Thursday, July 26, 2007

Canned Sheep

Some people don't believe in Kismet (or serendipity, if you prefer a more elegant word).

But I do.

How else do I account for another spinning wheel coming into my life in almost the exact same way that my first wheel found me and made me buy it? And only a matter of weeks after I told the story of my original wheel in my May 29 post?

Once again, I was not shopping for a wheel. I was flipping through the newspaper and my glance fell on "SPINNING WHEEL" in the classified ads. And folks, it's not like Baton Rouge is throbbing with disillusioned handspinners looking to unload their gear. Stumbling across that classified ad was pure luck. When I phoned, I learned that it was the last day of the ad run, and the seller hadn't received any calls but mine.

The seller was an extremely pleasant woman who was selling her house and, after much consideration, had decided to part with her spinning wheel. She'd done a lot of handspinning back in the '70s, and a good bit of dyeing as well, but her interest in spinning waned over the past 20-odd years, so she parked the wheel by the fireplace as a conversation piece, and packed the other supplies in her attic, where they've remained since the mid-1980s.

There were two Romney fleeces, each packed into an airtight five-gallon flour tin. One was in fairly good condition, as you can see from the portion remaining in the can. It had been purchased clean and scoured, and had been packed away untouched. It does need a warm bath to loosen up a good bit of caked lanolin, but it's definitely salvagable:

The wheel itself is an Ashford Traditional, and, as a testament to Ashford's reputation, it operated smoothly for a test-drive after sitting in a corner, unoiled for over two decades:

The keenly observant among you may ask, "what's that hanging off the wheel there, near the knob for the Scoth tension? The orifice hook had gone missing, so the seller had replaced it with a loop of stout nylon fishing line attached to a bit of cotton cord. The wheel is in excellent condition, missing only the spring for the Scotch tension (although I rigged a temporary substitute with a piece of cotton twine so I could give it a test drive).

It also came with carders, a noddy, a lazy Kate, two drop spindles and a lump of brown fleece of indeterminate sheepy origin, the lot being inspected by Blue, the feline in charge of incoming inventory here at the Asylum. He was particularly interested in smelling the brown fleece:

Inside the box containing the accessories was a smaller box contaning some samples of natural sheep-colored and vegetable-dyed handspun yarn, each neatly tagged with the dyeing information:

Also included was the dyebook documenting the owner's numerous experiements with natural dyes, ranging from the brightly colored onionskin and marigold samples shown below, to subtle hues of pink and lavender from local roots and flowers. She was a busy dyer back in the day -- there were over 200 samples in the ring binder:

And last, here's the second fleece, which had apparently been sold fresh-shorn and then stored away unscoured, firmly packed into a five-gallon tin much too small for its volume. See how it broke apart into two heavy lumps there on the right? I doubt that this fleece is salvagable, but I'll give it a try anyway. I definitely won't have garment-quality wool, but if I scour it well and card it mercilessly, I just might have passable rug yarn.

The worst that can happen is that I'll have clean wool for stuffing pillows.

And check out the groovy vintage paper bag from Wildfower Fibres in Oregon. Now I'm itching to find out if they are still in business. Anybody out there remember them? To add to the '70s appeal, the wheel came with its original paperwork, and the fleeces came with their own vintage invoices as well: a grand total of fourteen dollars and twenty cents, including postage and handling!

The decent-looking wool from the first photo went into a mesh bag and was soaked the bathtub overnight with 1/4 cup of Dawn dishwashing liquid, in hopes of loosening up that caked lanolin. That fleece was reasonably clean -- after an all-night soak, the lanolin de-caked and the fleece opened up ... the water was just a little bit on the murky side:

This was drained, rinsed, and given a second wash with Mane-n-Tail horse shampoo. Tomorrow it will be placed under the carport, on a raised rack, in hopes of drying. When it's still slightly damp; it will be spritzed with a 1/32 mixture of hair conditioner and water, wrapped in brown paper, placed inside the car, and parked in the sun, to steam. This is not a scientific proportion, I just find that an ounce of conditioner dissolved in a quart of water sprays nicely and doesn't make the fleece sticky.This is the best way I know to loosen up old lanolin in a fleece that's been sitting around for awhile.

My hopes are not nearly as high for the other fleece, but I'll give it a soak and a fair chance.

The best part? The owner was mainly looking for a good home for this wheel. She didn't want to simply sell it to the highest bidder on Ebay. I couldn't even have bought a new noddy, lazy Kate and hand carders for her asking price, which included the wheel and everything else. I call that a bargain. She just wanted to re-home her wheel and make a spinner happy.

She did.

Meanwhile, I'm so delighted to have such a nice wheel at such a bargain that I'm trying to think of something nice to do for her, with all her handspun samples. They, too, are a bit stiff and gummy, having been dyed in the grease and stored in her attic all these years. I think there's enough to make a nice, felted pillow. Maybe I'll do that, and leave it on her doorstep one night, so she will have a souvenir from her spinning and dyeing days.

Now to see if that other fleece is salvagable.



At 10:46 AM, Blogger ambermoggie said...

what a fantastic find, I am so thrilled for you. I've just put a want on freecycle for a wheel. Thought I'd try again to spin.
BTW elemental ready for you, send your address

At 11:15 AM, Anonymous Em said...

That's so wonderful! I'm beginning to have great faith in the power of spinning supplies: they seem to find the right people at just he right time. And how luck one is when you are the one on the receiving end!

I love that she had kept all her project notes and old skeins: I hope you can make her something that will reminder her of her talents, even if she has given up the hobby.

At 1:13 PM, Anonymous elizabeth said...

What a wonderful gift idea! I can't believe she's lost her spinning love, I can't imagine it, but then again, I'm very new to it. Lucky you!

At 12:23 PM, Blogger Jo at Celtic Memory Yarns said...

What a lovely happy story, Dez. I'm so happy for her, for you, and for the wheel and notions. It was meant to happen.

(My Haldane Orkney and my venerable French wheel send the new arrival their love.)

No I am NOT off to check the free ads in the paper....


Post a Comment

<< Home

Inmates in the Asylum since July 27, 2006: