Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Crafting Felted Slippers

I've had a hankering to make felted wool slippers for a very long time. Now, I've made crocheted and felted slippers, even had my pattern published in SpinOff. And I've crochet amazing woolly slippers from raw fleece. But I wanted to learn to make felted slippers from wool, just by felting, without any needle art in between the fleece and the wearing.
That's been a long involved learning process! I've failed, I've learned, I've succeeded, I've learned, I've practiced, I've learned and now I'm wearing a pair of alpaca and kid mohair slippers that I just love.
So, I'm ready to share a quick pictorial of my process. I use only fleece from our animals- Jacob sheep wool, mohair and alpaca. Through trial and error, I've learned the fleece must be washed first to felt well. This is a pair of alpaca and mohair slippers I made for my mom.

1. First you draw out and cut the pattern/resist. A cheap textured plastic placemat works well. Cut about 1/2 inch wider than the person's foot.
Weigh and prep your fiber. Don't skip this step! Lesson learned the hard way.
Lay out your under towel, your super heavy duty bubble wrap, your netting and your soap. The soap matters. This is handmade soap from the Village Apothecary Shop at the Ozark Folk Center State Park. It works well.
Lay your resist/pattern on your bubble wrap and cover with your first layer of fluff, fibers mostly going one direction.
Layer your second layer of fiber over the first, going the opposite direction. Build up five layers of lightly fluffed fiber.
Put netting over pile of fluff.
Pour boiling water in a spiral over fluff.
Rub soap over netting being careful not to shift fiber sideways.

Pat, pat, pat.
Wrap the loose fringy edges over the resist.

Once you have all your fiber for that slipper wrapped around your resist, roll it up in the bubble wrap and towel and roll, roll, roll for 8 minutes. Set a timer ('nother lesson) it's longer that you think. 
Decide where you want the opening on your slippers and cut. Make sure you felt the cut edges immediately. More lessons. 

Make a last for further shaping and felting. Duct tape and old socks on the person's foot whom the slippers are for. Very bad English!

Finish shaping, embellishing and drying your slippers on the last. 

Cut a leather sole using the original resist as a pattern and stitch to bottom of slippers. 

Wear and enjoy!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Using Small Sheep and Goats to Reclaim Land

This is the outline of a program I recently presented at the Ozark Folk Center State Park Farm to Table event. It's a concept I've been developing for two decades, but I'm starting to put our practices into words. 

Using Goats and Sheep to Reclaim Land
Jeanette Larson, co-owner Havencroft Farm, Mountain View, Arkansas, jenonthefarm@gmail.com

Small ruminants are not just for weed-eating and brush clearing. They can be used to help turn marginal land to into productive pasture, woodlot and garden. Sheep and goats provide fertilizer and other soil nutrients. Their hooves break up soil crust but don’t compact the dirt like heavier animals. The attention the shepherd pays to the animals also pays dividends in improved care to the land.
Any amendments you put in the animals, you ultimately put into the soil. Hay, grain, minerals, water, all cycle through the sheep and goat’s digestive system and pick up life-giving natural bacteria along the way. Many plants thought of as weeds provide needed nutrients to the animals. It’s a beneficial, natural cycle.

Good fencing is a must for this process to work. Goats especially need good fence. While some sheep will jump, goats are known for that ability. Sheep tend to respect a fence, goats see it as a challenge to puzzle out. You need to confine the animals to the area you want to reclaim. You need to keep predators out. Being able to rotate grazing, strip graze and rotate species will all help with this process. Goats are browsers. They eat the brushy, woody plants and coarse weeds. Sheep are grazers. They like grass and soft weeds. The two species complement each other when used in a rotation.

Use mobile shelters to terrace land and build soil where you want it.  We use cattle panels and tarps. Deep bed with waste hay in the winter, then move the shelters in the summer.

You must adjust your stocking levels to the carrying capacity of your land – and your budget. You can buy hay and grain to feed animals on smaller parcels of land, but that can be cost prohibitive. 

Caring for animals is a commitment that you need to consider before taking it on.

Choose your species based on your interests.
  • Meat goats like Kikos, Boers and Spanish goats do not necessarily need daily tending, though like all animals they need access to feed and water.
  • Dairy goats need intense management and daily milking –every day and often twice a day.
  • Fiber goats, such as angoras and cashmere goats need regular shearing or combing for their health as well as optimum fiber production.
  • Sheep have similar categories. Hair sheep are raised for meat, wool sheep for fiber and dairy sheep for milk.
  • Camelids such as alpacas and llamas can fit into this species mix and find their own niche as fiber animals, guardians, pack animals or pets.
  • Free range chickens are also an important part of our land-management. They turn the waste hay and keep insects pests at bay.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Winter Gear

I'm four fifths of the way through my five days off work for the holidays and starting to panic about not having time to finish all the things I wanted (needed) to get done. 
Some people have the impression that things slow down on the farm in the winter. The work doesn't, we just change gears. Each season has its own jobs, demands, workflow and pace. 
In the winter, I dye fleeces and yarns, because in spring we are too busy with lambing, kidding and planting and in the summer, it's too doggone hot to heat up the house with simmering dye kettles. Yesterday, I dyed turquioise all day, maybe trying to fill the need for a sunny sky that has been long absent. So, with that in mind, I started with yellow today. I'll run the yellow, orange, red, brown spectrum today. 
The new porches, under the new metal roof on the house, are nice dry places for drying fleece. But everytime I go out, it's a reminder that we need to put up porch rails, and I want to screen in one of them before summer. Front, back, we're still debating. At least painting can wait until its warmer.
We mostly have the critters in dry shelters now, though the bred angora does are not sharing well. We'll add another hoop house to their pen today, giving added shelter and a extra space for when kidding starts in March.
Hay is under cover and supply seems to be holding out well. I need to catch up on registrations for the Jacob sheep and dairy goats. That's a winter chore that I haven't tackled yet this year. 
I like to get ahead on my rug weaving in the winter, too. Weaving rugs is much more fun in the winter, when wool is warm and comforting, rather than in the summer when its hot. Two nice new mohair rugs done this week and I'll tackle finishing the beast of an all-farm rug today.
I've been spinning through Mo's alpaca fleece most of the year, off-and-on. I want to get it done. The bag is almost empty now, and I did get the warp on the loom this week for the blanket I'm weaving from the the fleece. Almost through the first 20" of natural, then I'll weave 6" of turquiose and recreate that band on the other end. 
Winter is the time of year when we are most optimistic about our gardens. The plans, research and dreams take up our evening conversations, but much of the stuctural work is done in the winter, too. Yesterday my folks came over and my dad helped put up the framework for our hoop house cold frame. We'll plastic it on the next sunny day... which I hope is soon. We are going to start greens, maybe cabbages right now. The baby plants under lights in February. In the summer, we'll strip off the plastic and use the hoop to grow green beans.
Lena and I tight fenced a little area in front to do a flower garden. I'm thinking herbs and dye plants, along with strawberries, but we are also looking at flowers just for pretty. We both want climbing roses for the front porch and are researching fragrant, disease resistant, drought and shade tolerant hardy climbing roses. She likes the peach and yellow, I like dusty purple.
But right now, I need to take mohair out of the dyebath and go fix the angora does shelter before the next round of rain.
Maybe I'll even find time this season to do some more blog updates. If you want to follow what's happening here on Havencroft farm, like the Common Threads Facebook page. I update that off my phone on the run. Happy winter!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Playing Tourist - Arkansas State Capitol, Little Rock

The Arkansas State Capitol in Little Rock

My mother has an incredible curiosity. No matter where we were in the world, she'd go find interesting things to see, people to talk to, natural places to visit and culture to explore. I have memories of grasshoppers in Germany, tulips in Holland, blueberries and boulders in Alaska, forests in Alabama and so much more.  Where ever we went, she'd find place for us to explore and beauty around every corner.

And my mom loves pretty rocks. I remember having the back of our old Chitty bang-bang station wagon full of pretty rocks we picked up on a camping trip in Alaska. We just enjoyed them for being pretty. I don't know about my brothers, but I never even tried to identify any of them, I just enjoyed the rocks for being pretty. That family attraction to pretty rocks continues to this day. Just last night, my daughter Lena brought me a pretty rock, that might be a chunk of a geode from the sheep pen. It surfaced in the last rain.But I dye grass (family word for wandering off topic - that's a whole 'nother blog post).

Very large pretty rocks

Yesterday I was in Little Rock at central office for a work meeting. Over the lunch break when I am there for meetings I love to go explore the Capitol campus. There are monuments, interesting trees, things that could be art and lots of pretty people. One of the things that amused me yesterday was the number of large rocks with bronze plaques attached. It made me think of my mom. The people who collected the pretty rocks on the Capitol lawn needed more equipment and support than three energetic kids!

The bronzes are incredible.
If you want to explore the Arkansas State Capitol campus in Little Rock, they have a nice tour guide you can download at the link above and an audio tour that you can download to your phone and follow


Monday, July 14, 2014

Tech! - grr - and maybe I did need a new ram

It's been a beautiful summer here, enough rain to make the garden grow well and the lambs, kids, alpacas, angoras, Jacob Sheep and dairy goats are doing well. Lena and I have moved shelters to the best summer spots and fences for better grazing. In the garden I have hundreds of green tomatoes on the vine, have frozen a couple gallons of black berries, am watching the potatoes and garlic almost ready to harvest and enjoying the moderate temperatures. It has not broken 100 degrees yet this summer.

Early on in the summer, I was shopping for a new Jacob Sheep ram to breed our Canoe Lake Sonic Boom daughters to, but I decided that we could wait another year. Just like I've decided that my dairy goats are for giving milk, not for making more dairy goats, I have the sheep for their wool. Lambs are nice, but I don't have to breed the girls every year to get wool. I was ram shopping on the new Jacob Sheep facebook group - a modern way to find new bloodlines to keep our heritage breed vibrant.

I love to tell people in my work at the Ozark Folk Center State Park that we use and keep the traditional methods of making things by hand, but we also use and enjoy modern conveniences of internet and vehicles. We cherish our history and our unique culture. History and culture didn't stop in the past - we are living and creating both today.

My broom maker partner, Shawn Hoefer, was twice named champion craft broom maker at the Arcola, Illinios Broom Corn Festival. He and my daughter Lena (second place broom maker at the Arcola festival!) make and sell more than 4,000 hand-tied, hand-dyed, hand-carved brooms per year. Broom making is Shawn's vocation. And his other vocation is tech. Broomsquire by day; Geek by night. He designs awesome web sites for more than 30 clients. He swears he really needs all those tablets, computers and handheld devices to make sure his sites display correctly cross platform.

I, on the other hand, am a manager and interpreter by day. I have an awesome, creative job working with lots of people who I really enjoy. And, as you know from this blog, I am a shepherd, dairy farmer, fiber artists, cheesemaker, gardener and cook with the other 118 hours in a week that I'm not at work. I use a computer at work and I depend heavily on my handheld for many, many things. But I am not a geek.

Shawn offered to update the ram in my little Acer Aspire One about a year ago. I said I didn't need it. I like my little computer. I would be perfectly happy to keep using this same computer for the rest of my life. But over this year, it became so slow that it wouldn't accept software updates. So I'd open it and couldn't use it. (That's why I've gotten away from writing blog posts). So it sat in the pouch on my chair.

Finally, about two weeks ago I gave it to Shawn to try and get the updates installed. He fussed with it, cussed it and ordered a new ram chip, which he installed last night. I guess I did need a new ram, just not the wooly kind. My computer does seem to be faster, though now it doesn't want to save my pictures where I want them. Probably something to do with the updates. Several people have told me that my photo system is too old school and not supported any longer... but I like it and know it and it works fine for me!!! Or it did... that is one of the things that I wish we could figure out how to add to the tech world. I have a perfectly good 90 year old loom that I use daily, why do I have to quit using my beloved handheld device after less than 4 years?

So, I seem to have a working computer at home now, and should be able to go back to sharing updates with you from Havencroft Farm. I'm a little better a putting updates on our Common Threads page on Facebook as I can do those from my handheld.
And now I'm headed out to milk and weed the blueberries. When I come back in after chores, I'll see if I can't find a way to get pictures to post here.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Gardening and cheesemaking

Those of you who follow my blog know that last year I made the decision that my dairy goat herd was for milk production, not for raising dairy goats. To that end, I found someone who would take and raise the kids for their own use, and I have all the sweet, creamy milk from my four does. 

Right now I'm getting about four gallons a day. And I'm making cheese daily. 

I got a Dutch style cheese press for my birthday, along with molds and followers. I've made some delicious cheeses. I have yet to be able to save any to age. My family loves cheese. 

Yesterday I made a cheese with some fresh Greek oregano incorporated into it. I got the plant from the Ozark Folk Center State Park Herb Shoppe and it is doing well in my garden. 

Between making cheese, doing chores and gardening, I seem to be having trouble finding time to weave this summer. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Cheesy Day

I thought I'd take my own advice and start keeping a cheese notebook, as I have several cheeses in process today. But, I couldn't find a blank notebook and didn't want to drive to the store, so, I thought I'd try this. 
Shawn got me a Dutch style cheese press for my birthday, so I can make some hard, aged cheeses. 

To that end, I made two recultureable cultures starting with New England Cheesemakings Mesophilic culture and I started a culture of the "fresh" culture whilst I was at it. I sterilized two canning jars with lids in boiling water, then poured in this mornings fresh milk and put the two sealed jars in a boiling water bath about an inch over the lids for 35 minutes. 
When the timer want off, I ran cool water into the pot and when the milk temp was down to 86 degrees I added the fresh culture and put the jar atop the freezer. When the milk temp was down to 80 degrees, I added the Mesophilic culture and put that jar above the fridge. 

Tomorrow, I'll put the two cultures in the fridge until I can divide them out into ice cube trays to freeze them. 

I also started a cheese in the crockpot with this mornings milk. At 90 degrees I added 1 cup of sweet homemade goat's milk yogurt ( made with New England Cheesemakings sweet yogurt culture) and then I let it set at that temp for 3 hours. The keep warm setting on the crock pot was too warm so I unplugged it, but the temp seemed to maintain. I added 1/2 tab of dissolved Marschalls rennet at 12:20 pm and the temp was still at 90. 

Today is humid, raining off and on and the outside temp is 76 degrees. I have the house windows open. The weather app says rain will start again in 51 minutes, so I'm going to go feed the bottle baby lambs and work in the alpaca fence while the curd forms on the crockpot cheese.