A Record Shearing Day

Today was the biggest shearing day ever — because I am not adding to my flock after this. The two lambs and the Pygora goat had their first haircuts by the shearer. I have the herd wrangling technique down to a science now, and captured them all in about three minutes! I start feeding them closer and closer into the barn for a few days and then rig up a rope that I can pull from a secret hiding place to swing the gate closed behind them. It worked like a charm on all but the littlest one, but when I closed up the herd in an inner area, Pandy hurried into the first enclosure to get close to her family and I locked her up as well. I feel so clever!

The shearer confessed that he hates doing goats because they behave differently than sheep so he did the hard ones first. Eddy has those big horns and I had to help hold them once or twice but now he is as clean and smooth as he can be.

One surprising thing occurred, when he sheared the biggest ewe. Dot had scars on her neck indicating she may have been attacked some time in the last year. It must have been during the winter or spring when she had thick hair because I never saw any blood and she never seemed injured. That scares me because if a predator can get into the pasture it could be worse when they don’t have inches of thick wool to protect them. I am considering moving the electric wires from inside the fence to the outside although it would be a lot of work. My choices would be to do that, to get yet another animal such as a mini-donkey, llama, or dog to live outside with them, or to just take my chances.

Now, I have close to forty pounds of wool, mohair, and pygora fiber to process. Oh, my! It is a bit daunting. I am trying to finish spinning the un-dyed mohair from two years ago and last spring to make way for the new stuff and to weave some blankets. Here is the batch of yarn I dyed this week for the first blanket, although the color is not quite what I wanted. I may have to give it a little more to get the deep red I was shooting for. I will have to schedule my time carefully to make headway on all these parallel tasks of cleaning, carding, spinning, dying, and weaving. It sounds overwhelming, but remember that this is how I chose to spend my retirement!

Goodbye for now from the shorn herd on Bluestem Pond Farm.

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Puppy Love

I haven’t been keeping up with the Bluestem Pond news. The green of springtime is expanding daily and the prairie grass must grow three inches a day! This is good, as we need clear boundaries to the yard around the house to remind the dogs where their limits are. Yes, we now have our second dog, little Oliver the Sheepadoodle.

How could you not love this little scamp? It took a few days of growling for Zoey to put him firmly in his place but now they are the best of buddies. It gives me such satisfaction to see them rolling on the ground together, jaws wide open, playful growls coming out of the tangle of fur. Zoey likes to pin him down and hold him lightly around the neck as he squeals in delight, but if he is really in distress he says so and she backs right off to let him catch his breath. What Zoey doesn’t know is that when he grows he will be three times his current size and the balance of power may change.

We are a bit sleep-deprived still, as we take turns letting him out once in the middle of the night and again between 5 and 6 am. I have been taking naps to keep my sense of humor. We have rags all over the house and are hyper-vigilant to notice when he hesitates for a moment because he is about to pee on the floor. He is doing it in greater frequency outside now, but as soon as I get complacent I hear the telltale splash on the rug.

This dog is smart, though! Don’t tell Zoey, but I think his intelligence far surpasses hers. He learned his name fast and comes when we call him most of the time. We haven’t tried any formal training yet as he is only three months old, but I suspect he’ll be a great student. In addition, he has shown a knack for herding Zoey so I hope I might be able to train him to herd the sheep one day. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little help?

We are smitten with Ollie and want to give him the best possible home life. It will be an adventure.

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Spring Is On The Way

I know the calendar says spring is here, but it is just beginning to do its thing around here. Yesterday was a shocking 70 degrees but tornadoes were threatening and the rain came slanting down hard. Today is back to the 40’s and I am seeing the buds on the bushes and trees beginning to swell. The fields are just beginning to get some new green tint and the sheep are ecstatic!

The herd enjoying the new grass in the pasture

It is nice having a real herd now, four Shetland sheep that are more or less full grown, and the two goats to add a little humor. Next month, (or sooner) they will have their annual shearing and I’ll have a lot of nice wool on my hands. I think I will use the two lambs’ brown and black wool to make a naturally colored fair isle sweater for myself, (which means a color pattern knitted in.)

I finished up a flurry of weaving in time to show my work to the Handweavers Guild when they had their first meeting of the year. Unfortunately, the threatening tornadoes cancelled the meeting, so I hurried for nothing. Anyway, I am now dreaming up the colors for my next creation and am trying to spin up all the white mohair from the last two years that is piled up in bins in the closet. I have learned so much but there is an infinite supply of knowledge waiting for me to discover.

Here are a few of the samples I had planned to show the guild and ask for input on how to do things better. Trial-and-error is a great way to learn, but a little expertise sprinkled in would not hurt.

We are in the time of year where we keep jerking back and forth from winter to spring and you have to just go with the flow. I think it is good for the soul to be teased and disappointed as the changes slowly lean further into spring.

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Preparing to Switch Seasons

Spring is about ready to be sprung, and I am anticipating a shift from the activities that belong to winter. During the cold season, I spend lots of time knitting and weaving to keep my mind active and my creative juices flowing. I focus on how to use the yarns I made over the past year and try to reduce my inventory of those lovingly created skeins. Now that we are almost into April I am beginning to anticipate the big event of the Shearer coming to the farm to harvest all the wool, mohair, and pygora fiber that my flock has grown.

Fiber Factory

Last year I waited and waited because the young man who comes to shear for us had a new baby in his household and it all got away from him. I hope we get him in April this year as expected. However, I still have a big bin of carded mohair fiber that I never managed to spin last year and I need to clear out space for the new season. I got out my spinning wheel and am happy to see that “muscle memory” takes over and I slide back into my methodical motion making nice, even yarn. It is a restful activity, except that when I do stop and stand up I realize my old lady joints do not like sitting in one place for so long.

I used up five or six nice skeins of yarn to make a lap blanket this month. It was a “huck lace” pattern, something I have studied in a pattern book and still can’t describe, but it came out nicely. I was admiring the intricate pattern and decided to find out what would happen if I put it through the washer and dryer. It fluffed up to about half an inch thickness and is soft and warm, so I think I will purposely spin a bunch of mohair yarn and dye it in the colors I want for a bigger blanket.

This one was a math experiment. I calculated the size blanket I wanted to make, went through all the intricate details to estimate the amount of each color I would need, and found I didn’t have nearly enough. I pared it down proportionately to a smaller and smaller blanket and ended up with something that just covers my knees. It was an experiment, anyway, but now that I see what it becomes I can purposely spin all the yarn I need and make something (potentially) wonderful!

Next project, I had promised to make an autumn-colored table runner for a friend. I did not have any of the colors I needed so I just bought some cheap acrylic yarn at the craft store. It makes me question whether there is really so much value to growing and spinning natural fiber, but …. no, I am committed. The runner turned out nicely and each item I weave teaches me a few new things NOT to do.

So now, I take a break from weaving and shift to spinning. My new dog, Zoey, is happiest within a few feet of me, so she spends hours curled up next to the wheel. She doesn’t know that next month she will get a little brother. We need a second dog for all the reasons we needed a first dog. Love, entertainment, and company. The new one is planned to be my husband’s dog, hopefully to be as attached to him as Zoey is stuck to me — like glue. I don’t know if you can engineer that, but we are going to try.

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Fat Cats of Winter

My two barn cats, Mickey and Emmie, have eaten their ways through the winter. They grew plump and sturdy to withstand the cold and Emmie grew a crazy long black coat that provided wonderful insulation. I don’t have to worry about their weight because by mid-summer they are both sleek, thin, and wiry from chasing other creatures all over the property.

Along with the cats, I am also anticipating the warmth of Spring. It can’t be long now!

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Second Birthday Sweater

I just finished another sweater, this time for my granddaughter’s 6th birthday. It turned out to be quite an interesting challenge. It changed colors every few rows, leaving loose ends all over the place. It was kind of fun to watch it develop, but what a pain to weave in all those loose scraps of yarn so they wouldn’t unravel over time! The pattern called for lots of little buttons in front. I decided that was not very practical for tiny fingers so instead I put in a zipper so she can use it for a jacket. It is made almost entirely of yarn from my own little herd, mostly goat hair but some wool from the sheep as well.

I really love creating something for family members or friends. It absorbs all the love I am feeling for them as I labor over it and in my mind it takes on quite a personality of its own. I sat down last night and looked over my inventory of handspun yarn to see what might be next in the queue. I have about three hundred yards of a pink-and-purple mohair I really love but it is hard to find something I can make with just that much. I thought maybe a vest, but that calls for more yardage. Maybe I’ll make myself some mittens with it. The mitten basket is pretty full already, though.

Another option is weaving. Planning a project to weave takes even more calculating than a knitting project and sometimes I am at a loss to make up my mind about which way to go. When I pick a pattern first and just go to the yarn shop to buy what they say I’ll need it becomes so much easier but I am still stuck with piles of beautiful yarn that is calling out to become something. There is still a big bin of undyed mohair waiting to be spun as well, and that can be made thick or thin and dyed or left white.

With so many possibilities, who knew that my biggest dilemma would be making up my mind what to create?

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Mid-Winter Crafting

Where did January go? It’s hard to look back and try to remember what I’ve been doing over the last month or so, but I do have some new creations to show for it.

Here is a sweater I just finished for my grandson’s 8th birthday. He picked out the pattern and the color himself, so I hope he likes it and it gets some use. As it turns out, it was quite challenging for me…not that that is a bad thing. I need to keep my mind nimble and this is one way I do it. The cables and the shaping around the arms really kept me thinking and I had to stop each night when I found the errors beginning to pile up.

I used store-bought wool on this one, just to make sure it was what he wanted. Now, I’m about to embark on his sister’s birthday sweater, a charming little fair-isle knitted cardigan with lots of colors. I picked out hand-spun mohair for this one because I had it on-hand and would like to use some of it up. I’ll show a picture when it is done.

In other news, I had not done any weaving since I finished that big blanket for my friend’s Christmas gift. I got a nudge from a couple friends who had purchased commissions to weave them placemats and a table runner, so I finally got started working on that. Once again, I first looked through my stash for suitable materials and found the colors that were needed for the placemats. I chose a striped pattern and jumped right into it.

What I learned from this project was that the thickness of the yarn needs to be taken into consideration for the final product. I used fine wool yarn I found in the bins my sister passed down to me, and it was in the right colors, so I strung it up to see what it would make. The weft was going to be a chenille yarn to give it a little heft, but I discovered that this overwhelmed the colors in the warp so I backed up and chose something finer to balance with the warp. In the end, it made pretty flimsy placemats so I decided to buy some yarn and do it over.

The new yarn arrives late this week and I will see if a fine yarn for the weft will make the stripes from the warp stand out. It’s all about learning, so I am not upset, just disappointed that the end product was wimpy.

I am working on a tapestry. Not working hard, and not often, but I took a class and wanted to follow through with a “real” project. My thought was that while geometric patterns are good starting points, they get kind of tedious. I went out searching the internet for some sort of a picture that I could duplicate. I chose a poinsettia painting that was a bit abstract with shading and unclear edges to make it harder. I think it is coming out okay although I haven’t worked on it for a few weeks.

I am finding that I need to embroider in some highlights such as the light glinting off the berries and curves in the leaves so that it is not too flat-looking. I will have plenty to talk to the Weavers Guild about when they reconvene in April.

So let’s see, what else? The new dog, Zoey, had her patella surgery and has still been limping after it should have healed so I took her back to the vet to see if it would be helpful to take her through aqua therapy. The vet took one look at her leg and said it was quite bad, in fact he did not think it could be the one he’d operated on. We verified that it was and he said she’d have to go through the surgery again, but at least he did not charge us for the re-do. Afterwards, he said he found the cartilage had grown back and bumped the patella back out of its socket.

We were not happy about having to put Zoey through this twice, but as it turns out she is rebounding very quickly. I’m taking her to the vet soon to verify that it is in good shape and then will go ahead with that water therapy. We are lucky enough to have a small indoor pool, so we will be able to exercise her at home.

Oh, one last big project is going on here. My husband has been taking guitar lessons and has built himself a nice little studio in the basement. He wanted a curtain to give him a more snug corner for his sessions, so we worked together to build a HUGE curtain for three sides of his studio space. I’m talking twenty-five yards of fabric, loads of hems and seams, and 63 button holes to hang on the little hooks. It is a charming little space now, and I enjoy hearing his music.

So now, it is off to the races with the granddaughter sweater, the thicker placemats, and getting the dog back in shape. That ought to take us through the end of February for sure.

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My First Blanket!

I got my second loom with the dream of making wider things, like blankets, with my homespun yarn. I had made one small blanket that required three panels sewn together and decided it just would not do. I learned a lot from that project, but wanted to do something more substantial. Well, after trying the pattern on a small sample and liking what I saw, I dove in and actually purchased wool yarn according to the instructions and made a double-width blanket that makes me so proud!

Is that cool, or what?! It has been gently washed and dried and you can hardly see the line where the fabric folded back on itself to make a double width. This blanket is amazingly big, thick, and warm. I am looking forward to doing more of them with my own wool and mohair.

I also made a batch of cotton dishtowels on the little loom, just to be efficient with my time. If I am able to sell that loom, it will defray the cost of the big one, but it seemed to make sense to do one final project first. I can always make things of a narrower width on the big loom and it is designed to be able to add more shafts if I decide I need to be able to use more than four. (Save that decision for another day.)

We are looking forward to Christmas week with visits from our children, grandchildren, and grand-dogs. We have almost finished cleaning, shopping, and baking and are excited to relax into the experience. Best wishes to all of you for your mid-winter rituals and gatherings.

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December is Weaving Month

After all the farming, shearing, and craft sales are done, the turkey dinner put away, and the Christmas lights put up, now I can settle in to creating new stuff. I have projects underway for both looms — my new big one and the old one as well. I haven’t sold it yet and I’m kind of glad because I expect to split my time between two projects for some variety.

I was thrown off from blogging because my laptop keyboard got wonky and I could only use it with a separate keyboard and mouse plugged in. Now, after getting a new one and having to download gobs of software, our internet is at a crawl so I am typing one fingertip at a time on my cell phone. It seems like everywhere I turn there is another obstacle.

But, back to weaving, I have a special project planned on my big loom. I want to make a blanket for a friend. My plan is to make it double-wide. This is a cool technique in which you weave two layers at once and connect them on one side so that when you take it off the loom it opens out to twice the width. I know, it’s like magic!

I’m spending some good money on the supplies, so I did a small practice run with my mohair to make sure I could make it work.

4 inches wide, 2 layers
Opened out to 8 inches

It did work! The log cabin pattern didn’t come out right, but I figured out what I’d done wrong so that when I do it for real it should be as perfect as I am capable of.

On the smaller loom, I’m using my stash of cotton thread to make dishcloths. I tediously measured out all the warp strings over a couple days and am now beginning the slow process of feeding them one at a time onto the loom. If I keep it to only one hour sessions, I don’t get stiff and frustrated with the tangling threads. Slow and steady wins the race!

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Picket Fence Pottery Sale

Someone asked how and when to find the sale where my yarn and critters would be. Here is a link to their Facebook page. It is in Paw Paw, Michigan and the sale is the next two Saturdays (9am) and Sundays (noon).


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Ready For Sale

My friend’s annual pottery sale is starting this weekend and I have been busily creating things from the farm to sell. We use stacked wooden crates to make a display that is easy to transport and doesn’t take up more than my share of space.

This year I was ready early so I started thinking of other things to sell. Besides all my yarn, I threw in packages of wool and mohair that spinners would enjoy trying out, with an invitation to contact me if they want more. Then I dug up a pattern for little knitted sweaters for Xmas tree ornaments. It was interesting to see how different weights of yarn made different size sweaters.

Last, I pulled out a box of needle-felted animals I’d made years ago and never sold. I just set them at $5 each to get rid of them. I’m sure I’ll make lots of other stuff to take up that space in the closet.

It’s fun to anticipate possibly making a few hundred dollars from my efforts. If I remember right, keeping it under $2000 frees me from having to pay sales tax.

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Spinning Frenzy

We are preparing for a trip and working like crazy to get the farm winterized and ready for us to be away. I have a new farm sitter, a neighbor’s child who will come over to care for the animals after school. My friend will take in the new dog and hopefully Zoey will be a well-behaved guest. She is so much more docile than any terrier we have ever had and is gradually becoming dependable to do all her “pottying” outside but in an unfamiliar environment I would not trust her yet.

When I get home, I’ll have a few final days to prepare for selling my handspun yarn at a friend’s craft sale. I have made skeins and skeins of the stuff, and could just keep going on it for another month if I had time. Whatever doesn’t sell will determine the projects I’ll work on with my loom or knitting needles this winter. Here is a neat experiment I made up, after a class in “spinning with locks” at the Michigan Fiber Festival. It is two strands of white Shetland wool, plied together with loose pieces of mohair. The loose stuff stays soft and shiny when it hasn’t been twisted up, so I think it is quite pretty.

I don’t know how well it will hold up when it is laundered, but it is fun to create something totally unique. If I had more time, I would do more things like this. Let’s see if someone else likes it and snatches it up.

We dragged one of the goats’ big wooden spools out of their pasture over the weekend because it was rotting away, and today we fetched another from the local energy co-op. It is surprising to me that they give them away for free but apparently they do not get re-used.

Now, the pasture is all prepped for winter…well, almost. We had planted three nice shade trees for the animals to lounge under and put wire fences around them to protect the trunks from the goats. Goats will do as goats will do, though, and they managed to get at the bark enough to kill one of the trees. We put up a temporary electric fence for while we are gone and will make a wider permanent fence around the trunks when we get back. I guess it is always something.

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October Is Fiber Month at Bluestem Pond

I’ve dyed almost all the yarn I’d spun from the springtime, and yesterday I sheared both the goats again. I have concluded that it is easier to dye all the fiber as it comes out of the sink so I don’t have to wait for it to dry. If I have tubs of beautiful colored batts to play with, I have a lot more flexibility to mix and blend colors and types of fiber.

Noah, the Pygora Prince

I also no longer worry like I once did about carefully measuring the dye powders or using all one color. Now, I just follow my whim and play with it, accepting what the dye pot delivers as a happy accident – or a disappointing one. I rarely dislike the colors it gives me, though. Each has its own appeal.

I was dying raw pygora fiber for the first time and I washed and treated it as I do the mohair. Surprisingly, the pygora has different properties and seems to have felted up quite a bit. I hope I will be able to tease it apart after it dries, or I’ll have to throw it all away. I was planning to make a color to contrast the red-orange of the mohair. I tried green and a little bit of bright blue just for some variety, and then threw some mohair into the dye pot to use up the blue dye that didn’t take. The mohair came out nice and fluffy but the blue pygora is kind of solid. At least I know it is due to the difference in the fiber, not the way I treated it. To tell the truth, pygora may be more trouble than it’s worth.

I am coming down to the wire in preparing fiber to sell in November. We’ll see how much more I can spin before then. I may provide some batts of fiber and see if there are any spinners out there who would be interested in those. Whatever doesn’t sell will go into knitting or weaving at my house.

Thank you to Eddy and Noah for taking off their coats to give to the cause!

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Combed, Spun, and Dyed Shetland Yarn

I finished all that work and spun up all the wool from one sheep that I had carefully combed out. The combing got out almost all the bits of hay and vegetable matter, and as I spun it I shook out the remaining specks so that the yarn is nice and clean — just wool. From ten pounds of raw wool, I ended up with about three and a half pounds of spun yarn. All the dirty or stained stuff was tossed out and then the little slubs of short wool that would have pilled the yarn were taken outside to mulch our baby trees. It seems like a lot of waste, but I made enough yarn from one sheep for two adult-sized sweaters. On average, it should take about 1000 yards, so I made up two batches, each with more than that much.

Today I got to the fun part — picking colors and dying the yarn.

I Googled “trending colors for clothing” and found that this season they are pushing vibrant reds, yellows, and greens, among other things. I dyed mine “Avocado”, “Saffron”, and “Poppy Red” this time. The green came out a little uneven, but perhaps that is some of the hand-spun charm that people will want to buy at my friend’s craft sale in November.

Next on the agenda is spinning the carded wool, mohair, and pygora fiber. I have to decide if it will all be as fine a weight as this yarn or if I ought to do something heavier. I have no idea what would sell better. It probably just depends on who shows up that day and what grabs their fancy.

I plan to weave a blanket for one of my friends for Christmas and make up a batch of nice placemats or table runners. I really do have to make that new loom earn its keep. I am having fun and feel like I am reaping the benefits of a long season of hard work.

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Learning New Things

I am always up for learning additional fiber-related skills, so when the local Handweavers Guild offered up a day to learn tapestry weaving, I jumped on board. It is coming up in October but I decided I wanted to get a head start so I’d know what I was getting into. I went out and bought a relatively inexpensive starter loom and watched their videos. Then, off I went on my little adventure.

I pulled out a couple tubs of miscellaneous scrap yarns, primarily mohair that I had dyed and spun. As I looked it over, I thought to myself — what kind of a picture or design could I make with these? I like the blue, so I started with water. Then I thought I ought to try adding an embedded shape so I inserted a fish. It was harder than I thought to make an actual shape. I used up most of the blue so I tried making waves, once again seeing that it was not so easy to do on the fly. After an inch of white, I did not know where to go with it so I aimed for some gravelly beach and then some soil, leading to grass and on a whim I added a tree trunk. After three or four inches of the grass and tree I got bored so I used some autumn-y yarn and put leaves on the tree until I got too close to the top and had to finish it up.

So, here is what I learned so far about tapestry weaving. One, you should have a plan before you start. Making it up as you go along is fine for learning the ropes but doesn’t make a very sophisticated end product unless you have some artistic talent. Two, making a picture with smooth curves is hard. It is sort of pixilated because of the over-under pattern that alternates every row. Once you smash it down, you don’t notice so much, but while you are putting it together it gets confusing for what to do on the next row. Three, the little tool at the top serves to lift every other warp string and turning it one way or the other reverses the order (nice simple mechanism), but I kept forgetting which way to turn it. I finally made a little cheat sheet to remind me so I did not have to do trial-and-error each time across.

There are probably many other things I learned NOT to do, but now I feel like I am ready to take a class and learn the right way. I do realize that having a weaving, tapestry, knitting, spinning, and wool combing project ongoing in every corner of the house is a bit much. All this is simultaneous with the canning and freezing that is never-ending this time of the year. I am proud to say that I picked and processed twelve jars of raspberry jam this morning. I think I have made about all the stuff I need to make me feel guilty for not using it all up over the winter.

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Orchard Harvest

This has been a great year for fruit in Southwest Michigan. Even my little orchard has produced like magic, and I don’t know if it was due to the good weather in the spring or just what I should have expected in the fourth year.

Can you believe these peaches? They aren’t big like the ones in the market, but they may not be done yet. I picked a few last week and put them into a paper bag to ripen. They sort of did get ripe but I don’t think they were ready. As time moves on, the ones on the tree are getting bigger. I wonder how you know that they are ready to pick? Maybe once the yellow jackets start swarming them that will mean they are at their peak.

I have four apple trees, all different varieties. Two of them produced really well, but I am a little confused about the fourth one. I thought it had a lot of fruit but when I went by yesterday there were only three or four. There were a few on the ground with tooth marks in them. Did the deer come and pick them all off? I should have documented how full it was last month but didn’t think to do it.

The last tree is a Honeycrisp, the priciest apple in the grocery store. It hasn’t flourished for some reason and the trunk is half the size of the other trees. It does have twenty or so nice sized apples on it, so once I decide it is time to pick them I can compare the four trees for the best product.

It has been a long time coming, waiting for the orchard to produce. Now that it has, (once I decide it is time to pick), I will have to come up with ways to preserve the fruit. Apple sauce, apple pie filling, dried apples, and who knows what else. It is getting so that I can’t leave the farm from June through October without wasting months of effort in the food we grow. I wonder if I will some day tire of the commitment.

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New Wider Loom

I have spent about a year learning to weave on the floor loom I inherited from my sister. I have made a lot of interesting things and was inspired to join the local Handweavers Guild where I have met several women that I really like and expect will teach me a lot. I wove a few rainbow-hued altar cloths for my church that were quite well received. (Apparently everyone did not see the glaring errors that I saw, and I did my best to keep my mouth shut about it.)

The first loom had a maximum weaving width of 22 inches. The widest thing I was able to make, once the fabric drew in towards the center, was 18 inches. I did make one mohair blanket but had to do it in three strips which I then sewed together. I really want to use my nice Shetland wool to make blankets one day, so I began looking at wider looms. I ended up buying one from one of my new friends at the Handweavers Guild.

Here is a photo of the new loom, with the little starter loom in the background. Man, does it look small now, compared to the new one! I

Macomber 4-shaft loom, 40″ wide.

I am beginning to imagine the first blanket I’d like to make and am searching for a good pattern to use. Depending on who it is for, I’ll dye my yarn in the colors that fit their tastes. This will be fun! I have to decide which fiber to use, how thick the yarn should be, how many yards to set aside. So many decisions to make but it is all up to me and the pressure comes only from myself. Bliss.

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Combing My Wool

I read up on how to handle wool, differently than I do with my goat’s mohair. The book told me that the drum carder I use to make batts of fiber to spin is not the best thing for wool. Instead, it said, I should comb it out with these giant sharp fork-like tools.

On the left is a pair of dog brushes that I thought would work until I read the book. The tools are resting on a big bundle of washed wool from one sheep. I have been slowly working through it and making little clouds of combed fiber called “roving”.

This is a tedious process but it gives me some satisfaction to watch the pile of roving grow and the pile of raw wool diminish. I am about 2/3 of the way through it. When my arms get tired from pulling the combs through the wool, I take a break and switch to my spinning wheel. In a few hours I can fill a bobbin with half the wool needed to create about 200 yards of yarn. Two bobbins are then plied together and the resulting yarn is bound up and labeled. One day, I will go out to the dye pots and pick the colors and how much yarn to dye in each.

At the end of the day I go watch TV and knit. It is a good thing for me to have creative projects to give me purpose and goals. In the next post, I will tell you about the weaving phase of my fiber projects.

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Checking In…

So here it is, mid-August already. We have had a few difficult weeks in the family. Both our dogs passed away– one from a progressive illness that had us agonizing over how to decide when his quality of life was so reduced that we should give him a mercy. A week later, the other dog came trotting up to me and her legs suddenly gave out from under and she died about 20 minutes later. All I can guess is she’d had a heart attack, perhaps contributed to by the grief of having her friend disappear. It was a painful shock and we cried for days, but at least the second time it did not drag out. Both dogs were twelve years old. We’d expected to have them with us a few years longer.

We were already working on a plan to find a companion for Beezee, and debating what breed or mix we should search for. Now, it is a matter of starting over. I’ve have mixed feelings because I could never replace either dog in our hearts, but the house is so empty without their presence. We decided that as we are older, a new puppy might be too big a step so perhaps a young dog who needs a loving family. I have my wish list for temperament, and my husband’s allergies require a “hypo-allergenic” animal.

In the end, we chose some poodle mix breeders and the first one we called had a dog whose owners had just returned her due to a change in their circumstances. She is an Australian Labradoodle, bred to be calm, intelligent, and easy on the allergies. We went to see her with my insistence that we would take a week to think it over, and it took me only a few minutes to change my mind and ask to take her home.

So here is our new girl, Zoey. She is about Beezee’s size and is almost two years old.

I am surprised to discover that Zoey does not understand a thing I say! I was so used to our dogs having a large vocabulary of our little phrases and commands, I guess I took all that for granted. It seems the only standard command she knows is “Sit”, and even that only works about 25% of the time. I really have my work cut out for me. We have been working on sit-stay-come and she is getting the hang of it if there is a treat involved.

We were on pins and needles for the first few days, waiting to see if my husband’s allergies would kick in, but we have finally decided that it will be okay. We also have been playing with potential names because the one she came with just didn’t roll off the tongue. Now, not only does she need to learn all her commands, she also has to learn a new name. She is more or less housetrained, although she has twice pooped in her crate when we left her home alone for a while and we came home to a real mess to clean up. I am hoping that it is just insecurity and that as she sees she can trust us to give her a stable home she will relax.

So, as you animal lovers can imagine, it has been a hard time for us but having a new little person in the house is lightening the mood. I don’t know yet if we will get a second dog at some point to keep Zoey company, but I think it would be wise to get her trained up and oriented first so she could show the ropes to a new addition. This may take months, years, or never happen. There is no rush.

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Fiber Season

I am preparing for a trip, and worrying over all the details I will be leaving in my husband’s hands while I am gone. He is quite capable, but we divide up the labor on the farm and neither of us is practiced at the other’s tasks. I always get like this when I have an impending trip, I know that as soon as I am on the road all these worries vanish from my mind. It is the preparation that gets to me.

One of the things I wanted to get finished up before I leave is processing the wool, mohair, and pygora that was sheared off the animals last week. I am well-practiced at the mohair and know exactly what to do. The wool, though, requires some study. I bought a book about it and learned that washing it in hot water and Dawn is not a good method and will weaken the hair and mat it up more than necessary. I studied their instructions and ordered an Australian product that is better for “scouring” the wool, (this being the proper term for washing it). They suggest a lot of painstaking steps that are new to me and appeal to my scientific mindset. It will take some time, though.

Pygora (left) and Mohair (right)

I already washed, dried, picked apart, and carded the first sheep’s hair (with Dawn) and a lot of it had to be discarded due to matting. I started with about ten pounds and ended up with four. Perhaps when I get down to working on the second one I will discover just how much a more careful approach makes a difference.

This morning I carded the pygora fiber. It is much shorter than the angora goat’s mohair, but this might be because Noah is young or the way he was sheared. I’m interested to see how the yarn comes out. It is very fine and fluffy, so it could make a soft, soft scarf or sweater. I will enjoy spinning it up when the growing season winds down.

In the mean time, we are harvesting asparagus, strawberries, and salad greens now. (One more thing my husband will have to do with me away from the farm.) We have an outlandish number of pea vines that are just beginning to pod (if that’s a verb.) The peas won’t be big enough to pick till I get home, though. I want to get out and spray the orchard once more today to insure that the diseases and pests don’t foil the wonderful harvest I am anticipating.

I am sad to see some chicken drama out at the coop. Chickens can be so mean to one another. One has been acting sad and I found her hiding her head in the corner, so I took her out of the run and put her into a box by herself. Someone had been pecking at her and she had some blood on her neck. After a couple days she had perked up and I offered her a chance to go join the flock while I fed the goats. When I came back in, she was cornered in the barn where another chicken was attacking her. Why do they do this? There is plenty of room for everyone and I don’t understand why they gang up on the weakest ones. It is dismaying that the animal kingdom is not a lovely and kind as I’d like it to be.

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