wool

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

REFLECTIONS ON A YEAR OF MAKING

 

A colossal year. January came in quietly and exited to the sound of newborn cries and, if there can be a sound attributed to new parent delirium . . . that sound, too. On this, the last day of 2018, we are flooded with gratitude / surprise (that we survived) / calmness for a year that was hardly easy, but so deeply important. It was the year our lives changed forever, whereby now we wear the indelible mark of parenthood. Being lost for words on the subject, we have thusly decided to share the tangible markers of our year: the things we made with our hands. May this final post of the calendar year offer a dash of encouragement, as well. And, let us just say: If you’re reading this, you made it to see another year. Whatever storms you weathered, rainbows you rested under, or multitudes of circumstances you were brave enough to see through, here you are. Well done! Truly. Here’s to another.


There was beer brewed.

Nine of them, to be exact. It was a year about harping on familiar styles, while tweaking the ingredients so that the same beer was never brewed twice. There were four pale ales—each of which were dry-hopped with a novel combination of hop varieties; two saisons—one brewed with dandelions, and the other with cranberries; and two farmhouse ales—one a “base beer” for future experimentation, manifest in a second iteration featuring rhubarb from our neighbor’s garden. And then there was the proverbial black sheep, a lager made with hops from the experimental hop yard at work, which (tragically) became my first batch to be dumped after becoming contaminated with wild yeast. All in all, roughly 50 gallons of beer made its way out of the fermenter and into our bellies over the course of the year—not bad at all.

rhubarb farmhouse ale homebrewing beer by samantha spigos
homebrewing pale ale beer by samantha spigos
pale ale homebrewing by samantha spigos
homebrewing beer farmhouse ale by samantha spigos
homebrewing cranberry saison by samantha spigos

There were garments and woolens made and mended.

This was the year knitting took on real importance. I knitted fewer things, but each one served a purpose and filled a gap. At the beginning of 2018 I vowed to not buy any new yarn, instead focusing on making do with what I had. (Which, by the way, was in no way a measly stash. My coffers are blessed with wool.) This was in an effort to curb my own consumerism and truly contribute to my family’s needs in a cost effective way. I ended up purchasing three skeins of wool to make two hats with, and I bartered for a reduced cost of the yarn for Rosemary’s Christmas stocking. You can peek the whole of my knitting pursuits over on Ravelry. Upon realizing Mark and I were wearing through all of our best (and expensive!) socks, I took up darning. For a week in the summer I did nothing but darn socks in my spare time, managing to teach my sister along the way. One summer afternoon, we darned socks at the library for a few hours. A real small town, simple pleasure sort of day if there ever was one. Our pile of to-be-darned socks continues to grow, but I know I will get to them, slowly. Mending and making do. Finally, I sewed two dresses for my daughter: Easter and Christmas. This is a tradition I hope to continue throughout her young life.

+ Learn how to darn a sock — it’s easy!
+ A big book devoted to mending.

knitting fringe field bag camel wool by samantha spigos
wool diaper cover soaker yarn scraps by samantha spigos
wool baby blanket knitting handmade by samantha spigos
handmade wardrobe peppermint geranium dress by samantha spigos
handmade wardrobe knitting hand knits by samantha spigos

There were fermentation experiments, vegetables grown, and sourdough loaves.

Mark’s farm job meant our kitchen table was always graced with tomatoes in the summer. We canned dozens and dozens of pounds of tomatoes, which we are delighting in now. One day he came home with thirty pounds of carrots. It seemed… a lot of carrots. We promptly put the lot of them into our three gallon crock under brine. Fermented carrots were easily my favorite experiment this year, though it turns out thirty pounds was not enough! To borrow one of my dad’s favorite turns of phrase, by autumn’s end they were “all et up.” Together with my sister and her kids, we managed to ferment around fifty pounds of cabbage into sauerkraut — just in time for New Year’s day. The lacto-fermentation projects were great, but 2018 was the year of sourdough. Baking weekly loaves of bread to slice and to share was the best practice I took up this year. Grounding, familiar, good.

+ Fermenting crocks to get you thinking of putting food by next season.
+ Sourdough wisdom shared here.

sourdough country aurora bread loaves by samantha spigos
tomatoes organic sourdough bread loaves by samantha spigos
fermented carrots fermentation by samantha spigos
buttered bread tomato sandwich by samantha spigos
rye challah loaf baking bread handmade by samantha spigos

There was a laundry line built.

I wrote about laundry and air drying on the line back in July, but it bears repeating. We love our basic pulley line, and if you fancy yourself interested in line drying, that summer post is merely one among many that can help get you started. I have not taken the plunge into winter air drying outdoors. I tried it once and the clothes never did dry, but all of our Amish neighbors do it, so there must be a way! (If anyone has helpful information to share, please do!)

clothesline laundry air drying by samantha spigos

And that’s sort of, we suppose, a wrap! Our hats off to you, 2018.


—M+S (and Rosemary, underfoot during the writing of this post)

BREATHING IN COLOR

 
Apple Orchard Ohio Organic Image by Samantha Spigos
Mushroom Natural Color Image by Samantha Spigos

Earlier in the Fall I picked up a book from the library for no reason other than the book jacket was covered in illustrated confetti, and I liked how it made me feel. What else are book covers for if not to be judged? The first chapter dove into how color impacts the human brain, and how we can take notice of it. For someone who considers herself attuned to the world around her, I sure had written off most colors. Suddenly, fuchsia made me feel happy, and golden ochres and caramels were all I wanted to wear. I picked out a red gingham apron with someone’s hand stitching on it at the antique shop, and when I wear it, I feel as if I’m donning a cape. I still love our calm and quiet bedroom, but now I understand that I gaze at the still-life painting above Rosemary’s changing table because the colors are invigorating and inviting. Simply put, it makes me feel good. Color is healing and life-giving. Our prehistoric ancestors understood that bright food indicated energy, and so our brains have been wired to be positively inclined towards color for its life-giving potential. (Something like that.) Taking notice of how color impacts my mental state was preparation for this season of hardship and healing. More on that.

Natural Dyed Wool Christmas Stocking Image by Samantha Spigos
Natural Dyed Wool Christmas Stocking Image by Samantha Spigos
Plants Are Family Print by The Far Woods Image by Samantha Spigos
Rainbow Soup by Brown Parcel Press and Sugarhouse Workshop Image by Samantha Spigos

Just a few months into the year, I sent a note to a woman named Jessica. Among other things, she makes quilts. She derives natural color from the plants and minerals that grow around her Vermont homestead, and uses those colors to dye cotton, silk, linen and wool. With a palette too beautiful to overstate, she makes quilts that are at once simple, and on the other hand deep and rich. It’s as though she grows her quilts like a plant from seed, watering and watching, but ultimately allowing it to grow on its own. Her quilts are agrarian by nature—a snapshot of the place, the plants, and the season. Naturally, I desired for Rosemary to have a piece of Jessica’s craft. That dream is coming true, and soon our little bunny will have her very own quilt. What I did not anticipate was the gentle, slow growing friendship between she and I. In a season of life that has not been without heartbreak and grieving — personally and especially worldwide — it feels ever more essential to rest in friendships; to work for justice while loving our families tenderly; to take notice of the color around us if for no other reason than because it’s beautiful. It might just be healing.

Native American Dent Corn Natural Color Image by Samantha Spigos

For the inquisitive . . .

+ The book that helped me love fuchsia.
+ Rainbow Soup, a set of four playful prints paying homage to natural color and quilting.
+ More about Jessica / Sugarhouse Workshop.
+ Plants Are Family print by two sisters working for justice and teaching us how to darn socks.
+ The knitting pictured above is my progress on Rosemary’s Christmas stocking, which I’m sharing about on Instagram using #RosemaryStocking. The red and green yarn is Wing and a Prayer Farm’s natural dyed (!) wool.
+ Don’t forget to vote on Tuesday, November 6th! (Find your voter polling place here.)


—S