In the fall of 2014, Zoe — the beloved 15-year-old matriarch of our flock — died peacefully. She is buried on our acreage with a plaque above her grave, and I still talk to her as I walk by, telling her about the flock and her many friends and family who still reside at Peeper Hollow Farm.
Not only did my good friend give me her many descendants; she also left behind one other gift: her last fleece. Instead of shearing her as usual in January of that final year, we waited until the weather warmed in spring, wanting her to be comfortable during Iowa’s coldest months. I couldn’t bring myself to think of selling her final parting gift, and so I tucked her fleece away in my office.
Every time we’ve sheared our flock since then, we’d haul the fleeces up to the office, where I would again find Zoe’s fleece sitting in its bag. I knew I wanted to do something with it, but I honestly wasn’t ready to part with it, even for the few weeks it would take to have it spun into yarn. What if it got lost in the mail on the way to or from the mill? What if I never got it back? As I came and went from my office, I’d sometimes pull out the bag and admire the depth of color present even in her old age, or I’d put the fleece to my face, inhaling what remained of Zoe’s scent. And then it would be carefully put back into the closet where it sat, year after year. I just couldn’t get to the point where I was ready for it to leave the farm.
This past spring I decided that it was finally time to have Zoe’s fleece processed. The grease had hardened a bit, and I was worried that I was ruining the fleece by keeping it in its raw state for so long. Washed wool can be kept indefinitely, but raw wool can go bad in so many ways. The grease and lanolin that sheep produce to condition their wool “on the hoof” can dry out and get gummy as it sits for long periods, making it hard to remove. Raw wool is also an attractant for moths that can destroy it; this is also true for processed wool but not to the same degree. I knew I had to do something with this fleece — but what?
After we sheared her final fleece, I remember thinking that maybe I’d have it processed into yarn. With such a big flock to manage, I no longer have time to spin, but maybe I could knit as I found time, perhaps making a cozy sweater to keep me warm. After all, this same wool kept Zoe warm and toasty during our cold Iowa winters — maybe it could do the same for me. I decided to combine it with a bit of alpaca to bring out its softness and a bit of bamboo to bring out the natural Romney luster. I didn’t want to change the character or color of the wool, so the percentages of alpaca and bamboo were small. The final yarn would still be overwhelmingly Zoe’s Romney wool.
This past March, I finally pulled all of the pieces of my project together, boxed them up and shipped them to Dakota Fiber Mill for processing. Since my daughter-in-law loves to knit, I typically send out at least one of our fleeces for processing each spring. When I sent the raw wool for processing for her summer birthday this year, I sent Zoe’s as well. It was the first time in the past few years that I could part with it — and I ran it to the post office as soon as it was boxed up, just in case I changed my mind. Then I waited. It took long enough that I actually forgot about it, except for those times when I walked into my office and saw the empty shelf where it used to sit.
My shipment from the fiber mill came yesterday, with three different bags of yarn inside the box, as expected. There was the big bag of fawn-colored worsted yarn for my daughter-in-law’s future afghan, and the bag of Ilaina’s soft-gray yarn that I will likely sell on our website. Finally, in the bottom of the box was a bag of beautiful dark-gray yarn with a slight brownish tone. It was so obviously Zoe’s, and I cannot describe how happy I was to see it. I had chosen both the alpaca and bamboo in colors that would maintain the accurate color of Zoe’s wool, and the results were perfect. All day I found myself walking past the bag in the kitchen, putting my hand into the yarn and remembering my friend. Heaven knows when I will find time to knit the sweater that is part of my big plan, but at this point, it doesn’t matter. Zoe’s last gift to me is back here where it belongs. And all the rest will fall into place when the time is right.