Friday, July 14, 2017

Quest for Fiber Chapter 8: Picky about my Hentilagets on Bressay

I had a day on Tuesday so overwhelmingly wonderful, that I had to take time to get a blog post out finally! I have actually had several of these kinds of days since I left home, but just have not gotten around to sharing about them. This one was really special because it combined my thrill of actually being in the Shetland Islands, my love of fiber and creating things from it, and hiking in beautiful locations.


I have been on the “Mainland” of Shetland for almost a week now. I think they will have to eventually kick me off. The beauty of this kind of “slow” travel is that you can change plans on the fly—leaving someplace you don’t care for sooner than planned, or remaining in place as you catch up and REALLY meet mingle with the locals and bask in the culture. The latter can be emotionally overwhelming at times and I sometimes get a sense of disbelief in the life I am living.

So on with the “Hentilagets” story…


I am a follower of an inspiring woman named Debbie Zawinski, who wrote the visually captivating In theFootsteps of Sheep. She is a Welsh woman who lives in Scotland.  She sometimes walks through the countryside, gathering the tufts of fleece that come off the animals in the field. They are so prevalent that there is a local name for them: “Hentilagets.”  Debbie is known for spinning these as she walks using drop spindles she creates from sticks. She sometimes even dyes the yarn in a billycan with moss and lichens in her camp in the long summer evening daylight.

 Since I first read about this Feral Spinner, as Debbie calls herself, I longed to walk in her “footsteps.” I am not near as tough (I am not camping out—yet!) , but yesterday, I got a taste of collecting and spinning wool in the wild.
A very short ferry ride from Lerwick, Shetland is the Isle of Bressay, where I ventured to take a walk to the top of the Ward of Bressay and then down to the lighthouse at Kirkabister Ness. On the way up, I started my collection of wool bits.

At first, you might be forgiven if you think these are hentilagets. They are wild sedges or bog cotton which grow in abundance on these acidic peat soils. Up close, they look like a fiber, but it seems fruitless to try spinning them! They have been used historically for candle-wicks, pillows, and wound dressings.


THESE are hentilagets. You find them where sheep have rubbed up against walls or fences, but the best pieces for spinning are on the ground. I found that most hentilagets are rubbish. They have been weathered too much and are slightly felted, or they have a lot of kemp (short brittle pieces of fibers that reduce the quality of the yarn.)



I kept thinking I would surely
reach the “end of up” soon!
I made a collection in my front pocket as I walked. Part of the way up was pretty steep, but well worth the effort when you get to the top.






The wind here can be biting—even now in July, but I found a cozy place sheltered from the wind to eat a snack and examine my “loot.” First, pull out all the foreign matter. Then, lining up the locks parallel to one another, pinch/scrape off the bottoms and tops to get an easy-to-spin-from-the-tips fiber.



Before long, I had almost 10 yards of single-ply Shetland yarn. It will go into the Traveling Scarf!


Walking down toward the lighthouse was a bit more involved than climbing up. There is no trail…just make your way down the tussocky peat bogs. Luckily there had been little rain lately, so it was dry; but it felt like I was walking on pillows!


There were a couple fences to cross and gates to go through (always leaving gates as they were—very important since the farmers allow you to walk across their land!). I made it to the bottom and the lighthouse—but it took a while. 

After a well-deserved lunch break, I headed back by an easy road.



The three-mile walk back to the ferry dock was fairly uneventful, except the wind was getting stronger and cooler. I was glad it did not rain and that I had several layers to don, including this cute Fair Isle hat that was given to me by a new Shetland friend—too keep my ears warm, she said!

And here is a short little video of the trip. (Apologies for the low quality!) 










Monday, July 3, 2017

It Takes a Team...

I  arrived in Reykjavik on June 30 to begin a trip I have been planning for over two years. But it has taken a TEAM to launch me:


My kids Ben and Rebecca always telling me how awesome I am and inspiring me to keep going because I want to be a role model for them in this adventuring thing.

My ex-husband, Roger, who is always interested in the crazy things I am planning next.

My friend Emily, who can never wait to hear what I’ve got up my sleeve and cheering me on. 

And then, there are those who have put in a lot of work to get me here: 

My landlady, Gail in Hawaii, who helped me pick out gear—especially the great little backpack I bought on her recommendation. She also made many trips from her house to my storage unit in Pahoa to get me packed up. Living in her little yurt for the last year has been incredible and given me a place to fiddle with fiber, and dream, plan and tinker with my gear. (If you want a great place to stay when visiting the Big Island, I highly recommend Gail's lovely guesthouse on AirBnB.)

Maryam Steffen’s family, and the estate executor, Joan, who worked together to present me with a bequest from their part of the estate in honor of their mom. Hey guys, this is where that bequest is going—I feel like Maryam would approve. After all, if anyone would say, “Let’s…,” she would have her bags packed before they could say “…go!” Maryam, funny thing, I sometimes find myself channeling you when I strike up a lively conversation with a complete stranger!


Emily and Gar McRae, who opened their home to me to stay for THREE WEEKS! Vashon Island was my stopping-off place. When I arrived, I still had a ton of details to work out and they let me spend countless hours at their dining room table at my computer. They always had food and laughter handy. Their deck overlooking Puget Sound and Mt. Rainer provided a lovely place for yoga and knitting and spinning. And I slept in the most comfortable bed in the world. Oh, and their car was available to me as well. I sure hope I did not overstay my welcome—after all, fish and visitors smell after three days.



Ben, my son, and Roger, my ex-husband and good friend, spent more time than you can imagine getting my computer, tablet, and other gadgets ready for a secure trip. I learned about encrypting drives, VPNs, password security tools, the “cloud” and syncing, better ways to charge devices, and other stuff that hurt my brain—all so I can work on the road and keep my friends and family updated via Skype, emails, blogs, and Facebook. Ben and Roger: you are my technogeek squad forever and ever! You both said you had fun doing it—I sure hope so! If anyone needs technical help, Roger (PersonalTechAid) is the one to call! He helped me remotely  purchase and set up a new emergency computer when I was in Peru (countless hours on Skype). We even had to teach it to speak English, believe it or not!

All the knitters at the Sheep Dog Trials and on Vashon Island who made contributions to the Traveling Scarf—it is about two feet long before I even left the States! Your enthusiasm for the project brought it to life and will give me confidence to keep sharing it. I have a feeling a sister scarf will be born before I return home.


Marcie and Charlie, who I just kept running into in various unrelated places. The conversation we had at the Sheep Dog Trials was so simple and profound—it will stay with me for a long time. It was no coincidence that we kept encountering each other.

Kate and Jackie…who knew visiting someone in prison could be so much fun? I love you both for your wisdom and great sense of humor.

Myra, Emily, and all the Fibershed and knitting/spinning community who invited me to participate in the Fiber Village at Sheep Dog Trials. It was an incredible weekend that went by way too fast. Demonstrating in that setting was very fulfilling and fun.

All the people on Vashon and on-line who wished me safe and fruitful travels and encouraged me to continue my travel blogs on this trip. I hope to live up to your expectations!