"History"

Fred (the sheep) has Passed

Every year, the whole crew from FiberWild takes a field trip to Suzy the Shepherdess's farm to visit her sheep and play with the lambs.  One of the highlights of the trip is visiting with Old Fred (the sheep), so we were all very sad to hear of Fred's passing.  The following is Suzy's tribute to our old friend ...

Fred (2005)

Sheep don't hug or hold hands, but they do show affection by standing very close to their mother, leaning against her.  Fred did the same to me, which made him very difficult to photograph!  Here I'm pushing him back with one hand while taking a photo with the other (2005).

As a rule, sheep don't like traveling. But there is an exception to every rule!

Named "Frederich" in honor of his German (East Friesian) heritage, Fred the Sheep was born in 2004 and was bottle raised by me.

Normally, bottle babies are a mess. Either the mother or the lamb is weak, and the lamb is left with "replacer" - a powdered "just add water" fake sheep milk that is simply not as good as the real stuff. But Fred's mother, Fritzi Girl, was in good health and had simply rejected him. She was an East Friesian sheep - a "milking breed" that is usually milked like a dairy cow and used to make cheese (most commonly Roquefort, but there are many other sheep cheeses as well). I was able to milk Fritzi Girl and then feed Fred the real milk, so he grew up strong and healthy.

Pictures of Suzy's Farm

When selling my yarn at local markets, I'm always surprised at how many visitors to my booth don't really understand what wool is and where it comes from. I had been thinking about training a lamb to travel and be my "spokes-lamb," promoting wool. During the bottle feeding process Fred had bonded to me and soon believed that I was his mother - he seemed the perfect candidate to travel.

Once I made the decision for Fred to travel, I started getting wacky. While giving him his bottle and halter training him, I'd dance, sing, screech, poke at him, and generally make a nuisance of myself - all the while hoping that none of my neighbors stopped by for a surprise visit! The result is that very little flustered Freddy. I was pleased to note that while the militia was firing their muskets at a living history event at the Apple River Fort, humans were startled when the guns fired - but Fred remained perfectly calm!

With his very own dog crate in the back of my van, Fred traveled to events in and near Stockton, Illinois. He was a regular each Saturday while I sold yarn at the Stockton Farmer's Market.

At events I would set up a small pen next to my table and visitors were encouraged to pet Fred and ask questions about sheep and wool. He enjoyed the attention and special treats, made many friends, and probably thought each event was held in his honor!

Shearing Fred - March 2007

Me shearing Fred with hand shears at the Apple River Fort (March 2007).

Fred was best known for volunteering at the Apple River Fort in Elizabeth, Illinois, a reconstruction of a fort built in 1832 in fear of Black Hawk and his warriors. For many years Fred was the star attraction at the Fort's "Cabin Fever Jubilee" event each spring, where we demonstrated 1830s springtime chores. I sheared him with the hand shears while I was wearing a dress, multiple petticoats, and 1830s stays! Needless to say, it was a challenge! His wool looked like a pale brown, but underneath the "summer highlights" he was a deep gray - a very nice color!

Evelyn feeding Fred (June 2012)

My 2-year-old daughter Evelyn feeding Fred (June 2012).

When my first human baby was born in 2010 Fred retired. He had enjoyed six years of touring and was ready to spend his weekends in the pasture with the other sheep instead of on-the-road.

When my children were toddlers I used to fence in an area behind my tent to give them a safe play area while I sold my yarn - many of my long-time customers recognized that I was using the old Fred-Fence to corral my children!

Fred aged gracefully and was healthy and strong up until just shortly before his demise. The average lifespan for a sheep is 10 years. Fred made it 13 years - a good run for a good sheep! -Suzy the Shepherdess -

Pictures of Suzy's Farm

Hanami: Flowers and Fun!

Cherry Blossom Viewing - from Famous Views of Osaka - 1834

Hanami Festival in 1834

Do you like spring?  Of course you do!  Do you like parties?  Who doesn't?  Then you would love a visit to Japan during the Hanami festival!​

Hanami is the Japanese ​tradition of enjoying the beauty of flowers ... specifically the cherry blossoms called "sakura."  The flowers are pretty, but more importantly they are a metaphor for life - they appear in a burst of beauty then quickly die, reminding us that life is short and we should enjoy the beauty of our own lives, now!

The tradition is said to have started around 700 AD.  The first blossoms to be honored were plum blossoms, but soon cherry blossoms took center stage and the Hanami festival became synonymous with cherry blossoms. 

In the early days it was believed that spirits, called Kami, lived in the cherry trees, and during the Hanami festivals offerings were made to the trees and spirits.  In addition, the blossoms were used to predict the success or failure of the upcoming rice planting season.  The offerings were followed by food and sake, a rice wine that was served with great ceremony.

Emperor Saga (reigning from 809 to 823) gave the festival a more artistic flair, encouraging writing poems in tribute to the blossoms' beauty, a tradition that still continues today. An artistic kind of guy, he was also a calligrapher and a poet and is said to be the first Japanese Emperor to drink tea!

by Chiyoda Ooku Hanami - 1894

Hanami Festival in 1894

The first Hanami celebrations were only for the aristocrats, but within a few generations it became a festival for the people.  Today it is celebrated with food, sake, music and poetry writing.  Think of it as an outdoor music festival - with flowers!

Hanami Festival

Modern Hanami Festival

Japan is a long and narrow group of islands, with very different climates in the north versus the south. The cherry blossoms of Japan don't all bloom simultaneously, earlier in spring in the south, and later in the north.  So how does one keep track of the budding trees?  Weather reports on TV and in newspapers include the "Cherry Blossom Front" reporting on where the blossoms are blooming and predicting when they will blossom in your neighborhood.  The Cherry Blossom Front is serious business, with 59 specific sample trees selected across the country (and "junior trees" on call ready to be promoted to "sample tree" if a tree unexpectedly dies or becomes damaged).  The Day of Opening is announced when the sample tree has five or six opened flowers, and the Day of Full Bloom is when 80% of the sample tree's flowers have opened.

When the Day of Full Bloom arrives there is a rush to find the perfect spot under the cherry blossoms.  In crowded modern cities some people arrive at public parks hours or even days ahead to stake out the ideal location.

If you can't make it to Japan this spring you can enjoy the cherry blossoms in Washington DC.  In 1912 Japan gave 3,000 cherry blossom trees to the U.S. to celebrate the friendship between the two countries.  They were planted in Washington DC, and in 1965 another 3,800 were gifted to the U.S. Washington DC celebrates annually with the four-week National Cherry Blossom Festival

The best way to celebrate the beauty of the cherry blossoms is by wearing your Spring in Japan socks ... the first sock in our new World Traveler Sock of the Month series!  These delightful toe up socks feature an exquisite blossom lace pattern that runs up the front of the sock, with a smaller blossom running up the back.  And you don't need to follow the Cherry Blossom Front report - you can wear them every day!

Happy Knitting! ... Scout

Stinky Snails and the Color Purple

Queen Elizabeth I in Purple - Unknown Artist

Queen Elizabeth I royally dressed in purple.

Purple has been the color of royalty since, well,​ pretty much forever.  In the ancient cultures around the Mediterranean Sea, purple was the color of kings, nobles, priests and magistrates.  The tradition continued through the centuries, and Queen Elizabeth I forbade anyone but royalty to wear purple.  The truth is that the rarity and cost of the purple dye made it unlikely that anyone except royalty could afford to wear it anyway. 

Purple dye comes from the Bolinus brandaris, a small sea snail that only lives in the Tyre region of the Mediterranean Sea (which is why purple was often called "Tyrian" purple).  The snail secretes a milky mucous that is clear underwater but becomes a deep purple when exposed to air.  The snail uses the mucus to sedate prey, and it is also secreted when the snail is disturbed or scared, similar to an octopus' cloud of ink.  Dyers can collect the mucus by "milking" the snails by poking them and then collecting the mucus.  It's labor intensive, but doesn't hurt the snail.  Or the dyer can crush the snail, which is easier but also kills it. 

Now, repeat that 9,000 times.  The Bolinus brandaris snail is small, and it takes about 9,000 snails to collect just one gram of dye.  No wonder purple dye was prohibitively expensive!

Extracting the dye from the snail is a slow and stinky process.  How great would you smell after "milking" sea animals all day?  And archeological evidence suggests it was more common to extract the dye by allowing the snails to die and then decompose.  In ancient times, dyers set up their vats of decomposing snails on the edge of Tyre, because the smell was so awful it couldn't be allowed in town.

In 1909 Harvard anthropologist studied the history of the purple dying process and reproduced the ancient method himself, stating that the purple dyed cloth he studied had a "disagreeable ... strong fishy smell, which appears to be as lasting as the color itself."  The stench of the dying process (and the dyer!) was so disgusting that the Talmud allowed Jewish women to divorce a husband who had become a dyer after marriage.  

Queen Victoria in Purple - The_Secret_of_Englands_Greatness_Queen_Victoria_presenting_a_Bible_in_the_Audience_Chamber_at_Windsor - by Thomas Jones Barker - 1863

Queen Victoria in 1863. Even after the invention of chemical dyes made purple dye widely available purple still remained a royal color. 

If purple dye is so difficult and expensive to produce, how is it that us commoners can wear it today?​  You can thank William Henry Perkin, who was quite possibly the world's first chemistry nerd.  In 1856, at age 18, a professor gave Perkins the challenge to synthetically produce quinine, a very expensive malarial treatment made from the bark of a tree.  He failed in his attempt to reproduce quinine, but one of his failures created a deep purple substance.

Perkin was also a budding artist, and immediately liked the color and saw the potential of the substance as a fabric dye.  It turns out Perkins was also a shrewd businessman.  He patented the process for making purple dye and mauve dye (an entirely new color!) and was commercially successful.  For the first time ever, inexpensive purple fabric was available to anyone.

Do you want to look as regal as a queen draped in purple - but without stinking like decomposing fish?  We can help you!  The Queen's Shawlette is an elegant shawl with simple cables and an easy mesh lace, knit with the glorious hand dyed Mountain Color's Fever River Lite yarn.  The Queen's Robe colorway is royal purple with hints of spring green and fuscia - and not a single stinky snail was used in the dying process.  You'll look great and smell great in the Queen's Shawlette!

Happy Knitting! ... Scout

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