Sunday, September 29, 2019

Vanishing Fleece

I have been knitting since I was four years old. When I was in high school, a friend of mine knit an entire sweater, and I thought "If she can do it, I can do it!" I knit a brown sweater, then a variegated pink sweater, then thought it was a good idea to knit one for my friend Karen, who has since gotten a fair number of garments that ended up being a little too big for me! I bought wool yarn when I lived in Greece, but generally used Red Heart; that's just what I was taught. In my twenties, I did a ton of Fair Isle sweaters, Aran cable sweaters, and a lot of plain pullovers. All very boring, solid items that are never quite in or out of style. I still wear many of them.

My daughter, on the other hand, is more of a craft knitter who buys the type of locally sourced, hand dyed wool that Parkes talks about in her books. She follows other knitters on Instagram and can make SOCKS. For her birthday (which is October 3), we are going to the Rhinebeck Wool festival in Pennsylvania, which is apparently a big deal.

I am more of a quilter, although I've never thought about posh materials or the social aspect of it. I've read a couple of Parkes' books, and what strikes me most is that she makes me interested in things that I don't really care about. Wool? Expensive. Has to be dry cleaned. But following Parkes as she deals with her Great White Bale? Fascinating. Sort of like the M.F.K. Fisher of knitting. I don't want to go to France, don't care that much about food, but Fisher's work is always fun to read.

Parkes, Clara. Vanishing Fleece: Adventures in American Wool
October 1st 2019 by Abrams Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Parkes has been writing about yarn and knitting for a while, and felt a need for a new challenge. When she is offered a bale of wool from Saxon Merino sheep by a wool grower in upstate New York, she is both excited and apprehensive about the challenge of getting it made into usable yarn. Luckily, her years in the industry have given her many connections, and she is able to crowd fund her project by offering yarn to people who want to subscribe to her adventure. In exquisite detail, we learn about unbaling and shipping wool, and follow the multitude of steps it takes to make it into yarn. Parkes decides to try four different routes for the wool so that she can learn about a variety of processes. Traveling to different wool processing facilities not only gives us a view into how wool is spun, but a view into the people who perform this work and a foray into the history of wool processing as well. Foreign competition has greatly decreased the amount of US wool being produced, but the growing  interest in all things locally sourced and artisanal is helping to keep the industry alive.
Strengths: There are a few writers who make me interested in things in which I have little interest, like Steve Almond and his Against Football: One Fan's Reluctant Manifesto. Parkes has a conversational tone that carries her extreme enthusiasm for her topic perfectly. Can't say I ever want to spin wool into yarn and dye it indigo, but I was more than happy to go along with Parkes on her journey. A fascinating look into a struggling US industry that probably mirrors many others. A must for any knitter interested in wool.
Weaknesses: Few middle grade readers will have any interest in this, but occasionally I like to break out and read adult books!
What I really think: Buying a copy for my daughter for her birthday, and plan to treat myself to reading some other Parkes' titles over winter break and the summer!
Ms. Yingling


  1. Enjoyed this post.

    I have knitted a number of children's sweaters and one or two modest ones for adults, as well as a couple of afghans, hats, scarves, and mittens. I gave up knitting years ago, because I could never get the hang of tension, so my work often came out a little twisted and awkward. I remember Red Heart yarn, certainly. I sometimes feel a desire to walk into a yarn store, on the rare occasions that I walk by one around here, but I don't know how I would find time to take up knitting again.

  2. I'm more of a quilter, too. I've never gotten the hang of knitting, but my grandmother taught me to crochet, and I've been meaning to start an afghan (are they still called that?) so I have something to keep me busy while the rest of the family is watching Netflix. Yarn is expensive (natural fibers, anyway)--this book probably explains why! Also re festivals: I took Camila to the Maryland Sheep and Wool festival a couple of years ago; she's vegetarian and was shocked by the food stalls serving lamb next to...actual lambs.