Monday, December 30, 2019

3 Fiber Arts Tools That Changed My Art in 2019

I've been a fiber artist for more than 50 years. Yep, that long. My grandma Augustine taught me to crochet when I was eight, and I've been obsessed since then. In that time I've developed a style that is me, designs I like, and a few that I've published. I've taught classes in places ranging from The Wool Festival at Taos to the Ozark Folk Center State Park. And I have learned so much and moved so far ahead in my craft in 2019. Always keep learning!

Part of it was driven by changes in my body. Treadling a spinning wheel or standing at a loom can wear out your joints. I have a master weaver friend who quit weaving because, as she said, her body could no longer take being part of the machine. But, fiber arts is me, so I started looking at different tools, and that learning has opened up so many doors.

My Spinolution Firefly with the 32 oz
bobbin. Lockspun hand dyed alpaca fleece.


Spinolution Firefly - The Spinolution Firefly is an electric spinning wheel. I raise our sheep and goats for their wonderful fiber, that I spin into yarn and weave beautiful things. That's my passion. I've been spinning and treadling a spinning wheel daily for more than 20 years. My ankles and hips have joint issues, in part because of spinning. I tried electric spinning wheels off and on since 2006, and didn't like them. I love to spin from the locks, spin raw fleece, spin dyed blends, and spin lots of yarn. The Ashford Country Spinner was one of my very favorite wheels. and I couldn't comfortably treadle it any longer.

At the 2018 Arkansas Craft Guild Christmas Showcase, my dear friend and fiber cohort loaned me her Spinolution Firefly. I spun on it the whole show, and broke it! After desperate panicked calls to their tech support, we learned it was a blown fuse, and learned how to replace it. After that experience, I was sold on their tech support. And Leigh is such a dear friend, that even after that experience, she let me take her Firefly home with me to spin more.

There is a huge learning curve to an electric wheel, it's not something you can just pick up and do, even after 20 years of spinning. But I spun 3 of our homegrown fleeces, one alpaca (first, because that's easiest), one Jacob sheep (also easy), and one kid mohair (still a challenge today, but my favorite fiber) before I returned her wheel to her. Then, with my parents' help, I ordered my own. They are pricey, but for me, it has been worth it. I can spin so much more yarn, so much faster. And I have learned so much already, in just one year with this wheel. My Firefly is a good teacher.

I love spinning yarn. I love dyeing our fleeces into bright colors and blending those to make soft, luscious yarns. I've developed a unique style of yarn that I love making from our fleeces with the Spinolution Firefly. I've sold some of that yarn, but I wanted to make it accessible to people who don't do fiber arts. Of course, people can wear skeins, but that's not a real option for most people. I'm still in the process of designing yarn jewelry, look for that, maybe, in 2020. I tried crocheting scarves, and that seemed to hide the beauty of this yarn, as well as take forever. I tried big needle knitting, and just didn't like doing it. (I don't knit) I tried weaving a scarf on my 24-inch rigid heddle loom, and did a nice one, but the sizing was awkward. But that look I got from the weaving led me to looking at the "silly little starter looms." I love the Ashford products for their durability and versatility. As a weaving teacher, I try to get my students to think about where they want to go with their weaving, and then steer them to the right loom.
Kanger wishes I would spend more
time dog petting than weaving. Low
water immersion dyed/chain plied alpaca
warp, lock spun Nigel's mohair weft.

So, in taking my own advice, I knew I wanted to weave scarves. My tools need to stand up to farm life, demonstrating, teaching, traveling, and lots of use. One consideration is that I travel a good bit, and I take my fiber arts with me. A friend offered to loan me an older style small loom that she had so I could try the size, but that loom was no longer made. So, I jumped right in and bought a ten-inch Ashford SampleIt Loom. 

Sampleit Loom - My yarns are my palette and my passion. I want to share their beauty and comfort with everyone. I want to wrap people in a hug and make them smile every time they look down and see the flash of color draped down their chest. I want people to share my happiness in my fibers. The Sampleit loom lets me do that quickly. In two hours I can go from a naked loom to a scarf ready to hem and fringe. I can go from dyed and dried fiber to a finished scarf in less than 6 hours. That's lightning speed in fiber arts! I wove a scarf a day for a month and I am in love with that little loom!

I hate a naked loom, so, like most weavers, I have the next 2 or 3 projects planned while I'm finishing the one I'm working on. This solid little loom is a work horse, and I continued to weave four scarves a week on it from my handspun and dyed yarns from our critters here on Havencroft Farm.

Speaking of Dyed & Dried...

Spin Dryer - Fiber arts is a craft of lots of tools and tweaks. Many of them you create yourself, many of them exist and you just have to find them. Again, enter my dear friend and amazing fiber artist, Leigh. She is a creative explorer, maker and user of fiber arts tools. Check out her Twining Vine Designs web site here. She's a great teacher and an incredibly talented felter and jeweler. She is also very generous sharing her exploration of fiber arts equipment. When she upgrades equipment, she sometimes offers the prior one to the local fiber artists. So when she had a little spin dryer that need a new home, I thought I'd give it a try.
Scarves and dyed fiber drying in my dye room, aka the back porch.

I wash all my fiber for dyeing and blending. I dye most of my fiber and wash and rinse out all my dyed yarns and fiber. I wet finish all my spun yarns and woven goods. I spend a lot of time hand washing wool, mohair, and alpaca. And it takes forever to dry in the humidity of the Ozarks.

The spin dryer has been amazing. It pulls more water out than you could get out any other way, and in 12 hours I have dry yarn, fibers or scarves. I now can't imagine finishing my fiber arts without one. Thanks again Leigh!

2019 has been an amazing year of learning and growing. Following Focus & Finish has pushed me to find tools and systems to allow me to expand and improve my fiber arts. Now I'm looking forward to building on this base by #PushingBoundaries2020.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Barn, Chicken Coop, Jug Pens & House Painting - 2019 on Havencroft Farm

A couple years ago I adopted the practice of picking a motivational phrase for the coming new year. I can't remember where I heard that idea, or if I just thought of it. My phrase for 2019 has been Focus & Finish, a much needed reminder for my creative, energetic, blonde Gemini self. There is just so much to do out there and so many opportunities and ... I can start 9 million projects, and accomplish a few. Focus & Finish has been very useful.

When I look at 2019 from the perspective of what happened this year, instead of looking at what is still left on my to-do list, I am amazed. 2019 is a year when we made family connections and our family added new people to this world. Its a year when I found practices, people, and things that I didn't know I needed, and they revolutionized my life. It's a year worth chronicling.

These will be in several blog posts, and things listed are not in order of importance -

2019 Around Havencroft Farm

Barn - I had forgotten how much I love having a barn to keep my animals safe, dry and warm. It's a place to store feed safely, keep all the tools in one place and milk the goats in comfort. It's nice to have a barn again.
During installation, before we added more gravel at the base and brought
the animals in.

In November of 2018 we had a barn installed. Over this year we've filled it in and filled it up. It's actually a 17 by 32 foot carport, with 7 foot ceilings and a 10 by 17 foot tool room at the back. We've used and loved our mobile hoop shelters for decades, and we still have them for the sheep half of the farm, but now the goats have a tight, dry, permanent shelter. That means we have to clean it out, instead of just moving the hoop shelter, but we have friends who use the deep bedding as mulch on their gardens. They came and helped clean last spring. We'll see if the barn cleaning party grows this coming spring.

The new barn is approved by the alpine dairy goat flock.
We were able to store 83 bales of hay in the barn, instead of outside under tarps. Sweet! It is my milking barn, grain room and garden tool storage. We like it so much we want to get one for the sheep side of the farm, perhaps in 2 or 3 more years. It was an expensive purchase, but should last for decades, and one that makes me happy every time I step out the back door.

Jug pens - Something in shepherding that I've always said was unnecessary with our wonderful Jacob sheep, but that I have learned to love this last year, and a product of having the barn are jug pens.

Kachina and her lambs Ophelia & Olympia in the jug pen
in the new barn during the near constant rain of the winter and spring of 2019.

These are small pens built inside the barn. Ours are 5-foot by 5-foot, for ewes or does who are about to lamb or kid. This allows the mother a clean dry place to have her babies, a quiet time to bond with them, and it gives the babies a start in a safe environment. In 40 years of shepherding, I did not use them. 

We had safe spaces for ewes having trouble, sometimes it was the farmhouse kitchen, but for the most part, they weren't needed. Instinct leads ewes to find a safe place to lamb, the other sheep in the flock give them space, and most lambs are up and about on their own with just their mother's cleaning. But, during lambing season (February and March for us at Havencroft Farm) we rotate checking the ewes every two hours. This way we can help any ewes having birthing troubles and find any babies who are struggling. We leave many of our ewes out to lamb as they please. But now, we have two jug pens in the barn, and we rotated sheep through them for the 2019 lambing season. All the first-time mothers went into a pen, then we didn't have to search the pasture for them. Any ewe who had trouble in the past went in. The littlest lambs went in with their moms during big storms. We had no bottle babies in 2019, perhaps due to the jug pens. That is a huge labor saver.

Painting the House - Have you ever read John Grisham's "A Painted House"? I love that book. Squirrel...
Havencroft Farm, September 20, 2019

I live in the rural Ozarks. I grew up as an Army brat, moved for the first time at nine-days-old, and even as an adult, I moved a lot. I love the Ozarks, the land, the water, the people, and our homestead. I live here by choice. 
When we first looked at this house, it was many colors on the outside. When she couldn't sell it, the former owner painted it white on the outside the summer of 2009. I don't think it was good quality paint, so by the summer of 2019, it looked really shabby. 
We've wanted to paint it, and fix a lot of the structural necessities for years, but with Shawn working two jobs, Lena full time in the broom shop, and me working 45-55 hours a week, plus the farm and the weaving business, and now school, it was obvious we weren't going to get it done. But the Spring rains of 2019 had exacerbated some wall rot on the west side. So, we took out a loan from the bank of Mom & Dad and hired a contractor. Picking paint was fun. We went with a slate green for the body, and a tan to match the rock walls for the trim. I like it a lot. And the homestead looks so much more groomed and cared for, just having the house painted. When I look through old photos of this place, I'm amazed by all the improvements we've made in our decade here. It's still got a ways to go, but, Focus & Finish.

Chicken coop - I've had chickens most of my adult life. They eat bugs, they turn the soil in the goat barn, and they lay eggs. They just fit in my life. My chickens have lived in falling down sheds, up in the top of a pine tree for the night & just loose during the day, a nice home made chicken coop with an elaborate big run, the top of the pig barn, and a cattle panel covered with a tarp. They did fine in all these accommodations. But I like to keep them safe. So I wanted a strong, solid, tight chicken coop. 

And we don't have the time or direction to build one. Talent we have, and we can all build what ever we put our minds to, but we each have other directions our time. Spending about 6 months researching and looking at coops, we finally decided on one. It took a while to get in touch with the builders, and a 6-hour evening drive to Clarksville to make the arrangements to purchase it and have it delivered. I spent hours figuring out drainage, sun, shade, access and the best place to put the coop. The couple delivering it came from Conway. It is 10' by 14' and weighs over a ton. They delivered it on a truck and had a little tractor that just lifted the coop and put it right where I wanted it. Our babies chicks were moved out of their little pen in the barn and into the coop. We clean the coop out every Sunday and re-bed it with waste hay from the goat barn. There is no way eggs will ever pay for the cost of that chicken house, but it was so worth it in ease of care, aesthetics, and peace of mind. 

That's all for today. Further recap of 2019, the year of Finish & Focus to come.

    Tuesday, December 24, 2019

    PushingBoundaries2020 or a Tale of Two Looms

    My tagline for this coming new year is #PushingBoundaries2020. A boundary is a line that marks the limits. I am comfortable within the limits of my job, my farm, and my craft. But there is more to be learned, and more to explore. Going back to college full time in September of 2018 got me back into the learning process. It stretched my ability to manage time. It reminded me that you get out of things what you put into them. And through my classes, I touched on many new ideas. My tagline for 2019 was Focus & Finish. It has served me well. More about that in some year-end wrap up posts.

    Why Pushing Boundaries? Why not something brighter, like Exploring Options?
    Well, I'm a curious person who likes to do and try new things. But, sometimes, I need a push, from myself, or from other sources, to go beyond my comfort zone and go through the process to get to a different level. Yeah, the options look interesting, but I'm comfortable, (and dog-gone busy!) right where I'm at. So #PushingBoundaries2020.

    Weaving Fleeceyful Jacob Sheep wool
    rugs with raw fleece on my Newcomb Loom
    For example, you all know my Newcomb loom. I got it from my Aunt Jeannie and have been weaving on it for a long time. It is a big part of the development of my Fleeceyful Wool Rugs. I've been weaving rugs from my raw Jacob Sheep and mohair fleeces on this loom since about 2004. I've woven about 30 rugs a year on it for the last 15 years. That's about 450 rugs. A few are in my house, many are in homes across the United States. I love that loom. It's simple, it's sturdy, and it works.
    About two years ago, when the Arkansas Craft School was in the process of moving to their new location, they had a pile of sticks and gears and metal bits that looked like something, but needed to go somewhere. My dad knew they were looms, but it wasn't clear how many, or what type. So he offered to take them home, to assemble them if possible, and see what was there. After much work on his part, the pieces were reassembled into a Union 2 harness rug loom, and a JL Hammett 4 harness loom - and lots of miscellaneous parts. The Union loom found a new home, for a donation to the school. And the Hammett hung out in my dad's shop. I asked the school if I could weave on it, and they said "Sure, for as long as you want." But I never did spend enough time in my dad's shop to even get a warp on the loom.

    Newcomb with the latest warp finished.
    The Hammett kept tugging on my mind. My home studio only has room for one big loom. The Newcomb is 54" by 48", the Hammett is 54" by 54". There is no way they'd both fit. I love the Newcomb, but the Hammett offers unexplored possibilities. With the concept of #PushingBoundaries2020 in place, I took a deep breath and asked my family for ideas on how to safely store the Newcomb, for a year at least. Shawn came up with the idea of disassembling it and hanging it from the ceiling in the wood shop. We picked up the bicycle hooks on Tuesday when we were in Mountain Home, and took the loom apart and hung it in storage on Saturday.

    The Newcomb disassembled and safely
    in storage in the wood working shop.
    I wasn't sure when we would have time to go take apart the Hammett and move it to my shop, but first thing on Sunday morning, both Shawn and Lena said, "We're going to get your loom, you're lost without a big loom." I wasn't pouting, I know I wasn't, but they were right, there was a hole in my shop, and in my heart. So right after morning chores we went over to my dad's shop and took apart the Hammett. It disassembled much easier than I thought it would. My mom came out to watch the proceedings. In only about an hour, the loom was labeled and loaded into the back of Shawn's little truck. It only took a little more than an hour to unload it and reassemble it in my shop.

    Hammett in my dad's shop

    Hammett in it's new home in my workshop.

    Tying up the treadles, still need to balance them.
    I decided to start small, with a 26" reed and only 150 threads. I'm winding
    a 12 yard warp to start.

    The new loom is Daxie approved.

    I chose to put on the short 26" reed and I'm only winding a 12 yard warp. With time off from work and school for the holidays, I'm looking forward to having it up and weaving by the new year. The are lots of possibilities here, and I'm sure some frustrations. But I'm excited to see what this loom, my critters fibers and my hands can produce on this loom. And I wouldn't have made the change without #PushingBoundaries2020.

    Sunday, December 22, 2019

    Catching up to myself - Squirrel!

    I woke up this morning at 4:30 ready to write this blog post. It's a fairly normal time for me to get up, I allow myself to get out of bed anytime after 4 a.m., and it's the best time for me to do my school work. This was going to be a post about goals, and objectives, and pushing boundaries to get to where you want to be... when I get to it. But it's already Squirrel! kind of day.

    Squirrel - Needle felted from Demi's wool. Pictured in the Ozark Folk
    Center State Park Craft Village, Feb. 13, 2014

    Like I said, I woke up with this idea. I went to the kitchen to get my morning coffee. We've just started remodeling the kitchen. When we bought this house in 2009, the interior had just been updated with new wallpaper and paint and some new flooring (all except the bathroom, which was and still is pretty reprehensible, though I did paint it this summer!). The wall paper in the kitchen and living room is striped dark blue, gold and maroon. Not bad, but not my colors. And they put popcorn paint on the ceiling in the kitchen. Just try to clean that! So, as we just bought a new gas stove and a dishwasher (never been one in this house), and they will be delivered January 16, we need to make some changes to the kitchen. I started stripping wallpaper this week. On my way to get coffee (remember that?) I decided to start scraping the popcorn off the ceiling. I did go get a drop cloth, and scraped a decent 2-foot by 4-foot swatch clean before I got off the step-stool and made my way to the coffee pot. I cleaned up the mess while I waited for coffee to brew. Squirrel!

    Coffee in hand, I sat down at the computer to write this post. I wanted to pull some pictures of my looms that I took yesterday, the experience on which I am basing this post. Apparently, neither my OneDrive or Google Drive are backing up my phone pictures right now. But, they are going into Google Photo. But I can't get Blogger to pull from Google Photo. Don't I remember that Google photo is going away at some point? Got to go look that up. Stop that Squirrel!

    There were lots of picture of our sheep in my Google photos. I've been filing the recent ones into albums on my phone, but I don't seem to be able to access those albums from other devices. So, as one of my goals for this year is to get the registrations done on all our sheep (bad shepherd for letting those get behind!) I started creating a Google photo album with all my Jacob Sheep photos. I'm back to 2014, have 1,376 photos in the album and have enjoyed a trip down memory lane. Wow, we've done a lot of improvements on this farm! But how can I get Blogger to access Google photos? Squirrel!

    So, now it's 7:22, the sheep are starting to get vocal about not being fed yet, and I still haven't started this blog post. So, working on goals, objective, and accountability, here is a rundown before I go do chores.

    I like doing slogans, tag-lines, or whatever you want to call them for a year. 2019 was Focus & Finish, you can see that I need that one, and it has been amazingly powerful. I have nine blog posts drafted to cover my highlights for 2019 (hope I can find where I stored that draft). 

    My tag-line for 2020 is #PushingBoundaries2020. Yeah, life is all hashtags now. Why pushing boundaries? Well, when I finish morning chores, and figure out how to get my loom pictures over here, I'll explain that one. Hope to see you tomorrow.