Sunday, December 29, 2013

Tech frustration

Ok, so I know that computers really do make my life easier. My iphone is a part of my daily life on the farm. I take pictures to record planting times, breeding dates, lambing times, and moving goats from one pasture to another. I text myself grocery lists and chat about dinner plans with family. I set phone alarms to check cheeses in progress or dye vats on the stove. And I share all this with friends from around the world via my blog and facebook.
But sometimes...
Yesterday morning, I was trying to pack a few orders before the mail carrier arrived. As I was cleaning off the table to be able to sort and pack orders, I found a package I had put together for a friend. Now, I could drive to her house, but I can't remember her mailing address. So, a few weeks ago I had searched my email for it and still come up dry. So I emailed her and she sent it to me. That email disappeared into cyber space. A few weeks later, I chatted with her and she sent it to me again. Then I got caught up in the holiday rush. So, yesterday, I decided her package had to ship first. I looked in my phone chat, no address there... then google chat and back to my emails. Finally, I remembered that the address was in Facebook messenger. And what is an overabundance of tech to me is middle of the road to many folks.

So, I went to and after entering all my information, the only shipping options were priority mail. There's no hurry on this package.  So I switched to paypal multiorder shipping and entered it all again. Paypal then informed me that it doesn't support the Chrome browser, which I was using. I decided to ignore that warning, I had entered every thing in twice already! and then it crashed Chrome.

So, I opened Firefox, entered everything again. and reminded my self that all of this had really taken less time than getting dressed, finding which car I could borrow because mine is not running, driving to the post office, standing in line and paying $3.00 more to ship this package. Really...really. I printed the label, put it on the box and looked at the time.

I had to get to the feed store before they closed at noon, so I set that box aside and figured I'll pack and ship the orders tomorrow.

So, this morning, I sit down at the computer, getting ready to ship orders. I thought I'd make edits to my Christmas blog post while I have the computer open and while I drink my morning coffee. I open blogger. No Christmas blog post...

I've started doing many of my blog posts from my phone. It's fairly easy. The pics are all right there and the blogger app is simple. I can't fine tune the posts though, so I usually edit them, write photo captions and fix the spacing next time I'm at my computer. A few times I've found that posts have not published from my phone, but it's not a huge deal, I just go back to the phone, find them there and republish them. It's just a little irritation, really. So, now my Christmas blog post is re-published from my phone and I'm done ranting.

Off to pack orders, dye fiber, do body score checks on the pregnant ewes, weave on a commissioned shawl, was the newly spun skeins of Thyme wool yarn and take a break this afternoon for coffee and kuchen with friends and family. It is really a wonderful, full life.

Have a beautiful day!

Quiet Family Christmas

Daddy between the living and dining areas.
We had a nice quiet Christmas I'm Mountain View this year. The weather was sunny and in the 30's. We did chores in the morning. The angora goats were enjoying their Christmas present, the newly fenced east pasture with new shelters for them and their llama. This pasture has been without animals for a year, so it's nice and clean for them to kid   
Then we finished the Christmas presents that needed finishing, baked pies, boiled sweet potatoes from our garden and went to my parents for a wonderful Christmas dinner and gift exchange. 

Lena created a wonderful family photo album for my parents. She had to go through hundreds of pics of goats, sheep and horses to find the people. In one late night moment of frustration, she looked at me and said, "I've only found one picture of you where you're not holding a horse, a goat, a child or a snake - in that order." 
I was amazed that there were pictures of me. I thought I was always on the other side of the camera. 
Merry Christmas from Mountain View!

My mom

Aunt Jeannie and my son, Arjuna

Their treasured Black Forest quilt hangs at the bottom of the stairs to the Quilting Loft.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Creating Connections

Craft shows are more than a way to connect with customers and a place to sell your work, they are also a place to network with other artisans and to forge lasting friendships. The Arkansas Craft Guild's Christmas Showcase is especially powerful for bringing together people and creating lasting friends.

Our booth at Showcase is right across from Leigh Abernathy's Twining Vine Designs booth. Leigh is one of the most incredible women I know, in so many ways. She is a powerful, competent professional project planner, an incredible mother and one of the most artful jewelry designers I know. I think it was at the guild gallery that we actually discovered how well her wonderful shawl pins work with my shawls. But at showcase it has become our standard to send people back and forth across the aisle to get the perfect shawl and pin pairing. 

This year, weather prevented showcase from happening, but people are still finding ways to make those connections and buy the handcrafted items they've been waiting for all year. One of my shawl customers really wanted one of Leigh's silver shawl pins to go with her new purchase. Email, Facebook and phone connections were made and Leigh brought the perfect shawl pins to Mountain View. 

You can visit Leigh's Twining Vine Designs etsy store at
If you want to find a shawl pin for a shawl you already have or some of her other beautiful jewelry. 

Leigh is also one of the most generous people I know. She gave me a few of her wonderful copper shawl pins to pair with some of my shawls, including a new design that I haven't tried before. I'll wear that one to work on Monday!

In the spirit of Christmas Showcase, I want to pass Leigh's gift on to you. If you buy a Common Threads shawl from me, either in the etsy store or personally, between now and the end of January, I will include a free Twining Vine Designs shawl pin with your purchase. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Common Threads Shawls

I'm working a beautiful teal, rust and peach shawl right now on my seven-foot Laffing Horse triloom. I just love the way the yarn textures are creating a secondary pattern in the color pattern I'm weaving. I posted a picture of that discovery on Facebook. I got lots of likes, compliments that made me feel very honored, and an email from someone who wanted to buy the shawl. Wow. 

I had to let her know that this one was a commission. I have two more shawls to weave after this one that are already sold, and then I can design anew. 

Now, many of you know that I don't take orders, but, I will, as I say, take inspiration. If you want a specific blend of colors in one of my triangle shawls, let me know. I like to use 5-7 colors and textures in a shawl, with one being dominant. I have really come to prefer weaving with wool, mohair and silk, but I will use synthetics on request. 

If you would like to commission a shawl, let me know what colors you would like, what fiber types and short fringe, long fringe or no fringe. 

I can let you know how long it will take. The shortest possible time is two weeks. Sometimes the answer may be six months. I weave 15 to 20 shawls a year. 
I can also tell you what it will cost. 
Generally, shawls woven with commercial yarn, no fringe range from $95 to $150. Commercial yarn with fringe are $150 to $175.

Shawls woven with my handspun yarn from our animals take longer. They cost between $225 for unfringed to $500 for kid mohair with long fringes. 

I will not take any money up front. After I get the shawl done, I will email you pictures. If it is what you wanted, then you can buy it. If not, I have a new shawl in stock. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Shepherd's Crook, our current favorite multi-use tool

Lena clears the ice off the horse & dairy goat shelter.
We are shepherds and one of the tools we learned to love, long, long ago, was a shepherd's crook. We tried several styles, but we find the old fashioned steam bent hickory is our favorite. You just can't leave it out in the weather or it will straighten back out.

We also love our portable shelters for our critters. They allow us to rotate grazing, to use deep litter bedding effectively and to manage our five acres sustainably. But we do have to be careful of snow loads on the hoop houses and tents.

This latest snow came down as ice, then wet snow, then more ice. Kind-of a creamy centered snow cookie effect. It is entertaining to walk on, but has been harder than heck to get off the road and a real challenge to remove from the shelters. We had our first hoop house flatten under the load with this snow. Boomer and his girls are all fine, and those hoop house panels will now be fence, once we get them out from under the snow.

We knew the first morning we had to get the snow off the dairy goat and horse's shared shelter. Shovels and brooms didn't work. Climbing up and tugging didn't work. Finally, we found the great multi-use tool that did the job - our good old shepherd's crook.

Stay safe and warm this winter, it's starting out challenging.

Monday, December 09, 2013

When life gives you snow... Make a photo shoot!

I've been working these last several days, while we've been snow-bound, to get everything I had ready for Christmas Showcase up in the Common Threads etsy store. I've been busy taking pictures and typing up descriptions. 

Our house kitties, who never go outside, have spent the last two days exhibiting all the signs of cabin fever. They've been racing around the house, quibbling with each other and knocking things over. So, I was having a really hard time figuring out where I could set up a photo booth to take pictures of my shawls. My son, Arjuna, suggested I take them out in the snow for pictures. 

It worked great! The diffuse light shows off the weave and the whiteness of the snow lets the colors show true. I'll have to photograph my new shawls every time it snows. 

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Life happens

The last several weeks have been spent weaving, spinning, dyeing, broom and fringe tying. I've been getting up between three and four and weaving for a couple hours before I head into work. Then I weave or spin in the evenings. I wove some awesome shawls and rugs in the last few weeks. 

I do take the occasional "sheep break"!

Shawn and Lena have dyed some beautiful color of broom corn. 

Spinning incredible fine kid mohair. 

This year I managed to weave up every rug fleece that our sheep grew into wonderful Fleecyful wool rugs. 

This shawl is even more beautiful in person. I really wouldn't mind keeping this one. 

I tied so many fringes last week that my fingers are still stiff. 

Shawn and Lena had more beautiful brooms than ever. And Shawn built a stunning show booth that should last for decades, showcase both our products wonderfully and win a good many best booth in show awards. 

We both hit our goals for the amount of product we needed to take to Christmas Showcase, the Little Rock show that provides half our winter income. Everything loaded as planned. Booth, stock and suitcases took less than five hours, a record!

We left on time, running ahead of the predicted winter storm. Two hours into our drive, as we were turning onto highway 67 to Little Rock we got a call that the show was cancelled. Stunned is still the best word to describe how I feel. 

The van is still packed, though we brought the food and suitcases in. Several of us tried to put together shows for next weekend. Leigh Abernathy of Twinning Vine Designs managed to pull together a show for Saturday, December 14 in Heber Springs. I'll post the address on Facebook. 
I'll spend the rest of my time off from work posting the new rugs, shawls and yarns in the etsy store and trying some new promotions. And now that we have this new booth, we will be looking for some more good indoor shows. 

Just goes to show you, no matter how prepared you are, life happens. 

Herkimer's Rug

Herki wants to know why I have
Fantasia's fleece on my head.
I've been raising colored angora goats since the mid-90's. I love the steel grays, soft oatmeal cream, and gentle brown colors. My goal was to breed a true, rich animal red doe. I have not achieved this goal, yet. 

About six years ago I had people start requesting white mohair rugs at shows. My response was that I don't breed white goats, so I can't make white rugs. Then I got my Tillie goat in a group of beautiful gray and black goats. Tillie is white. I so enjoyed dyeing and playing with the white mohair, and I am very, very fond of Tillie. She's the pretty goat on my business cards and posters. 

So, the next time I went looking for a buck, I bought a white one. Herkimer is a sweet boy. We named him after the Herkimer diamond because of his shiny white fleece. His offspring are all white, of course, and he is producing kids with a delightful variety of fleece textures. And, twice a year, he gets his hair cut and I can weave one white rug from his fleece. 

We shear all our fiber critters on a stand, using hand shears. Herki is a good boy for shearing, though he does like to tug on your clothes when he can reach them. We put each fleece in a pillow case as we shear and mark it with the animal's name, the date and the label "rug" or "spin" for the eventual process that the fleece will go through. Then we store all the fleeces on a big shelf in my shop.

Herki's fleece has beautiful locks that maintain their integrity through the weaving and felting process that each rug goes through. His is always labeled "rug" because it makes such beautiful ones.

The rug weaving process starts with considering the colors of fleeces I have and dyeing or finding the right 100% wool warp yarn for the fleeces. For this rug, I ordered several different "white" wool yarns to find the color I liked the best with his fleece. Then I measured out the warp yarns and tied them on the loom. Herki's rugs are pretty large and the weaving takes a while. 

Once I have woven the entire fleece into the warp, along with yarns to keep it stable, I take it off the loom and tie the fringes on each end. Then I start the felting process. Each rug gets its first bath in the tub, to get out the worst of the grime and begin the felting in the direction I want it to go. After rinsing well and drying for a bit on the porch rail, the rug then begins the machine washing and felting rounds. 

Locky and lovely, Herkimer's diamond rug.
I have a front load washer and each rug goes through about 7 cycles on the gentle wash with cold water. I am currently using Whisk detergent. It gets the rugs clean with our water. Most of the time, I dry the rugs on our porch railing, but when the weather does not permit, I dry them in the dryer on air dry.

This process gets each rug clean, and felts it slightly into a firm and durable rug. 
This fall's Herkimer rug is a unique treasure. It is definitely the most beautiful rug I've woven thus far. It was ordered during Studio Tour and its fond owner was going to pick it up at Christmas Showcase. Because of the storm, Showcase was cancelled, so I am making arrangements to mail this wonderful rug. 

You are welcome to visit Herki at the farm this year and see his kids. As we have a small flock, we usually only keep a buck or a ram for 3 years before finding him a new home and bringing in a new male with fresh genetics. Herki's rugs are so, so beautiful, I am tempted to keep him longer, but he is so good at his other job (making baby goats) that it will  be hard to keep him separate from his offspring. All that to say, Herki will probably only be here one more year. If you are interested in angora wether fiber goats, I have two Herki sons that will be looking for a new home next spring after shearing. And if you need a nice buck for your flock next October, let me know. I have a diamond of an angora goat buck who would love to find some new girls.