I have a history with goats. When I was a teenager my parents decided we needed to raise more of our own food. That is when Paula, Lucky Lady, Snowflake, and the billy goat Buck joined the rabbits and chickens in our outdoor pantry. During this time, I grew to dislike goat smell and taste intensely, an opinion I have adamantly maintained for almost four decades.
Childhood memories of these goats flooded my mind recently when I arrived at Jill’s to photograph her four goats for a quilt she commissioned me to create. Jill keeps the goats for the wonderful fiber they provide, not for their meat or milk. One of the goats was so cankerous that we had to lock her in
the barn while I photographed the other three. While shooting, I also had to keep an eye on Jill’s geese while I tried to get good shots of the goats. Although the geese were more hiss than bite, they were nibbling on my jeans.
I learned that working with goat hair is painstaking yet rewarding. After picking out the guard hair, Jill is left with wonderful fluffy bits that she spins into yarn and then knits into beautiful lacy scarves. I was amazed at the amount of work that is involved in prepping fiber that has guard hair, not to mention the time spent spinning and then knitting the yarn.
This commission was an interesting challenge for me. Capturing the charming qualities of Jill’s critters proved to be the easiest one to overcome. The more serious test was capturing the feel of long, fluffy bits of fiber on an all-white goat. A final design challenge was deciding what to use for the background. I had originally planned a background patterned from one of Jill’s lace scarves. I cut a ton of small circles (not so tiny they would drive me to drink but still small) to represent the holes in the lace and then placed them on the background.
As the project progressed, I sent Jill photos so she could watch the goats emerge from a line drawing on white fabric. Jill was excited about the project until I added the circles. After a short discussion, we agreed that lace should be light and airy and the background with the circles was just the opposite.
So I went back to the drawing board—or, in this case, the computer—and searched for photos of lily of the valley. I chose that particular motif for several reasons: the lace was a lily-of-the-valley pattern, I liked the idea of a white flower that would pop off the background, and there was some perverse juxtaposition of the lovely lily-of-the-valley fragrance and the rank billy-goat odor I remembered from childhood. I was surprised to learn that lily-of-the-valley is Jill’s favorite flower.
I delivered the finished quilt recently, and Jill is thrilled with it. And I have to admit that, despite my very vocal dislike for all things goat, it was only the smell of Buck that permeated everything around him that I disliked. Our other goats were interesting animals with inquisitive natures and were very sweet.