Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Textures and teaching - fiber arts classes

I am a texture person. I judge things by how they feel. I was asked yesterday why I don't like to wash fleece. "It feels icky," was my honest reply. Wet, dirty, loose fleece clings to your hands in a way I do not enjoy. Once it is spun into yarn, woven into a rug or otherwise structured, it is easy and enjoyable to wash.

The last skeins of this year's Thyme
wool and Fantasia mohair yarn.
When I shear a sheep or goat, I grade the fleece by touch into a spinning or a rug fleece. I write my choice on the bag, along with the shearing date and who grew the fleece.

Spinning fleeces feel so good on my hands that I want to touch them for the 20-30 hours it takes to spin up a full fleece. Rug fleeces are pretty enough to make wonderful rugs, and I'll enjoy their unique texture for the time it takes me to weave them into a rug. Some very nice spinning fleeces end up as very, very nice rugs, because I just don't have time to spin all the fleeces that I'd like to.

Because I am so kinesthetic, I learn by doing. When teaching, I sometimes find it challenging to work with students who need verbal explanations. I work hard to find the words to use to communicate my actions. I write up hand outs and test teaching techniques on friends. It seems to work, my students come back and take more classes and many of you have become friends.

Right now I'm putting together my fiber arts classes for this season at the Ozark Folk Center. I've got a locker hooking class set up and am considering Rigid Heddle weaving, needle felting, Triloom weaving. These fiber classes are in addition to my spring greens cooking class and the cheesemaking class. I'm also considering coordinating a fiber arts retreat, similar to the Ozark Quilt Retreat.

What fiber classes would you like to take this year?
And do you have a clever name for an Ozark Fiber Arts Retreat?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Call him Ishmael

Ishmael, the first baby angora goat of 2013. Born 2-22-13.
We had our first baby of the 2013 season born while I was shepherding the Ozark Quilt Retreat on Thursday. Lena texted me pictures. We shared the news with friends via Facebook. And I put out a call for "I" names. Ichabod was Lena's favorite name among the more than 17 submitted. But, when I got to meet the little guy on Friday night, I knew he was Ishmael.

Ishmael is the center of everyone's attention. He sleeps between his Mama-mama and his Mama-llama. His daddy thinks he's really cool. And even the dairy goats are intrigued by the little guy. With all this attention, he's going to grow quite the attitude.

Luckily, his mom and dad are both gentle and sweet, so I expect the same from Ishmael.
Ishmael and his Mama-mama and Mama-llama
The whole flock seems to adore the little guy.

Friday, February 22, 2013

My friend Maureen, the incredible Hat Lady

 My friend Maureen used to be one of my nearest neighbors when we lived in Meadowcreek. She was just three creek crossings away, about a half-mile further down the holler. Now that we live in town, I don't see her quite as much as I used to, but we stay in touch on that modern party-line, Facebook.
Maureen Brennan Skinner models one of her crocheted hats

The gorgeous hat that Maureen made out of one
of my handspun and dyed skeins of mohair,

T-rex by Maureen Brennan Skinner

Maureen is a multi-talented, creative, wonderful all-around awesome lady. (I admire her, a lot!) She's a mom and a has a career -  and right now, she focusing a lot of her creativity on crocheted hats. She runs her hat business on Facebook. Hatsy, no longer on etsy is her shop.

Maureen used to buy our yarns on a pretty regular basis when we lived down in the valley. Now it seems to be more of a challenge to connect. She'd been asking me for more yarn for about a year when we finally got it together through Facebook, and she bought a beautiful blue skein of Tillie yarn from our Common Threads online store. We still live in the same county. Life just moves so fast now a-days.

Two days later, I found these pics in my newsfeed. on Facebook. I  went to Hatsy no longer on etsy
and found many more pics of Maureen's awesome hats. I really love her Lord of the Rings dwarves hats, full beards and all!

She can take anything you can imagine wearing on your head, and make a hat out of it. A few weeks ago, she asked for ideas. We had just been to see the grandkids and Mattie loves dinosaurs. Grandpa Shawn had even made him a snow Stegosaurus. Mattie loves to pretend he's a T-rex. So, I asked Maureen to make a T-rex for Mattie.

This morning, I opened up Facebook to find these awesome pictures. They are so incredible!

Let me say, this is not a sponsored post, Maureen buys my handspun, homegrown yarn at full price and I'll pay her full price for this amazing hat and the other two that I now want to think up for Lydia and little Shawn. This is just my amazed and wholehearted endorsement of one of the most talented ladies I know. If you want to order a hat from her (and she makes lots of plain and pretty caps, too) just click on the link to her Hatsy no longer on etsy store. There are lots of pictures of hats on her page, or leave her a message with your hat idea. I do know she's trying to get 500 likes on her Facebook, and she's doing a give away when she gets there.

Now, what hat challenge can I send her next...?
T-rex on a live Anna model

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Diamond sunset

We had a glorious rain yesterday evening. It left the trees dripping light like diamonds in the crisp sunset. It was beautiful. 
I didn't think it would photograph, but Lena decided to try. 
Pequena at sunset, after a February spring thunderstorm. Taken by Lena
Enjoy the gift of this beautiful day.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Creativity in Black and White

I was sorting yarns in the freezer (a moth proof way to store yarn) and I came across this nice package of wool yarns that I had set aside for a shawl. My little loom needed a new warp, and I didn't want to dip into the Cast Iron colorway that I am dyeing up to warp the Newcomb for the new fleece rugs.

I'm mostly enjoying weaving shawls out of handspun right now, so I didn't feel like I needed to save that wool yarn any longer for a shawl. I warped up the little loom in this pattern with the black, gray, light gray and white wool.
Black to White warp with Tillie's white mohair
 Then I thought of the mohair I have left in the bag. Tillie's mohair - a nice, shiny white. Gizmo's mohair, a soft, glossy black. Should I mix them in one long rug?

Black to White warp with Gizmo's black mohair.
Maybe I should have, but I decided not to. I wove up the Gizmo rug on Saturday, and yesterday I started the white Tillie rug. They probably won't sell as a pair, but I'm having fun making them that way.

And I have this song stuck in my head now, "The ink is black, the page is white..."

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Meet the flock - Yearling Politics

About a month ago, we separated the unbred yearlings from the bred ewes, who are now in their third trimester of pregnancy. The ewes are lumbering about like intemperate leviathans and the yearlings want to bounce and play. They also need different levels and types of feed at this stage.

Hailey wants Hester to follow them up to the woods. Camera-shy herd boss Hannah said they had to go.
So, the five little girls went to live in the pen between their moms and the old boys (Dapper Dan, Mouse and Bones share a pen). Hester spent two weeks improving our fence building skills, as she insisted that she needed to be back with her mommy. But we got the over and under spots fixed. Their pen is just outside the kitchen window, so I can watch them in the mornings as it gets light, and in the evenings as I fix dinner. It's been interesting watching them develop their independence and own flock pecking order.

Sometimes you can look to one ram's get as being more dominant than others, but in this small a sample, that doesn't stand out. Higgs and Hailey are both by Mona's ram; Hanna and Heather are by Dapper Dan; and Hester is Boomer's first lamb.

Higgs knows she's perfectly wonderful.
I thought Higgs would be boss, but, she declined the dubious honor. Higgs is, after all, a Higgs, she is not really a sheep, just ask her. The youngest of Elizabeth's triplets of 2012, Higgs has made her own way all her life. She loves her mommy and would still sleep with her if she could, but would nurse off any ewe as a baby and is the expert in conning treats from people. Higgs just takes care of herself, outside of the little flock's politics.
Hanna is the boss of the yearling pen.
The oldest yearling took the leadership role. Hannah is a total surprise. Most young sheep take their mother's status. Hannah's mother, Nilly, has no status. She is ignored by the flock and has to be fed separately to get any food. Nilly's other lambs have been outside of the regular sheepie politics, but Hannah developed self-assurance and status all on her own this past fall. She is a pretty, square built, four-horned ewe, who looks like she will be a good addition to the flock.
Heather looks just like her sis, Greta.
Next is Heather. She's very shy and has always clung to the skirts of her mum, Basil, and her older sis, Greta. But over the last few weeks, she's learned to stand up for herself at the feed pans. She is willing to stake out her own turf over dinner, but is happy to follow Hannah's lead for when to go up into the woods or go see the older ewes.
Hester is Boomer and Finesse's lamb
Hester and Hailey share the bottom of the flock. After a month, they are just beginning to settle down and eat next to the other three. They did buddy-up pretty early on, so that has made the transition easier for them. Hester will probably have status in the flock as she gets older. Her mother, Finesse, is high-ranking for as young as she is and her grandmother, Thyme, still has the respect of the other ewes. But Hester is the youngest yearling and very much a mommy's girl.

Hester and Hailey have buddied-up.
Hailey is Frannie's daughter. Frannie was low-ranking. We sold her this summer as part of the drought sell-down. Hailey was old enough to be on her own, food-wise, but sheep really are attached to their families and she has not thrived. Now that she's connected with Hester, she seems to be doing much better.

Who needs a television when you can watch sheepy politics?

Friday, February 15, 2013

To sale or not to sale - Sale!

Every night after work and chores I've been spinning and weaving. This week I've finished a nice little Fiona rug, a Booboo wall hanging and the last two skeins of Thyme yarn.
This Mardi gras wool wrap is for sale in the Common Threads etsy store

And then in the mornings I create the listings and put these items in the Common Threads store on etsy or the link is to the left on this page in most browser.
I sell the things I make because:
1. I like to share the soft rugs, unique yarns and fun wearables with other people.
2. My customers become my friends.
3. I like to make things and I don't need to keep all this stuff.
4. I need income to buy sheep feed.

I figure my costs, both direct and indirect and the market and marketing expenses and fees and... when I set my prices. I think the ones in the store are more than fair. But, I want to get people to spread the word about my items and share them with their friends, so I can connect with the people who want my yarn for their project and who would enjoy the comfort of my rugs.

As a manager of crafts people, I discourage people from discounting the prices on their work. For all the hours they put into making one-of-a-kind items by hand, they are too cheap at any price.
But, I know people are drawn to your site/shop/store by the word "sale" or coupon.

So, at least for this weekend, starting today, because Mountain View weekends are Friday and Saturday - and going through Monday at 6:00 pm, because Monday's a holiday, I'm having a 25% off sale in my Common Threads etsy store. Just enter in the sale code FBYARN25 at check out for your 25% off. Please share this with your friends, post it on your Facebook page, etc.

If this sale brings a lot of traffic, I'm trying to map out a yarn give-away in the next few weeks. Keep tuned and send your friends to Common Threads.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Forks in the Artistic Road

When our kids were teens, and we were in the "advice-giving" stage, we'd say, "When you come to a fork in the road - take it! We're always running short of forks." With four teenagers in the house, that was always true. I really don't know, and don't want to know, what they did with all my forks.

My artistic, creative, crafting road has forked many times. As a young person, I crocheted endless afghans and granny squares and edgings on blue jean skirts. When my kids were little, I created a line of animal capes and the story-telling business EsCapades. As my love of dance drew me, I designed first my own and then increasingly elaborate cabaret-style belly dance costumes for sale. I crocheted more than 15,000 Spirit Bells myself and had a business that allowed women to work from home crocheting thousands more. My woven shawls are traveling-on of that fork in the road.

This worked together with my sheep and goats and twin passions for history and farming to lead me into creating my Fleecyful rugs, over many years of experimentation. There've been many side trips over the years. At this very moment, I'm wearing a pair of foot-coverings crocheted from my sheep's unspun fleece. I have lots of one-of's in my closet and in boxes, and many unidentifiable unfinished objects that haven't even made it that far.

There are two paths that have been pulling at my attention for the last few years. One is making handbags with my handwovens. I've made several, tested a few myself, sold all of the nicer ones and have two in the works right now, with materials for many more in a box. I poke myself to work on them almost every weekend now, but haven't quite started yet. I guess I'm just not ready to take that fork in hand.
An unfinished fork in my artistic path

The other is needle-felting. I do it, most of you have one of my needle felted dryer balls. I've done a wee bit of embellishment with needle felt on the handbags I've made, or started. And I have an Unfinished Tapestry (yep, I showed it in a gallery under that title) that combines weaving, wood work, embroidery and needle felting. I have a chance to take a needle felting workshop with an excellent teacher this next week. I just don't know. Am I ready to take this fork?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Shearing begins - or - Why shear now?

Basil being sheared last year. We'll shear her again this weekend.
We always try to shear before our ewes lamb and does kid. There are several reasons for this - our sheep and goats are out on pasture. We will bring them into pens and shelters with their babies when necessary, but they mostly manage just fine on their own.
1. If the mamaas are covered up in the thick wooly coats that they are wearing now, they cannot share body heat with their babes when they lay down together.
2. Lambs and kids have very short coats. If their dams also have very short coats, they know when it's cold enough to take the babies into the shelter.
3. Lambing and kidding is stressful and causes a metabolic change in the ewe/doe. This causes a break in her wool/mohair. So, if we shear right before birthing, then we are shearing at a natural break.
4. We don't want fleeces to get dirty with birth fluids.
5. We want the babies to be able to find the udders.

So, why don't we wait until later in the year to breed, so that we don't have to shear when it's still cold? Again, there are many reasons.
1. Most breeds of sheep and goats are seasonal breeder, they will breed September - December for babies in February-April. In our flocks, we seem to have a few that push the boundaries on the late side, but nobody seems to start cycling early.
2. We live in Arkansas, where everything grows well (usually, last year's drought is an exception, I sincerely pray) - including pests and parasites. The barber-pole worm is just one of many that infects sheep and goats and is happiest at above 60-degrees and 60% humidity. We have a decent parasite management plan, but I want my kids and lambs to have a start before the parasites. The babies born in February and March grow better and are stronger and healthier than those born later.
3. Here, our first flush of green is starting right now. By the time our girls are dropping their babies, we'll have a bright new pasture, with all its good vitamins and minerals for milk production and healing.

So, enough lecture mode.

When we did body score and FAMACHA eye checks on everybody this Sunday, we also checked udders. I have the dates when we put the girls with the boys this year, and it looks like in most cases, they got right to work.
I knew that Cowslip did not take on her first visit to Boomer in September, but she seems to have settled on the next go-around. Demi is bred to Dan for lambs the end of Feb., early March and Basil is bred to Boomer for his first lambs of the season. Tillie and Gamma seem to have worked it out with Herkimer for late February babies. He seemed so shy when we put him with the girls, but I guess they liked that approach.

This weekend we'll be shearing those four. If you are interested in fleeces, lambs or kids, give me a call, send an email, message me on Facebook or leave a comment here and I'll get back to you. We only bred 9 ewes this year and 5 angora does, due to the drought, but we will have some babies for sale.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Slips and Starts

The sweet potato project is well underway. This winter, my gardening has been indoors. I have the laundry room window full of hopes in the form of sticks in moist dirt. I hope they'll be elderberries and peaches and figs in the future. My kitchen window is blooming with sweet potato slips and Shawn's shop is full of sleeping front porch plants.

The two sweet potatoes creating the slips are ones saved from last year's crop, which was grown from slips given to me by Cynthia. I hope to grow a big crop this year, using strawbale culture for these plants, but it looks like I might have extra, if you need some, I'd be glad to pass along this gift.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Swatch test

After washing

Before washing

After washing

Before washing
I've learned, through experience to swatch test all the yarns I want to use together in a weaving project, especially if I'm putting them on the Newcomb. It takes 16 hours to tie and wind a warp onto the big old rug loom, and that's after I've dyed and measured the yarns. Then I can weave between 5 and 8 rugs on that warp, depending on the size of the fleeces, so I need to make sure the yarns in that warp play well together.

To do a swatch test for rugs, I take the yarn I want to use and crochet tem together. Then I just throw them into a regular wash load and see how they come out. I think this batch will make a pretty set of rugs. And I should have it on the loom by this year's Shearing Day, Saturday, March 30.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Seeds and hope and sleep

Despite the cold and gloomy weather, the CAAH! Seed Swap was well attended.

Yesterday started way too early. I was worried about some contract meetings and the first retail event of this new year at work. So, about 2:30 a.m. I gave up on sleep and went to work on the computer. That happens way too often lately.

Throughout the day, I saw many folks that I have missed seeing this winter. It is worrisome that many of them are not out and about due to poor health. I could relate, as health issues in our household have kept me from being out in the community. If you don't feel good, then little else matters and it affects everyone who cares about you.

"I don't have seed, would you trade for fresh eggs?" "YES!"
So, the contract meetings went smoothly, the retail setup was well covered by people whose job it was to do it and, I had a chance to go enjoy the CAAH! seed swap. This event amazes me every year. It is set up by young, college-aged people who are interested in preserving our agricultural heritage. Their energy and new eyes on issues makes me smile. I hope they can hang onto their dreams. At its root, their dream of preserving the rich diversity of food by connecting and sharing seeds is a hope for health.

Tina Marie Wilcox (R) shares herbs and seeds and inspiration.
Every year, I hear the best stories at Seed Swap. Stories about grandma's beans and grandpa's okra. Stories about preserving and eating and enjoying the hopes of a good harvest and a good year. Yesterday's rain boded well for this year's gardens. A gentleman promised me that we'd have good pasture this year. I told him I'd hold him to it.

I didn't stay long. But the energy of Seed Swap put a bright perspective on my day. I went home and finished Fiona's Fleecyful rug and started on Boo's. And last night, with the rain falling fast and hard, I got some more sleep.