Thursday, April 15, 2021

An 1895 Godet Petticoat With Boning and Stiffened Frills: Adding a Stiffened Hem Facing

While I haven't posted about the petticoat since February, it's not for lack of working on it. Oh no. There's been a ridiculous amount of work. Documentation simply fell behind. So. In this post I'll talk about a step I never meant to take: adding a stiffened hem facing before tackling the boning.

The petticoat, laid flat, inside out, with facing sewn on
but not finished at the top.
The little lump of shadow on the sofa is Lily kitty in 
the middle of a mid-winter nap.

How did that happen? Trying the petticoat on the dress form is how it happened.

It seemed smart to see what the petticoat was like sans any stiffening whatever but with the godet pleats set in place. After all, without those large undulating flutes, the back is longer than the front and the entire thing looks ill-fitting.

So I set the petticoat onto the form, and then pinned the side darts approximately where my original pattern suggested to fit the sides into that hip-defining shape so typical of the decade, and pinning three very messy box pleats in the back, as close to where they are supposed to go as I could get given my larger waistline. The original pattern has oodles of initial waist room. Remember, it's the box pleating of that excess, and how the pleats are handled, that creates the godet plaits.

No opening was cut. That can wait until the exact placement of the box pleats is set, and then an opening can go under one of the pleats.

Here's what it looked like. My adjustable dress form isn't "me" at all: it's too wide across the front and two narrow from the side, especially if a corset were worn, and the godets are just pinned madly, but you get the idea.

The petticoat without stiffening, back

The petticoat without stiffening, front

The petticoat without stiffening, side

What a droopy back, but you can see that the godet plaits -- godet fluting -- organ folds -- whatever you want to call them -- have the potential to be beautiful if given something to help them puff, and that the full body of the silk shantung is a good match for that sort of effect. Something to keep in mind for outer skirts!

Adding the Facing

However, I looked at the silk and thought, putting boning or wires and especially the pleated haircloth frills from my inspiration petticoat is going to drag on that silk. I need a hem facing. Then I thought, whether it's overkill or not, I am going to stiffen that facing with interlining.

I am beginning to think like a mid-1890s home seamstress: stiffen, stiffen, any way you can! Beauty before ease... 

The prospect of paying for more haircloth to use as interlining was not attractive, so out came milliner's crinoline (a bit different than tarlatan) from the stash. It proved too limp to do much. Here is some in my hand, so you understand what it's like.

Milliner's crinoline

Out came milliner's buckram, a medium-heavy weight. That seemed about right in the hand, and probably too stiff, but I have what I have. Here it is.

Milliner's buckram, mid-weight. No flopping in the hand here...

So I cut the silk facing and the buckram interlining:

  • 5-inch wide facing pieces (including 1/2 inch for the bottom seam allowance and 1/2 inch for the top) was cut using the original pattern pieces as a guide, with 1/4 inch for each side seam allowance;
  • 4-inch wide interlining, again using the pattern pieces as a guide.

Because I had sewn the petticoat seams by hand, I hand-sewed the facing pieces onto the petticoat bottom too. Running stitch for two stitches, then a backstitch, and so on.

Sewing the facing to the bottom of the petticoat while Nutmeg naps

...And tacked the interlining to one layer of the silk by hand. The tacking stitches will be covered by the haircloth frills. Dear Heaven, was tacking an awful, unpleasant, bloody-hell process. Why didn't I use a sewing machine? At that time we were in an icy cold snap, outside it was still getting dark early, and sitting at a machine up in the brr-chilly, shadowy upstairs was not enticing. 

So instead, stubborn -- but warm! -- silly that I was, the silk and buckram and I battled the entire four yards around the petticoat bottom, leaving multiple little bloody marks on the silk that never did come out completely. The needle kept hating to go through the silk and then would stop angrily on tough, thick buckram fibers and slip unexpectedly sideways and into my fingers.

The facing was not hemmed over the buckram to finish the inside. That's a later step.

That's the post for today.

Next up, the battle of the bones, wires, CAT5 cabling, canes, milk jugs, and cords to give the petticoat the delicious width and sweep it cries out for. Can you guess which one ended up staying in the petticoat hem?

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Three Snows in a Row: Unusual Here in Central Kentucky

Good portions of the United States have had a miserable and dangerous time this past seven or eight days and portions of Kentucky have been trashed by repeat rounds of ice and sleet. The Twitter account of Chris Bailey, our local weatherman, is full of downed trees and power lines, blocked roads and ice-sheathed everything, along with bizarre videos of sleet pouring off of roofs like barrel-fulls of ball bearings. Several friends were without power or power and water both, though the main damage has been to the east of us. The snow and cold will linger a few more days. 

Outdoors, all is quiet except for the birds. Our street has been white and rarely traveled for over a week.

At our house, we avoided a power outage this time, and the main concern has been feeding the birds, because everything is covered thus:

With two layers of ice on the ground, and most of the branches still encased, the birds can't get to food too easily. The below picture was at high magnification. The branches aren't blurry -- that's ice.

We put out multiple feeding stations: the hanging feeder for the titmice and finches, cardinals, chickadees and sparrows; pans under the porch overhang and sprinkled over the snow for the robins and starlings -- who fussed at each other until realizing there was plenty of food for all -- and bluejays, and crows. I spread peanut butter and seed on a pinecone and hung it next to the arbor vitae for the wee birds, but the bigger birds found it until driven away by a squirrel, who hung upside down on it and chomped away.

Here robins and a starling, feathers all puffed out against the cold, share the feeding pan in a protected spot next to the back door.

Inside the back door, the kitties watched and watched during most of the daylight hours, Nutmeg chattering and flattening herself, and sometimes pawing the door. Here they are after the first ice storm, when there was less white on the ground. The birds knew they are safe, so ate unconcernedly, and watched us all indoors as we watched them. It's a mutual watching society.

Over the week, some of the ice had not melted as much as evaporated in the cold, so the trees droop less, thank Heaven, and we no longer have 25 to 30 birds at a time. There is plenty of birdsong, so I think they are all right, or hoping so. Understand that ice storms can be really hard on the populations, although the spring nesting is usually highly successful, what with less competition. Oh my, the world is a hard place, even when it's beautiful.

In the evenings, I'd cup my hands around my eyes to shade them, and peer outdoors to see if it might be snowing again. Sometimes it was, although the flakes were often small enough that the camera didn't catch them. I thought this picture was atmospheric: inside we have windmill palm trees, and the shadow of one is thrown onto the porch ceiling. A warm-cold contrast, I'd say.

I took a walk this afternoon to take in the quiet and the sounds of the cardinals calling and a downy woodpecker somewhere up in a maple. Walking proved to be less than a silent affair:

With each step I'd sink into fluff, then the boot would meet a hard surface that would suddenly give way down into the next layer. Like walking on a giant block of peanut brittle that kept falling through onto marshmallow or something.

Then there was the sledding. The second-best day proved to be during the second storm, while it sleeted. That's not snow on the ground, those are ice pellets. The sledding was fast and furious, as one of our friends described it. Sledding on ball bearings would be :} 

A sign of the times: masked sledding. The coverings did add warmth. And yes, one of our friends is filming the ride while sliding on a saucer sled, backwards. Fearless dude.

One of the joys of being with your buddies:

Yesterday's day on the slopes proved to be the best. The snow was thick and hard-packed -- the ice under cover now -- the temperature good and cold -- about 21 F when we arrived about 9:30 -- and our friends and a few acquaintances already there. Oh, did we have fun all morning! I was shaky-legged afterwards from walking up the hill so many times.

I was entirely and perfectly happily a kid again:

The thaw began this morning, Sunday. It's still thick in most spots, but the roofs are all dripping and where sunshine has warmed the surface, tips of grass are beginning to show. This was an historic week-plus, what with three storms. It didn't drop as much as we've had other years, but it's the longest lasting, and it was lovely to feel like I was in Ithaca once again, with the house bright with reflected light and the as bright with the prospect of playing or walking outdoors day after day in a world made wonderful. Once the animals were fed, that is.

May you be safe wherever you are!

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Examining an Antique Length of Warren's "Skirtbone", Boning for the Hems of Mid-1890s Skirts!

Today I have something special to add to the research on period methods of adding skirt fullness in the mid-1890s. A length of antique, unused "Skirtbone" produced by the Warren Featherbone Company of Three Elms, Michigan.

At just a quarter of an inch wide and about 1/16 inch thick (NOT 1/32" as I have it in the video), it's a springy, sproingy boning. It weighs, well, a feather, and you'd not notice any additional weight in your skirt, I believe.

To understand it, you really have to see it close up, see it move, and see the insides. It's really remarkable, and perhaps the most interesting thing about it, is that it's not made of wire, but the quills of poultry feathers, set parallel to one another. I hypothesize that the quills were woven together with black thread and probably glued in place, and then covered by interwoven black threads that are again glued or perhaps starched.

I've made a YouTube video so you can get as close as possible to experiencing the real thing.

Here's the reel that the length actually came from, below.

Warren Featherbone Company's "Skirtbone" hem boning. Photo from Annie's Antiques on Etsy.

The skirtbone in detail. The actual boning in only 1/4" wide, so the photo is quite magnified.
It's really quite small. Photo from Annie's Antiques on Etsy.

How would Skirtbone would be actually used? For that, if you haven't read it already, please see "1895 Outfit: Period Methods To Add Skirt Fullness, Part 5, Steels, Rattan, Candlewicking, and Dust Ruffles".

I sure wish I knew more about the construction and production methods of Featherbone in general and Skirtbone in particular. What a clever use of easily available and renewable natural materials. Back in the day, Featherbone was an alternative to whalebone, and made from materials not otherwise used, say in feather dusters. Skirtbone would have been an alternative to wire-based skirt hem products, too, which would have been subject to rust; somehow I can't see folks using stainless steel for a stiffened hem tape, do you? I do not know how Skirtbone would have handled extended damp or wettings, and I am not going to subject my precious length to an experimental dunk some 120-ish years later. 

The Skirtbone is still amazingly flexible, as we have seen. No, we don't know how how it stood up to sudden breakage or repetitive stress breakage. We do know that whalebone tended to become brittle, while this product isn't brittle at all, even now. That's some pretty good longevity, no? Am I going to bend it wildly or bash it to see how it takes rough treatment? Um, no. It's antique and a small but significant part of dress history. It goes into the collection.

For those among us who are vegetarian or vegan, the prospect of reviving the use of feathers for boning likely doesn't appeal. However, it is a nice alternative to plastic. I sure wish Warren's would consider bringing it out again. Are you listening, ladies and gentlemen of the Warren Featherbone Company? 

The Warren Featherbone Company is still in business, although it's no longer in Three Elms, Michigan, but in Georgia. There's quite a bit out there about the company and its history. Here are a few good examples, and if you run a search, you'll find much more:

Finally, for all the research I have on mid-1890s skirt stiffenings, please see the following:

Research Article: Period Methods to Add Skirt Fullness in the Mid 1890s
Explores the skirt silhouette and the raft of stiffeners and underpinnings used to create it. Sources include period books, magazines, extant objects, and period film.
Okay, I've interrupted the petticoat project. Unless something else interesting shows up, which as we know from this blog sometimes occurs, we're back to it next time.

Wishing you all health and safety during very dark days, literally and figuratively...

Monday, January 11, 2021

An 1895 Godet Petticoat With Boning and Stiffened Frills: Making Unusual Seams

Where were we? It's been a little while since I worked on this project. Oh yes, we're cutting the pattern to petticoat length and finally constructing the thing. The project has turned into yet another test of period materials and methods to see how they work. Nonetheless, if the petticoat works, it will give my cotton skirt the regulation -- to use the popular term of the time -- flare. 

This time we're cutting and seaming, but the seams are not normal ones...

Cutting the Pattern to Petticoat Length

Petticoats are usually a little shorter than outer skirts. Therefore, I subtracted 1 1/2" inches (6.35cm) off the pattern, which is 40 inches/100cm in front. That works out to 38" long when finished, but leaving a 1/2" seam allowance in place. That allowance will be needed to seam the bottom facing and a hem binding to. Hem binding on a petticoat that doesn't touch the ground? What an oddity, but that's what's suggested. 

So I copied the pattern pieces onto fresh paper (oh joy), and cut off the bottoms. This way, I have the original skirt pattern plus the petticoat pattern to go with it. 

(In case you missed any posts in this very long petticoat series, you can find them on the 1890s: Costumes, Research, and Documentation page.)

Cutting the Fabric

The next, rather obvious step was to cut out the fabric pieces.

I used silk shantung from some old silk curtains I made years ago.

The old curtains were rolled up. I used an entire panel, about 4.5 yards.
First I had to deconstruct the entire panel, removing the lining (bonus fabric!)
and the plastic curtain facing stuff at the top. Forget what it's called.
Fortunately, only bits of the silk were weak or shattered, so I could
use most of the fabric.
Oh, and yes, our hallway library doubles as a free-weight lifting station.
Pandemic creative space use :}

The silk fabric has body and resistance to wrinkles, although probably not to the degree that moreen has. The latter fabric was a favorite among dressmaking writers for silk petticoats (Davis, Mallon), as we have read. As it happened, the two larger pieces were cut on the bias, but not on the perfect bias and another was pieced, because I placed them puzzle-wise to conserve fabric.The bottom of the petticoat is to be faced, hence the 1/2 inch (1.27cm) seam allowance.

The side seams were cut with a 1/4 inch (.635cm) seam allowance. Note: I would have used all metric measures and forgone inches and feet, but the presser foot and markings on the treadle sewing machine are in inches, and they are wonderfully natural sewing guides.

The top of the petticoat has a 1/2-inch seam allowance, but the plan is to cut a yoke for the petticoat, so the extra is just in case I change my mind :}

Stayed...and Bound...Seams

Next, all the skirt pieces were seamed together, but watch out! The seams are emphatically not normal ones. Because just about every seam is on the bias and thus at the fabric's weakest position, we have to sew in a fabric stay on each one so that the fabric doesn't stretch at the seam and cause ripples and puckers and a poor skirt hang. Sophie Klug writes in the 1895 book The Art of Dressmaking, "Where two bias edges are to be joined in one seam, a stay tape or strip of lining must be basted at one side and sewed in with the seam to prevent stretching." (p. 35)

I was going to use bias tape for the job, but big thanks to Quinn of The Quintessential Clothes Pen for pointing out that using bias tape would have been bias over bias and therefore not much of a help. I looked back at documentation on an 1890s skirt in my collection, and sure enough, there's a straight-grain stay there. Why I'd forgotten such an interesting detail, haven't a clue.

Not only would the strip be a seam stay, but it would also bind the seam allowance for a neat, durable finish. Petticoats normally have nicely finished seams because they get so much wear. Twofer!

Making the Stay/Binding

So, I cut 1" strips of thin cotton (from the old muslin curtain lining fabric -- why waste it?) on the straight as long as each skirt seam. 

Then I ran the strips through a 1" bias tape maker widget (the Clover brand version; there are others).  

It's pretty easy to use. First, you start feeding the fabric strip into the channel.

Help the fabric through the channel by sticking a pin into the fabric and pulling...

...and pull at the tip to pull the fabric right out the end.

Voila! You have bias tape, or straight tape, in my case.

You will want to make sure the fabric strip is out of the way of the little wire handle.

After you start pulling the fabric through, go to your ironing board, pin a bit of the finished tape to the board, and heat your iron to steam heat level. Then slowly pull the gadget, feeding the fabric into it, and pressing the resulting tape immediately.

I found that the fabric wanted to go in wonky sometimes, so the pulling process was slow. Other times the steam from the iron was so hot that I just pushed the bias tape maker along in front of it, like so:

Sewing the Seams

To create a seam, the two skirt pieces that were to be seamed were laid, right sides together, ready to sew. On top, I laid the prepared cotton binding with its pressed edge at the fashion fabric edge and and the rest of it open and ready to fold over the top of the completed seam to bind it. All three layers were carefully pinned together, trying to lift, handle, and tug the fabric as little as possible. Every tug can stretch the bias-cut fabric.

Each seam was sewn from skirt top to bottom in case the ends should get a bit out of alignment. 

Immediately after sewing a seam, I folded over the prepared binding to wrap the seam allowance in it, turned in the already prepared fold so no raw edges would be showing, and sewed it down on the covered seam allowance to finish the seam.

Readers, I started sewing the seams with the Singer 28k handcrank machine. The 28k came out during the 1880s, so this was a logical choice. However, we all know silk can be no fun to sew by machine, and the long and slippery skirt pieces were determined to be naughty, and I only had my left hand to guide the fabric, because the right hand was cranking the machine! Here's a sample, videoed by my son, Christopher.

I even tested the antique Singer binder attachment. It worked; the attachments nearly always do -- alas that I don't have a video, because it's interesting! -- but again, trying to do all this with a hand crank on silk was annoying and error-prone. The process became so unfun that I chucked that idea, removed the first seam, and hand-sewed them all. The main seam I made in running stitch with a back stitch every five stitches or so, 6-8 stitches per inch. Then the binding was of course hemmed. I enjoy hand-sewing, so it was a relaxed effort.

Here I have pinned the two skirt pieces right sides together, and have pinned the stay/binding
to the edge. I am running-stitch the seam with a backstitch every few stitches.
Generally I pile up three or four running stitches on the needle, then pull the needle through, 
then take a back stitch. It becomes a steady, rhythmic pattern of movement.

Here is an example of a completed seam. The sewing thread blends in so well that it's practically invisible to the camera this afternoon.

The hand-sewing makes sense within the context of undergarments of the day. Hand-sewn underthings were desirable as being particularly dainty.

I wasn't the only one relaxing. Nutmeg settled in, too. Here we have evidence that some kitties will sleep on just about anything. For some unaccountable reason, she found my sewing box to be a good pillow.

(Yes, I made sure she wasn't into anything sharp.)

Getting nappish...

Oh boy, time to go to sleeeeep...

It's January. A good time for napping. Wishing you safety and many naps this month!

Next steps with the petticoat? Facing the bottom and inserting the surprise stiffening. Yep, a mid-winter surprise for you.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

A 1906 Sleighride: Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays, everyone!

As I look out the front windows, a soft snow is fluttering and the temperature is dropping rapidly. Snuggle up, Kentucky, and all safety and health these holidays, wherever you are.

Video from Glamourdaze: such a fun channel

Monday, December 14, 2020

The Impossibly Precious Mitts, A Story of Sheep and Hands

From Lana and Nina's fleece to mitts

My goodness, it is gray outside. So gray that, unusually for me, I am sitting facing away from the windows, view trained on the warm light of the lamps nearby. Saint Lucia's Day is just past. Winter has settled in here in the Kentucky Bluegrass, and the thick veils and clots of clouds that bring rain and snow that feed the numberless streams and creeks and ponds and the Kentucky River snaking deep beneath its palisades -- or the more realistically foreboding name, gorge -- are here for the next months. Gloriously bright days will be relatively few and valuable.

As valuable as the knitted mitts from my sheep that sit unfinished here beside me. A moment ago I cut a length of yarn to sew up the sides of the rectangle that will make a mitt, and quite suddenly was viscerally aware of the impossibly high value of that yarn.

--- Green, green grass on a Bluegrass farm
--- Sheep grazing
--- A year's daily shepherding, morning and night
--- Shearing
--- Fleece skirting
--- Picking vegetable matter
--- Scouring
--- Drying
--- More picking
--- Separating outer coat from inner coat
--- Carding
--- Winding into nests
--- Spinning 
--- Plying 
--- Skeining
--- Washing and blocking
--- Yarn.

And, other than the mower that trims the grass if needed, every single bit accomplished by pairs of hands and the most ancient of tools: 

--- fingers
--- shears
--- soap and water and tub
--- air
--- wood and wire hand-carders or hand-cranked drum carder (quite an old tool)
--- foot-powered spinning wheel
--- time
--- patience
--- persistence.

Hours and days, days and hours and hours. Months. Years.

Lana and Nina grew the fleece on their backs three summers and winters ago, munching on the grass of my friend Sarah's farm not far away.

Nina, Liam the English gentleman, Neo the honorary Shetland, and skittish Lana
October 2020.

Every day, Sarah cares for the sheep, whether it's muddy or parched, icy or foggy, or finger-cramping or beautiful enough to cry and thank God for the peace of it and the sweetness and interest of the sheep. She is patient and loving and the sheep thrive and she knows each one and its character and society. I am lucky to have her as a friend.

Liam at the hay rack. Lana is nearby. November 30, 2020.
Read about the drama just past in "Disruptions Due to Snow" on Sarah's blog.

On a nippy morning the next early spring, around about 8:00 a.m. when our breath streams in clouds around us when the rest of the flock leaves the barn for a day in their fields, Sarah and I have the task of separating out ever-fey Lana from her boyfriend Liam and daughter Nina in their stall, and she leaps and evades until by main persuasion with torsos and arms and legs we halter her, so that she could be sheared. The only time each year that she wears anything but her own self. In a month or so her fleece, her skin a hand's width deep under her blond-tipped locks, would start to separate and slowly, imperfectly shed. She needs shearing before that happens, and before the heat of a Kentucky summer makes life far too hot for her under such a blanket.

So the two of us, each with a pair of hand shears, lean or kneel the either side of Lana, haltered to a fence outside and in sight of her flockmates to calm her and begin to shear. She kicks and trembles and we work as softly as we can so as not to nick her so-tender skin. She calls out to her grown baby and pees so that you move quickly to avoid the piercingly nose-wrinkling liquid. We trade places frequently as muscles cramp, and Sarah's mother Peggy talks quietly to Lana and strokes her. Occasionally one of us runs to gulp a bit of tea from our Thermoses. Some of the wool is spoiled by dung and urine, other parts so full of VM (vegetable matter) that I cannot efficiently clean it. That lot goes to the hedgerow for birds and rodents to carry off for their springtime nests. We smell of lanolin and dung and trampled grass.

Sheared, Lana's halter is gently removed and she kicks and wriggles and runs to her family. A good part of the time the flock is non-plussed by the fleeceless stranger, and will butt and carry on until they are convinced and assured that she belongs with them. That can take a while because sheep are so visual, and seems to us humans grossly unfair, unless we should think of the day we wore an unpopular outfit to school and were laughed at and occasionally pushed by the more thoughtless of our classmates, until they tired of the game. In the last years, however, the flock is kinder and Liam and Nina welcome her with raised heads and low bleats and she resumes her life just a few yards from Liam, her life's love and companion, while her daughter pretends she's not Shetland, but Soay, and leaps and climbs and talks with her flockmates until returning to her mama, as an offspring usually will. A flock is made of clans and it is a complex society.

Clover climbs the hoop house one morning...and finds himself in a quandary.

I gather the mounds of yielding, springy brown and blond fleece and stuff it into an old pillowcase. It scents the Tahoe. We go and shed our outer things outdoors, and wash up thoroughly, and lunch together next to the kitchen, watching the flock from a bank of windows that look to the West.

The first bag of Lana's wool I ever sheared.

On other mornings it will be one or two more sheep, Nina and Liam, and sometimes one of the other Shetlands. Soay sheep are less likely to be sheared. Some roo, that is, the slowly shedding bits are pulled off lock by lock -- this is what humans did before shears were common.

Liam, just sheared, 2020.
I wasn't there to help due to COVID.

After that? The fleece is packed into a tightly closed plastic bag and goes into my deep freezer to evade the clothes moths that would entirely spoil it.

Then, when I have energy and time, the oddly pleasant pastime of picking. In springtime Kentucky can be a breezy, windy place. Just outside the back doors at home I sit on a step with the open bag of fleece, scented with lanolin and straw and a bit of dung. Picking up a lock or two in my fingers -- sheep grow their fleece in sets of hairs that tend to stick and curl together  -- I pull at the lock, holding it in front of me so that the airs can toss the hairs and release bits of straw and grass and seeds and the occasional dead bug or tad of dung; they fall in a random rain to my lap and the ground and some makes its way, airborne, into the tall trees that rim our little property. Usually it's necessary to pick out individual bits, fingers pinching and pulling. The lock, a bit cleaner now, goes into another bag, ready for scouring, which is a gentle washing, not the rubbing and scrubbing that the word generally implies.

Hundreds of locks later, washing. Drying in limp bunches, like hairy Spanish moss or the wrack of a mummy's wrappings, in the basement. A little disturbing if you come upon it unexpectedly.

Packed again in an airtight bag until there is time to do what most fleece does not need. My dual-coated Shetlands are a crofter's dream, for they offer downy undercoat for airy yarn and long outer hairs good for socks and rugs, all on one small and delightful animal. Yet the undercoat grows in among the outer coat and the two must be pulled apart. This is slow, my friends, and after a time the hands and wrists and arms tire of pulling on the resisting locks of fleece as the tightly integrated parts release their hold on each other. Of course, some down is lost into the hairs and the other way around. A few fiber mills who take small wool batches have specialty equipment for handling this sort of uncommon wool, but the process is expensive and the only mill, a state away, that I could afford closed. This year I sent fleece to another mill, because I simply cannot hand-process it all and the freezer was full to bursting, but it will not be separated. It has been nearly a year, and the roving isn't ready. I fear it's lost.

The sorted wool is bagged again, and again waits for time to hand-card it, or to run it slowly through my hand-cranked carder, a largely wooden machine with two drums lined on their outer surfaces with closely set wires, which arrange the locks into a fluffy batt.

I pull and elongate the carded wool into a fluffy strips, roving, and wind them into nests. Back they go into a bag.

Later, months and months later, as fancy strikes I pull out the newer spinning wheel, a Kromski Minstrel from Poland, a beautiful and versatile machine, and spin the roving, unwound from its nests, into a thinnish yarn. Good for weaving as a "singles" yarn.

Spinning on the Minstrel, early 2020, not long before lockdown.

Again later, I pull out the wooden bobbins of yarn, and ply some of it into two-ply, Aran-size yarn. It's not always that consistent of course, because I am no very accomplished spinner, but it's still pretty wearable stuff.

The yarn rests a bit after plying and then it's out with the homemade yarn swift or skeiner, and the bobbin is unwound from the distance of half a room as I turn the yard-circumference tool to allow the twist to even out, and wind it into a skein. The turns are counted so I know and mark down the yardage.

Then goes the skein, which twists of itself into a braid, into a bag, until I am ready to swish it in some warm water with a tiny bit of soft soap, and to hang it to dry so that the yarn relaxes a little, and sets into a useful state.

And then, and only then, is it ready for knitting.

And so I knit the Pluviose mitts in garter stitch, the yarn now, from a moorit (warm brown) fleece with bleached tips, to a rich German chocolate color. 

Pluviose mitts are simply garter stitch, and thus
nice and stretchy over the hand.

Let's not knit just now, but nap instead, says Nutmeg. She loves wool and
seeks it out to rest upon.

Just now the mitts sit beside me, ready to be sewn with more yarn into their final shape, the leather button ready to be added to each wristband. Then they will be, after a three-year journey, complete and ready to be wrapped in tissue paper to go under my mother's Christmas tree. She will open the parcel Christmas morning, and wear the mitts, I hope, that started as grass a few miles away, to keep out the chill of a Kentucky winter. While Lana and Nina wear their fleece again this year, warm and toasty under it even in the sere fields lined with leafless trees, the damp and chilling -- or bracing, take your pick -- breeze soughing through the branches.

The cycle does not end, the sheeps' lives and the hands' work, so long as we remember to practice the skills that keep the sheep healthy and the yarns ready to envelop and warm us.

If you are interested, there is more about sheep and their lives and the process of preparing yarn on this blog. One or two non-related posts have snuck in, but you will find all of the related ones, full to overflowing with pictures and even a video or two.

Whatever your beliefs, and wherever you are, may you live in Thanksgiving, Patience, and Hope into the new year and the spring, or the harvest, that isn't so very far away.

Note: because of COVID, most of the images of the sheep are from Sarah's blog. We haven't been able to visit one another, which has felt very strange.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Life With a Chronic Illness During COVID

This post isn't about a petticoat.

During a walk this afternoon, all bundled up against a sneaky breeze and November's weakening sunshine, I found fallen leaves to appreciate, and spotted mistletoe maybe 15 feet overhead, waxy white flowers blooming while it lives off the sap of the trees that support it. A neighbor waved and I wondered if she could tell that I was pretty tired out despite having walked rather less than a mile. Sure hoped not. 

Tired or not, it was a mentally relaxing half hour, a time away from what is honestly is, and has been for years, a daily offensive to push through all the duties of mother and wife and worker before the daily afternoon or evening physical crash. All while knowing that COVID is spreading fast, and knowing that if, Heaven help me, I get the disease, this body cannot fight it very well. 

I have a kidney transplant. Have written that before, so some of you have heard about it. Also high blood pressure and other issues, brought on by the disease for which a transplant is a treatment, not a cure, as well as the very medications that keep this person ticking. Like mistletoe berries, they are toxic, but paradoxically, in the right amounts keep the body from rejecting my mother's kidney, a gift beyond any that I tear up about in gratitude so many years later. Those same medications suppress the immune system, making me easier prey for a host of bugs, COVID among them.

When in health, I exercise to build a cache of strength. In health or not, I watch food carefully, am compliant about taking the meds, one of which, a half inch long capsule smells like skunk. Good thing have gotten used to that: the first while taking it was a battle against gagging. The healthy times are largely good, and gratefulness to Heaven and those around me is a daily wave that washes over, as my husband and I raise our twins, now half-grown, and try to be useful and loving to those around us. We live pretty unremarkable lives.

Take this life, and multiply it by the hundreds of millions. Change the circumstances, modest, or excruciatingly difficult, or easy. 

As a student in public health, I helped with a quality of life survey in a public hospital in a large city -- in the oncology wing. Where people waiting to be treated for their cancer sat on a concrete floor if there was no chair left, prisoners walked, cuffed hand and foot, to their appointments with their accompanying officer. Some windows opened, some didn't, so the air was usually a temperature you didn't want it to be. And the staff worked against such odds. The patients, too. We talked about how they made their way to their appointment: could they catch a ride, how far was the bus stop from their home, could anyone accompany them to help them with steps or be there if something happened? Some had children, some were raising grandchildren. Some were holding jobs despite their cancer; some were too sick. Most spoke with humor, or upbeat tone, some were still, expressionless, holding it together in an endless tunnel of this-is-what-it-is, this-is-all-it-is.

When I had sepsis once, a hellish gift from E. coli, and had such shooting pains in my legs that I was crying out in the emergency bay for was it 24 hours,,'s too hard to bring back; there was a woman nearby yelling imprecations at anyone who came close. She had overdosed on something. How we felt for her, through our own suffering. I got better, and that spring we hiked -- the boys were old enough to appreciate moss and the joy of wading a burbling stream, stick in hand, mud boots on. I hope that woman survived and recovered and is living clean and has happiness.

There was a girl at the transplant recovery house, a preteen, dragging an oxygen tank but cute as a button and talking with her friends on her cell phone. She'd had her second heart transplant, having been born with damaged organs after her family's apartment was sprayed heavily for pests, repeatedly. Her mother was pregnant. I imagine, with her grit, that she made it and maybe she has a family now. She will always take medications. She will always be at risk. Her fellow patient, and mine, a man in his 50s who had worked and raised a family while on peritoneal dialysis for a decade, and had a big garden he liked to talk about with us, as we recuperated in wicker rocking chairs on the porch. His transplant from his brother was a perfect match and he didn't have to take medications like we did. He had damage to his nerves, though, so walked with a permanent shuffle.

These millions and tens of millions of people have lives and stories and many of them have suffered, oh suffered unimaginably, but they are working and raising families and many probably have funds of empathy and understanding and love for others that bring relief and grace to those they meet who are in need themselves.

A few days ago, something had the chance of happening that might have brought COVID home. The environment would be conducive to spread. Hearing about the potential event -- details aren't pertinent -- I held my hand to the kitchen counter, felt the chest tighten, the pulse skyrocket, the ears attempt to ring, all in a nanosecond. Like the evening ages ago when a man stared at me on the sidewalk, then fell in behind as I neared the apartment building, matching his footfalls to mine, and was able to get in the door and into the hallway with me, staring, his face hard, before I made it into a full elevator and the door closed between us. Like the time the lady in the eggplant-colored van pulled into our lane on a highway when my stepmother, sister and I were out to look at wedding dresses, and the car went out of control and hit the median wall head-on. That kind of fear. Existential. I swallowed it down, gritted myself into normality, but not before squeaking so hastily that attending wouldn't be a good plan that I ruffled feathers. It's like that, living under this shadow, continous low-grade stress that blows up every so often. We're most of us humans very stressed anyway. we most of us carry extra burdens, for which God give us strength. The addition of an existing illness to the cocktail is an unwelcome splash of wormwood.

You all, that's what it is, this COVID thing. An existential threat to people who somehow have been dealt the hard hand -- already. Any age, infant to elder, people who already have faced trouble and pain, some physical, some the economic or social fallout of severe illness, many both. Sometimes over and bloody over. The cancer comes back, another brittle bone breaks, a heart attack, an organ fails. I was thirty-two when they told me, during final exams in graduate school, that I had a carcinoma, severe kidney disease, and pink eye, all at once. Who had to visit the dean to beg off exams for a while, and who could barely see to get down the hallway to his office. Felt pretty goofy doing it. That girl at the transplant recuperation house, she was still a kid, our fellow patient a father. We put our lives back together and went on. Most of us? You'd never know there had ever been anything amiss, or if you did, we had the grace to just accept (most of the time) and keep going. There are so many of us with such similar experiences, living right now.

This is going to be a long winter, and for those living way south, a long summer. I don't know what I am asking. Just that the person next door may have already had a bad bout with some awful disease. They're probably pretty good folks. Why not give them a chance? After all, we're all in boats that can tip at any time.

All the best of safety and health to you. Vaccines are coming.