natural fibers

ON CREATIVITY | EARL GREY + PINK STITCHES

 
ceramic bunny tea cup kata golda by samantha spigos

I am a gift knitter. Any knitting skill I possess is something I consider an offering to others. This is less about self-sacrifice and generosity and more about motivation. I am motivated to be-woolen my loved ones, and sometimes their loved ones, and that desire keeps me knitting. Coupled with Mark’s and my economic life being stringently tight every month, I experience major guilt over the notion of purchasing or using yarn for myself. This is a little silly, as I’ve gone three winters without a hat or mittens of my own making. Wait, is this what it means to be a mom? At the onset of this year, I burnt out on knitting — even for my own child, who is generally my ever-flowing spring of inspiration. I managed to cast on a few things, but if the single child’s pant leg taunting me from the other room is any indication, they were not seen through. Surely a stuffed penguin was the answer after the joy I felt sewing Rosie’s bunny (who has since been named Posie), but in the end each attempt fell by the wayside and I spent too much time on my phone. Surely you can relate.

At the root of this creative slump were two factors: I wanted to knit with vibrant color but did not own any, and I wanted to knit something for myself. After prodding my sister over how to get over these feelings and rise out of the slump, she rationally replied that I should buy some colorful yarn and knit myself something. A novel idea if there was one.

mondim yarn fingering weight hat knitting by samantha spigos

I probably first imagined the moral of this story to be something like, “avoid rewarding the notion that life will get better if you spend money, and use my knitting piety as an example,” but the reality is that investing in myself was a very healthy decision. This is what the internet calls self-care. Knitting, it turns out, is more than an avenue for gifting woolens to loved ones. Methodical and centering, it is a practice that not only takes me out of the wildness of the world, but it also connects me to sheep who worked hard to grow the wool that I wind and throw between my fingers. For living in town and possessing no more than 1/4 acre backyard, it is remarkable that I can interact with specific breeds of sheep daily. Putting a small sum towards this practice reinvigorated my creative spirit. As for the color itself, staring at saturated pigment during a wet, icy, gray winter has been a truly effective way to offset the lowness I have been experiencing. Slump conquered.

And one other thing. Are you a tea drinker? Always good for a cup of tea but never particularly jazzed about it, my love language was, until recently, coffee. A good ten years with a decidedly unhealthy coffee addiction, I became foreign to myself when, after pregnancy, my body could nary tolerate the caffeine or acid. I made the switch to black tea (with one blessed cup of decaf to start the day) and feel just about ready to identify as a Tea Drinker. Do you have a tea you love? A blend you make yourself? A story about a particularly good cup of tea or coffee (or Diet Coke; I’m looking at you, mom)? I would genuinely love to hear from you in the comments. Talking about food and drink experiences ranks in my top ten list of ideal topics.

black tea ceramic tea cup lilac teapot by samantha spigos

P.S. The yarn is Retrosaria Mondim in colorway 205, and the tea is Lord Bergamot with heavy cream. Both enchanting.


—S

A BUNNY OF HER OWN

 
cotton wool handsewn bunny by samantha spigos

Rosemary turned one on the twenty-first of January. In truth, I love this age the most. I love that she is no longer a tiny newborn, no longer a floppy, squealing six-month old, no longer a freshly crawling nine-month old. The goal of raising children and living our own lives is to keep staying alive, no? Every stage was our favorite stage (well, except the first spell of teething). I feel no sadness that the days have been slow but the year flew by. Mark and I rejoice in our one-year old girl, thanking God for her health and vibrancy and undeniable charm; thanking God she is alive and thriving! Perhaps in twenty years I will lament how quickly it all passed, but for now I feel content to spend each day with our one-year old, our Bubinga, our bunny. Speaking of, I sewed Rosemary a birthday bunny.

handsewn bunny first birthday gift by samantha spigos
handsewn wool cotton bunny first birthday by samantha spigos
first birthday gift handsewn cotton wool bunny by samantha spigos
cotton wool handsewn bunny by samantha spigos

Long before Rosemary was Rosemary, but rather a floating water baby we referred to as Shim, I purchased the materials to make a stuffed bunny. I really, really love a good stuffed toy. It’s the history of mohair bears, the companionship of fuzzy bedtime friends, and the unexpected reasons children love the ones they do that spurred my desire to sew my own. It’s no secret here that I am deeply devoted to natural fibers, in jest referring to myself as a Wool Evangelist. I know of a handful of special toy makers out there producing heirloom-quality stuffed toys made exclusively of natural fibers (cotton and wool, mostly). I want to buy all of them, but at present can not exactly afford any of them. For Christmas Rosemary received a donkey and a hedgehog from her gurny, and a pocket doll from her grandma — each one made of cotton, wool, and alpaca fibers. Talk about a lucky lady! (Or is it me who really loves them? As Mark’s mom once joked during a gas station pitstop, “You want her to have the beautiful toys, but she’s going to want the Beanie Boos from the gas station.”) Having held onto the slubby cotton fleece and peach wool felt for more than a year, I contemplated not going forward with sewing her any animal at all. Sure, I’d invested in the materials, but could anything I make really compare to the toys she had just been gifted for Christmas?

It turns out that yes, it can.

cotton wool handsewn bunny by samantha spigos
wool cotton handsewn bunny by samantha spigos

“Real isn't how you are made,” said the Skin Horse.

“It's a thing that happens to you.

When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with,

but REALLY loves you,

then you become Real.

The Velveteen Rabbit

cotton wool handsewn bunny by samantha spigos
cotton wool handsewn bunny by samantha spigos
cotton wool handsewn bunny by samantha spigos

It took roughly a week to sew, and this is from someone who has only sewn three garments total. Much of that week was spent waiting for the wool stuffing to arrive and hand stitching the limbs and head to the body. The day before her birthday I haphazardly freestyle embroidered her initials into the rear, because should not all handmade objects come with a love letter? This was the most enjoyable project I’ve made in a year or more. Something about knowing my child would hold it, possibly even love it, and maybe keep it close by for a very long time truly fueled me with an honest ambition I do not generally feel while making. If you have never made a loved one a stuffed toy but think you might like to, please consider this the gentle nudging you need. Unsurprisingly, I want to knit and sew stuffed toys forever now.

Happy birthday to our Rosemary Isidora, a little funny bunny of a one-year old.

cotton wool handsewn bunny by samantha spigos

For the inquisitive . . .

+ Materials used*:
Organic cotton fleece (1 yd)
Wool felt in color Peach 69 (1 mm square)
Cotton sewing thread in color 1140
Sashiko embroidery thread in color Orchid Pink
+ Soft Woolen Bunny free pattern.
+ A sunshine dress to bring cheer (from the shop of an amazing heritage toymaker).

*This material list provided enough fabric and thread that I can sew two bunnies.


Or, a few heirloom-quality bunnies ready to be gifted . . .

I’ve compiled the very best stuffed rabbits I know of. They are not inexpensive. If it’s within your means to provide a gift like this to someone you love, I would gently encourage you to trust that your gift will be cherished. Like adults, children truly do have the capacity to appreciate and respect high-quality objects.

+ Baby’s first bunny. This bunny went everywhere Rosemary went for months.
+ A true velveteen rabbit, thread whiskers and all.
+ German-made bunny that is sure to be passed down.
+ Spectacular rabbits to grow through childhood with (from the maker of the sunshine dress).


—S

WORKS OF THE HOME: CLOTH DIAPERING

 
Cloth Diapering Cotton and Wool Natural Parenting by Samantha Spigos
Cloth Diapering Cotton and Wool Natural Parenting by Samantha Spigos

If you ask me, there are too many ways to diaper a child. When left with myriad options, it’s hard to know which is the simplest, or the most suited to your lifestyle, and is there even such a thing as a best method? To say nothing of the names given to every specific style of diaper. Cloth diapering has become something of a culture — one that can inappropriately feel exclusive and expensive — but in essence is just one way to keep pee and poop from getting everywhere. While pregnant, we had the privilege of being able to consider the cost and the environmental impact of our decisions, but I recognize that not everyone can do that. My parents cloth diapered because it was the cheapest way. Now that we’ve established that a diapered tush and sane parents are what really matters, I want to offer the diapering system we adopted and have used with great ease since the day Rosemary was born. I will go so far as to describe diapering as a joy. (Edited to add: That’s not to suggest the contents are pleasant.) The method is very inexpensive in the long run and was affordable in the short run (our family income is under 30k, for reference). It uses natural fibers (just cotton and wool), and allows for usage beyond just diapers. And for any non-parents reading this post, the endless uses for prefold diapers might just convince you to buy a pack for your home.

Cloth Diapering Cotton and Wool Natural Parenting by Samantha Spigos
Cloth Diapering Cotton and Wool Natural Parenting by Samantha Spigos

In essence, our method is to use cotton “prefold” diapers, which are rectangles of gauze-y cotton, with a wool cover on top. It’s hard to overstate how exceptional wool is as a diaper cover. Fishermen and sailors living in the coastal regions of the world have rich histories of wool-wearing, because they needed something to keep them a) warm at sea, b) cool at sea, and c) dry at sea. Wool was the only match for the job. Sheep’s fiber is a renewable resource that is antimicrobial, temperature-regulating, and capable of absorbing liquid while at the same time wicking it away. I fell hard for wool when I became a knitter, but it wasn’t until I had a baby that I truly understood its incredible properties.

Rosemary was born a big baby with leg rolls to rival the Michelin Man. We initially set out to use plastic pants and microfiber covers over her prefold diaper, because they were graciously gifted to us (if you know much about modern cloth diapers, they are very pricey, checking in around $20-30 per diaper!), and we suspected they would work well. Pretty quickly Rosemary got red and irritated around her thighs. A combination of unbreathable material being too tight around her chubby legs. After a few weeks I invested in a wool cover (pictured below), and we have used the same cover every day of her life for nine months. I have washed it—wait for it—five times. And it does not smell. I repeat, we have used the same wool diaper cover every day, all day. . . for nine months. . . and I have washed it five times. . . and it does not smell. I don’t know of any other material capable of such a feat; not cotton, not silk, certainly not synthetics. In reality, there is much science to explain the properties of wool, but I prefer to think of and describe it as “the magic of wool.”

The simple, economical diapering method that we swear by . . .

for daytime —
+ Prefold diaper.
+ Cotton insert, if baby won’t be changed for several hours. (We generally don’t need to use one during the day.)
+ Snappi, a genius invention that eliminates pins.
+ Wool diaper cover.

for nighttime —
+ Prefold diaper.
+ Cotton insert, for extra absorption.
+ Wool liner, for keeping the diaper area warm through the night. (Cotton does not retain heat.)
+ Snappi, a genius invention that eliminates pins.
+ Wool pants as the diaper cover. (Used in hot and cold weather alike.)


Cloth Diapering Cotton and Wool Natural Parenting by Samantha Spigos
Cloth Diapering Cotton and Wool Natural Parenting by Samantha Spigos

As for how to put on a prefold diaper, after a tiny bit of practice (and you will get practice), you’ll see it’s rather easy. (Green Mountain Diapers outlines several fold options in detail. Our preferred fold is “the twist,” pictured below.) Every baby is different, and not all skin types respond the same way to cloth diapers. This continues to work for us, in large part because of the simplicity and economical merit. If you are interested in cloth diapering, you might give this cotton + wool method a try. If questions arise, or if you have something I should know about, please do get in touch. In the next of this two-part blog series, I'll share about laundering and maintaining your cotton diapers and woolens. Here’s to you, baby-rearing/loving/diapering humans of the world!

And a few more uses for prefold diapers . . .

+ Burp cloths.
+ Breast pad at nighttime, for when you just cannot bear to wear a bra but want to avoid leaking milk on your top.
+ Dust cloths.
+ Cleaning up spills of any kind.
+ Handkerchiefs.
+ Laying under your naked baby.
+ Chopped up and put into the compost as fertilizer. (Cotton and wool will biodegrade, but preferably you’ll find an expectant mama who can make good use of them.)

Cloth Diapering Cotton and Wool Natural Parenting by Samantha Spigos
Cloth Diapering Cotton and Wool Natural Parenting by Samantha Spigos

—S