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by Dorothy Dow Crane   

Fall 2005   


 

Yesterday I wore Pansy. Not a pansy, but Pansy, the Icelandic ewe. I wore the vest I knit from the yarn I spun from her wool. In the sheep world, Pansy is what’s known as a badger face: her black legs, belly, and chest peek out from under a golden tan fleece that covers her back like an elegant evening coat. The chic black coloring around her eyes, ears, and chin accents her classy lady image. Pansy lives on the Hudson Valley sheep farm where I work whenever I can. I have stood with Jimmie and Mike, the shepherds, in the pasture under a chilly spring drizzle and watched Pansy lamb out her twins. I have strained to hold Pansy in line for Gwen, the shearer. I have fenced the pastures where Pansy grazes in the summer, and I have chased her down when she’s jumped the fence to reach the grass on the other side where she knows it’s greener. I have driven to Kenny’s down the road to load up her hay for the winter. Pansy, Jimmie, Mike, Kenny and Gwen are present every time I wear this vest. There is nothing anonymous about this piece of clothing.

Two hundred years ago there were enough Pansies in Dutchess County to supply woolen cloth for all 6,097 households. Women working at home spun the wool into yarn. Local weavers wove it into cloth. The clothes you put on each morning were produced by those you knew by name; they came from the fields that surrounded your home.

The labels on my sweaters tell a different tale. My drawer is filled with the sweat and dreams of men, women, and probably children whose names I will never know. A grey merino cable knit made in Scotland. An iridescent silk and woolen pullover with fraying yarn from Nepal. A bright bulky cardigan hand knit in Ecuador. The sheep sheared for these sweaters might have grazed on pastures in Australia, South Africa, China, or even central Asia. A Queensland drover on horseback at an outlying sheep station would have moved the Australian merino from pasture to pasture. A Zulu shepherd in South Africa might have wormed the sheep that gave the wool for my blue crewneck that’s labeled Made in Thailand. Sheared, then packed into 400 pound bales, some of the wool went to mills in the sheep’s home country. The rest of the wool was loaded onto trains, trucks, and ships and transported to mills in Asia where factory workers from China and Bangladesh dyed it and spun it into yarn. Huge cargo containers loaded with the yarn crossed oceans to Thailand, China, and even Scotland, where the yarn was knit, either by machine or hand, into the sweaters I wear all winter.

And so I knit. With every stitch I lodge a protest against the anonymity of the sweaters in my drawer. Every row I finish—knit, purl, knit, purl—reminds me that clothing is made by people who have names, hug their children, and worry about money. Sweaters do not magically materialize in the cavernous dark of the semi-tractor trailer just before it pulls up to the loading dock. Knitting keeps me connected to the invisible laborers of our commodity driven world.

I knit to stay connected to those I love. The small projects I take on—the pair of socks, the hat, the scarf—are each chosen with someone in mind. What color yarn matches tiny newborn Jane’s complexion? What texture suits Ron’s disposition? A nubby seed stitch? Stretchy ribbing? Elegant cables? Thoughts of the future hat-wearer come and go while I connect the soft loops of yarn. It’s a quiet, almost unconscious, meditation.

How old was I when I learned to knit? I’m not sure. I was spending the day in my mother’s bed, covered with measles. It was the era before vaccines for measles and mumps were available. Every child could expect to spend some extended sick time in bed, first feverish and then, eventually, very bored. I was now feeling better, tired of listening to the Lone Ranger on the radio but still too splotchy to be allowed out of bed. In desperation, my mother taught me to knit. I created a misshapen square in tan—grimy and germ infested from my efforts to control two sticks and a piece of yarn. When I knit, I am connected to my mother.

I knit to dream. Knitting dreams are always bigger than reality. Unfinished projects spill out of my drawer, projects I was lured into by seductive siren songs. As I walk into the yarn shop, soft mohair nuzzles my neck and whispers in my ear. Metallic yarns sparkle with flashy dance music. Pastel merino croons a sweet milky lullaby. Resistance is futile. I have finally learned to confine myself to projects only slightly larger than scarves for hamsters—hats and socks, and sweaters for very small children. The occasional vest. My completion rate has improved considerably.

My knitting is often with me wherever I go. A long car trip. A tedious meeting. The waiting room. The middle of the night when I can’t sleep. Day in and day out the yarn runs through my fingers. The tiny dust particles from my sofa where I read the morning paper, the perspiration on my fingers as I anxiously wait for the doctor, the microscopic crumbs of the toast I grab as I hurry out the door to work, are all strands of my life that twist together with the strands of my yarn, back and forth, row after row  

The ancient Greeks believed our lives are shaped by the Three Fates. Clotho spins us into being, Lachesis measures the thread of our days, and, with the snip of her scissors, Atropos brings our lives to a close. Surely there is a Fate missing. Between the measurer and the snipper, there must be a knitter. There must be a Fate who creates the sweater, knits the hat, weaves the scarf that is the pattern of our lives.

Yarn Shops in the AboutTown Area

A partial list. Many also offer knitting classes.

 

Stickle’s, E. Market St, Rhinebeck, 876-3206

 

Yarn Swift!, Poughkeepsie Plaza, 454-7444

www.yarnswift.com

 

Hudson Valley Sheep and Wool Co., Yantz Rd, Red Hook

758-3130

 

Sheep’s Clothing, Jct. Rts. 199 and 308, 758-3710

www.morehousefarm.com/SheepsClothing/Directions/

 

Woodstock Wool Company, Tinker Street, Woodstock

679-0400, www.woodstockwoolcompany.com/

 

Rock City Yarn, Rock City Rd, Woodstock, 679-9600

www.rockcityyarn.com/index-GOB.htm

 

CountryWool, Hudson, NY, 518 828-4554

www.countrywool.com/

 

Amazing Threads, Rt. 9W, Lake Katrine, 336-5322

amazingthreads.com/Woodstock

 

Mail-order for Rowan yarn in Rhinecliff

www.richesseonline.com (Rhinecliff residents are the models!)

 

Fleeces for handspinners:

 

Dancing Lamb Farm, Earlton, NY, (518) 634-2196

Mike Kelley, shepherd

Icelandic lamb fleeces in white, moorit, gray, and black

 

Elihu Farm, Mary Pratt, shepherd, Valley Falls, NY, (518) 753-7838, Email: m.pratt@netheaven.com

Romney and Romney crosses in white and natural colors

 

 
 
Contact: Mike (Mary Michael) Kelley
Dancing Lamb Farm & Icelandic Sheep Dairy
212 Harold Meyer Road
Earlton, NY  12058
518  634-2196