Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Rain and web surfing

Sweet blessed rain!

Just yesterday we were worrying about how dry it was and whether or not we needed to start pulling goats off the yard.

This morning rolled in with the thing we moved to Arkansas for - sweet, blessed rain.

It's now a beautiful cool morning and I'm going to ask Lena to do chores, because it's pouring.

She's good at doing things like that - yesterday she picked the first of the blackberries on Foxbriar (solstice = blackberries!) just for me, because she does not like them. But I shared a bowlful with Shawn.

Lena picking the first blackberries
of the season on Foxbriar.
And, obviously, I don't spend enough time online. I just discovered blogher.com this morning, while I was checking email and avoiding writing a press release I need to get finished or posting the soap on the etsy store like I'd promised. I'll keep the tab open and read it tonight after I get my work and work and chores done.

Something new to explore.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Pet pets

Llama nanny Pequena with Gizmo, Glitch and Gamma
It's not unusual for animals to have pets. Sometimes it's human coerced, like race horses with their pet goats. We had a race horse, Tisa, who had pet chickens.

Other times, they just buddy up on their own.Shawn's horse Nugget had a pet type relationship with a goldfish who lived in her water trough. We used to put the goldfish in the big tank to help keep the algae down. These fish lived several years. Nugget's fish would come play with her when she was drinking. Over the years she started hanging her tongue out in the water trough and the fish would nibble on it. By the time the fish passed away, it would splash and play with Nugget. She spent days with her head hanging over the trough when the fish died.

Gemini riding Dapper Dan
Sometimes, you're not sure who would be classed as the pet. Right now, our baby goat kids are working hard at being llamas. They wander around under Pequena's feet while grazing and climb on her back when she's laying down. The mama goats seem to really like this arrangement, then none of them has to babysit. They have a nanny.

The dairy goat kids had a game this spring that we called "ride the ram." Unfortunately, it didn't seem to be fun anymore after we sheared Dan.

However, the latest pet relationship is raising eyebrows and causing concern. Fria, Lena's 29-year-old Arabian mare (mother of Tisa and 11 other fantastic horses) found a new pet up in the woods above her pasture. She is very attached to this creature. She nuzzles it and it stays with her except during the heat of the day when it goes back into the forest. Now there are lots of critters that a horse could make a pet out of and people would ooh and ahh and think it was cute, however, a razorback hog is not one of them!
Pig, a wild razor back hog with Fria

Unfortunately, the pig has started chasing sheep and is fouling all the water troughs, so I think we'll have to help another horse through the grieving process of loosing a pet.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Real Music

The last two days several of us from the Ozark Folk Center have been at the Red, White and Blue festival in Mountain Home, Arkansas.
Last night, as our musicians were playing (Roger Fountain on fiddle, Carl Adkins on guitar and vocals and Carolyn Carter on guitar and vocals) a young lady came up and asked earnestly if they knew "Boil them cabbage down". They replied with equal seriousness that they were indeed familiar with the old classic. Roger asked her if she could play it.
Making real music in Mountain Home
She allowed that she had studied it in her fiddle lessons. And right there, Roger offered her his fiddle to play it for them. She took the fiddle and held the bow correctly, but had a bit of stage fright with all the people suddenly watching her. Roger praised her stance and said he had another fiddle with him and perhaps they could play it together.
They played together and soon Carl and Carolyn were backing them up on the guitars. It was a sweet afternoon.
This is truly keeping music alive.

Monday, June 20, 2011

How long did it take to make that shawl?

Possibly the most common question I get at shows is "How long did it take to make that __________?"

Close up of the Thy/Fes shawl in the fringing process. I tied
the fringes in a simple lacey pattern.

Some of my items I keep detailed records on, others I just guess. I rarely figure in the time spent caring for the animals who grew the fleeces in our intensive, small acreage set-up.

I am just starting to figure it up for the shawl I am finishing this morning. I tied the last fringes on it last night and hand washed it one more time to wet finish it. Currently it is soaking in a creme rinse bath, to accentuate how soft and drapey it is.

This shawl started forming in my mind last winter, when I wanted blue yarns. I had Lena dye several different batches of wool and mohair with the 4 different blue colors of Jacquard dye I bought. I spun blue mohair with natural wool, natural mohair with blue wool, blue, blue and more blue. I still like it.

I was finishing spinning Fes' mohair about the time I started spinning Thy's blue wool. They came out a similar weight and drape, so I plied them together. The yarn came out so beautiful I instantly put it into the "I get to weave with that" pile.

Thyme, our oldest ewe, with her daughter Basil behind her.
Ty-ty is 12-years-old this year.
She has one tooth remaining, so she gets soft food.
Her fleece is still soft, shiny and a joy to spin.
As soon as I finished the winter black and red shawl on my loom at the house, I started this one. It wove faster than any other shawl I've worked on this year. This yarn wanted to be a shawl. In less than a month, I was tying on the fringes.

I knew exactly the look I wanted with the fringes. Fringing with handspun yarn can be a challenge. Unless I want the yarn to fray, you have to knot every end. There are 465 fringes on this shawl. That means 930 ends to knot. Plus tying each fringe on. Then I knotted them down in a pattern. It took me almost a month to tie the 2,325 knots in the fringe on this shawl.

Most of you know that I do most of my work for a few hours in the evening each day, or a few hours in the early morning and occasionally at night when I can't sleep. So those months are not constant labor.

Fes, left, now lives with a flock up on Dodd mountain.
He still thinks very highly of himself.
To try to break it down -
Critter time
This is one year of Thy's life growing this fleece.
It is 6 months of Fes' fleece.
Lena and I spend one hour every morning and one hour each night on chores for the 29 sheep, 10 dairy goats, 11 angora goats, one horse and one llama that are currently in our flocks. That's 730 hours per year just feeding time. That comes out to 14 hours per critter.

It takes us about an hour to shear, trim toes and check over each animal at shearing time.

It took about an hour to wash the fleece.

It took Lena about an hour working time to dye the wool.

It took me 12 hours to spin the singles of Fes' mohair, but I did do several hats out of it, too.
It took me about 7 hours to spin Thye's wool.

It took another 8 hours to ply the two together.

Dyed Thyme wool plied with natural color Fes kid mohair yarn.
Washed, dyed, spun, plied, washed again and ready to weave.
Washing the finished skeins took an hour.

Weaving time on this shawl was super fast. Time at the loom was only 11 hours.

Fringing time, all told, 12 hours.

Last nights hand wash and setting up the soak bath 1/2 hour. This morning's yet to come rinsing and blocking to dry 1/2 hour.

When finished and hung up on the rack to sell, this shawl will have 69 hours of my and Lena's time invested in its creation.

In addition to hours, our feed bill for the year is $5,060. That's $97.31 per animal. We shear the sheep once a year and the angoras twice, so the mohair only costs $48.65/fleece.

What price do you think I should write on the tag of this beautiful, unique shawl?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tillie Shawl

Tillie yarn


Sunrise view from the milk barn

Add caption
I just finished spinning, winding, plying, skeining, washing and drying four more skeins of Tillie yarn. I had spun up four earlier this year, and couldn't wait for the rest to start crocheting some thing with it. I was enjoying this fleece so much, I wanted to work the yarn by hand, not out on a loom. So I crocheted about half of a shawl in a simple pattern that highlights the yarn and is creating a snuggly wrap.
I thought about dyeing it, but the plain white yarn is so pretty and sparkle shiny that I'm going to leave it natural white.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On the loom

Opera shawl on the loom
This shawl is currently on the rigid heddle. This is natural grey mohair and nylon blend. It will be a very nice, drapey, fuzzy shawl. I'm thinking of it as an opera shawl, about 18" wide and 6 foot long, with fringes on the ends.
As of 6-13-11, this shawl is in the half-woven,"I've already designed the next project and need to get this one off the loom" stage.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The "right" way to do it

At one point in the '90s, I was sitting and crocheting in my booth at the Colorado Renaissance Festival. A woman stepped up to me and said, "You're doing it wrong. Let me show you how."

At that point in my life, I had been crocheting for well over twenty years. I was making my living with my crocheted and sewn costume design business and had wholesale accounts for my crocheted Spirit Bells with Deva Lifewear and Wild Oats, among others. I somewhat brusquely responded that it was ok, I did not need her to show me the "right" way to crochet. I still wish I had been more diplomatic.

This past week, a spinner came down to my presentation of Spinning Tales at the Ozark Folk Center. I enjoy having fellow fiber artists at this informal noon program and we often have informative discussions. But, it seemed this women was upset with me because I don't finish my yarn "right." In retrospect, I wish I had visited with her more and had a conversation about different ways of finishing. Maybe we both would have learned something.

Now I have developed a level of mastery in the spinning, weaving, felting and crochet processes I use. I've been doing them for many years and on a constant, production basis. But I don't think that my way is the "right" way to do any of this - it is just my way.

When I teach, I used to let students follow their intuition and explore different ways of doing a craft. I still offer them creative freedom, but I have learned that we have a limited time together in class and the studetns are paying me to learn my way of spinning, weaving or cooking. I have become secure enough with my processes that when I have students come to me to learn, I show them how I do it, and will correct them when they are not doing it my way. This gives them a foundation. They can get started and going on a craft with a process that I know works. After they've practiced for a while, and if they continue in the craft, they will develop their own style.

And a new "right" way to do the craft will be born.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Changing soapboxes

Buy local.
We hear it all the time. I agree with it. The transportation cost on those bananas is way more than the cost of the fruit. The pesticides used on vegetables grown south of the border were banned in the US decades ago. Buying local keeps dollars in local communities.
"Take care of yourself, your family and your home first," I say, then if you have the resources, go save the world.
I believe in and practice the 3/50 project with purchases at Yoder's, Wilsons and the Arkansas Craft Gallery, as well as our local farmer's market and from local crafts people and family farms.
And, I keep most of my online shopping in the US.

But, recently through the etsy, artfire and online artisan community, I've been connecting with individuals who are not in the US, but who are real people, making really beautiful things. This morning I was reading a wonderful blog written by a woman in Israel who is raising her seven children and still finds time to knit incredible socks, shawls and other things. I had my morning laugh reading about her three year old discovering velocity enhancement by pouring cooking oil on the kitchen floor and skating on it in her footie pjs. I found a woman in Ireland who raises sheep and makes felted flowers that look real. We've shared stories about our life with woolies. Our lives are so very similar, on opposite sides of the ocean.

Real people, with real lives, making a real living.

So, this morning, I switched soap boxes. Back when I was an award-winning writer (Rocky Mountain Farmer's Union, among others), I alway said, "Know your producer." Get to know the people who grow your food, knit your socks, make your dishes, fix your car. Having that personal connection with the people who create the things that nourish you goes a long way to improving not only your quality of life, but the life of the producer and by extension the world. And now, through the miracle of the internet, I can know producers around the globe.

So, for blueberries - buy local.
But for felted flowers, knit socks, or other handmade items branch out and make connections with creators in other countries. Share stories and - get to know your producer.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Linkchasing to bright hope

I don't think of myself as an old curmudgeon. In fact, I think of myself as a young kid who is finally getting enough life experience that I might have an opinion worth expressing. However, over the last several years I have been part of conversations lamenting the direction of the human race and the "fact" that kids today don't know how to make things with their hands or even how to cook. What's the world going to come to if the people of the future can't even feed themselves or construct clothing or shelter?

This morning I was finishing an etsy conversation with a young woman who was interested in carrying my rugs in her store. I just don't have the time right now to spin and weave enough to stock any more than the few shows and local stores that I already do. But I checked out her metrode store and was very impressed by the style and artistry.

Then I started following links. Wow!

I read my way through a number of fantastic blogs describing young women who are making their living designing and creating beautiful clothing, pottery, furniture, backpacks and more. This led me to think about the local young people I know who are very talented. Bonnie Mergl is a young artist who creates beauty all around her and she built her own house, from scratch. Leo Kempf designs utterly fantastic furniture - and chicken houses.

On July 9 I'm joining a bunch of young artisans at the first ever Indie Art and Music Festival in Little Rock. I've looked through the links of vendors and bands. They are all young and mostly urban. They are excited about making things and music, by hand, in their own way.

And I am excited to get to go work with them. It gives me bright hope for the future.

Friday, June 10, 2011


When I was in middle school at the Colorado Springs School, I made a mountain dulcimer. His name was Herman and I carried Herman from there to Korea, the Philippines, Hawaii. I played him regularly as I finished high school in Alabama and then took him back with me to college in Colorado. We climbed Rocky Mountains together and howled bluegrass songs at the moon in the Smokies. Halfway through my sophomore year, Herman cracked. I didn't touch a dulcimer again.

Until 2006.

When we came to Mountain View, Arkansas, music was everywhere and I started thinking dulcimer. Shawn bought me one for my birthday that year. It was a nice sounding little instrument. But I  never played it. A year or two later, my son, Arjuna, painted it for me for my birthday. It has hung on the wall of my office ever since as a very nice work of art.

Then, three weeks ago, I came back into my office and Steve Folkers, the OFC cooper was playing my dulcimer. It sounded nice.
And Linda Odom talked Gail Lewis into teaching a Friday morning dulcimer class. Gail laughed at my "hippie dulcimer" when I got to class, but she was pleased about how nice and sweet this unique little instrument sounds.

Now I've been playing that sweet sounding little dulcimer for two weeks and yesterday she got her name.


Thursday, June 09, 2011

Wrapping up the G year

I'm sitting on the porch watching the angora goat flock graze in the early morning light. The babies aren't coming out to graze yet, they are still staying back in the shelter of the trees. Tilly and Pequena had babysitting duty, but then Eve went back in to relieve them so they could get some breakfast before it gets hot.

We didn't breed very many of any this year, with only 5 acres we have to manage the flocks pretty strictly. Sultan is our new angora buck. We have Gamma, Gadget, Gizmo and Glitch from him. The little boys will be wethered here in a few weeks and then we'll keep them through at least their first two shearings. I love my kid mohair.
In the dairy goat flock, Footsie has proven to be a good buck and we have 5 nice daughters from him. He's paid his way for another year. This year we gave away all the little bucks as soon as they were well started. I like the way it worked and plan to do that next year. So the dairy goat G's are Ganymede, Gemini, Ginger, Gabriella and Geo. They were born in February and other than their propensity to run on roofs, they think that they are all grown up.

In the sheep world, we only had two surprises. Nilly had Gift and Flora had Gloria. But I still think Dan may get a double walled pen this breeding season. We have so many of his daughters that I don't want bred back. Dan also gave us Greta, George, Gypsum, Skittles and three little boys. If we change our mind and decide to keep Skittles she may need a G name.

In all, it's been a Good year and we're done with g-name babies.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Settling in to summer

Since I haven't been updating much, I read back through the last few blog posts. Yes, I'm fine. Work, mostly, has presented challenges this spring, but I think it is for the good, in the long run.
Some of the Havencroft angora flock at breakfast
Looking at the sales list, we still have sheep for sale, but the only goat left for sale is Frappucino, a yearling wether oatmeal colored angora. I don't keep wethers as a rule and he's being replaced by his newborn brothers - Gadget, Gizmo and Glitch. Glitch was supposed to be born Gigi, but there was a glitch. They have a "big" sister named Gamma, who is a badger face black. She's a full 6-days older than the boys and she lords it over them. The boys were all born in a 24 hour time span, two of them on my birthday! They are identical triplet black bucks, out of three different mommies.
The weather has gone from cold and wet, almost 29 inches of rain in May to HOT and dry. It's been in the high 90's and up without a cloud in the sky all June. Between the muck of May and the scorching heat of June, we don't have a garden this year. It feels weird and makes for challenging conversation when you can't talk about the garden, but we'll just buy from farmer's market.
The sheep are screaming for their breakfast, so I'd better go feed. Hope all is well in your world.