Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Story of Story Scarves

I started making story scarves several years ago. I met the delightful, energetic, flamboyant Ezra Phillips at an Interpreter workshop. I always spin yarn and crochet at workshop. Ezra was fascinated. I showed him how to spin. We had fun and at the end of the week, he said, "I want you to make me a scarf with EVERY COLOR!"

I was intrigued by the challenge. It sat in the back of my mind. I saw Ezra a few months later at a training. "Do you have my scarf done?" He asked. "It's starting to get cold!"

I went home that day and dipped into my yarn stash. As a weaver and crocheter, I often have a bit of a skein of yarn left when I finish weaving a shawl or making a hat or...

I came up with the idea of using these little bits of yarn, some only 10 yards long, others hundreds of yards, to make a l-o-n-g, multicolor, scrappy scarf for Ezra.

I crocheted it as we traveled while Shawn drove. As we went north, through corn fields and farmland, I though about the stories of the yarns I was working into this scarf. Some were handspun from our critters fleeces. Some were hand-me-overs from friends who were destashing. Some were bright novelty yarns from gypsy-style shawls I wove. The stories of the yarns wove themselves into the story of our trip. And the concept of story scarves was born. 

Ezra loved his scarf as much as I loved creating it. He shared pictures of where he traveled in that scarf. His stories added themselves to the fiber of the first story scarf. 

It was a concept that found its home in my heart. Every time I finish a big project, the little bits of left over yarn go into my project bag. That bag travels with me everywhere. 

I crochet story scarves at conferences, in hospital waiting rooms, on the plane, and in the passenger seat of the car. I've given them to nurses who went out of their way to care for family members. I've given them to friends who expressed an interest in the project. I've donated them to auctions for scholarships and causes. 

My word for 2019 is "Focus"  (to me that means "be present where I am and work on the thing that is in front of me at the moment") and to that end, I am focusing story scarves on a cause. 

Crafts people across the US are aging. It's hard to make a living with your hands. It's hard to find the time to focus in a craft enough to achieve a mastery of that craft. We have craft masters in more than 20 crafts at the Ozark Folk Center State Park. This year I am focusing on growing our exsisting apprentice program into one that will help young people connect with our craft masters, learn their skills and perpetuate our Ozark tradition of craftsmanship. 

To that end, I'm donating 50% of the sales price of each story scarf to the Committee of One Hundred for the Ozark Folk Center. Their craft scholarships have helped create many of the master craft artisans in our park over the last 45 years. We are going to bring that tradition to a new generation. 

This story scarf in the picture, crocheted on the plane to Winter Market in Las Vegas, and any others I create this year will be available in my Havencroft Farm etsy store, along with its story. The donation to the Committee will be in the scarf buyers name.

The Story of this Scarf

This story scarf was crocheted on the plane to Las Vegas in January of 2019. We were headed out on a buying trip to Las Vegas Winter Market. 

The base yarn in this scarf is the center handspun gray, it is from Cowslip's wool. She is currently our eldest Jacob Sheep ewe. She was born in February of 2003. She is quite the pet and comes out of the retired sheep yard every morning and evening to get her own special grain mix.

The next yarn is a bright red wool. I dyed it to make a hat for an runner friend. I never could get the hat right, and the yarn has been used in several projects. I ought to get back to that. Maybe I'll try some alpaca yarn this time.

The heathered green yarn is from a dear friend who was destashing her very delicious yarns. I let most of the bag go to our Sit & Stitch friends, and to the project basket for the Fiber Arts shop at the Ozark Folk Center, but I liked the feel of this one, and wanted a chance to work with it.

The fall multi colored cotton is from a shawl I wove, as is the blue/green/black thick-thin, the shiny ribbon, and the pale lavendar fuzzy. And there's a light gray alpaca in the mix that Lena used in knitting a pair of socks.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sheep Farming - A Labor of Love

I am a shepherd.
Havencroft Higgledy-Piggledy (Higgs) grows fleeces for
some of my best wild rugs, has awesome lambs, and loves
to get scratched under her wool. She wags her tail when
you get the right spot, just like a dog. She passes that
unique trait on to her children.

My heart, my soul and my passion are -
  • the land that supports my sheep and goats; 
  • the healthy flocks that greet me every time I look out the window or step outside; 
  • the milk, wool, mohair, alpaca, llama and dog fiber they provide for my fiber arts; 
  • the spinning, weaving, felting and crochet that I do with the fleeces from my animals; 
  • the cheese that I make from the goat's milk; 
  • the connections I make with the people who buy the things I craft; 
  • and the relationships that those folks build with our animals and land.
It's a lot of hard work, and it is truly a labor of love.

HF Hocus Pocus is mildly annoyed at her son for climbing on her.
HF Finesse ("Nessie" - Thyme's last lamb and Canoe Lake Sonic Boom's first
on our land), is on the right is with her two 2018 ram lambs. We retired her
with those two boys. She's only nine, but she had trouble lambing.
Our retired sheep, now six of them, ranging in age from 9 to 16,
live in a big paddock with trees and a deep bedded shelter
on the west side of our land.

I frequently get asked if I make a living farming. I have learned to school my expression and not laugh maniacally at the question. There was a time when I thought I could live sustainable as a farmer, and there are people who do. I don't. As my tax preparer says, "You have a hobby farm." It's a lot of hard work for a "hobby". It is a labor of love.

So, it's tax time again and as I was figuring things up, I thought I'd share some numbers. Every farm is different and costs vary every year. The weather is also a big factor. Some years we can graze seven months. Some years we feed hay all year.

These numbers aren't meant to prove anything. They are just some business numbers from Havencroft Farm in the Arkansas Ozarks.

Like many Americans, we have a mortgage, utilities, gas, groceries, medical bills and insurance. We are lucky enough to have jobs to pay for all of that. Our jobs and help from our folks cover infrastructure like roofs, fencing, and barns; and equipment upgrades like my new Spinolution Firefly, an electric production spinning wheel that allows me to keep spinning the yarns I love as my body ages.

I love this picture of the sheep grazing out front fall of 2018.
Left to right are HF Judith, HF Hester, HF Ipswich (Dapper Dan's last daughter),
HF Magic, HF Nexxus, and HF Natalie.

Our flocks of 25 adult Jacob Sheep, 4 angora goats, 3 alpacas, and five dairy goats mostly pay for their own food, supplements and medical bills.

This last year, expenses were
Hay - (thanks for wonderful friends in a very weird growing year), $1,350
Grain - $4,680
Supplements - salt blocks, kelp, selenium - $800
Vet - (supplies like wormers and visits - and we have an awesome vet. Thanks Doc Nixon!) - $900

Total expenses  - $7,730

This year my goal is to weave all my
shawls from yarns spun out of 
fleece grown on our 
Havencroft Farm by our beloved
sheep, goats, and alpaca.
That's part of the reason I've 
enjoyed dyeing so much this winter.

Income from sales of products I make by hand from milk and fleeces from our animals -
Goat's milk - $384 (family drinks most of it, or eats the cheese I make from the milk, this number is just direct sales to customers.)
Sales from the Havencroft Farm etsy store, $1,200 (I hope to build that back up this coming year)
Sales of Fleecyful rugs, Havencroft Homestead Handspun yarns, and handwoven shawls - $4,300
Sales of ram lambs and extra ewe lambs - $1,500

Total income - $7,384

So, the cost to our homestead budget of having the sheep and goats that I love so much is $346, this past year.

They're worth it, to me, and I hope to those of you who love the things you treasure from the fleeces they grow. Its truly a labor of love.

I love to spin yarn from the fleeces of my sheep, and to be able to watch them
playing out the window as I spin. I love how the yarn seems to have the
characteristics of the sheep or goat who is growing it, sometimes sweet and
soft, sometimes michevous, sometimes elegant. This yarn is
HF Luna's (Moose Mountain Jacob x HF Imbri)
spun as a whole fleece, right from the pillowcase we put the fleece in after
shearing. Luna started out shy, but she has grown to be one of our boss ewes.

Each Fleecyful rug that I weave is from the whole fleece
of one of our Jacob Sheep, angora goats, or alpacas.
I usually weave with the raw fleece, right out of the bag
it's put in a shearing, letting the natural colors of the
animals design the pattern of the rug. 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Dyeing Days - Winter in the Havencroft Farmstead Kitchen

Art Yarn from Havencroft Farm
Havencroft Homestead Handspun Art Yarn -
Grown and spun with love.
This wool (purple and yellow), mohair (hot pink) and alpaca
(natural white and berry) art yarn was all grown by critters here
.on Havencroft Farm and dyed by me, before being
picked and spun into this wild art yarn. I was concerned
that my goal of using only fleeces grown on our farm
in my fiber art might be limiting my color and texture
palette. I'm not worried any longer. 
Life and work on the farm is seasonal.There are the obvious things. Most planting is done in the spring. Hay is harvested in the summer. But there are many other tasks that may make total sense for those who live the homestead life, but may not be so apparent to others. Right now it is winter. Winter in the Ozarks is unpredictable weather-wise, but it always brings shorter days and forests without leaves.
Washing dyed mohair.
In the winter it can't be confused
with kale, chard or collards from the garden.
So, winter is the time we harvest broom handles. The sap is in the roots of the trees. We can cut sassafrass without harming the thicket. We can see the handles we want. And best of all, there are far fewer ticks and bugs in the forest in the winter.
Winter is also the time I run my dye pots. Colors are more subtle in nature in the winter, so I love to add some bright vibrant color to my life, my fleeces and my yarn during this season. Also, dyeing takes heat and water. While I do my dye mixing on my back porch, I do heat my dye vats on the kitchen stove. It helps to heat up the house in the winter. I do much of my washing of fleeces to prepare them for dyeing in the bathtub, which also heats up and steams up the house, which is appreciated in the winter, not in any other season.
I also have the time and space to dye in the winter, because I don't make cheese in the winter. Goats are seasonal breeders, as are the sheep. So even if I manage to stagger their breeding dates so that one or two of them are always milking,  in the winter there is only enough milk for me to drink, not the gallons I need to make cheese. My cheese pots and dye pots look similar, but are stored in very different areas and are not mixed in any way. However, it is good to have the two activities separated by seasons, too.

My back porch is where I mix dyes and dry the dyed yarns and fleeces.
It doubles as my potting shed and plant starting room.
Winter is the time we are increasing the feed to the ewes and does as their fleeces grow long and their baby-bellies get bigger. We are looking forward to lambing and kidding. That means shearing season is coming soon. I need to finish weaving, spinning and dyeing the rest of last years fleeces to get ready for this year's on the shelf. So I'm weaving, spinning, washing and dyeing what's on the shelf. 
After it is processed, washed, picked and dyed fleece is stored in cedar trunks for use through the upcoming seasons for spinning and weaving.
So, I'm off to start a fresh dye pot. I've been dyeing natural stone colors for a project, so I think I want something bright. How about more florescent pink?

For practical matters, I do use some natural dyes, but I mostly use acid dyes from Dharma Trading. I've been buying from this company since before there was an internet. 
If you are looking for any of my Havencroft Homestead Handspun art yarns for your next project, check out our Havencroft Farm etsy store.
Leading today's music playlist in the Havencroft Farm Fiber Studio.
To Everything There is a Season
adapted from Ecclesiastes 3, 1-8, by Pete Seeger
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it's not too late

Monday, January 07, 2019

Havencroft Homestead Handspun Yarns

Just a few of the Havencroft Homestead Handspun Yarns off my spinning wheel. Many of these are listed in the Havencroft Farm etsy store.
I love to spin. I enjoy the feel of the fleece in my hand. Watching, petting and cuddling the animal friends who grow the fleece makes me happy. I love deciding what I want to ply the single yarn with and the unique beauty of each skein as it winds off the bobbin and on to the niddy-noddy, ready for washing.

Spinning is also what I do to relax. People often ask me how I keep up with the pace of my daily life. I have built in relaxation in my spinning, weaving, crochet, animal care, and sometimes, writing.

I spin lots of yarn, I love the challenge of sitting down to spin a whole fleece. But, it is all one - or maybe four or five - of a kind skeins of yarn. Many people like to follow patterns, and set guages, and predictable results. They want to know the item they are spending all these many hours making will turn out to be the item that they liked the picture of and wanted. I understand that, but my world is one of creative directions, happy accidents, design elements and excitement in seeing how the latest project turned out. Yep, I'm a double gemini in a house full of gemini's. Life is endlessly entertaining.

To that end, I needed to figure out how my one-of-a-kind skeins of yarn, grown by my wonderful Jacob Sheep, colored angora goats, goofy alpacas and guardian llama fit into the greater world of fibery fun so that I could connect them with people who would like to use them in their projects. That's where the concept for Havencroft Homestead Handspun Yarns came in. All of my yarns are from fibers grown on our homestead, with a few accents like dyed silk (don't raise silk worms), star fire or angelina, and metallic thread.

A skein of Luna's Jacob Sheep wool, all natural colors.

Havencroft Homestead Handspun Yarns are one-of-a-kind, individual skeins of yarn, grown by pampered critters, spun and dyed with love in the Ozarks.

These yarns are great as accents for scarves, shawls, hats and many other projects. Also, I'll be working on developing crochet patterns for small skein projects and have a few pattern testers lined up.

If you'd like to check out some of my yarns, they are listed in our Havencroft Farm etsy store; we are on the Off The Beaten Path Studio Tour, if you want to come meet the critters, too. We also do the Arkansas Craft Guild Christmas Showcase in Little Rock.

I have several goals for this year, one is to work only with our homegrown fleeces in my fiber arts. I worried about that one, because as much as I love the natural colors of fibers our critters grow, color is what sells. But then I spun the yarn below, all from wool, mohair and alpaca grown on Havencroft Farm and dyed by me. I'm not worried about having novelty yarn any more!

Havencroft Homestead Handspun Yarn, an art yarn skein of wool, mohair and alpaca.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Why I love to spin raw fleece

I love to spin yarn. The flow of the fleece in my hands, the twist of the fibers, the tug of the wheel. It's my meditation, my relaxation, my joy. I spin almost every night. It's how I unwind, pun intended. Rough days at work, worries on the farm, health issues with family and friends - these all wind away onto the bobbin. 

This Spinolution Firefly 32 oz bobbin holds most of Havencroft Luna's 2018 Jacob Sheep wool fleece spun into a 2 ply, 5 wpi yarn. It was spun raw - unwashed and uncarded, right out of the bag.

But I have a dirty little secret. 
I love to spin raw wool. Yep, unwashed, uncarded, with little bits of vegetable matter (vm) to pick out on the way. 

There are many reasons for this.
  • I weave and crochet with my finished yarns. I love the unique texture that spinning unprepared fleece gives the yarns. 
  • I love the feel of the lanolin. It makes my hands soft. 
  • I love the heathery look of random color blends from each of my spotted sheep's fleeces.
  • It gives my spinning wheel a nice patina. (yes, I do have to clean it periodically)
  • I hate washing fleece.
  • I feel like it helps me connect to and appreciate my sheep and angora goats and goofy alpaca boys.
  • Strong, healthy sheep equals strong yarn. If there are health issues, problems in the yarn are one more way for me to find them.
  • I learn first hand what weeds are hidden in our hay or pasture.

A few of our Havencroft Jacob Sheep ewes grazing on the front pasture, summer 2018. From left to right, Judith, Hester, Ipswich, Molly, Nexxus, Nebula.
It's still quite a process to go from sheep to yarn.

My daughter and I do all our shearing by hand here on Havencroft Farm. We shear each sheep up on a stand, and put the fleece in a pillow case after it rolls off the sheep. We skirt out the really dirty bits as we shear, they don't go into the bag. After shearing, and after the sheep has had her toenails trimmed (mani-pedi with her hair cut, the full beauty salon treatment), the sheep bounces off to scratch and enjoy not wearing her full wool blanket, then I label the bag with the name of the sheep, the date, and the intended use of the fleece. The soft, buttery, silky fleeces are destined for my spinning stash. The coarser fleeces are woven into Fleecyful Rugs.

Each fleece goes into a pillow case for storage after shearing.
I spin right out of the pillow case

I've always loved to spin an entire fleece at a time. I've enjoyed doing that since I started spinning about 2001 or '02. Jacobs are small sheep, so a spinning fleece, which is often a lamb fleece, will net 400 - 1,000 yards of 2-ply worsted or bulky yarn. Spinning in the evenings, it can take me a month to spin and ply an entire fleece. 

Luna 2-ply Jacob Sheep wool yarn, 5 wpi. Spun right from the bag.

After spinning, then plying, winding the yarn off into skeins, and tying each skein securely in four places - Then I wash the yarn. It takes seven water baths to wash most yarns. I wash them in warm water in my kitchen sink. I handle the yarn gently to prevent felting and allow lots of soaking time to ease out dirt and vm. For soaps I use Orvus or Dharma Proffesional Textile Detergent. In the past I have used Dawn or people shampoos and creme rinses.

Raw spun yarn washing steps
Always fill the sink first, and take the yarn out of the sink for draining and filling. 

  1. Soak the yarn in a sink full of warm rinse water for about 20 minutes, to wet the yarn down.
  2. Remove yarn from sink, squeezing out the water. drain and wash down sink
  3. Wash - Fill sink with warm water, add 2X normal amount of detergent after sink is done filling. Disperse soap completely before adding yarn, one skein at a time. Make sure the yarn can move freely. Do not try to wash too much at once.
  4. Let soak for another 20 minutes, turning, swishing and squeezing gently every time you walk past the sink.
  5. Pull yarns from water bath, gently squeezing out the soapy water.
  6. Rinse - Drain and clean sink, and refill with warm water.
  7. Again, one at a time add skeins to sink, gently swirling and squeezing the yarn. GENTLY is the key. Wool, alpaca and mohair yarns are very happy to felt.
  8. Repeat the wash and rinse cycle one more time, or twice if the yarn is still dirty. 
  9. I usually do a double rinse at the end, the next to the last rinse has 1/4 cup of white vinegar in it to remove the last of the soap. 
  10. Then I finish with one more plain water rinse.

Luna's washed skeins of yarn, ready for listing in the Havencroft etsy store.