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:
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:
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.
However, if we show strands of yarn, rather than skeins, then those samples do offer useful information:
(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:
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:
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.
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.
It's magic: continually unfolding, everyday, in-my-hands magic.