By Rachel Bingham Kessler
Working with fiber and caring for a little one go hand in hand quite nicely. One year ago, as I began my 3rd trimester with an ever increasing busy baby growing inside me and a belly that kept lowering until finally walking felt like the biggest chore, I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen to my fiber work and where it would go once our son was born.
In what I thought was my last month carrying him around, often one hand under my belly and wanting to mow anyone down in sight who was in my way and didn’t have an ice-cream cone for me, with my husband’s help, I made it to our state’s fiber fair to teach a class and load up on fleece. The Maine Fiber Frolic is Maine’s premier fiber festival held in early June at the Windsor Fair Grounds. For 15 years It’s been my secret joy driving the back roads to soak up Maine springing all around and spending the whole day at the frolic to wander as I please.
Over the last two years, I had the pleasure of teaching natural dye classes. Last year I was one month away from my due date and after finishing up a sold out class and forgoing a rest for hunting out my fleeces and picking up my indigo seedlings, I was over-heated, hungry, exhausted, and I’m sure looked and sounded like a grizzly bear. My husband was the smart one to have been napping in the shade while my class took place so he’d be ready to drive us home when all was said and done.
Four days later, not feeling much better, but stubborn and determined as hell, I set out to dye 10 lbs of handspun yarn to get it ready for my shop so I wouldn’t have to think about it once the baby arrived. I pulled out half my yarns from their cold soak and got several skeins of Icelandic and Shetland dyed up in beautiful bright pastels. Greens, pinks, purples, and oranges. They looked like sherbet flavors. I added more yarns to my remaining baths of indigo, cochineal, goldenrod, lichen, onion skins, rosehips, and jewelweed. That jewelweed was left over from the summer before when we collected it at Medomak for my foraging class. It kept beautifully in a bucket in my studio for an entire year with out molding.
I went to bed beyond exhausted but incredibly anxious, obsessing about all that was yet to be done. The next morning at 6am a zipping pain woke me with a start and my waters broke all around the house in dramatic movie-style fashion and our lives changed forever. Rónán arrived Sunday morning, 3 weeks and 3 days early. Yarns left in pots long forgotten about.
Making with a baby by my side has helped me propel into my creative space with less thought of preciousness and more thought for planning. More thought for spending time with any given material and less time for agonizing about not reaching my own expectations for anything finished. The three of us-me, baby, and fiber-all flow together and around each other like seaweed, shells, and the tide. He naps, I hang out in my fiber studio rearranging books, poking at lichens under a microscope, ironing fabric for a new tunic. He’s up, I put him in his jumper seat and card away until he gets hungry. I knit while he plays at my feet. Sometimes it’s for 1 minute and others it’s for a glorious 10 minutes.
It has been a wonder for me to witness him discover colors and textures. Being 10.5 months now, Rónán is busy as ever and also seems to have a keen eye and pointer finger for tiny details. A button, zipper, anything small and shiny, he never lets it pass his way with out checking it out with his tiny finger. The piles of fluffy fleece and spun yarns I have tucked in the corner of our living room inside a wicker basket–he finds joy in making his way to that spot, standing up, pulling out yarns and tiny fistfuls of fleece to wave it the air with his ear piercing war cry of joy. He inspects the basket with his tiny finger and starts to try and reach for the wheel, which he never does, but he never stops trying. Though once he got hold of the drive band which is just a long piece of cooking twine and he looked so proud.
I no longer set quotas for myself but instead look back on the week or the month and realize, oh! I still managed to spin 3 fleeces in 3 months. And dye them. And no one fell apart or lost sleep or forgot to eat. It really is working. And I’m filled with more zeal than ever for digging my hands in fleece, thankful for quite evenings of spinning and sunny afternoons of dyeing. All the while going with this little guy’s ebb and flow of sleep, eat, play, sleep.