd either gifted or sold many of the finished goods. So now I'm embarking this winter on the task of re-making either a hat or bag or pillow in each of the breeds that I didn't keep a "finished" representation of so that in the end I'll have a pretty comprehensive "library" of samples for teaching purposes.

One of the interesting samples I came across as I was sifting thru my documentation last week was of a California Red fleece. The fine red "kemp" in the fleece wasn't so obvious in the batt, but after felting, it is really what predominated in the sample....not sure my photograph tells the picture as much as it shows "live".... and the difference in the finished felt is quite remarkable!