Fiber Menagerie – Part I

SophiaImagine it: Gainesville, Monday night, June, 2019, sitting on the Square, a knitter is asked what’s in her yarn by a non-knitting friend. Three natural fibers rolled out of the knitter’s mouth. Now that Sophia Petrillo has set the scene it’s time to get down to business.

There is actually a lot of fiber that can be spun into yarn and there are times the choices can be a little overwhelming.  I’ve not written an educational post for a while so it’s time to put together the mini primer for fiber basics.

Fiber can really be split into two main categories, natural and synthetic. This will be split into several posts over time because we are finding new ways to create fibers not only from natural sources but creating new synthetics ones, but we’ll start with some of the animal sourced fibers first.  I think we can comfortably say, most of the animals that produce a usable fiber that can be used sustainably in yarn production have been discovered.

All of these fibers come from animals that have either all or part of their wool/coat/fur harvested through shearing, combing, or collecting natural sheds during the spring and summer.  If done responsibly it does not injure the animal.  Although many of these animals are now found all over the world, many of these fibers are still harvested closest to the areas where the animal was natively found and domesticated.

The Natural Critter Sourced Fibers

Funny-Sheep-Facts-1200x800
Baaaaaahhhhhh!

Wool! More specifically sheep’s wool is the most common animal sourced fiber spun into yarn.  It’s nature’s first dri-fit material.  Yep, wool will wick moisture away to be evaporated and despite the belief that wool can only be worn during the cold months it can be worn year round because of its wicking and thermogenic properties.  It also has UV resistant properties.  There are a few types of sheep wool fibers to watch out for, other than the generic wool term, you’ll find a couple of specialty sheep provided goodies.  Merino is a specific wool fiber that is less likely to cause allergic reactions and is touted as softer than most wools.  Shetland wool is specific to the Shetland Islands.  Icelandic wool – well you can guess where it comes from.  Regional wool varieties and types can cause this post to go on and on, but overall most sheep wool has similar properties. Sheep wool is harvested all around the world, but most notably the UK, New Zealand, and Australia.

 

 

p_media-original
Cashmere Goat

Cashmere! Also called Cash Here in some circles is supplied by the Cashmere goat.  It has a silky feel and is great for anything worn close to the skin during the cold months and is more or less the fiber gold standard – for now – cashmere’s supremacy is beginning to be challenged by other animal fibers that are more sustainably produced.  It’s very warm and very soft and incredibly insulating.  It’s pricy because of the time and effort it takes to comb and sort the useable fiber from the undercoat instead of the more coarse protective topcoat. The Cashmere goat is native to Tibet, China, Myanmar, Bhutan, Nepal, Ladakh and Baltistan (Kashmir region).

 

 

 

 

Quebec_angora_goat
Angora Goat

Mohair! This is a fiber produced by Angora goats.  These goats have a curly locks and the yarn spun from this fiber will have a natural “halo” or fine fuzz to it.  It’s another very warm, insulating fiber, where a little goes a long way.  A garment made from lace weight mohair will be just as warm if not more so than an item made from a bulky sheep’s wool.    The Angora goat originated in the district of Angora in Asia Minor, but are now more common in Turkey, Argentina, and the United States. 

 

 

 

alpaca
Emo Alpaca

Alpaca! It’s soft, it’s squishy, it’s warm (okay most animal fibers are) and it’s possibly hypoallergenic.  It has the best silky soft features of cashmere without the price tag.  Alpaca seems to have grown in popularity over the past decade or so.  I can understand why, I could cuddle up and sleep in a mountain of Alpaca yarn.  This is another fiber that is know for its moisture wicking properties making it great for garments and gloves. Alpacas like the higher elevations of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Northern Chile.

 

 

 

Bunneh
Fluffy Bunneeeeee

Angora! Not all fiber comes from goats and sheep.  This one comes from bunnies.  Angora like cashmere can be a little on the pricy side.  It has the feel of cashmere with the halo of mohair.  The fiber is collected by pulling the loose shedding fibers from the rabbit.  If you happen to wander of to a fiber fair you may see hand spinners with a rabbit sitting quietly in their lap while they pull the fiber and spin it seconds later.  Properly done this does not hurt the rabbit at all as it’s the loose fiber that has to be brushed from it’s fur on a regular if not daily basis.  Angora rabbits originated in Turkey and quickly spread throughout Europe in the 1700s.

 

 

yak_05
Yakkity Yak

Yak!  This may be one of the largest animals fiber is harvested from.  Handlers brush the undercoat out of their longer guard hair.  Yak is gaining in popularity since it has many of the features of cashmere with the soft silky feel, but is considered a more sustainable alternative since yaks are more adaptable than the cashmere goat and produce a greater amount of fiber.  They are native to Tibet, Mongolia and Russia.

 

Ox
Musk Ox

Musk Ox!  I had to toss an odd one in there. If you think cashmere is pricy, let me introduce you to qiviut. Qiviut much like the most of the other fibers is good ole undercoat that will naturally shed from Musk Ox when things start warming up.  Musk Ok are native to Alaska and parts of Canada and the fiber is generally collected from the natural sheds from the ground and whatever the Ox is rubbing up against.  There are some farms that are able to comb their Ox but I’ve been told from a pretty reliable source that Musk Ox can be a little testy and it’s just easier to pick up the fiber. This fiber is warmer than wool and proven to be softer than cashmere.  Qiviut production has deep ties into regional First Nation’s yarn production and knitting culture (sounds like a topic for future blog posts).  Qiviut has become a little more mainstream with blends becoming available.

I’ll touch on this subject again, there are so many usable fibers out there that trying to cram them all into a single post would be exhausting, and quite possibly a novella in length.  Stand by, more fiber education to come.

 

When Crafting Gets Political

If you missed it earlier today, Ravelry, a resource a great many crafters use to find patterns, ideas, and other crafters drew a line in the sand.

To make a long story short, leave your support of Trump and his administration off of Ravelry.  If you want to read the full announcement you can find it here.  It’s been one of the biggest political moves I’ve seen in the crafting world, period.

I was surprised by the move, but will admit I’ve not been surprised by the reactions I’ve seen in other crafting groups I follow online, responses to the policy seem to be firmly in one camp or the other.   The political climate in the good ol’ US of A has been more than a little tense the past few years.  I try to make it a point to keep my own political beliefs off of Coffee and Wool and it’s associated facebook page unless a craft related event warrants it, and even then, I do my best to remain neutral.  Which, believe me, can be pretty difficult somedays. I’m not politically neutral in my non-crafting life.

Overall, I’m not a huge fan of heated political discussion getting involved in a medium I use to relax and use as a form of thoughtful meditation.  It’s just a good way to ruin a good thing, but there is a great many people that use fiber art in many forms to express their political beliefs.  Art in any form has a lot to do with personal preference and expression.

The most recent example that a lot of us saw, made, or where asked to make where the “pink pussy hats”.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with craftivism or crafting your political viewpoint, I’m all for it if that’s your thing.

What a lot of people tend to forget when it comes to membership in large social networking forums like Ravelry, Facebook, Twitter, etc., that they are entities that are making their own rules and those rules can evolve as needed.  We all sign ToS agreements (that very few of us read) that all have legal language along the lines that our posts can be moderated on whatever terms the site choses.

If you find yourself disagreeing with the new Ravelry policy and don’t feel like you can further participate within those realms, you have the option to collect your patterns, download your site data and move on.  If you find yourself celebrating the new policy, carry on as normal.  But I feel like the point needing to be stressed that ad hominem  attacks on fellow crafters for falling one way or another does little to help ease tensions.  We are unique in the fact that we are such an amazingly diverse group that has a single element that unites us.

So the big question here is, did Ravelry make a mistake with this announcement?

Yes, no, maybe?  Yeah I know, I’m not a help at all here.  Go back and read that part where I would like to politically neutral. The best answer here is, time will tell. The crafting community is incredibly diverse.  There will be a noticeable percentage of people that will walk away from Ravelry over this new rule.  Will it be enough that advertising slows?  Is there a chance advertisers will pull their own sponsorship? Maybe.

A lot of us American’s are a little too tense these days.  Maybe we should just pick up our yarn, master our craft, and be the better example and keep things civil.

Update: Much like the sites I’ve listed above having rules about what can and can’t be said, this blog also has some very basic guidelines.  I moderate the comments, and anything I deem inappropriate or down right spam gets rejected. There’s only been two that I’ve rejected and one of those was on this post.

I was rather rudely told to “check my privilege” and my crafting history over the comments I made in the rest of this post.  I’m going to address it very quickly.  There is a long and beautiful history of knitting participating in politics, codes and information have been hiding in hand crafted items for centuries.  There are thousands of objects created that have a clear political stance.  I’ve always supported those that have chosen to express their political views despite how I feel about where they fall on the political spectrum.  I expressed that support in the main text as well.  Read things before you jump down someone’s throat.

I’m far from blind or ignorant of the discussions regarding racism and white privilege within the fiber arts and crafting communities that spawned from instagram posts and into broader mediums.

Bottom line, this crafter has chosen not to express her political viewpoint on a blog or on a facebook page.  The rest of my life is affected by political choices and the ideologies of others being forced on me wether I agree or not, crafting is the one realm where I can reject that influence and I intend to keep doing so. It does not mean I remain silent on political topics in the rest of my life.

The greater goal of Coffee and Wool is to share information, encourage fiber artists new and old, and remind people that crafting can have an amazing impact on one’s life by being a medium for meditation, relaxation, and at times socialization. I cannot have a public political stance and have those goals for this ongoing project. I won’t alienate people that way.

Weekends Unplugged

I hit a little bit of a breaking point yesterday.  Unfortunately, when I get stuck in a weather cycle that includes days of rain and thunderstorms I’ll inevitably develop a migraine and end up way more agitated over the smallest things than any human should be.  That was yesterday for me.  I skipped out on an event I had full intentions of going to, told everyone I was turning off my phone and hiding out until Monday.

I’m at the house, still in my PJs fresh from a long nap, uninterrupted by a house filled with bleeps and bloops. I spent the morning knitting and watching a couple of movies, dived into a book for a while, you know, the stuff introverty type people enjoy when they’ve finally hit their wall.

Silence is never an option in our lives, but it’s almost jarring when you notice just how often some bit of technology is making sounds and demanding your attention so often.

As much as I love technology’s ability to keep us all connected there are times I wish it wasn’t so simple.  There are days that a text message notification makes me want to throw my phone across the room.  It’s usually someone just typing the word “hi” as an opener to pry into the rest of my day, and at times that feels so intrusive it will make me angry. Then god forbid you don’t reply fast enough, there are people that insist on continuing the intrusion again by either texting again or calling with ‘is everything okay you didn’t answer?’ causing further annoyance.  It’s probably just a quirky introvert issue, but it’s still an issue.  It also is likely a failure on my part to place boundaries on the repeat offenders.  I felt it a little sad that I had to announce on a certain social media page that I need a quiet day, and even then, that isn’t fully respected by some.  I’ve picked up my phone twice today to see a handful of messages from people that obviously didn’t see or willfully ignored my request for a quiet day, and a few that were legitimately passing along info that I needed for the week that knew I wouldn’t be responding.

So yes, I’m bitching a bit, so on to other things.

An unplugged weekend may turn into a permanent affair.  When I see that usage stats notification come through on my phone, my skin crawls and I feel utterly disappointed with myself.  Despite feeling like I don’t waste a great deal of time dicking around on my phone, the actual numbers say otherwise.  I waste 15-20 hours a week on a tiny screen that does nothing to improve my life.  I should be wasting that time reading, crafting, sleeping (poking at a screen until the wee hours happens more than I like), learning something new, actually going out and doing something, on and on and on.  I’ve also been struggling with feeling like the weekends are stolen by chores and errands.  Maybe reclaiming some of those 15-20 hours a week and actually taking care of things would give me the weekends back.

rs_560x415-150107143918-1024.Oregon-Trail-Game-MS-Dos.jl.010715I’m feeling a little nostalgic of my early adulthood years. I’m an Xennial, the Oregon Trail generation, that odd little age group that doesn’t quite fit Gen X or the Millennials. In fact, being called a millennial at times feels like an insult.  I remember the dark ages before the internet and before everyone had a cell phone in their pocket. At 18 there was access to the internet, cell phones were finally getting to pocket sized, texting was an option for those of us that didn’t feel the need to get drawn into a phone conversation, and those were brief (T9 was a bitch), and social media wouldn’t begin to become a factor in our lives until 2003.  I’m not going to lie, there’s been a few times today when I’ve fought the urge to check the social media networks to see what’s going on.  It’s not a secret that I’ve felt social media holds too much real estate in our minds, and I’ve struggled with the idea of disconnecting from it entirely.  I haven’t because I feel like there is actually risk that I would lose contact with people I care about because they are so entrenched, that contacting others outside FB, twitter, instagram and the myriad of others is no longer on their radar.

So if I feel forced to participate I can at least have better control of it.  I’m going to experiment for a bit, beginning Friday nights after I get in for the evening I’ll log out of the whole mess until Monday morning.  But that all comes down to one thing, do I have the self control to keep it up, or am I too sucked into this mess to do it on a routine basis. This is were it all wraps up today.  I’m going to go cook a nice dinner, and go back to the book I’m reading.  What do you guys think? Am I alone in feeling this way, or is this a problem for you too?

 

 

Plants, Purls & Puppies

125D89B9-15C6-4A3D-B3D0-9AB7ACE40725Well folks, once again, it’s been far too long since my last update.  I’m trying to get better about this.  Really.  I promise.   Spring is already beginning to give way into summer and my list of projects at the house seems to continue to grow. A lot of my free time is spent out in the yard these days attempting to shape it into something presentable to the public and more importantly a place I’ll enjoy over the years to come.  It wasn’t horrible to begin with, it was just bare, and I’m not the type of person to have only grass.  The focus has been on planting perennials and shrubs and building out the beds to put them in.  The work I did earlier this spring is starting to show with blooms here and there.  If someone told me this time last year that I would leave the world of rented apartments and duplexes and have my own little house, I would have laughed at them.

Pints_and_PurlsThe crafting projects are still being worked on but not at the pace that I’ve burned through them in the past.  I have a hunch this will pick back up in the fall and winter.  I’m still getting at lest an hour in a day.  It’s important to me to work that little bit of knitting time in for sanity’s sake.  It’s my meditation time.  I’ve still got a sweater for a friend to finish, my own sweater, and a handful of other projects in various states.  There’s also some good news locally, a few of us are trying to get a Friday evening craft meet up rolling again.  It’s called Pints and Purls and we meet up at Downtown Drafts on the Gainesville, GA square.  Now, I know, there are a few other craft groups out there named Pints and Purls, but hey, it’s a perfect name for a group that meets for an adult beverage with yarn in hand.  I guess if there’s an official organization somewhere, consider the Gainesville, GA chapter established. If you are in the area feel free to drop on in around 6pm on Fridays.  We won’t be hard to find, there will be a table with fidgeting fingers and balls of yarn.

fullsizeoutput_150And lastly, in this brief update.
SANDOR!
Now this is my favorite long term project.  Sandor, the lab/mystery dog mix, is about 8 months old now and has accomplished making me laugh every single day.  We’re still working on puppy exuberance issues, but overall he’s a damn good dog…well as long as you don’t ask my cat Severus.  Severus is still pissed that a dog has invaded his sanctuary.  Lucious, the more forgiving cat, on the other hand, will play with him like he was another dog.  Sandor and Lu also have an odd afternoon ritual, where they will snuggle up near each other on the couch and before the urge to nap takes over, Lu will wash Sandor’s face.  Sandor used to fight his daily face washing as a tiny puppy but he seems to have grown to enjoy it.

That’s it for the moment.  I’m alive, well, and happy.  How are you guys doing? Fill me in.