A few months ago I was helping my parents sort out their house of 47 years in order to downsize. At the very end of the process my father mentioned there might still be a ‘few things in the loft’ so I ventured up the step ladder to explore these uppermost reaches of my much loved family home.
As a child I was never allowed to follow Dad up the steps as it was a ‘dangerous place’ full of prickly fibreglass and unseen dangers whilst stepping across the rafters. Now, as a pretty mature adult, I found I was still wary of this dusty and dark area and left my husband to do the serious exploring. Several boxes full of old school books and various ‘treasures’ which had been assigned to the loft were passed down to me through the hatch as I wheezed and sneezed with each box that came down. Most of these ‘treasures’ were not worth keeping but several black bags full of yarn made their way down to me. As I opened them up I recognised loads of remnants from childhood garments and was pleasantly surprised to find that the moths had only had the smallest nibbles so they have been put aside for future projects.
One bag of yarn which came down was particularly fascinating. There were three large, tightly wound hanks of a very greasy white wool. I asked my mother where these could have come from and she recollected that these yarns were most probably sent to her from Estonia during the 1960s and 70s. During this time my parents were sending parcels of gifts to their relatives who were still living in Estonia during the period of Soviet occupation. These parcels would include things such as coffee, underwear, socks and many more items which were in short supply behind the iron curtain. In return our relatives would send us handmade items and locally farmed wool, often from their own sheep. For whatever reason Mum had never got round to unwinding the hanks and they had been long forgotten. For me they represented a wonderfully exciting piece of woolly history.
This weekend I finally got around to unravelling one large hank of over 200g. As I wound the greasy grey wool into several small balls the smell of stale lanolin combined with the smell of the loft seemed to fill my nostrils. Tiny pieces of ancient dry grass fell out onto my lap as I worked. After an hour of winding I finally had several small grubby balls of yarn. Just a couple of thin patches showed where moths had nibbled but the rest was all good. Next I wrapped each ball around the niddy noddy which I use for winding wool when I spin by hand. Finally I took all of the little hanks down to the kitchen. A few hot soaks released a lot of grease and grime and then they were ready to dye.
Dying yarn is always exciting. I follow the unofficial method of totally random colour mixing which means I can never duplicate a colour blend but it is very exciting sprinkling in a bit of this and a bit of that from my dye powders. A quick stir and into the microwave they went in turn! By the end of the evening a had a wonderful group of coloured hanks laid out to dry overnight. This morning I twisted them all up into little bundles and here is the end result.
Wool which was grown in Estonia about 45 years ago is now clean, colourful. soft and ready to knit. A really special yarn through which I can touch a slice of my family history.