>Oomingmack Odyssey Part I: How I Felt

>Crafting is probably the one area in my life where I have learned any semblance of patience, and also where I seem to glean some of the most profound spiritual truths. This weekend I buckled down and went to town on the felted musk-oxen slippers I started, oh, two months ago.  When I saw the slippers, they were so cute that I had to make them.  Never mind that I had never made footwear or felted anything before…must…have…musk oxen!


I borrowed the appropriate size circular and double-point needles from my school’s resident knitting guru, and went to work on the slippers.  I’m pretty good with reading patterns by now, but it was still intimidating to roll a cuff and open the heel.  I soldiered on, however, and finished the slippers a few weeks ago.  As you can see, they were huge and awkward when I took them off the needles…

You can’t tell from the picture, but these are about 14″ long.

Being an ecomaniac, I decided that I wanted to felt the slippers and other pieces by hand because I didn’t feel like running a whole washload of water for just a few little pieces.  From my research, I knew that felted pieces were supposed to shrink and the individual stitches would disappear in the process, but I had no idea how long it would take.  I did the off-white piece first, since it was just a rectangle, about 30″ by 7″ to start with and it was supposed to get down to 20″x5.5″.  According to the website I consulted, heat and agitation are what cause the wool fibers to felt, so I filled a washbasin with hot water and a little bit of soap and proceeded to do my best imitation of a washing machine with my hands.

After losing most of the feeling and outer epidermis of my hands for the rectangle, I tried using other implements for the slippers but ended up using my hands at the end anyway.  Thank goodness for Mary Kay Satin Hands treatment!

About half an hour in, I started to feel despair creep into my heart.  The website had been kind enough to mention that after the first one or two 5-minute intervals, the piece might actually look bigger, so that had not worried me at all.  But after thirty minutes of making “twinkle twinkle little star” motions in the hot water, all I had to show for it was a wet scarf.  The stitches were still clearly visible and the piece was definitely the same size as when I started, if not larger.  Was this going to work or not?

I know it’s much easier to felt things in the washer, but I’m almost glad I did it by hand the first time because I literally got to feel the fabric forming.  At about forty minutes, I finally noticed a change.  The fabric stiffened and felt heavy in my hands, and the stitches melted into each other. That 40-45 minute interval must have been the inflection point because it went quite a bit faster after that.  The last fifteen minutes were mostly spent shrinking the piece to the right size, since it already looked quite felted.  It took about an hour for both the rectangle and the slippers to felt to the appropriate size.

Here they are felted and now 10.5″ long…still too big for me, but supposed to be size 10 women’s.

The spiritual implications were readily apparent.  (You know I’m coming into a good place when the metaphor machine starts running again.)  Unfelted pieces are loose and soft and shapeless, and they can be unraveled if you just cut the right strand.  After felting, however, you have one solid piece of fabric that can hold its own shape and be cut into useful shapes without fraying to bits.  How is felt made?  Heat and agitation, as I said before, which pretty much describes how I’ve felt for the last year and a half.

And the process of felting unfolds stepwise rather than in a steady slow burn.  I think of boiling sugar for candy, or supersaturating a solution, or an acid-base titration, or the punctuated equilibrium of evolution.  It looks like nothing is happening for the longest time, but once things get moving–hard crack! precipitate! the awful magenta bloodstain of phenolphthalein! speciation!  I wonder if my life isn’t like that too, periods of frustration, suffering, loss, stagnation, through I am nonetheless constantly moving to the place where things can change very quickly and very profoundly.  I was at that place two years ago, and it was glorious.  Might I be approaching another such peak…or is it the bottom of the valley?

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