Maryland not being as wool-centered a state as Vermont, yarn shops, particularly those selling artisanal yarn, were few and far between. So I was delighted, years ago, when I found a store with a stash of skeins that had been spun and dyed by an Uruguayan women\’s cooperative.
The wool looked as if the women had just passed the mid-term in Spinning and Dyeing 101. The yarn, which in places was almost a quarter of an inch thick, shrank to silk-thread dimensions in others. Its color swung from a barely-there grayish blue, through an electric ultramarine, to almost purple. But I liked those imperfections. I could see in my mind\’s eye the women, their black braids hanging down their backs, trudging over the Uruguayan pampas to the workshop where they spun and dyed, and felt empowered and affirmed in the process. To encourage them, I bought a stack of skeins.
I crocheted an immense shawl, almost a yard wide, and long enough to wrap a couple of times around my neck and shoulders. During most of the relatively balmy Maryland winter, I could wear the shawl in lieu of a coat. When we moved to Vermont, however, the shawl was useful as outdoor wear only in the fall.
I liked the shawl\’s warmth inside the house during the coldest winter days, but it was too long and unwieldy for doing anything other than sitting reading a book. Even then, I would periodically have to get up and put another log in the woodstove, and the shawl was forever snagging bits of kindling and getting tangled with the poker and stained with soot. Eventually, I put it away in the closet and forgot about it.
Every year, when the light begins to ebb in the weeks following the summer solstice, as the orb weavers get busy spinning their late-summer webs I get a deep-seated urge to make stuff with wool. Sometimes I give in to the urge, and spend too much money on yarn for a garment that may or may not turn out as I anticipated. Often I redirect the urge into something more practical, such as stacking wood.
This year, just as the urge hit its peak, I ran into the Uruguayan shawl. There was all that wool, yards and yards of it, in a form that was useless to me. I decided to unravel the shawl, and make it into a more convenient design: a poncho.
It took me hours to deconstruct that shawl. My spouse, who is naive about the cost of wool, kept suggesting that I simply buy more wool, and make the poncho with that. But I persisted, and ended up with a basketball-sized sphere. I found the process of unraveling, watching the shawl disappear row by row, as satisfying as the actual crocheting.
Now the yarn ball is softball-sized, and the poncho is almost ready to be assembled. Then I\’ll light a fire in the stove and see if all the unraveling and crocheting have yielded a more ergonomic garment than the old shawl. I wonder how that women\’s cooperative in Uruguay is doing?