Flamingos, goats, planning for photo shoots, and musk oxen in need

Life continues to be focused (completing The Project), to the point that it feels surreal. So yesterday morning when we discovered, while walking the dog, that a neighbor's lawn had been flamingoed, the vision seemed nearly normal:

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We couldn't tell what the occasion was, although the "lead flamingo," nearest the door, had a card tied to its neck and when we took our afternoon dog walk an extraordinary number of cars were parked along both sides of the street near the same house. I've known about the flamingo phenomenon, but never seen it in action. Apparently a normal delivery involves forty flamingos. In this modest neighborhood, a mini-flock of eleven made an adequate impression.

On The Project front, I believe I will be finished with the goats later this morning. Then we'll bike to my cousin's for a gathering that will include two cousins, their two husbands, my 87-year-old aunt (88 in June!), my daughter, and me.

In addition to working with goats this week, I've been engaging in a series of e-mails with The Project's editor in which we are planning photo styling. The design launch meeting occurred at the publisher about ten days ago, so the art folks are also involved. I've known since we began The Project that the photo shoot, or shoots, will be extensive. When we're in the studio, we will need to be extremely well organized and efficient. I've put a lot of systems in place to facilitate that. Now we're getting close to deciding what to shoot, where, and how. The decisions involve both aesthetic and practical matters.

The editor asked me to send several sets of the locks and spun samples for the art director to use to shoot preliminary photos. These images won't be in the final book, but they will help her conceptualize the layout and help us all plan the week to week-and-a-half of actual shooting. (There is, of course, a book involved as part of The Project, but the manuscript part of this effort feels like just the tip of an iceberg.) So I sent off the Down breeds, seven "sets" of samples in two FedEx boxes (one large and one medium). I was relieved to hear that they'd arrived.

The Down breeds are, however, relatively simple to present. As our discussion by e-mail has evolved, I've also sent snapshots that display concepts required for other fibers, ideas pertaining to tactile qualities that we'll need to convey through the printed page. The big questions involve how.

I'd previously sent the overall concepts that the book wants to be about visually: diversity (of types of fibers) and transformation (from raw material to yarn). (The book will focus on the fibers themselves and on the yarns that can be made from them, not on spinning techniques or finished objects, although those will be hinted at.) A number of ideas that apply to multiple different fibers will be represented by demonstrations involving one fiber. It's like putting together a huge jigsaw puzzle.

Here are some of the "talking point" photos I've snapped and sent off as part of the long-distance discussion.

A typical sample set, very basic:

2xx_3789-Rougedel'Ouest

That's Rouge de l'Ouest: raw locks, clean locks, and two sample skeinlets.

Next, a set showing texture possibilities with one fiber type . . . not all the possibilities, which are infinite, but enough to hint at what can be done. The various people involved in making this book happen need to mumble among ourselves about how best to show whatever can be conveyed in photos. These are all adult mohair. If we show skeinlets, then I would skip the two finest skeins (second and third from the right), because there's not much useful information conveyed by those two at this scale.

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However, if we show strands of yarn, rather than skeins, then those samples do offer useful information:

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(I've since added more plying twist to the finest white sample; most of the yarns I'm making are more loosely spun than usual in both singles and plying, because they need to showcase the fiber qualities in a photo, not perform well after years of wear in a textile. The project I am spinning for is the printed page, not a sweater or blanket or rug. And I'm spinning very, very fast, with no pauses and few opportunities to improve on my first attempt. Although I've marked some skeinlets to go back to and try for again, if I get the mass of work done in time.)

What the skeinlets offer, over the strands, is an opportunity to hint at the yarns' (and fibers') handling qualities, including drape:

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Left to right: cashmere (a distinctive bulkiness, despite its fineness, and a supple quality), pygora type B (drape and luster . . . that's some of the combed-out pygora hair peeking in at the top . . . usually discarded, but interesting in a whole different way), adult mohair (body and luster), and plain standard goat hair (essentially no drape at all).

Here's a color set:

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Those are cashmeres. They come from different parts of the world and have different fiber descriptions in qualities other than color—for example, length, diameter, and luster—which we may or may not be able to convey photographically, given our time and space constraints. This is an overview, not a focused study on each fiber.

For fibers that are grown in several (or many) colors, we're trying to at least hint at the variety. One of my dreams has been to include a complete rainbow of the defined Shetland colors, although I'm still missing samples of three of them . . . light gray, mioget, and dark brown have been elusive. While the Shetland breed itself is not currently endangered, the colored sheep make up quite a small percentage of the world population and we could lose them.

Speaking of losing resources, one of my motivations for The Project is an awareness of how vulnerable the living animals are to extinction. They are the providers of these amazing materials that we work with. Some breeds that existed when previous books on fibers were prepared (not all that long ago) appear to have vanished: we can't find them. Anywhere.

Yesterday I learned that the nonprofit research Musk Ox Farm in Alaska needs help (and therefore so do the musk oxen). There are two primary sources of musk ox fiber for textile folk: living animals in Alaska, and hunted animals in Canada. The living population in Alaska is also a primary resource for research on the animals' biology, research that is likely to be critical to these animals' survival in an environment that is being affected by climate change. These critters have been around since the Pleistocene—so
for at least 12,000 years—and were hunted to extinction in Alaska in
the late nineteenth century. The donation page contains buttons for set amounts, but there is also a "U-pick" option for any amount, and any amount helps.

What if there were no qiviut? Or Lincoln Longwool? Or. . . .

If the animals that produce these fibers die out, people who don't know fibers won't realize what they've lost. If the only food you know has been served from a drive-through window in a styrofoam container, then you can't understand not having access to freshly grown vegetables or artisan cheeses. Fortunately for those of us who do know fibers, one of the best things we can do to ensure their continued presence on the planet, and in our lives, is use and enjoy them . . . and share them with others so they can understand.

While I was amused by the pink plastic flamingos, I am awestruck daily by what I continue to learn about natural fibers, especially those grown by animals: and I've been studying them for decades already.

And now I have an appointment with a goat.

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That's colored kid mohair. Here, on top of it, are mostly yearling mohairs and a peek of another kid sample at the lower left.

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It's magic: continually unfolding, everyday, in-my-hands magic.

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15 Responses

  1. As always, fascinating. The Project will be a treasure.

  2. The Musk Ox Farm has a page on Facebook (thanks, Erica!). Here’s an update from there:
    “Thank you friends and family and musk ox lovers for helping us meet our emergency fundraising goal! You are incredible! The board of directors convenes on Friday, and we will keep you posted as to our next steps in stabilizing. Our major private fundraising goal for this year is $350k, for which I expect we will be launching a major capital campaign shortly, so if you haven’t donated yet and would like to please know that you are helping us chip away at the next big hurdle.”

  3. Diana and Valerie, thanks for your comments! What I’m sharing on the blog is not even the tip of the iceberg–it’s more like a few snowflakes (like the ones that fell this morning here). I hope this is a treasure! There’s so much more I want to do . . . but then the job would never end {wry grin}.

  4. Happy Easter! It’s great to see the this long sorting & discovery process moving to the stage of materializing in visual images! So much to see!

  5. It sounds like what you’re doing is information design, as in which information is more important to present in the photos and how can we best reveal it. Fun stuff! I hope your editor and the art director realize how lucky they are to be working with you….

  6. I have learned so much about fiber since I began following your blog. Thank you so much for sharing all of the information and photos that you have. I, too, cannot wait to get my hands on a copy of The Project when it is ready! Keep up the good work.

  7. Susan, I really dig information design. The interesting part about this project is striving to do what I do well in a manner that stays out of the way of other people doing what they do well, while working long-distance (rather than face-to-face) with people I haven't worked with before. We all seem to be doing okay with it, though.

    Julianna, your comment warms my heart. I always feel like I’m learning about fibers: I’m glad to hear that I know enough to be able to share and be helpful!

  8. Lindy Barnes

    Hi Deb,

    I love Susan’s term “information design”. She has such an amazing way with “word design”.

    I have often read about quivit and have read about the Musk Ox farm in AK but have never bought any yarn. In part because of the cost of this exquisite fibeer and also because I don’t consider myself a good enough knitter to warrant such lovely and expensive fiber. However, thanks to your post I am going to donate some money to the farm and purchase some of that marvelous fiber.

  9. I am so excited about The Project, I cannot wait to see it, and to order the book. I can already feel that it is a labour of love and effort that needs to come to my house and live with me.

  10. What beautiful fibers here…I love to crochet with kid mohair. It’s so soft, and even though it’s so feather light and fine, it is one of the warmest yarns, I’ve used.

    Thanks for all the great information!
    Susan

  11. Kris Paige

    So, where do we go to pre-order the book, so we are assured of not being trampled in the inevitable stampede when it’s finally available??

  12. Meg Caulmare

    Good morning, Deb,

    I was just reading through back posts, because I’m meditating on something and I wanted to instill your careful thought process in my brain, in hopes my current meditation would follow it. It won’t, probably, but it’s morning to I have hope. Anyway, I read back to the Trading Up To Ireland post and the yarn to swapped and I recognized it from a back issue of Spin Off! That rosey/gray/black/white Ashland Bay merino was featured in an article by Rita, I think, about how spinning affects color. Funny how one can remember a specific piece of yarn.

    Maybe there IS hope for the mental processes!

    Have a great day,

    Meg

  13. Kris, there’s no price or page count so far, so pre-orders aren’t an option yet. I thought this was going to be a fall 2010 release; the latest information I have has the publication scheduled for 4/15/2011, which is at least in time for the start of next year’s festival season.

    And Meg, you have a better memory than I do about Spin-Off! I knew we’d shot photos of the yarn, but I couldn’t remember why. . . .

    So glad to have given you an excuse to discover qiviut, Lindy. There’s no such thing as “not a good enough knitter” to experience these lovely fibers.

    Hiroko and Susan and Kris and all, thanks so much for your enthusiasm. Every book goes through times when it feels like a mountain that’s so high you’ll never reach the top. Fortunately, I know that! We’re in one of those times. And on we go. . . .

  14. You are fantastic and I can’t wait for you to come here in November…I’d better nail down a new date.

  15. Get your exciting trip settled, Beth, and we'll think about another time for me to teach at your shop.

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