Friday, March 27, 2009

Spinning Dust Bunnies

Now I have a history with quiviut, the proverbial skeleton in the old memory vault.  I once owned...wait for ENTIRE GARBAGE BAG OF QUIVIUT, pounds of the stuff.  It was given to me to spin by a guy who worked up north in the oil exploration business whom I had encountered at some craft event where I was selling the natural-dyed fat singles I was churning out at that time.  He had picked it up off the tundra where it was lying around in heaps after the spring moult, or whatever you call it when muskox shed their winter undercoat.   The deal was that I would spin up the fibre in exchange for a share of it and perhaps some of his very beautiful hand carved antler buckles or buttons.   

I tried spinning the stuff on my Indian spinner and needless to say, had a lot of trouble.  I put it away in our tiny attic, resolving to delay the R and D until the long winter months when every hour of the day wasn't taken up with tending gardens and preserving the fruits thereof.  In the typical "back to the land" (i.e. hippies in the backwoods) style, my then husband and I lived in a cobbled together house (and I use the term "house" loosely) in the bush that was heated with two wood stoves. To make a long story short, the house burned to the ground one freezing cold December day, and the quiviut was one of the things that didn't get saved.  A few weeks later during the cleanup, buddy who worked up north arrived in his pickup and stared at the place where the house had been, not needing to be told that his quiviut had gone up in smoke.  He was pretty philosophical about it, saying "Oh well, easy come, easy go," or words to that effect.  

Ever since the fire, my feelings about quiviut have been ambivalent:  intrigue mixed with the memory of  that gut-wrenching day.  The scarcity and astronomical prices have been a sufficient deterrent up until now but the temptation was always there and I longed to give it a try, to master it - the fibre and maybe the negative feelings along with it.  Last Friday I took the plunge and shelled out for 20 grams of the stuff, a pouffe of roving the size of a loaf of bread in a ziplock bag and after it sat for a week, calling to me from the spinning corner, I plunged in yesterday, still full of those ambivalent feelings.

It was very difficult at first.  The roving is ephemeral, smoke between my fingers, like drafting a cloud of nothing, spinning dust bunnies.  It has to be a very fine yarn in order to get some decent yardage out of it so I cast about for a method that wouldn't waste a shred of fibre. Not yet in possession of a diz, I tried pulling the roving through a small funnel but it was still too dense and nowhere near small enough.  It was a semi-transparent pencil roving I was after. Then I tried pre-drafting the chunks of roving and when they threatened to drift apart, I dampened my hands and rolled the predrafts on my thigh to firm them up.  This really worked and now I'm well into the first spool, although I have very little spun fibre to show for two hours of spinning.  

My intention is to ply two singles and knit a very open lacey short narrow scarf...after all, the muskox survive -60C wearing this stuff so anything more dense is going to be too hot even on the coldest Victoria day. And of course I only have 20 grams so my choices are limited.   The singles are spun quite firmly so that they stay together so the plying should also help them to bloom a little.  My only quandary is how to estimate when to change spools so I have equal amounts to ply from.  At the moment I'm going by weight but if anyone has a better idea, lay it on me.  

As for the negative feelings and regrets?  Still there but less strident as a result of confronting a tiny corner of them. One of these posts, I'll tell the story of the fire and perhaps get a little more of it off my shoulders.  For now, I'll just say that it was a long time ago, no one died, and it opened some doors that needed opening.



No comments: