1. Choosing gifts for people I don’t know. By definition my stash is a store of yarn I like, I want to keep. I don’t like all of it as much as I did when I bought it (I think there is something in the ‘wool fumes’ theory explaining impulse purchases), but nonetheless yarn in the hand is worth more than yarn that might materialise in the future. Gift-giving ties me in knots, I’m not sure why. I love giving gifts – I suspect that somewhere inside my head a lonely sub-teen is still trying to curry favour with possible friends – but I lack judgment. My exasperated husband tells me I frequently over-do it. If I’ve done so again, I apologise. But I still hope that at least one thing in the parcels made you unexpectedly happy. Don’t eat all the chocolate at once!
2. Loneliness. Don’t get me wrong, I like being alone. Until my third year at University I happily contemplated an entire life alone, full of solitary adventures. And then, completely unexpectedly, I was no longer alone, and I haven’t been alone much for the last 28 years. Alone sometimes seems a highly desirable place to be, especially when faced with five foolish questions/demands in as many minutes. Now, equally unexpectedly, ‘alone’ has become ‘lonely’. Despite Dyson’s best efforts, this house is empty. The bed is mine, all mine, but a hot water bottle is just not the *same* as a person. I don’t like this vulnerability. Three weeks will be the longest we’ve ever spent apart. There’s a reason socks come in pairs, and this pair is being knit with more love than desperation.
Being a grown-up, I know the best cure is to keep busy, so the socks and I spent yesterday evening with the Tuesday Evening spinners. I took my wheel, hoping for that quiet happy place that spinners seem to inhabit, but instead the entire time passed in a blur of casting on for toe-up socks (on two circulars at the same time, started separately and fed onto one circular, on one circular to demonstrate ‘magic loop’), knitting a few rows, then discarding what I’d done right to work out what someone else hadn’t done quite so right. It was lively, it was good, and I need to knit like the wind to demonstrate heels on two socks on two circulars next week. This has come as a great surprise; I honestly expected to sit quietly learning at the feet of the masters rather than passing on what seems to be an unusual skill here.
Sunday was a great treat, a vaguely fibre-related geology expedition. Sometime during the Cretaceous period (65-135 million years ago), southern Britain was not only nearer the latitude of the Bahamas (an attractive thought, it’s COLD today), there were volcanos in the vicinity. The precise location isn’t known, but layers of volcanic ash tell us they were there. Over time the chemical composition of some of this ash altered to become Fuller’s Earth the second link is a PDF with more technical info. Until recently there were open-cast mines near Woburn, Bedfordshire, but our expedition visited Aspley Heath to view the remains of much older mining activity.
The person is standing in one of many hollows scattered throughout this conifer plantation. Each hollow was once a bell-pit mine, a shaft sunk 60-70 feet straight down through sands and other sediments to reach the layer of Fuller’s Earth. When the miners reached it, they cut down and out to all sides, creating a bell-shaped pit from which they removed Fuller’s Earth until the pit collapsed or threatened to do so. I suspect a fair number of people died in these pits over the centuries. Why? At the time these pits were active (from the late 19th century and earlier. The industry is documented in the area in 1536), it was needed to absorb oil and dirt from wool as woven cloth was ‘fulled’, slightly felted to thicken it. There’s a good explanation here. Technically ‘felt’ and ‘felting’ involves matted fibres alone. When we ‘felt’ knitted goods, we’re actually fulling them.
Today Fuller’s Earth has many uses, including fine, lingering dust for theatrical ‘explosions’, in refining oils, papermaking, foundry casting, as drilling mud, and as an important constituent in cat litter. And what does this magic material look like?
It’s about the same hardness as blackboard chalk. Very, very, very fine texture (think of the total surface area of all the miniscule particles – that’s what makes it so absorbent). Strange feel on the teeth, not at all gritty, but more character than silt. Yes, I like to eat rocks. Is that weird? Am I winning yet?