Like magic, this arrived in the mail last week. I had sent them a box full of washed fleece packed so tight that I imagine opening it was like playing with a jack-in-the-box. The fleece that exploded out of the box was washed again, carded, combed, and then spit out into one continuous piece of this lovely wool, called “combed top.” But I like to imagine that they have a contraption not unlike the Playdough extruder, where you shove in a blob and squeeze out a nice continuous piece shaped like a star. How fun would that job be? It reminds me of a textbook I had in 5th grade, with a picture of a crayon assembly line, thousands of crayons lined up in rainbow formation. I came home from school announcing that I was going to work THERE when I grew up. My parents quickly squashed that idea, probably because they both work in factory settings and wanted loftier goals for me.
But have I really strayed so far from the crayon ideal I’ve held on to all this time? I wondered this yesterday as I plucked these zinnias hours before our first frost and placed them for drying in a hanging basket. Surely this is one of the most sensually rich jobs one could muster, I thought. From teeny-tiny lamb to sheep to lanolin-rich shorn wool to that lovely combed top to spinning wheel to lovely plant dyebath to skein of yarn…it’s like an orgy for the senses.
The timing of all of this loveliness, though, has been a mixed bag. The impending frost coinciding with the arrival of this new book – Harvesting Color by Rebecca Burgess – a fantastically-beautiful book, I might add, prompted me to harvest every last zinnia blossom. I hadn’t planned on dyeing with them, so I turned to the instructions and quickly learned that they must be used fresh. Damn. This seems to be the case with most of the dye plants I’ve grown so far, especially the Japanese Indigo. I covered that with a tarp last night to protect the tender tips from Jack Frost and will do so again tonight, hoping for balmier dyeing weather next week, after some crucial supplies arrive in the mail. The zinnias, however, I decided to use on the spot.
At the same time supper was being prepared, the zinnias quietly steeped on the stove. Then I added the only skein of Irene’s wool that I’ve been able to process so far. And this is what came out of the dyepot. A lovely first go at plant dyeing, don’t you think?
(And now I must quickly rant about how irritated I am that the much-loved name of Irene, our fondly remembered ewe, has been sullied the world over with the new context of a devastating hurricane. Who picks these names? How about a different naming system, one that doesn’t represent actual names? I would imagine the Katrinas of the world would agree with me.)