A Promising Spring on the Farm

You know how farmers are, eternally pessimistic and complaining about the conditions every single year. In that, I am not a natural farmer because I tend to be an optimist and forever look on the bright side. Some people find that annoying.

That said, this is looking like a bumper crop year in my part of Michigan. We had a delayed season, with cool wet weather dragging on and on, then suddenly a nice warm sunny week or two. This seems to have been just what the farm was waiting for. The prairie has sprung up in record time, growing noticeably every day, about a foot high already. The orchard bloomed profusely and no frost came to foil its plans. The asparagus got going all at once and grows 4-5 inches a day. I feel renewed as well, with hope for success everywhere I look.

If I keep the fungal and insect infestations back with judicial spraying every two weeks, we will get bushels of apples and peaches, as opposed to last year’s record of three knarled peaches and seven little apples. Look at these two photos and see if you can identify the baby fruit.

Baby Apples
Baby peaches

Big thunderstorms are predicted for this afternoon, so maybe there is chance for disaster yet, but as I said, I am an optimist. I am also on a new project now, re-upholstering a family heirloom. My grandpa’s rocking chair, purported to have rocked my father to sleep almost a hundred years ago, is due for some love. I have never done this before, but I’m up for the challenge. I turned to YouTube for guidance and I believe I can stumble through it.

As you can see, I am well into the demolition stage and ended the day with bloody knuckles. Today I will wear gloves. It is interesting to me that this chair, last reupholstered twenty-two years ago (I found where they tucked a penny into the batting as a keepsake), still smells on the inside like my grandpa’s house and it took me back to those memories. I get a good feeling from bringing things back to life.

I always feel restored, myself, from having projects to look forward to — at least the pleasant ones. The overdue phone calls and bill-paying not so much. When I have a goal and a strategy I dreamed up on my own, I am in my element.

So, off to work! HI HO.

Posted in Farm, House | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Preparing a Sheep Trap

I’m waiting anxiously for the sheep shearer to contact us to say what day he will be here to shear Eddy and the girls. It has dragged on for weeks with us on alert for that call to come. The one good side to that is that I have had plenty of time to engineer a way to capture the sheep and confine them for the shearer to grab one at a time. That was a real worry for me.

In the mean time, we added sweet, rascally Noah to the herd and he has brought some humor to the pasture. He is like a naughty little puppy, always looking for something to disrupt. He tags along after Eddy the big goat, and is frequently corrected by Eddy’s big horns. He seems to consider the sheep to be his siblings, though, and they all compete for the feed and the prime locations around the barnyard.

I came up with a strategy of moving their morning feed closer and closer into the barn each week. I had to close up the chickens to their inner area while the bigger animals were free to wander in and out, but now the goats and sheep are accustomed to eating in the “airlock” and inside the chicken run. They all are happily resting in these areas during the day until they hear me coming and then they scatter in a panic.

So, next I strung up a rope so that when I know the shearer is coming I can sneak up along the side of the barn and yank the gate closed when they are all within. I tried it once and it works, however I will have to check it carefully that day because “somebody” has been trying to chew the rope in two during the day. I only have to make it work once, and after everyone is sheared, vaccinated, and released we can go back to normal procedures.

The trap!

Once that is all done, we get to go fetch the two lambs and bring them home. I’m excited about that, as they are now eight weeks old and weaned from their mom. I will have plenty of reasons to wander out to the barn to visit, not to mention all that wool and mohair to process. I love summer on the farm — always so much to do and a feeling of purpose every way I turn.

Posted in Farm, Farm Animals, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

New Goat, New Sweater

It has been a surprisingly busy month, with travel plans, spring chores, band concerts, and prepping for new animals in the barnyard. We were waiting for a stretch of dry weather to bring home the new goat, but it never came. It has warmed a bit, so on Monday we went to fetch Noah home to the farm.

It has been a bit anxious for me because I was watching how the other animals acted towards him and to see if they would welcome him into the herd. It was no surprise that the other goat asserted himself as the top of the hierarchy, being considerably larger and heavier than everyone else, with those big horns to reinforce the point. What surprised me was that the sheep also pushed him around and butted him out of their way if he seemed to be approaching something they thought should be theirs. I very gradually introduced him, first through the fence, then to spend part of the day together, then all day with access to the barn, and finally to spend the night outside with the rest of the herd.

Step One, sniffing each other through the fence

I drove home after 10 pm from band practice and passed by the barn to see if Noah had been allowed into the goat shed for the night, but was surprised when my headlights lit up a scene of the big goat and what looked like one of the sheep standing out in the rain. That isn’t like Eddy — he hates getting wet! I did not see Noah, so I steeled myself to let them all work it out and went home to bed.

This morning I snuck out early to see what was what. I saw a sheep and Eddy looking out the shed door and window, and as they crept out into the drizzle, I saw everyone but Noah. I worried that he might have been forced out to lie in the mud all night and feared the worst. Then, at last, he peeked his little head out from the shed door and joined the rest of the family standing by the food troughs, waiting for breakfast. We did it!!

So, one potential crisis averted, and on to the next. The lambs have been reserved and will be ready to leave their mommas in May. They are the cutest ever! I asked for some who would likely have a variety of colors when they mature, so these beauties look like little panda bears. I’m thinking “Mandy” and “Pandy”, what do you think?

I plan to follow the same strategy for introducing them to the flock, except a lot more slowly because I want a chance to get them bonded to me before I release them. By the time they arrive, the shearer will have come and made all the mature animals much smaller and less formidable.

First year wool sweater

Last of all, in preparation for the new batch of wool and mohair (and pygora) I used up the wool from last year and made that sweater I was designing. I am happy with it except that the colors did not come out quite as I’d hoped. I still like the colors though, and the sweater fits well. I feel like I am getting the hang of this. The next big fiber project is to do a trial run of an 8-shaft double weave pattern on my loom. For non-weavers this is meaningless but I’ll explain later. We are getting ready to travel for a week and there is still much to do to get everything wrapped up and secured for our absence. How did I ever fill my days before becoming a hobby farmer?

Posted in Farm, Farm Animals, Fiber crafts | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Adding to the Farm Family

Spring is sprouting and it is baby animal season! We made a decision not to have our Shetland ewes get bred, and instead to buy a couple more babies to fill out the herd. We are going to the breeder next weekend to look over the lambs and choose two, but I have no criteria on which to base a decision other than that we want females so we don’t have to get them “wethered.” When we got Dot and Cookie, one was deep dark brown and the other a spotted light color. Now, you can barely tell them apart except that Cookie grew small horns.

Eddy’s noble goat horns

My Angora Goat, Eddy, has a formidable pair of horns. I have trained him that it is forbidden to butt me or swing his horns at me but it is sometimes so hard for him to hold back, especially when he is in a playful mood. I am a little worried that once we have four sheep, they will stick together and quit orbiting close by Eddy. We decided to bring home a second goat to be his playmate. This time a Pygora goat, which is a cross between a Pygmy and an Angora. Pygoras have the same fine, silky hair as Eddy’s mohair, in fact it might be softer. The hair is called…pygora! I guess that makes sense. More for my spinning, knitting, and weaving.

Here is a picture of Noah, the goat we have chosen. He is a wether, same as Eddy, so there won’t be the characteristic stink of a mature male goat and he won’t get as big or aggressive either. It is my hope that the two goats will become fast friends while the sheep flock together in their own nervous manner. Noah should always be a little smaller than Eddy and his horns were removed early.

Noah, the Pygora Goat on a rainy day

My mind is slowly working through the logistics of how to introduce him to the herd, how much to feed the enlarged population, how to distribute the food so no one gets crowded out, and whatever else I can plan for in advance. It will be a trial run for the day we bring home the lambs in late April. I would like to keep the lambs separate for a while and get them used to being handled so they learn to trust me before they get out with the others. I let Dot and Cookie out into the pasture the second day we had them and could not get near them for months. Sheep are so nervous!

In the mean time, we have been gradually preparing the farm for spring. My husband is mowing all the fields and we did a prescribed burn in one quadrant before a day of rain. I love playing with fire! I took down the Christmas lights and unwrapped the protective tarps around the bushes. I also shoveled up pounds and pounds of gravel that the snowplow had scraped off the driveway and did my best to fill the potholes. I’ve raked the flower beds and cut down the clumps of ornamental grass. It is so good to get back out into the sunshine and fresh air.

Before burning the field, I collected about twenty praying mantis cocoons and set them in a jar in the barn out of harm’s way. I don’t know what to do with them, so I’ll just keep an eye on it and set it outside if and when they hatch. Life is all renewed this time of year and it makes me happy.

Posted in Farm, Farm Animals, Fiber crafts | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Gray days of February

Covid precautions, doctor visits, snowstorms… It seems that not much is moving in February. We are planning a mini-getaway in March but my husband’s recent back pain has been putting things into suspended animation for a few months. I think we are getting it stabilized now, but it is hard to plan things when we can’t predict what he’ll be able to do.

Looking out at these gray days, my heart is lifted by a small flock of the “Bluebirds of Happiness” that gather in the bare poplar tree, periodically dipping down to pick a red berry off the Winterberry bush. I thought they were early robins at first, but then noticed below the red breast was a white belly with dark blue heads and wings.

Altar cloth in rainbow colors

I’ve been keeping myself occupied with fiber activities and listening to or reading stories. What would I do without Audible to read to me while my hands are busy? I created an altar cloth for the church but I’m not sure it is quite what I wanted it to be. It is my second try at it, but I may keep trying to get something I’ll be really proud of. There is no rush. I am limited to only 4-shaft patterns on my loom because I have some mechanical limitations, but my husband said he’d try to fix the problem for me. I’m waiting for a couple of replacement parts and maybe I’ll dive into some more complex projects.

In the mean time, I finished a scarf that I was able to knit without paying much attention while I watched TV at night. I like it because it is thick and warm and lies nice and flat. I hate it when they curl up into a tube.

It’s about time to embark on another big knitting project, so I went shopping on the internet for a sweater design I might want to duplicate. I found one I like except that at my age, I need a cardigan that I can open up when I get a hot flash. I am thinking about using the colors in the pullover but doing it in the form of the cardigan. I’m spinning up all the remaining Shetland wool from last spring, till I have what the pattern says I’d need. Then, I’ll dye it in the colors I like and adjust the color changes in the pattern to suit me.

While I patiently spin all the wool, I keep thinking about how this might turn out and see if I dare make all the changes I have in mind. The yarn is coming out a little thinner than I thought it would, so I have to think about how the pattern would have to be adjusted to fit.

Colors I want
Pattern I want

I like the way the pullover uses a row of white to separate the color changes. I could do that. I like the shawl collar of the cardigan and the fact that it isn’t quite as roomy as the pullover. The big question is, would it come out as it is in my imagination? Will the dying of the spun wool come out in the right shades and will I get the color evenly distributed if it is already made into a skein of yarn? I’ll never know the answers to these questions till I give it a try and do my normal “live and learn” routine. The worst that can happen is I’ll get it finished and be disappointed. I can always unravel it all and start over with something else. I’ll be mad, but I’ll be smarter the next time.

Posted in Farm, Fiber crafts | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

February Snowstorm and Fiber Arts

I love snow, especially if I don’t have to go anywhere and can just stay on the farm and enjoy it. A big storm has been moving across the country and dumped over a foot here before moving on. I think it is on the East Coast by now. It is interesting to me that the sheep don’t mind in the least getting covered with snow, due to their annual accumulation of wool. The lanolin helps keep the wetness away from their skin so it must be a refreshing coolness from their points of view. I believe they must have been laying around in the yard, to have gotten so much stuck to their backs.

Eddy is not such a big fan and he lies in the shed looking out the window until the chickens announce that I have arrived to deliver breakfast or dinner. I have been considering changing his schedule so he is only sheared once a year like the sheep. I felt a little bad that his October shearing left him with little insulation for the winter. I never worried about it before, but it is quite a contrast to the sheep situation.

I still have a bin full of Dot’s wool, half a bin of Cookie’s, and a bit of pink, blue, and yellow from Eddy’s fall shearing. I just haven’t decided what I want to do with it. I got a neat book for Christmas that offers a guide to designing your own sweaters, with instructions for sizes from children to adults and all kinds of alternatives for different collars or sleeves. It taught me the differences between the ways you can attach sleeves to make it easy or hard, loose or fitted. A very educational book! Now that I have so many options from which to choose, I am stalled with too many decisions. Too much information makes for choosing-overload. I am a stubbornly determined soul, though, and will power through the obstacle just to prove to myself that I can.

In the mean time, I am creating an altar cloth for my church. I’d done a video/sermon on weaving and what it means to me, and the resulting fabric was a little disappointing. With six months more experience, I believe I can do better, so I bought more yarn and started over with a more complicated pattern and I am deep into it. I do love a challenge!

Posted in Farm Animals, Fiber crafts | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Dishtowels!

I finished weaving the dishtowels that took so long to warp last week. I was dismayed that they were kind of gauzy and stiff, but after I hemmed and washed them they are soft and absorbent. When I searched online yarn stores for the colors I wanted, white, off-white, and even natural color yarn was all on back order. I didn’t want to wait, so I bought the next closest thing I could find, a silver-gray. Now that I am done with them, I regret not waiting for the color I wanted. They kind of look like they have already gotten dingy from use. Oh well, live and learn – yet again.

The pattern created a nice geometric texture, but you can only see it clearly in the little sections of contrasting green. It seems like such a waste, because I’m the only one who will notice how interesting the fabric is. I also have come to the conclusion that in the future I should shoot for smaller projects rather than for volume of the finished product. I got kind of bored after the first two towels, but I had to keep going until I’d done all four. It would be terribly wasteful to leave all that warp unwoven and tossed out.

Before I start on a new project, I need to make room so that my husband can install some shelves where I can place all those spools of yarn that I’ve accumulated. It will be nice to have some empty space on the table next to the loom. I will also have him hang the big warping board on the wall so it will be easier to measure out all the threads prior to putting them onto the loom. Right now it is balanced against the wall and it rattles and bangs as I wind the yarn onto the pegs.

I recently found myself some resources to help with multitude of weaving problems I need to solve. If any of you out there are learning to weave like me, check out School of Sweet Georgia. I discovered all sorts of great essays and videos that give me hope that I can tweak my methods and make things easier. I already have two or three new tricks that I plan to use on the next project. There is a “trapeze” contraption that looks a little extreme but promises to make my life easier if I manage to build one. What I stubbornly resist is investing large sums of money into the hobby. I have this inner voice that tells me I need to earn it first. If I get tired of weaving and move on, I don’t want to feel guilty for accumulating a big inventory of expensive stuff that is just taking up space and neglected.

Posted in Fiber crafts | Tagged | 5 Comments

The Tedium of Warping

I am enjoying learning to weave, but am blown away by the sheer tedium of hooking up the lengthwise strings, or in the proper terminology, “beaming the warp.” It is quite possible I am doing something wrong, as I am still new at this, but wrangling all these fine little strings into the proper holes and along the length of the loom path without hopelessly tangling it into a snarled up mess is not for the feint of heart!

My husband was away for a few days so I had time to focus my days on the task and work until I was either in serious back pain from leaning over it or so tired and frustrated I was ready to wad it all up and throw it away. Persistence won out, though, and I got the job done at last.

Now, I am ready to start weaving four lovely little dishtowels. Granted, I could go out on Amazon or stop at Walmart and buy a set of four towels for $10, but these will be pretty and home-made. It is all about the journey, not the destination, right? I need to be reminded of that when I am in the midst of the struggle. It is a really great feeling to watch my fabric take form as I push the treadles and beat down each successive row of weft into the pattern. It is like magic!

Posted in Fiber crafts, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

New Year, New Projects

I’ve done a lot of weaving over the last couple months. I am getting more confident with my loom and recently most of my errors have been due to wanting to finish up for the day and hurrying carelessly to the end. That’s something that no amount of experience can remedy.

I recently finished a project I’d been dreaming up for months. My black goat, Ely, died in 2020 and I’ve been looking for a way to honor his memory with the yarn I’d spun up. I concluded that I’d make a blanket, which was a long complicated process of measuring, calculating, adjusting, recalculating, and finally building. I decided to use these colors, my whole remaining inventory of Ely’s hair, and shoot for a 4′ x 5′ throw made from three strips and sewn together after weaving. I did it in a twill pattern, like denim, that forms little diagonal rows that give the fabric a flexibility where plain weave is more stiff.

I didn’t have quite enough to make the blanket I wanted, so I ordered three skeins of heavy gray wool to fill in some space. I now realize that was a dumb move. Wool behaves quite differently than mohair, stretching while on the loom and then drawing in tighter when it is washed. The result was that my blanket is lumpy in the mohair sections and stiffer and tighter in the wool areas. Live and learn yet again. I still love the blanket anyway. It is silky, fuzzy, warm, and heavy. It is shedding 1″ hairs on my clothes but I hope that will ease up after a while. Whenever I cuddle up in it, I’ll think of my Ely.

Leading up to Christmas, I wove several pieces in “overshot”, the technique that makes beautiful geometric patterns within a framework of a second, thinner yarn. I did a little playing around with some hand-me-down yarns and just loved what came out of it, so then I made a long strip of this orange design, planning to sew two sections together side by side into a light throw. I discovered that I am not consistent enough with my weaving to match up the patterns on the two pieces. The repeat varied from 2″ to 3.5″, depending on how much pressure I used, regardless of how hard I tried for consistency.

In the end, it made two nice, long shawls to give as gifts. I love the drape of the fabric, and the orange yarn had a variegated color scheme that provided interest. Now, it is time to come up with the next project. I tend to buy more yarn than I need when I am planning a project because they offer discounts if I buy just a little more… Then I look at what I bought and can’t remember what I’d planned to do with it.

That is my adventure for the day. I’ll look over what I have, look at the patterns in my books, and go make something fun. I don’t plan to leave the farm for the next few days, staying home in the blowing snow and only going out to feed and water the animals. By the end of the week I should have more cool stuff to show for it.

Posted in Fiber crafts | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Nothing Special

I love those blessed days of “nothing special.” We already had most of the holiday rehearsals and concerts, the parties, the present-buying, etc. Now, it is happily a smooth ride into the final holidays of the year. I find myself in a bit of a rush to create the final Christmas and birthday presents. The kind of chores that are fun and a pleasure to work on. Then, there are the Christmas cards and details that I don’t remember until they are a late rush.

Today, we bottled half of the white wine my husband fermented in the barn for the last few months. It is delicious! We had to add a little sugar to balance out the dryness, but it is better than most of the bottles we buy at the grocery store and then cross our fingers will fit our tastes. I had to sample it to make sure it was right before we bottled it, so I am feeling more mellow than normal at mid-day!

I am weaving projects to give to my closest friends. Of course, they are not turning out quite as I expected, so I am having to alter my expectations. Flexibility is the name of the game when you are learning a new skill

I have observed a new character out at the barnyard when I visit the chickens, lately. A rabbit is often there, debating whether it is safe to hang out under the coop while I tromp about. This morning, she was huddled in a shivering clump in front of the run, not too interested in moving while I wandered about, feeding everyone their breakfast. I took a couple pictures, then sprinkled a little goat feed next to her in case she needs some sustenance. I hope she is healthy. I’ll keep an eye out, but I don’t think I could do anything for her even if she weren’t.

I laid in bed last night, listening to a ferocious wind storm raging outside the windows. Apparently it came with bad tornadoes in other regions so we lucked out to just get wind. It was in the 50’s this morning, for a nice change, but the wind hid the balmy temperatures. Now the snow is beginning to blow in. It is December!

Well, back to a blissful afternoon of weaving. These are my favorite kind of days.

Posted in Farm, Farm Animals | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Barn Cats and Lazy Chickens

I’m so lucky that both the barn cats we adopted four years ago turned out to be the kind that love humans. Emmie is a little stand-offish when her “brother” is present and she hisses at him to make it clear that he is not welcome to share in the attention. Mickey is oblivious, though, and is right there winding between my feet and rubbing against my ankles when I come to the barn.

We had a sunny day last week and I went out to prune the peach tree. As I walked around it, nipping at the branches that did not conform to the upside-down umbrella configuration, Mickey surprised me by leaping straight up into the cradle of the tree and staring me down. He has that tiger-stare all figured out. All he wants is to be picked up to cuddle into my shoulder.

The chickens are another story. We had gone almost two months with no eggs at all, and I decided to do something about it. I’d already tried every trick I could find to get them back on track, but I was feeding, watering, and cleaning up after 20 birds with nothing in return.

I finally put an ad out on Craig’s list – Hens that have stopped laying, FREE. I do not have what it takes to slaughter an animal, but if someone takes them off my hands, I was prepared to not think about what would happen next. Sure enough, I got an email the next day and an enthusiastic guy arranged to come and pick up the seven I was offering. (They were the ones I had never named, so I guess that really does make a difference.) The night before he came, I captured all of them and put them in a caged area by themselves, covered overnight to stay warm. I didn’t sleep well, worrying about them out there separated from their flock.

The next day, the guy quit communicating altogether and I got irritated. I had put in all that emotional energy and physical effort for nothing. I dismantled the cage and gave them a reprieve. Now, interestingly, I’m beginning to get eggs! They are brown and white ones, most likely from the hens who were on the edge of being exiled just a couple days ago.

What’s the moral to this story? Maybe: Why did the chicken lay the egg? … To stay off the dinner table.

Posted in Farm Animals | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Some Recent Weaving Experiments

After all the detailed instruction-following required to make the pretty placemats that were my last weaving project, I felt like going free range and weaving up some of my stray yarn. I did a fast, undisciplined job of warping the loom and learned yet again that I HAVE to consult the instructions regardless of how sure I am that I know it all. Grrrr. It took twice as long as it should have because I had to string, unstring, untangle, and finally tie on a warp about twelve inches wide. I’d been shooting for about sixteen inches width, but I got so mad about the tangled mess that I just threw away a pile that I’d measured and cut.

I’d made a pretty yarn in a blending/spinning class this summer and could hardly wait to see what I could make out of it. The resulting fabric is very nice, although shorter than I thought it would be. It was made from a combination of wool, mohair, silk, and alpaca and was thick and soft. I’m using it for a decorative accent on our living room coffee table.

I recommend the book on my table, “Creatrix Rising”, by a blogging friend of mine, Stephanie Raffelock. It is aimed towards women like myself – done with child raising, done working for a paycheck, and coming into their own as another kind of creator. That’s my description, anyway, and I found it really inspiring.

So, the warp I’d measured was way longer than what I was able to use with the skein of craft yarn, so I looked around for something else to keep weaving. I grabbed four or five balls of heavy mohair yarn that I was storing in a bowl. I liked the blend of colors, so I decided to randomly mix and match them and see how long the resulting creation would come out. It is long enough for a decorative table runner and I’m really happy with the result.

This was fun and I like what I got, but the next project will go back to following a pattern. I have several projects planned for Christmas presents and I haven’t quite figured them out yet, so I’d better get a move on!

Posted in Fiber crafts | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Elusive Raspberry Shade

I’m still working on my quest to get the yarn my friend wants, in the right weight and color. I decided it is so tricky to get a consistent color from a dye lot that I make up by myself that I’d just go and buy it off the internet instead. I ordered “raspberry sorbet”, and voila! A good, solid raspberry pink. I did a little batch of saffron yellow just for some variety. This was on Eddy the goat’s latest shearing.

I’ve gotten experienced enough now, that I sheared him in a couple hours, washed it and dyed the first batch all the same day. His hair had not grown as much as it usually does by October, but it is enough to get the job done. I carded it over the next few days as it dried, and have already spun up three hundred yards. It is not as intense a color as I’d expected, but it will work.

I wanted to also do some wool from the sheep in the raspberry color to compare them. The wool is already carded and stuffed into bags in the closet, so I decided to take a chance and try dying it in the batts rather than spinning it first. I knew I was risking a big felted mess, but I was very slow and cautious, not changing any temperatures abruptly and not agitating the fiber any more than I felt I needed to do to get the color all the way through the batt.

I moved what was left of the mohair to the side and laid out the batts to dry. But then I couldn’t stand the suspense and decided to unwind the batts and stretch them across the table so they would dry quicker. Actually, I was afraid I might find them to be solid bricks of felt, so unrolling them was a sneak peak at how bad it might be. It came out a really nice solid color, darker and more consistent than the mohair. When it was dry, I ripped it into smaller chunks and fed it back through the drum carder and it went smoothly and easily. Whew!

I spun the first hundred yards of wool yarn today and am washing it up to see if it is as nice as I hope. I’ll give my friend the option of wool or mohair, whichever has the properties she likes best. I’ll use the one she doesn’t choose because I like them both.

Posted in Fiber crafts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How to Be Like a Machine?

I have a project that I don’t know how to complete. A friend loves the idea of home-grown, home-spun yarn to make a little sweater for her granddaughter. She showed me the pattern and told me the color she wants, and offered to buy the yarn it if I would spin it for her. It didn’t sound that hard, and I wanted to please my friend, but I am discovering that the consistency that can be achieved by machines on a factory floor does not come so easily on the farm.

This requires a set of skills that I am still just developing:

  • How to dye a large amount of fiber in the same color if it doesn’t all fit into one batch of dye solutions, aka dye-lot
  • How to get just the exact color (raspberry) that is requested
  • How to spin in a consistent yarn weight, and the right one

So, I have my engineering problem-solving hat on and am learning through trial and error just what it will take to make this work. I spun the first batch from Cookie’s wool, which I hadn’t washed that well and had lots of waxy lanolin still in it. I think this “spinning in the grease” method made it easier to keep the yarn thin and it ended up in what yarn stores call “sport weight”. It is thin and light. One batt made 220 yards. This one I spun before dying and in a previous post I showed how I dyed it in two shades just to see how that would work.

The next batt was from the other sheep, and I guess I’d washed the fleece a lot more thoroughly because it was light and fluffy with no waxy feel. This one I dyed before spinning and the variation in the colors was easy to even out as I spun, assuming I wanted that to happen.

The second skein made only 120 yards and it came out in a heavier weight, more like what they call “worsted”. The thickness of the yarn makes a huge difference when you are knitting clothing. Using the wrong size yarn will cause the size of the finished item to be way different than you intended. (I learned that the hard way!) I’ve always wondered why yarn in the store is measured in ounces instead of yards, because you always have to calculate the length. That seems kind of a silly way to present it. But, if roughly the same amount of weight per batt creates about the same amount of space taken up – whether in thick yarn and big needles or thin yarn and skinny needles. Maybe weight does make more sense after all.

I have read that one difference between home-spun and machine-spun wool is in the stretch. The machine keeps a strong, consistent tension in the fiber that doesn’t happen between the spinner’s fingers. Machine-spun may shrink a lot more due to this initial stretching out of the springy fiber.

It seems that the more I learn, the more I discover that I don’t know. Ignorance is bliss. It’s just like so many other things in life. Humility is hard-won sometimes.

Posted in Fiber crafts | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Weaving and Yarn Experiments

I joined the local Handweavers’ Guild this year to get some help understanding why my loom was giving me so much trouble. One member was especially kind and helped me identify things I was doing that were getting in the way, so I bravely launched into a complicated project with my fingers crossed. It was a little hairy at the beginning, but once I got going it went well!

Here is a placemat I made with a technique called “overshot” that can create intricate geometric patterns. To me, it was like magic. Sure, I made mistakes as always, but I’m pretty proud of how well it went. The one problem I ran into did not show up till I was all done. Apparently, I was not consistent in my technique because the first placemat was 21 inches, the second 22, and the last two were a whopping 23 inches! It had never occurred to me that the length would be variable. I guess it is logical but I’d just assumed that if you follow the pattern, you’ll get what you expect as a result. I guess when we use them I’ll be able to set out large plates, dessert bowls, and lots of special silverware and glasses. Everything will fit on these massive place settings!

I am now excited to start another of the projects for which I’d bought yarn a few months ago before the gardening chores took over my life. I feel confident that I can at least handle the loom, so that my inexperience will be my only major obstacle.

Another thing I was wishing for was to get started spinning and handling the sheep’s wool that was sheared back in April. I have it all cleaned and carded in nice soft batts in the closet. I took one batt and spun it up into 220 yards of 2-ply yarn. Then I decided to experiment with dying it in multiple shades. I found that you need to get the water down to a pH of about 4 in order for the dye to bond well with the fiber. I used vinegar for that and tested it with my husband’s wine-making test strips. Then I had to slowly bring up the water temperature with the wool in it because sudden temperature changes will shock wool and felt it up (or so they tell me.)

Next, I wanted to have the skein come out with a shifting color. I mixed the first color and soaked the wool till it had absorbed the dye. Then, I hung the skein from above and dangled the ends in the pot while I added a new color. This seemed to work pretty well. I washed it up really well afterwards to get the excess dye out and also because the wool was almost waxy with lanolin when I spun it and I needed to get that out to soften the fibers. When I went to hang it to dry, I untied too many of the ties and it got badly tangled, forcing me to spend an hour straightening it all out. I hope won’t make that mistake again, but it wasn’t the first time!

In the end, here is my first skein of variegated yarn. Now I have to decide if it is practical to dye all this yarn after it has been spun or whether I should do it in the batt form first and then spin it. So many things to learn!

Posted in Farm, Fiber crafts | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Short Trip to the Market

One of the best thing about living here is that the produce section of our local market is just out the back door. I was thinking about what we need for the next few days of meals and decided to see what the farm still had to offer. Parsnips and carrots tonight! There were also a few summer squash ready to bring in, and a little cantaloupe for dessert. I think I’ll cut up a few of the last cucumbers for a healthy snack and bake some bread to eat with the raspberry jam I cooked up last night.

I picked the last four of the eight apples we got this year. I still don’t know how to tell if they are totally ripe, but they look done. Maybe a little Waldorf salad? I guess I’ll have to head back out and pick a little lettuce first and get it crisping up in the fridge.

In the wine aisle, I see about twelve gallons of white Michigan wine in the works. The yeast has done its job and the juice has been racked off into bottles to let the debris settle. It is very milky but once the old yeast by-products precipitate out it will be clear and beautiful. Making the wine is my husband’s project but I love helping to drink it.

The animals are not contributing much right now. The chickens haven’t laid an egg for a month! I did some research last night and this may be due to stress as the eight young hens try to find their place in the flock. Or, it could be a worm infestation. I sprinkled diatomaceous earth all around the run and the coop and added a little to their food. This is said to be a remedy for that problem. I did mysteriously lose one hen last week, so perhaps that is the cause. Either way, I have to go to the commercial market to bring home eggs now and it feels quite strange to have to put that on the grocery list.

The goat and sheep were quite pleased to receive the tops from the carrots and parsnips. Eddy is due to have his coat sheared in October. I can’t believe it is time already. With his last haircut being a professional buzz cut, it doesn’t seem as long as it usually is by shearing day. I will wait till later in the month and give it another half inch. I am still toying with the idea of having the ewes bred in November if I can find someone willing to do the job. Well, I mean, a ram would surely be willing, but it is his shepherd that I have to convince. I feel like I am soliciting.

Posted in Farm, Farm Animals, Gardening | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Lessons Learned About Grapes

Ok, last year I thought I was smart to prune my concord grapes in the early summer, giving the lovely little green baby bunches lots of sunshine and air. At the end of the season, I was so disappointed to see no grapes at all! I figured I must have made a mistake when I pruned.

This year, we went out in late winter and pruned the vines down to the trunks, according to grapevine lore. I was optimistic when the leaves got growing fast and bunches of fruit were forming again. I resisted the urge to prune and just let them do their thing all summer. Today I went out to pick, and found… raisins!

I had to go get the pruners and cut out a lot of ten-to-fifteen foot young vines just so I could find the fruit. It was so disappointing that most of the grapes had dried up and fallen off before I got a chance to pick them. The first two years, I held off on picking until the yellow-jacket wasps were all over them, thinking that was the sign they were at their peak. That was the clue I was looking for this year. If I hadn’t forced the issue and hacked away at the jungle, I would have missed even the small amount that was still hanging on.

After methodically moving down both sides of the vineyard and gathering all the grapes I could find, I collected about a third of what I had been hoping for. I did bring them in and cleaned and sorted them, so that now I am running two batches through the juicer. I guess the good news is that it will take less time than a bigger haul would have.

I am guessing that the key to a successful harvest will be treating the vines early for the fungal diseases which probably were the culprit. It seems that our farm suffers from all forms of these. The chestnut tree needs to be sprayed in the spring to prevent blight. The orchard leaves need to be sprayed so they don’t curl up and the peaches need protection from bugs that eat them from the inside out. The vegetable garden suffers from powdery mildew towards the end of summer. It is quite frustrating.

In the end, I still got seven beautiful purple quarts of grape juice. Each one is a treasure and I drink them sparingly or give them as gifts to just the most special grape juice appreciators.

Posted in Farm, Gardening | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

September Shift

We are moving into the next stage on the farm, with new crops coming ripe and new colors taking precedence in the fields. The goldenrod is becoming king of the landscape, and all other flowers are stepping back to make way for His Majesty. The honeybees are ecstatic and when I walked the fields with my trusty lopper, clearing out mulberry bushes, I was surrounded by loud, industrious buzzing and hoped I wouldn’t irritate any of them enough to sting.

I have started harvesting some late summer veggies, like rainbow chard and parsnips, not to mention the never-ending flow of tomatoes and zucchini. Now and then I treat the goat, sheep, and chickens to bits of the leftovers. I wondered if parsnip greens would be tasty and left a pile in the pasture to see what they thought about it. They were a big hit.

Yum, parsnip greens!

My little orchard did not produce much this year, in spite of my valiant battle with the late spring frost. I did pick the four peaches and although they weren’t pretty, they were as delicious as the ones from the local fruit stand.

I have counted seven apples on the two trees that bore fruit this year. I am letting them mature until one falls off the tree because I really have no way of knowing when they are fully ripe. They look quite nice, and I am hoping that next year is better. The trees themselves took on a lot of healthy growth this year, especially the peach tree. I may have to look up how to prune them now for optimal fruit production next year. They are surrounded by a tangle of pumpkin vines with lots of big orange beauties.

This never-ending pandemic is keeping us home more than usual and, as with everyone, we are experiencing the plodding of every day pretty much like the one before. Before we turn in each night, we review what is coming up tomorrow and whether there is anything at all unusual to look forward to. The concert bands are trying to restart with Covid precautions and I am going to give them a try this year. Lots of masking and distancing requirements, so I hope it is safe enough. I do miss playing my horn with a group! I am a sub for the local St. Joseph Municipal Band in the park this Sunday and Monday nights and am both nervous and excited to be on stage doing my best. Normalcy is creeping forward, but no one knows if it will stick around.

Posted in Farm, Farm Animals, Gardening | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

A Couple Interesting Things

This week I attended the Michigan Fiber Festival, at the Allegan County Fairgrounds. I go every couple of years and it is a special treat if I can take a class while I am there. This year I signed up for a fiber blending course.

The students throughout the festival were 98% women, which is curious to me. I sat in a circle of women around my own age with our spinning wheels lugged up from home. The teacher gave us each samples of various fibers from silk worms, alpacas, and several kinds of sheep. Some were dyed bright and beautiful colors and some were natural and waiting for a good washing.

The teacher showed us how we could make interesting textures and lovely colors by blending a variety of fibers right from our hands feeding into the spinning wheel. It opened my eyes to new possibilities and I am eager to start experimenting. I came home and spun up the remains of the fibers I’d received and plied it all together into a very random skein of yarn. There is not enough to make an article of clothing, but I think when I finish my current weaving project I will try using this as the weft and see what kind of wild and wooly fabric it will make.

The other, totally unrelated thing that I found interesting this morning is a small clump of shiny gold insect eggs deposited under the leaves of our raspberry bushes. I came upon it by accident and was surprised by the metallic sparkle. I don’t know what they are, but an internet search leans toward some sort of stinkbug. Hopefully, it is not something that will one day mature and consume my plants, but I’m not about to go on a search-and-destroy mission.

Posted in Farm, Fiber crafts, Gardening | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Perspiration by Gender

I was out in the garden after a couple days off and there was so much that needed to be harvested. As the rivulets of sweat freely ran down over my glasses and I gave up trying to wipe them away, a story popped into my mind of my early training as a young girl. My mother was repeating a tale she’d been told as a child, one of those that are used to cement gender roles and the rules of polite society.

A little girl came into the house from playing and declared, “I’m so sweaty!” Her mother, shocked and horrified, told the girl, “Nice young ladies do not sweat, they perspire. The girl did not know this word and had trouble pronouncing it. Her mother said, think of it like a church spire and it’s easier to say.

The girl went back out to play and ran into the minister out on the sidewalk. He asked if she was having a nice August day, and she replied in a proud and polite manner, “It is so hot out here, I believe I am persteepling.”

This story made a big impression on me as a child. I was learning in not-so-subtle ways what was acceptable for girls vs boys. Girls had to learn to hold their knees together when they sat, not to speak too loudly, and to wait patiently for their turn, unlike the boys who were like wild things with no good manners.

Times have changed so much since those days in the 50’s and 60’s of American society. Is it any wonder how the generations look at one another with amazement for the biases they hold – or are ignoring? I think I have come a long way since my childhood indoctrination and have become aware of so much that we all took for granted many years past. It makes me sad for all the boys and girls who did not fit easily into the molds that were closing in around them and had to keep their real natures hidden in a secret inner box. Especially, I cry for those who accepted the stories they were told and hated themselves for the ways they were “wrong.”

I believe the world is gradually improving, generation to generation. The things I have overcome and the rules that sank too deep into my DNA to ever be completely erased will one day be read about with disbelief by future generations. How could they have ever thought that!?

Posted in Personal | Tagged , | 1 Comment