Frogging Froggin Froggin Froggin

In knitting, the term frogging explains itself. It is the process by which the knitter takes a deep breath and starts to pull out all of the stitches she’s previously knit. Usually, she does this and says to herself, “Ribbit, Ribbit, Rippit,” as she watches the rows disappear. Curly loops turn into the slightly tortured shape of yarn that had once been carefully coaxed into knits or purls. The rows rip away. Zig zags of thread pile on the floor. The knitter sighs. Sometimes she wipes tears. Sometimes she screams. But the deed is done and her fingers will soon itch to start again.

The decision to frog or not to frog is a hard one. Despite what a vast number of knitters claim, that they knit for the process rather than the product, we all find ourselves pondering whether to frog out a mistake in order to correct it. Worse, the majority of knitters I’ve talked to have numerous finished or almost finished projects stashed in the possible to-be-frogged pile. I have the fully cabled back of a men’s alpaca sweater that I’ve been pondering frog fate for over 25 years. It would be beautiful if I finished it, but it’s very very big and I’d have to find someone that would fit into it. I have a lace weight sweater with a tie collar started, but the neckline is too fiddly and I can’t quite understand the directions. So, it sits in my stash. Someday I might tackle it. Someday I might frog it. Someday I might try to tackle it and even still might have to frog it.

Chris from my new spinning group knits all day. The others in the group raved about her lace knitting. They said, “You should see the lace dress she made!” She mumbled, “The one I made twice.” She went on to explain that she had made the dress starting at the bottom and everything went okay until she got to the neck shaping. She couldn’t get the decreases right so that it fit. When she finished it, she hated it. There was no “fixing” or going back to try the shaping again. She had to frog the whole thing. Rip-it, rip-it all the way down to the skirt bottom. Into nothing again—just a ball of yarn. And then she started from the top—the neck first where she could see the shaping and increase for the arms. It worked, and she knit the entire skirt all over again. No small feat. No tiny snap of the finger decision.

It seems to me our approach to mistakes or seemingly insurmountable challenges can fall into 3 different frogging categories. There are the knitters and the people who just keep going, just keep knitting despite the imperfections. The knitters don’t frog, they don’t rip-it, they carry on. As with life, these people don’t agonize over the decision of whether or not to start over. If they don’t like the finished product, they find someone who does and move on. And there are the knitters and the people who just can’t move on until they go back and fix things. They rip everything out or at least back to the mistake. Then they diligently, in a determined and committed way re-do what they undid. And then there’s the third category. The people and knitters who just shelve away the imperfections. They live with the half knit sweaters and the fiddly necklines and the unfinished projects that they will probably never return to. 

And so, this takes us to the kitchen conversation that Greg and I had shortly after we moved to Whidbey Island. Shortly after we brought our small herd of wild ass guanacos to our farm. Shortly after I realized we had no business buying this herd that would otherwise be in a zoo with professional zoo staff who had extensive wild animal knowledge and experience. We had gathered advise from other camelid owners who all told us we had to get over our fears and just teach them who is boss.

We both had injuries from trying to do this tough cowboy approach. We both knew that these animals didn’t want us to handle them or touch them or halter them. We both knew we had to be able to halter them soon because the little boys were going to need to be weaned and moved into their own paddocks. And I was pissed.

“It’s just plain irresponsible!” I screeched. “We have these animals and we know nothing about caring for them. And we could get seriously hurt.” I was referring to the scary incident when our stud, Coacher, had turned on me while Greg and I had been trying the wrangling method of halter training that one camelid owner told us to use. Coacher had reared up and charged me. He yanked the lead rope and my arm that was attached to it so hard that my rotator cuff and other ligaments in my shoulder were torn. He chest bumped me nearly to the ground. I was hurt and frightened. Greg had been unable to help. I had intrusive images of the event for a month after. At the kitchen counter I was flashing back to that moment. I was not going to do that again.

Greg responded rationally, “Well, do you want to get rid of them? Do you want to sell them and be done? We could get some nice pygora goats instead.”

To frog or not to frog. 

To go back and re-do.

Most of the time I’m someone who frogs back to the mistake. 

Some of the time, I’m also a stasher—put it on the shelf and wait for the decision.

In this case, with the crazy wild guanacos that now lived in our barn, I chose to do both. I decided to go back and figure out where we had gone wrong. I decided to find another way to halter train—a different way to do the same thing, but safer and slower. I found Marty Macgee and her online classes on Camelid Dynamics. Additionally, decided that we would have to wait and see. We could shelf the decision about frogging the whole herd and replacing them with some small and docile goats. We would wait to see if this new approach could get us to where we needed to be.

We signed up. We worked on the skills. And sure enough, in 3 months, we could halter 4 of the guanacos without any wrangling. My shoulder healed, the boys got moved to their own paddocks, and we didn’t have to frog the whole herd! I feel a sense of awe everyday when I look out at them grazing in our pasture. I feel amazed every time I spin their exquisite fiber into the softest, warmest yarn I’ve ever felt. The very fiber that I may indeed need to frog one day!

Read stories, get inspired, savor fiber.

Our newsletter comes out with a new fiber life story every month. I will also give you a heads up about workshops or new products in the shop.

Shearing Time

When a fleece is sheared from an animal, the fibers, grown from millions of microscopic follicles, get released from their dense insulative existence. They spring collectively up and off the animal and then pour down in wave of foamy loft. As the blade passes right next to skin, the thicket of strands form an instant blanket. What comes off is is so much larger than the animal it came off sometimes it causes onlookers to gasp. The undergrowth that hasn’t seen rain or wind or snow, shows itself as the fleece lies face down on the barn floor. This side, once against the animal’s skin, is exquisitely soft, clean and pure. Once off the animal, a fleece blanket will stay together in one sheet as if it remembers where it came from. It’s not like human hair on the loor of the salon, all clumpy and flyaway. The shearer, his clipper, the animal, have all synced in a tsunami of beauty. The moment, when I pick up the fleece and roll it like a sleeping bag is miraculous. My fingers squish softness as the wave of animal elegance rolls. I stuff it away in a plastic bag. It is now infinite handmade potential that leaves behind a near naked and chilly animal who just didn’t see it coming.

Grief had that same surprise effect on me last night. At dinner, John talked about his grandfather fondly. He was the one person who nurtured John’s fascination with science. The one person he attributes to helping him make it in the world. And when John turned to me and asked if my father had ever expressed pride in my accomplishments, I said no. I was quick to tell him that my grandparents had. And even better, I added, I didn’t feel I had to do anything to be loved by them. I hadn’t missed my grandparents in a while but the mention and the vulnerable description of my Grampa Bill’s decline with Alzheimer’s started a wave of grief.

It was as if, by remembering, the shearing had started. The undercoat of my love for those two special humans showed itself to me in it’s soft, private, close to the skin existence. I told about my grandmother’s music and her huge piano hands. The grief wave started to rise up and expand. The densely packed blanket of love that shields me from harsh elements of life was falling away in my hands. I was relishing its beauty as I continued to remember my college graduation when grampa bill’s speech was mostly gone, but he came anyway and gave bear hugs to us all. I like to imagine that mine was the longest.

By the time i lay in bed, after the conversation had turned to dog agility training and other more mundane subjects and our guest had said goodbye, i was left bare, stripped of warmth by the telling and the remembering. I had been swaddled in it all without knowing. And now, once sheared, I had to pick it up and feel it. I couldn’t just leave it there on the barn floor per se. It wouldn’t let me, it was so lovely, so painfully soft and beautiful.

I summoned my grandmother in my imagination. She came to me and asked for tea. She called me my pet name, “Lisa Love” and smiled with her, in this new house of mine, here on an island, chosen in her memory. And then my grampa bill barreled in, his girth and bear hug approached me. My heart pinched at the sight of him and then flooded with love as he asked for a farm tour. And from my bed, i walked him around the farm and introduced him to the animals. He laughed at the baby goats and admired the guanacos. My doggy girl adopted his heals as hers. Then, I slept in flannel and felt held all night long. 

I think the undergrowth, the downy fluff closest to the skin, can only truly be appreciated if the animal is sheared. We can pet it and pull at it while it is still growing, still sheltering the wearer. But to see it, to really acknowledge it, the shearer must pass his blade right against the skin and the animal must feel cool air and then the cruel absence of the once dense fleece. It’s only then when we are stripped of our protective cocoons that we realize how truly vulnerable we’ve been. This soft armor is exquisite as it falls away and leaves us both bare and new again, ready to grow another coat for another winter.

Read stories, get inspired, savor fiber.

Our newsletter comes out with a new fiber life story every month. I will also give you a heads up about workshops or new products in the shop.

Lorem Ipsum Dolor

Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text the printing and typesetting industry lorem ipsum has been the magna.

Read stories, get inspired, savor fiber.

Our newsletter comes out with a new fiber life story every month. I will also give you a heads up about workshops or new products in the shop.

Lorem Ipsum Dolor

Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text the printing and typesetting industry lorem ipsum has been the magna.

Read stories, get inspired, savor fiber.

Our newsletter comes out with a new fiber life story every month. I will also give you a heads up about workshops or new products in the shop.

Lorem Ipsum Dolor

Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text the printing and typesetting industry lorem ipsum has been the magna.

Read stories, get inspired, savor fiber.

Our newsletter comes out with a new fiber life story every month. I will also give you a heads up about workshops or new products in the shop.