HAMPDEN, Maine — When Celia Gray and her husband, Lyman, were first married, they had a chicken farm in Brooksville with 23,000 chickens.
In the late 1970s, they owned a small farm in Orland, and it was then that a black sheep named Tiger came into Celia’s life.
“We knew this man who had a black sheep. No one wanted a black sheep, so my husband and I took it,” Gray said. She doesn’t remember what breed of sheep Tiger was, but recalled that he had a black tongue.
Sheep, of course, require shearing and before the year was out, Gray had 8 pounds of black fleece on her hands.
“I decided I wanted to learn to spin,” Gray said. “I said to myself, I can do that.”
She spent the next year or so processing the black fleece — washing it, picking out plant matter, carding it and combing it into rolls ready for spinning.
Gray learned to spin from a woman in Bucksport who was part of the back-to-the-earth movement of the 1970s.
Then Gray made another decision. “Half my life was gone at that point and I decided I wanted to learn something else new,” she said. She asked the woman who taught her to spin, to teach her to weave.
Gray bought a 36-inch, 6-harness loom and set about the task of weaving into cloth the yarn she had spun.
“I wove until the yarn ran out,” she said. She ended up with about 10 yards of fabric, cloth she wanted made into a coat of her own design.
She found a woman in Bucksport who was a dressmaker and hired her to make the coat.
“I wove the trim for the coat on an inkle loom,” Gray said, “red, to contrast with the black. I told the dressmaker how I wanted the coat to look. I said I didn’t want buttonholes and the dressmaker said she could do it. I never had a pattern. It all came out of my head. Patterns are too exact. I like to design my own.”
Her coat closes with a long zipper and a decorative clasp and snaps at the collar. It is lined with beige satin. “And it weighs a ton,” she said.
Gray, who was born in Mattawamkeag and grew up in Penobscot, said she still does some weaving on the four looms she owns.
At 86, she also hooks rugs, knits, crochets, does chair caning and makes beaded jewelry. She is an active member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and does indexing on a volunteer basis for that organization.