Shearing Day Come and Gone

Thursday, the sheep shearer did indeed show up. He backed his big pickup truck into the barn and set up a metal frame from which to hang up the shearing motor over his head. Then, he laid out a big felt pad on the floor and went right out to grab the first customer. I had cleaned out the stall, stashed the chickens in the coop, and tricked the goat and sheep into the enclosed area of the barnyard so they could be captured easily — well, relatively easily. They don’t do much to help.

I had brought out our bathroom scale so he could weigh them, and was surprised that under all that hair, Dot is considerably bigger and heavier than her sister. If anything, I’d have guessed the opposite because Dot is the most timid and least likely to get a big share at mealtime. Now, they look like cautious little deer as they peer at me suspiciously from a distance. This is a bit of a problem because I have to give them their annual vaccines and worming medicines. I managed to corner Dot in the goat shed and press her against the wall long enough to administer the two injections. Cookie runs if it even looks like I might be coming her way. Somehow, I’ll have to get ahold of her soon while the meds are still fresh.

Eddy is the same big lug as always, right there next to me to see what trouble he can cause. I opened up a new section of the pasture for them as a treat for enduring the shearing. It was the section with the three black gum trees we planted in the fall. I hadn’t even finished hooking up all the electric fences before Eddy started peeling bark off the tree trunks. The little jerk! I had to quickly chase him off and go restring the fence as it was before. My husband will build some sort of fencing to put around the trunks before we open it up again.

My next trick will be to wash and dye all this new fiber. The procedure for the wool is different than for the mohair but I researched and printed it out for my folder in the barn.

The Skinny Legs Girls

I have to decide on this year’s color scheme. Maybe I should start out with the first year’s wool being natural color, no dying at all. I could do Eddy’s mohair in gentle earth tones for a fuzzy contrast. Hmmm, I’ve got to give this some thought. I normally make a day of it so that after I wash the fiber, I get right on with the dying and don’t have to dry or re-wet it in between sessions. However, now I have three times as much to work with.

So, one more “first” on the farm has been faced and conquered. Each new experience gives me a bit more confidence and another skill in my toolkit. I wish someone was giving me badges like they did when I was a little girl scout. I’d have quite the sash to wear by now!

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Crafty Stuff

I’ve been on a creative kick the last couple of weeks and I want to show off a couple of my latest projects. First, here is an old jute rug that had faded in the sun and suffered water damage from rain blowing into the back porch. I restored some of the old color and then painted it with a stencil to make it interesting and camouflage the present and future stains. Down below this picture, I’ll rewind to show the process.

Here is the rug after I soaked it in a 40-gallon trash can with olive green dye. It weighed a ton and was stiff and misshapen. I took a rake and pounded out the lumps until it was more or less flat, then gave it a few days to dry out. Today I used a stencil and painted exterior latex paint over it in twenty blocks. It was tedious but I get such satisfaction from bringing something back to life that it was worth it to me. I really think the result is fantastic!

Second, I have been experimenting with my loom and trying some harder techniques with leftover yarn, just to see if I can make them work. This project used “overshot”, something totally new to me. I had some troubles and learned some things, but the end result was pretty nice. I am okay with some flaws, and the next time will be better due to the things I learned.

Made up into pillow covers
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Shearing Time Is Approaching

I have found a sheep shearer who is willing to swing around by our farm to do the sheep AND the goat. I usually shear Eddy the Angora goat by hand but it would save me so much trouble to have him done by a professional. The shearer reluctantly agreed to adding Eddy to the job, for which I am grateful. I don’t know why he was so hesitant about the goat — maybe because they behave differently from sheep?

Eddy the Angora

Eddy has the most luscious long, curly locks but he is feeling hot and itchy by the end of winter and just wants them off. Same with the sheep — they are wide and heavy and their wool is getting matted and dirty. I see their spindly little legs poking out from under the pile of wool and wonder how they will look after it has been shaved off.

Cookie the Shetland

I am trying to trust that the shearer will come through for me although I had expected him to call by now. I’m paying him well for his time. He said he’d probably charge the same amount if I had six sheep instead of just two because it is more for the travel to the farm and set up. I’m fine with it because the alternative is a long day of struggle on my part. I’m hoping that this time next week I can show the “after” shots.

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Spring is Back On Track

It looks like we survived all the freezing nights, and things are springing up in earnest now. It feels so great to wander the farm to find new sprouts and see and hear the wildlife coming out of hibernation. I spent an hour quietly fishing yesterday and watched a little shorebird prowling the edge of the pond and plucking out treats. I think it has a nest somewhere nearby.

The orchard seems to be doing well now. The peach and apple trees are blooming, although I haven’t seen honeybees on the flowers. I hope the blooms indicate that the trees were not damaged by the freezing nights and I’ll finally get to harvest some fruit this year.

We put in two rhubarb plants last year. One got damaged and is just barely showing a couple shoots, but the other is already in full display of robust leaves and is developing a spectacular bloom. I don’t know how much it will open up because I don’t recall ever seeing a rhubarb bloom before.

I love rhubarb pie, so I am trying to patiently wait till it has gotten a good foothold and won’t mind if I chop off a few of its stalks. I’ve picked the first asparagus, and there is some spinach that over-wintered so had a head start in the garden.

Both my husband and I worked hard all week. he ordered a mountain of mulch and distributed it around the landscaping, one wheelbarrow at a time. I spent my time cleaning out the animals’ living areas. I scrubbed and refreshed the chicken coop. This is such a messy job, I do it only once a year. The chickens were furious that I’d locked them out of their nest boxes while I worked, and squawked angrily the whole time.

I also hauled away most of the old straw from their run and laid it around the bottom of the orchard trees for mulch. It’s probably full of great minerals and nutrition for the tree roots. I had cleaned out the goat shed earlier, and all that dirty straw is still in a pile waiting for me to pick it up and move it out of the barnyard. I need a new burst of energy before I tackle that task. I was tired and filthy by the end of the day, but felt really good about caring for the animals.

I also scrubbed out the back porch of all the winter dust and grime, and added some polish to the poor, tired furniture. Then, we had all my siblings and their spouses over for the first post-vaccination party. It was surreal having so many people here at once, un-masked. I got used to it after several double-takes to remind myself of what the CDC says is safe to do, and even gave some hugs before everyone went home. We grilled sandwiches and I brought out a new coffee cake recipe I had tried.

It’s called a turban, due to the interesting shape. It is a crescent of dough wrapped up around a dried-fruit compote and then tucked inside another thin layer of dough that folds over the top. It was pretty but there was one little pocket of raw dough hiding in the center so if I make it again I’ll have to find a way to cook it a little longer.

All-in-all, I think we have finally come out of winter and are fully into spring. Hooray!

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Protecting the Orchard III

How are ya, Buds?

The weather forecast says the freezing scare is now past us, at least for the next week. Last night I repeated the sprinkling strategy to apply another coat of ice to the orchard. When I looked out the window at first light, I did not see the icy patch that I expected. I went out to look closer and inexplicably, the hose had come apart from the sprinkler and was lying on the ground. That means it poured out for four hours into the field.

It was even colder last night than the night before and when I got up it was only 26 degrees. I don’t know if this negates the whole experiment with sprinkling because the buds were probably damaged anyway. They look okay to me, but I am far from an expert.

I guess I’ll have to give it a month or so and then we’ll see if any fruit forms.

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Sock repair

Let’s divert from my worry over the frozen orchard and switch over to socks. I have come to the point in my knitting journey in which I make all my own socks. It is fun, a great creative outlet, and a step towards sustainability that makes me feel good.

I have tried a number of patterns and have finally settled into one that starts at the toe and works up. I have enough experience now that I no longer have to look at the instructions and I can judge how to change the counting depending on the weight of the yarn and size of the needles. I found a method of casting off at the end that makes the top stretchy so there is no trouble sliding it over the bendy parts of my foot. It is fun.

One of the early socks I did was a much heavier pattern but quite durable and warm. It takes you back and forth over the sole so that it is double thickness, which was entertaining and a challenge to learn. I’ve only done it once, though, because it’s too thick to wear with normal shoes. I was in a stage where would make the toe in a different color just because I liked it. When I made this sock, I grabbed a ball of black yarn for the toe without regard to its properties. I think it was cotton yarn, with the rest of the sock being wool.

So here is the problem I encountered. The contrasting black toe was way too wimpy for a sock. It kept developing holes that I would have to repair with a darning needle. (My mother taught me to darn socks when I was a child.) After the third time that I slipped them on and found a new hole, I decided it was time to either throw them out or find a way to fix them.

I dug through my bowl of hand-spun mohair and picked the color that most matched the sock, and made a new toe-up section. Then I cut off the black toe with the holes and grafted the new green one onto the old sock. With the exception of the visible stitching, I am really happy with it. Is it my imagination, or is that mohair toe a lot softer and warmer than the original cotton one?

This is what I love about making my own stuff. I am free to do lots of experimental things and it is not a stressful situation of measuring and buying expensive supplies. If something doesn’t work, I will just try something else. When something does work, I feel so clever!

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Protecting the Orchard II

This morning I threw on some warm clothes at 5:45 to go out in the dark and check on the orchard. The grass made a gentle crushing sound as I crossed the frosted lawn. Leaving the driveway and approaching the orchard, it changed abruptly to a crackly crunch and I saw through the first light of dawn that everything the sprinkler had touched held a thick coating of ice. Did I just doom my trees to another year of no harvest?

When my husband came downstairs, I moaned about our big mistake. He told me the internet article that recommended this way of protecting from frost said that although it was counter-intuitive, the ice actually keeps the buds warmer than allowing the frost to settle in:

When you use sprinklers to prevent freezing injury, you are using the energy that water releases when it freezes, and changes from a liquid to a solid, to keep the temperature in the ice right at the freezing point – 32 degrees F.

The article goes on to provide lots of detailed measurements for determining when to turn the sprinklers on and off and on what range of cold this will work. I don’t have the skills or the patience to figure out how to take all these measurements, so I will just go on faith and see what happens this year.

I wish it wouldn’t be such a long wait to find out if this was a good or a dumb move.

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Protecting the Orchard

Ok, last April we knew the last freeze was on its way and we lovingly covered the apple and peach trees with sheets to save them from damage. Three nights in a row. The blossoms stayed on the trees and we felt so smart. By mid-season, the peach tree did produce lots of fruit but the apple trees flopped, four trees producing a total of two apples.

Once again, we are expecting temperatures down to 28 degrees by early morning tomorrow, enough to destroy our chances for apples. I am trying another strategy to win the game this year. We set up a high sprinkler that reaches all the trees’ buds and set it on a timer to spray from 1:30 am to 5:30 am. (I could have set an alarm and gone out in my pajamas, but I think the timer is a better idea.)

Will this work? Who knows. wish us luck!

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Future Tree Dreams

As we have been locked down this past year, we saved a lot of eating-out and travel money and are debating where to spend the savings. We settled on the future. Specifically, we are buying trees and supporting the Arbor Foundation.

We bought three large black gum saplings in the fall and planted them in the pasture to one day provide some shade for the sheep. Then, when we sent a gift to the Arbor Foundation, they sent us 10 little trees, really just sticks, that got our imaginations rolling. Where might the tall grass prairie benefit from some nice trees? Once our tree juices were flowing, we got more ambitious and ordered some more mature ones to plant this spring.

Walnut-lined country road

We ordered a sycamore to put in the field next to a bluebird house. Then we ordered a little grove to border the pond. We mowed the fields for the new growing season but carefully saved the ten-or-so oak trees that the squirrels had planted over the last few years. This week, I took the bucket of walnuts that I had used to dye my mohair for a nice brown sweater, and I planted two nuts each in 36 holes around the farm. Who knows if they will sprout and grow, but what do I have to lose? Maybe one day the driveway will be bordered like this picture. Maybe not.

The sycamore arrived this week, however it turned out they shipped a persimmon tree. The nursery apologized and said we should just keep it and they would send a sycamore. Two for the price of one! I am finding that I love the feeling of heady power I get from designing and nurturing the habitat we wish for. The trees we planted early-on before we even built the house are already tall and beautiful, and that is after only ten years. If we are lucky enough to live here twenty or even thirty more years, we will look back on our early decisions with such pride and gratitude.

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Sock Upgrade

I like knitting socks. They are useful, feel good on my feet, and make me feel self-sufficient. However, I have learned over time how to make them better. I had knitted a couple pairs last winter but didn’t like to wear them because for one, they were too wide and short for me and two, the tops were not stretchy and were hard to slide over my heel. So, these socks sat in the back of the drawer till I thought maybe I should just throw them out. Besides, they looked like they were meant for hobbits.

Before and after socks

Then, my sustainability urge nudged me and said, “Why don’t you just unravel them and try again?” I replied, “Duh!” So, I cut the tight top edge off (because it is hard to undo) and methodically unwound the knitting into a nice little ball, about two inches in diameter, and started over from the base of the toe.

I re-did them from memory (because I’ve done enough now that I don’t have to check the instructions) and now they fit just great. I have also learned a method of binding off the cuff so that it is nice and stretchy and easy to get on and off. How about that?

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A Knitting Lesson Learned

Today’s entry is only likely to relate to those of you who like knitting. Last fall, I picked but a really neat sweater pattern. I had planned to make it from my goat’s mohair, but was unable to spin the right weight yarn to make it work. I had sadly given up on it and just knitted a different pattern, but my husband surprised me by purchasing the right yarn at the local shop so I could try again. I like supporting local merchants, but it is shocking how much store-bought yarn costs! I am so used to making my own from my goat that it really blew me away.

This sweater has more of a story behind it, though. The pattern has this lovely color pattern and also a textural feature to break up the monotony of a smooth surface. I got the bright idea to use the colors in the textured sections rather than just go ahead in solid blue. I loved the way it looked, but when the body was done I discovered that I couldn’t get it over my head!

Apparently, when you carry a second color of yarn along behind so that you can use it here and there, it takes away all the stretch of the knitting. It looked pretty neat on the inside, though. The only way to salvage the sweater was to cut the background yarn and pull it out from all the rows where it wasn’t needed. It was an experiment I wasn’t sure would work.

View from the inside

In the end, success! I did learn a lot from the experience and hopefully these are several mistakes I won’t make again. I am quite happy with my new spring sweater.

Finished product

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Some Serious Snow

February seems to be the big month for hard freezes and deep snow. Last night, we got our biggest snow dump so far and I did a lot of shoveling this morning to make a path for myself out to the barn and for the animals to get to their food.

It was not an unpleasant chore, with the sun coming up and blue skies overhead. The snow was cold enough that it was still fluffy, not too sticky and wet. I enjoyed the two-step process of flinging the first six inches off the top and then scooping a smooth path down to where I had packed it down with my boots over the last couple of weeks.

I looked over the average temperatures in our area and we are colder than normal but not outrageously bad. The good news was that a month from now we can expect to see 40 degree days and a month after that into the 50’s. I can live with this cycle. Someone has pointed out the value of a good deep freeze to kill off insects that do more damage after a light winter. There is nothing to complain about here, as long as we have power and food.

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Remembering to Play

Snow shoe tracks

It’s been cold, 18 degrees at mid-day. Still, I was thinking that Michigan is really a special place in the winter and I need to get out there and quit hiding from it. I am so glad that I forced myself to bundle up, strap on a pair of snowshoes, and explore the six inches of fluffy snow that fell overnight.

I went out without company, because I’m sure the dogs would yank me flat on my face if I tried to juggle two leashes and ski poles. I wanted my husband to come with me but he begged off. I had to get past the crusty driveway first and the grips caught and almost sent me sprawling before I remembered the technique. After that it was just me and the quiet “thwomp, thwomp” as I carefully lifted and set down one snowshoe after the other.

The snow was so fresh that all that was left of the tracks from walking the dogs yesterday were faint dents in the path. There were no fresh tracks from the local wildlife yet. Well, I take that back–the snowmobilers had packed down a trail along the highway. They can hardly wait to get out there when we get a decent snow. Most of my adventure was on our private land, though, under the trees and across the prairie.

I realized when I took off the snowshoes that I’d forgotten how they worked and had gone out with two left feet. Maybe that is the source of some of my awkwardness. I’ll be ready the next time. Maybe tomorrow afternoon I’ll play again.

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Farm Video Day

I took a couple videos of some of the interesting behaviors of our farm animals, and uploaded them to YouTube for those of you who might enjoy them.

One is of the amazing Sandhill Cranes that winter in our area. I feel really fortunate that this is their gathering place because they are beautiful and noisy, circling our skies. I’ve always felt like they are remnants of the dinosaurs grackling their way overhead. Some days the weather conditions rouse them all to flock in squadrons over our heads. Watch till the end and you’ll see the convergence of a whole army.

Another one I was delighted to see was the Shetland Sheep who were pleased to find a day that was perfect for playing. Dot and Cookie have little horn stubs where I believe the buds were stunted when they were babies, but they still have that urge to play at battle, butting one another for fun. When they are in this mood, they run in little vertical hops, which I believe is called “gamboling”. It just cracks me up, and is a rare treat when my visit coincides with them being in the mood to entertain me.

I also have an update on Mickey the cat, who surprised me last week by appearing up in the loft that I thought had no access. I risked life and limb to climb up and carry him down to safety. So, the next day there he was again. I decided to ignore him and go about my business, feeding everyone their breakfast. Sure enough, when I came in from feeding the flocks, there he was eating his breakfast downstairs. I have not been able to catch him going up or down so I am not sure how he does it, but I suspect he hops up on various footholds and cabinets, probably not by the ladder I’d thought he had used. My husband says there are plenty of mice up there, pulling shreds of pink insulation out of the rafters for their nests in the winter. This is probably what Mickey is using for his entertainment and I guess I’d rather not watch anyway.

It was a cold and dark January and we did not do much outside, other than trips out the the barn and back to visit and feed the animals. Last week we were in serious need of a project so my husband and I trudged out to the vineyard to prune down the concord grapes. Last year I wasn’t able to harvest any, and I read that you need to prune them back in the dead of winter so that they produce in the next year. I really missed my delicious grape juice! I did my side of the vines as fast as I could, until my fingers got so cold that the shears started dropping out of my hands as if I had no muscles to grip them. That was my clue that it was time to come in.

My indoor projects still take most of my time, knitting and weaving. I made a set of cotton dishtowels on the loom that turned out pretty well. I gave away three of the best ones and kept for ourselves two that had a lot of flaws. I am getting better at learning to catch mistakes earlier and going back to fix them, so the end product is getting to be more and more respectable.

I am also working on another colorful sweater for which my husband picked out yarn for my birthday. It is fun but now I am into the more tedious part so I took a detour to make some socks. I am getting pretty good at the sock pattern I’ve been using and I no longer have to look at the instructions. I made the last pair for myself and now and am working on a pair as a gift since I have a good idea of how to adjust the size.

The yarn was on clearance at the local yarn shop and is thicker than “real” sock yarn, so it makes a hefty, warm sock, good for the next trip out to the vineyard. It is so fun to create useful things!

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Cats in the Barn

We have a nice catwalk set up so the cats can climb up to the hay loft to sleep in the warmest corners of the barn. Emmie spends a lot of her time up there, watching with her glowing green eyes from her high vantage point. Today, though, something caught my eye and I looked up to the other side of the barn that has no ramp and Mickey had somehow climbed up there.

I don’t really know how he did it, unless he hopped up that ladder that was leaning vertically against the wall. If that was the case, he probably couldn’t get back down. You always see stories of the Fire Department having to come rescue cats stranded up in trees. I considered leaving him there to see if he could figure it out, but what if he was cold and hungry? He wasn’t speaking to me, just watching.

So, I leaned the ladder out at a better angle and cautiously climbed up high enough to reach for him. He let me pull him onto my shoulder and I very carefully stepped down one rung at a time until I was back on solid ground. I really don’t feel secure on ladders, so this was a gift to the little guy. I hope he doesn’t make a habit of this!

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Dark Days of January

This is about as far as we get out into the world nowadays. We took a stroll to the mailbox and listened to the crackle and drip as the heavy ice and snow cover began melting off the trees. We were fortunate that it did not break any big branches this time although the electric company alerted us that some neighborhoods have lost power.

I am content to stay home during these dark gray days, waiting for the sun to fight its way through the January Michigan skies. The goat and sheep are lying out under their big wooden spools, which surprises me. When it was just goats, they preferred to stay dry in their shed. The sheep don’t mind the wetness as much and the three of them are a family now so the goat follows them into the pasture. It’s pretty dreary.

I have been watching videos, reading books, setting up my loom for the next project, and now I’ve started on a knitting project for which my husband picked out the yarn for my birthday. It seems quiet and solemn in the house. That’s ok. It just fits the mood of the weather, the quarantine, and the days waiting for the change in government to turn over. Nowhere to go but up.

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Playing With Fire

We decided to do a little more clearing of brush out by the highway. We generally do this in the spring before the leaves come out, but the pandemic has us searching for interesting things to do at home so we don’t go insane. We hauled several trailers-full of sticks back to form a mountain at the fire ring and fed it until all that remained was a mound of embers that were still glowing softly into the evening. It was an eerie phenomenon, like a living thing.

Just in case the wind picked up overnight, we doused it with the hose before turning in, and this morning I turned the quiet white ash with a pitchfork and found the red coals living underneath that burst with smoke as they were touched by fresh oxygen.

I’ve always been attracted to playing with fire, be it messing with candles at the dinner table or tending a bonfire. As a child, my house was nestled within a huge oak grove and in the fall everyone in the family was forcibly recruited to help rake it all up, haul it to the garden, and burn it away. Tending the fire was the stunning conclusion of the big family effort and had almost a carnival feel to it. It always fascinated me to watch the coals and watch the effect of a sudden breeze or the dump of another bedspread full of new leaves. I learned to judge what was safe and what was the risk of flying ash or creeping boundaries getting it out of control. It was exciting and comforting at the same time. At the end of the day, we’d all come inside smelling of smoke and feeling satisfied with a day well spent.

It comes back to me here on the farm when we cook down the dry brush in our little fire ring. It is better controlled than the leafy bonfires of my childhood and we always have a hose handy just in case, but it brings back all those happy memories of the family all working together.

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Happy Feet – Lamb Style

I finally did the deed I’ve been working up to for months. I flipped my lambs onto their bottoms and trimmed their hooves. It was just as the books say — once they are flipped on their backs they are pretty well immobilized. I was overdue for getting my clippers sharpened and had to pry them open periodically to keep them working, but I powered through it. They now have all the excess cleared off so their feet are relatively flat on the bottoms again. I feel pretty proud of myself!

In this picture I am trimming Dot while Cookie hovers nearby. Cookie is always the braver of the two and I had done her first, but she insisted on crowding close to her sister while I worked on her. They feel much more secure near each other.

Look at their long wool. It is only seven months of growth and they aren’t due to be sheared for five more. I wonder how much of their weight is due to the wool because they were surprisingly heavy for little animals.

I am using this first year to gauge how much work the sheep are to care for. My husband is eager to get the girls bred so we can double or triple the herd, but I want to be sure what I am getting myself into first. I am very interested to see how different the wool is for yarn than the goat’s mohair. Mohair takes on color really well and sparkles with a characteristic “luster.” The yarn is very fuzzy, though, and it would be nice to have an alternative that is a bit smoother, perhaps even a blend to get the best of both.

Here is a picture of my latest sweater – all hand-spun mohair from Eddy. It’s the brown yarn that I dyed with walnut hulls.

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Reversal of Plans

As often happens, my big idea for a sweater flopped due to my inability to make yarn in the right size. That beautiful sweater in my imagination required very fine yarn and although I was confident that I could make whatever I needed it turned out that I am not that good. I kept making swatches with smaller needles until size 1 was the only one that would work and it made a very dense, stiff fabric. It would have felt like wearing a cardboard box!

I went to the local yarn store and they helped me accept that this pattern was not feasible with the yarn I’d made. I went home and searched for something else I could do that would still satisfy my yearning to use the walnut-stained yarn.

Here is the alternate sweater so far. I made the back piece of the pattern and found that the two to three colors of yarn on each row make a tighter, heavier weave than the plain stitch in the body of the sweater. I may try a larger needle size for the colorwork when I do the sleeves just to see if it solves that problem. It takes a lot of time and concentration to finish a block of the design and I just can’t see myself unravelling the work I have already done. I am hoping that after I stitch it all together the unevenness will not be so pronounced..

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Sweater Dreams

I think it may have been a phenomenon of the past, browsing the fabric stores and pattern books for cool new clothes to make. It was a thrill for me, as a teenager, to spend a couple Saturday hours leafing through Simplicity and Butterick books for just the right pattern and then imagining it in different textures, colors, and designs as I slowly paced the fabric aisles touching each bolt, my brain in overdrive with creative power.

I no longer sew my clothes, but in my retirement I have picked up the mantle again with my knitting and weaving. Every six months I shear Eddy, the Angora goat, and I begin again to imagine what I might make with his curly locks and what colors would be perfect for it.

Over the weekend, I decided to try something new, dying the hair with a natural dye from black walnuts I had collected from the edge of the woods. I have a good friend whose mother did a lot of this, and I wish she was still around to pick her brain. Instead, I turned to the internet and found it is easiest to drive over the nuts, pick apart the broken hulls, and soak them overnight in hot water. The resulting extract was dark brown and grimy but created a nice milk-chocolate-colored fiber for a future sweater. (Also shown is a pretty blue and apricot made from commercial dyes.)

As I was working on this, my mind once again went into overdrive, dreaming about the perfect item to be made with the precious hand-spun fiber. I looked through the internet version of the pattern books of my youth, and came up with this sweater that I like. The bulk of it will be the chocolate color, with two or three contrasting colors yet to be decided. I like that it has not only a pretty design but also added texture with different stitches. It will be fun to decide which of my dyed fibers would be best for the contrast, and I will have to experiment with spinning techniques to get just the right weight of yarn so it comes out in the right size once I am done. My spirit is lifted just anticipating the project.

If I’d known in the final years of my career how much fun I’d be having in the freedom of retirement, I’d have been a lot more relaxed anticipating the life transition.

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