Shetland Sheep: Rich in History, Rich in Textiles

Shetland Sheep: Rich in History, Rich in Textiles! Our farm mission is to enjoy and promote the wonderful diversity of the Shetland breed by fully utilizing to the best of our ability all they have to offer historically. We believe the best preservation and management of this breed includes it's full spectrum of history. We encourage old and new shepherds alike to join in the fun by engaging in fiber arts, especially spinning and knitting, as this breed is so intimately linked with those aspects of the arts.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Farm Market Day

Our thanks goes out to those who visited our booth this morning! It is always fun to meet new fiber friends and talk yarn/spinning wheels/sheep and knitting! What a great opportunity we had today with all the room for spinning where passersby could watch me demonstrate. Wish I had a picture of it, but I didn't think of it again! Oh well. Seems we brought forward fond memories of childhood play and times with Moms now gone to some people strolling by. Thank you to those of you who expressed interest in learning to spin or knit, too!
Holly had a better day today. The Baa-tique drew lots of interest again. Many people took cards, too! Holly was so grown up, it's amazing to see the poise she had and how well she answered questions the customers had. The little kids were running from booth to booth to get Halloween candy, but Holly wasn't wanting to do that because that would take her away from helping customers at her Baa-tique! She really helped in all the work from setting up to taking down, to keeping things neat during the market. She did it all on her own, with much enthusiasm! We are really proud of her and are thrilled to see her blossoming in her own little business!
Yesterday, we had the rare chance to drive out to a country store that sells lots of grocery-type goodies. It's one of our favorite local destinations. The rain finally stopped and the sun came out, lighting up all the brilliant yellow trees. The wind continued to gust, though, and we got caught up in some entertaining swirls of leaves. Later when we were home again, time to get hands gooey in carving those pumpkins! Even though our dozens of pumpkins were harvented weeks ago, it was still tough to decide which one was it when the time came. :)

I got this cute little handbag at that grocery, with bright chickens on the front and back. Fun! I've been looking for one like this for awhile. The bottom picture is the back side. Problem is, Holly and I both love chickens, so we might have to take turns using it!
Well, have to get bundled up for trick or treating, as the warm, gusty winds of yesterday brought cooler temps today! Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Students, Yarn, and gulp

This is one of my students. She learned how to spin from me by using the drop spindle DH and I made. Fun! We had made the drop spindle, then she painted it. She designed the coolest pattern on it so that when it's spinning, it looks colorful, like a top! Then she spun this yarn from a commercial ewe. After all that, she came back and we dyed it together with Kool aid! It was sooo fun to do all this with her! The yarn is on a little hanger because we had just finished dyeing it and it was wet and still dripping. She rode home on her bike with it dangling on the handlebars. :) What a great experience! Another student I had was an 11 year old boy who first attended one of my Fiber Fun on the Farm Days. He immediately wanted to learn how to spin! We sold him a drop spindle, and off he went! The next day, his family happened to pull into our driveway. He was in the back seat, with his spindle hanging from the hanger above the window...loaded with yarn! Fun! I couldn't believe it! He went on to learn knitting. His Grandmother had started him but he needed guidance. So between his Grandma and I, we got him, and then his little sister going! Fun! He carried on by getting some cotton yarn in green and gold...Green Bay Packers colors and knitted a dishcloth from a pattern I'd found! How cool is that!! He learned the knit stitch, yarn over and knit two together. It was a great experience! It all happened so fast, I don't have pictures. :(

This is a picture of the very first yarn I spun in the class I took. Sure looks goofy! The twist is all over the place, the drafting is...well...I don't think you could hardly call it drafting! The wheel I borrowed for this needed oiling, but no one caught that until the afternoon. So it kept giving me back ups and such, so I have little tails sticking out, too! It's fun to go back and look at this. By afternoon, the wheel got oiled, and I figured out how to draft, sort of!

The fleece I buy/raise for spinning and knitting are just that. We are not in it to sell lots of lambs, but to build our flock for fiber. My business is handspinning, and I sell beautiful handspun yarns. I've spun spotted fleeces (and they are lovely!..the ones I've spun anyway...Redwood in earlier blogs is spotted). But I spent extra time sorting colors and trying to blend the light and dark fibers into consistent yarn and skeins. (One spotted sheep I spun that was not Shetland, I didn't try so hard, I just spun whatever drafted for a lovely yarn! It was fun and sold well but most of that fiber was donated to 4-H kids.) I keep detailed records of all the fiber I buy, wash, and spin, sell. Selling dark yarn with a ewe's name on it, and selling light yarn with the same ewe's name on it confused my customers (we love visiting with them and sharing our experiences of the sheep with them). Between the time it took me to blend/sort the colors, and properly label the yarn for customers, I decided to stick with mainly solid colors (if you could say a fleece is all really solid colored!) A few weeks ago, I was spinning a gulmoget (that is the grey yarn Sophie my kitty is sleeping in on the rocker in my blog post back in August (?), and the grey socks in an Oct. blog), then a solid fawn. I sure hope people don't think I'm making an opinion or statement about that in my earlier blog post about spotted sheep!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Spinning Wheel

Part of the fun of having your own sheep is having nice fiber to spin. There are about 1,000 different breeds of sheep in the world today, over 200 of which are thought to be in the United States, and of which roughly 40 or so of those are common breeds (American Wool Council). To a spinner, that means fun! There are so many different types of fiber available from these sheep. I didn't realize that a sheep is not a sheep, is not a sheep myself, until I became a spinner.

So the first thing a spinner has to do is get a wheel! If you have spinner friends who might have a wheel they could loan you for a bit, that is ideal. If you can't find a situation like that, sometimes shops can loan wheels out for a couple weeks to give you time to try a brand. Some people pick a wheel they think they'd like, buy it, and start spinning. I found getting a wheel was the hardest part! Here's why:

Spinning is a very personal thing. Everyone's body is different. What might be comfortable for one person may not be comfortable for the next. There has never been a better time than right now for spinners, because there are MANY options in modern wheels out there right now. Overwhelming in fact! And all of them are so nice! In fact, after you start spinning, this becomes a problem, because you start pining for other wheels, and loving them all! :)

If you can try out a wheel without having to buy it, you can spin at it awhile and tell if your body is comfortable on it. Some people feel they really need one foot grounded so only spin on single treadles. Others like the rhythm of two treadles. Some people like saxony wheels (drive wheel beside flyer), some people like castle wheels (flyer above drive wheel). Some people love double drives, some people love scotch tension. There are many choices!

The wheel pictured above is not my first wheel, but one I use for lessons. It's an Ashford Kiwi, which is promoted as a student wheel. If you buy the simpliest package, it is a very simple, straightforward wheel. That is why it makes for a good student wheel. I like it because it is sturdy, offers the student a good view of everything going on, and because it spins very smoothly. The treadles offer you good heal control as well, making control of your flyer easier, something new students come to appreciate. Even though I bought it to give lessons, I end up using it a lot myself! It also travels extremely well as it sits sturdily on the floor of my vehicle and doesn't tip easily.

When learning to spin, what should you avoid? Well, try not to buy a wheel right away. Wait until you can try different wheels (I mean sit and spin at one for a few hours. Your body will tell you if it likes that wheel or not by either aches and pains or lack thereof.) I spun on one wheel for two weeks when I was new and loved it. Then I realized my back was hurting in strange new ways. When I made the connection to the wheel, I realized the wheel didn't fit me well, so I tried a different wheel and the new pains went away.

Also, avoid those beautiful antique wheels when you're new. As wheels age, the wood can change, causing alignment to be slightly off, just enough to prevent super smooth spinning. Drive bands can pop off, etc. These wheels are treasures, and some work beautifully, but usually they are tempermental. After you get the hang of spinning, this is less of a concern, but when you are new, it can cause frustration.

One last thing to think about. Some people like to go traveling with their wheels to guilds, classes, etc. If you think you might want to do that, be sure to shop for a wheel that makes a good traveling companion. Smaller, castle wheels travel well. Some wheels fold up. How much space do you have in your vehicle, and where would it ride? Could you seat-belt it in there, for safety? Is the wheel comfortable to carry across the festival grounds? Some spinners have a traveling wheel that isn't too expensive, just in case it gets dropped or whatever, and one beautiful wheel they keep at home. Oops! There's that pining again!

Well, hope this is helpful. Then after you start spinning, you can play around with all the different fleece types from different breeds, and tour the world! It's fun!

Current read: Alice Starmore's Book of Fair Isle Knitting, Taunton Press, 1988
I get this book from our library over and over again. Has some history of the Shetland Islands and nice pictures. I especially like the the one of HRH The Prince of Wales dated 1903 in his Fair Isle pullover (p.23) and the one on the page before it of a Shetland woman knitting (p.22) It's hard to fathom the contrasts.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


This picture was the first picture I put out on my blog last summer. This is my registered, purebred Shetland ewe, Iris. She has fiber that is an absolute delight to spin, and that easily falls into what the women of Shetland had for spinning themselves; long, strong, soft fiber that can be spun up for delicate tiny strands of lace with strength, to clear fair isle knitting, to warm, durable, incredibly cozy socks. This picture was taken moments before I sheared her myself in June of '09. That date was nearly exactly 12 months from her last shearing. She had been outstandingly cared for all winter, and I think the amount of fleece she produced smacks of that. She's had three lambs, all before I owned her. I bought her from sheepy friends of mine, after buying her fleece for two years.

This is me at the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival in Sept. of '09. This is my ram lamb, Wooly Bear (I'm holding him). Wooly Bear is a beautiful specimen of the Shetland breed. His wool is very fine and long (again, revealing excellent care), but not double coated, and is very black. His top line is straight, his conformation overall is outstanding, his tail is perfect, his fleece very typy Shetland, and his horns are beautiful, are in perfect shape, and will clear just right; not too tight, not too far flung. The judge asked me why I hadn't entered the "Best Fleece on Hoof" class, because he would have won. It sounds silly now, but it had never occurred to me to enter him in that class! These fine fleeces are what I have, and I didn't think I had anything much outside of usual. Even though I've memorized the breed standard, and shopped for about two years before selecting a ram, I knew he was a fine specimen of the breed, and comes from great lines. However, I was surprised at how fine! He has the most amazing brightness in his expression that earns him comments repeatedly. Most people use the word "twinkling".

Experienced Shetland breeders and owners outside "the camp" have gushed over him. He has brought us much attention and compliments. We've had offers for him. People already want his lambs. He has been in several newspapers, and we continue to receive wonderful comments about him. I think he's put our farm on the map! Nobody could be more surprised than me.

Yet, unknowingly to me, these two pictures have caused others to stew. Both of these sheep are not what they think is a Shetland sheep. Both have long fiber. Never mind that both meet most of the criteria of the NASSA Breed Standard (no sheep is absolutely perfect, right?). Never mind that both have very fine, soft fleece. They have long fleece, and that seems to really bother some people!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mitts and Horns

Today I commented on someone's blog that I would put pictures of my own half mitts on my blog so here they are! Not as pretty as her mitts were, whoever you were! Ph.d something? Anyway, she had these absolutely lovely mitts pictured on her blog that were very inspiring. Mine are knitted differently, and have been worn many times. The black yarn is from my purebred Shetland ewe "Mona". She is a beautiful black with an intermediate staple length. Her fleece is very fine and soft, perfect for mitts that don't need to be super durable. I knitted a 1:1 rib for the cuff with an accent yarn stranded along the black yarn (to compensate for the gauge change, I cast on fewer rib stitches, then increased just after the cuff, evenly), of which I spun into a worsted weight 2-ply that is very lightweight. I also picked up the accent yarn for the end over the fingers and thumb (this gauge change works in your favor by adding space as long as you don't make your bind off too tight). They match my "off farm" coat and are fun to have. I've also sold many of them. (Another Shetland breeder I visited today had commented about going to farm markets, maybe. These mitts are fast and easy to knit up, and sell well, so if you are reading this, consider mitts as part of your inventory. You can do sooo much with adding color and spinning before knitting! The possibilities are endless, as well as patterns.) People love them for computer jobs (to keep wrists and hands warm while keyboarding) and cold office buildings. Others like them for ease in driving or shopping as you're fingers are available to pay, whatever. One student commented that they were "smokers"...meaning to be worn by students outside smoking. Didn't like that one. :(
This pair is the same "wing-it" pattern as the black ones above, but in a dark brown purebred Shetland ewe that I don't own. I spun this into a two-ply worsted as well, and the accent yarn stranded along with the dark brown is a singles yarn left over from spinning a ball of roving called "Raindrops on Roses" by Psalm 23 Farm. These are my barn mitts, that's why they are full of hay! The colors match my barn coat. I've worn them for two winters now. On bitterly cold days, I wear them under my wool mittens for double coziness.

Ok, back to breeding. Horns for me are not really a goal, so here I go!

It's currently popular to breed for polled rams. It's also not unusual to have an occassional polled ram in the Shetland breed. The first few years I researched sheep and visited farms, I realized I needed to think about horns and address the issue in my flock plan. So I carefully thought about 2 things:
1. What is a genuine shetland? and
2. Where do I, my family, and my farm fit into that?

After much discussion and careful pondering, I concluded that horns would be best in our flock. While I'm not looking forward to farm remodeling by my horned rams, polled rams remodel, too! Most importantly, I want visitors to my farm be able to easily spot a ram coming their way by seeing his horns. (We have lots of visitors, and kids, coming by.) We've heard of polled rams mistakenly getting into the ewe group unnoticed and people getting whacked by surprise, or ewes being bred to rams you didn't want to group with, etc. We've also heard of one shepherdess who couldn't get her ewes to take to a polled ram. Seems all the girls thought the horned ram on the other side of the the farm was better looking, or something! Since we have many visitors, and kids around, and since we plan on keeping a low number of intact rams around, we've chosen to go with horns. That way, the rams will be able to defend themselves from each other if need be.

So we've concluded that:
a) rams need their horns for social order, social maintanence of their group, for defense, and for attraction
b) as humans, we can remodel barns and fences ourselves. However, remodeling our bodies would be harder. Horns give you a clue if you should be watching your surroundings better.
c) rams with horns can be good-looking, and ewes like that, too (although, I sure some ewes wouldn't care either way, right)

Therefore, horns are not in our goals because a polled ram can pop up, and one of my ewes might carry that. If any ram lambs are polled, well, we have a plan in place on how we would assess the situation, and act then. Chances are good he'd be wethered and maintained as fleece producer for our business, and double duty as a buddy.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Statue of Liberty

Help! I've started knitting, and I can't stop! I started out making a pair of socks for DH out of a grey Shetland ewe, but soon realized that the yarn didn't behave (again) the way a purebred Shetland fleece would behave, thus the gauge was off, despite careful checking. Rats! Guess they will have to be for me! The light grey socks come from a ewe that I suspect is NOT purebred Shetland; it looks different, handles different, was terribly greasy (I had to rewash the fleece), and the elasticity is different. The tube of the sock ended up being too narrow for DH (even though this gauge works with my "regular" Shetland yarn for him), so I'll have to start over for him. The mittens I made in 23 hours (including my normal life in that time.) They are from a skein of Esther's yarn. A customer wanted to buy all skeins of Esther's yarn at the Helping Hands Craft Fair for a sweater. She didn't have the pattern, and rather than sell her something that may not be enough (I wasn't confidant the skeins would be enough for a large man's sweater), and have an unhappy customer, I talked her into not buying unless she was sure. Later, I couldn't resist using a skein for some new barn mittens for myself!!! :) Not going to sell yarn THAT way! Both the socks and mittens are very simple patterns (actually, the mittens are my "winging it", I read several different patterns then threw together the easiest way I could figure to make my own mittens).

While knitting all this, I kept losing my needles. Sometimes I lose them in sofa cushions, to be found weeks later by an upside down Holly goofing off in the pillows. To resolve this, I started putting them upright in a jar with the pencils on the side table. Sophie would soon saunter along and chomp on the point, leaving little teeth marks to snare fibers!! UGGGHHHHH! Tonight, while working on the thumbs of the mittens, I came up with this plan! Works like a charm!

Took this picture myself, I did! That's my head! Each needle is within ready reach! No more fumbling around in the cushions! No more chewed points! No more lost darning needles (that's the little pink thing)!! Hopefully, I won't forget I did this and head out to the grocery store!!! DH thought I looked like the Statue of Liberty! Thanks Honey! I'll have you're socks done faster this way, dear!

After all that knitting, time to blog! Sophie sees the needles in my hair and wonders if she is safe, so she's staying on the OTHER side of the computer tonight.
Okay, okay... enough of all the goofiness! Knitting those simple and fast socks and mittens makes a person wonder if I ever knit anything else. Yes, I love to knit lace. Here is a hooded scarf I made two or three years ago out of a Sheepy Hollow ewe named Lilac. The white is bright and the fiber is sooo soft! The scarf is knit the long way, so the most daunting task for me was casting on the 371 stitches to get started. Do you know how hard it is to count to 371 on circular needles when you have a small child running around? Took me days just to get all those stitches cast on! After that, it went pretty smoothly, but slowly. It took all summer that year. I remember knitting it by the campfire, on trips, at the pool, and while sitting by the coop, enjoying the chickens as they pecked around on warm summer days. Those memories alone make it a warm garment! I've come to rely on this hooded scarf on wickedly cold winter days when a down hood is just simply not enough warmth. Putting this on sovles everything, and I can stay outside longer.

Now, for Lil' Rainbow! I bought her spontaneously this summer from someone I know. The deal was that she was not registered and was one of a few Shetlands getting through a new fence, causing problems for her owner. I went to look at them all and somehow, this little ewe kept popping as one to bring home. Why I did that, I'll never know, as I am not a spontaneous animal purchaser. I noticed right away that her teeth were not on pad, and some other things. It was the color and wool that drew me.
Her fleece is less than a month past shearing here. (This picture was taken three days after we brought her home...we put a bell on just in case she jumped the fence, so we could find her. The bell came off after a couple of weeks and hasn't been needed since.) Her color is described in the Shetland "language" as iset. She's a black, with white and grey fibers growing out of the black to give her a blue-ish hue when seen from a distance. The fiber is not crimpy, but wavy and more coarse that you'd expect from a Shetland (it's important to note that even coarse Shetland is softer than most breeds). But I knew she wasn't registered before I even went to see the flock. Despite her faults, I'm really looking forward to making some socks out of that fleece! She's also very sweet and trainable, so getting her plugged in here at our farm turned out to be a cinch. She now lives inside a three foot high wooden panel enclosure during the day when they are out on grass, and has proven to be trustworthy. She'll make a great halter practice sheep for kids, as she doesn't seem to mind them at all.
This is not what you'd like to see on a good Shetland sheep in terms of structure, yet I can't wait to shear it, spin it and knit it up! In this next picture, taken from the top, you can see she has a "dorsal stripe" of black (as it would be called in the horse world! :)) Her head, neck, tail, and legs are all black. Only her fleece is whitish-greyish-blueish. Some people have commented that she is a Shetland dressed up as a ghost. A child has asked me if she is wearing someone else's "jacket". She's a fun ewe, and we are tickled to have her, faults and all!
Ducky Update: All's well. Today's swim was delightful! This little "pond" is a temporary fix when their "real" pond is not available. That's Lucky on the ground in the garden, and Lucy in the water. They are very pleasant to have around, make great garden vacuums, and are incredibly friendly and sociable. They tour all around the back of the farm, searching for mud, insects, and old fruit on the ground. At night, they are usually close by and go into the barn for safety. If they are not around, just call "DUCKIES!" They waddle as fast as they can, quacking softly while heading to the barn, where they sleep in a straw-filled stall. Ever hear duck feet on pavement? We love them!

And how could I close a a blog without more clown shots? Goldie loves this weedy box elder maple tree we've allowed to grow and shade our chicken coop. The protection it provides has been a welcoming relief from hot summer days. Of course, with it's slanted trunk, it makes a great kitty jungle-gym! Goldie loves to dangle on this, his favorite branch. Sometimes he purrs and rolls around, falling off, causing the need to dangle from two paws and swinging to get back on top. The birds do not fear him, and usually chatter from the higher branches without alarm calls or scolding. That always amazes me as he is a mighty hunter!

The coop was nearly junk when we moved here. We repaired it using found stuff and painted the trim white again. The curbside window finds all prop outward at the bottom to allow fresh air when needed, while keeping things dry inside. It's a great plan and our chickens have been very healthy living here. Since it is far from the road, they are outside every nice day we have. Life wouldn't be the same around here without "Coopville" as we've dubbed it, and it's clown tree, with the clown sprawled out on the branch!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Thank You!

Thanks goes out to our customers at the Helping Hands Craft Fair! We enjoyed visiting with all of you. The Field House at Neenah High School made for a great set-up. There was plenty of room for the vendors with wide walkways for customers, and no gusty wind!

As this event approached, we worried that if the cold rainy weather we'd been having for awhile would break, everyone would be outside doing fall cleanup and not shopping at craft fairs. Saturday proved nicer than the rest of the week had been, and the crowds were on the small side. However, we ended up having our second best day in sales ever! We are thankful for that! One customer was someone who'd bought a scarf kit from me at an earlier event, and had knitted up her scarf AND was wearing it yesterday! It looked so nice on her! She was wearing it with such style and the colors were beautiful over a darker color. It was fun to hear of her knitting adventures in designing, and wearing the scarf. Another customer was shopping in this beautiful knitted coat with the most lovely celtic style cable trim on the front and cuffs I've ever seen. She shared her knitting of it with me and where the pattern could be found. Fun! Another customer was fascinated to hear how spinning has grown in popularity and all the things modern spinning is today...perhaps a future spinner? :) We talked a long time, and her husband seemed real interested, too. Others loved hearing about our sheep and how we care for them, shear them, etc. Holly's Baa-tique drew lots of interest by kids and grown-ups alike, but sold only one scarf. That part was disappointing for her, but it makes for greater understanding of business. Perhaps her first day out at the Sheep and Wool Festival -- where she drew tons of interest and sold several scarves -- was SUCH a great day, this stands as a shadow behind it.
The doll in the green dress is wearing Mona's wool (one of our ewes), with peacock glitz added to it. We named the stole "Mermaid Glitz". The other doll is wearing a scarf spun from our white angora bunny, Zinnia. Makes the doll look straight out of Hollywood!

Well, it was a great day, and soon we had to pack up and return home. After getting some supper, unloading the van, and doing the chores, we were pretty tired! Today we are tilling up a new vegetable garden to replace our big, old one. The old one is getting too shady and was that way from the start when we moved here. We are just now getting the work done to move it and I'm soooo excited about it! Never a shortage of things to do out here!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Helping Hands Craft Fair

Yep! We've been busy! For the last two weeks, we've worked hard to get ready for the Helping Hands Craft Fair at Neenah High School. Our inventory was frighteningly low after the Sheep and Wool Festival in Jefferson back in September so I have been delighted to work on my wheel as much as possible. I was fortunate to find some beautiful Shetland fleeces for the making of more yarn. Then the washing of fleeces stalled out for awhile with all the rain. That's the one drawback of washing them outside! Anyway, the first one washed was from a registered Shetland ewe named MaryBay. I am floored with the loveliness of this fleece. It was not jacketed but it was so clean, it might as well have been!The fiber is long, and soooo soft! Her color could be described as fawn, but she's really light enough now to look white from a distance, with warm honey undertones. It's really lovely! I've only had the opportunity to spin two skeins so far, and I'm hoping they will be dry before Saturday! The fibers drafted into the grist so nicely the spinning was a dream. I didn't realize how fine I had spun it until it was time to ply. So I will sell this yarn as "Shetland Lace", not because it is lace weight (which is a varied and confusing term, depending on which part of the world you live in!), but because it is a 2-ply from a Shetland sheep fine enough and soft enough to be knitted up in a lace pattern (lace meaning delicate, weblike, intricate knitting, often with openings such as yarn overs). It's the light yarn in the pumpkin picture above.

I also spun some roving from Psalm 23 farm (again!). It's called Celtic Seas and is a blended Shetland yarn with mohair, glitz and silk noil. The colors are amazing...typical of Laura's talent. It's the blue yarn on the right in the pumpkin picture. The brown is Redwood, the soft Shetland ram who makes great winter sock yarn, and the black is Esther's lovely yarn, so soft with that hint of white to give it a very appealing rustic, outdoorsy look. The pumpkin in the picture is one of MANNNNY that we pulled out of our garden, and which are now either all around the chicken coop (you know, chickens need autumn decore, too Mom!), on the front porch railing, or all over the house! (yes, inside. gulp) The apples are from our two standard trees, a Wolf River, the other Golden Delicious. I'm pleased I managed to get a bunch of apples picked. Last, I did manage to get some applesauce canned and apple crisps made! Whew!

Holly has worked hard on knitting a doll scarf to sell in her Baa-tique, but wisely made the choice to concentrate on school first. (That means Mom has had to help create inventory for her.) She also designed her own "business card" for her Baa-tique with Dad's design assistance. She is thrilled to have cards of her very own, with her own design choices on them!! We are bringing three Angora luxury doll stoles (handspun from our own Angora bunny, Zinnia), and several other luxury stoles of different colors, some with glitz. She's very excited with her offerings!

We'll also be bringing small bags of various fleeces for handspinning, some washed, some not. There will be hand painted drop spindles as well. Hurry to our booth in the morning to get the two spindles painted in red and white, with Neenah Rockets on them!! Also, look for our scarf kits, our most popular seller! Get there early for the pick of autumn and winter colors!

So! Back to the Helping Hands Craft Fair! We are very excited to be returning for the second year. The fair has been coordinated by Spanish teacher, Shelley Aaholm, who wanted to find a way to replace a lost grant that assisted students with financial hardship. The booth rentals and admission fees will go to the students to help with this need. We are thankful for the many hours and hard work Shelley has put into organizing this event, and for the opportunity to help students in the Neenah community! Hope to see you there!

Lil' Rainbow-learn more about her in future posts!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Plenty to do and Tasha Tudor, too!

There is always plenty to do on a farm! Sometimes my fiber work is delayed by other, more urgent duties, such as getting in all the produce we've raised over the summer. With heavy rains predicted, then colder air right behind, I knew I had better get the potatoes dug up. They store so nicely in the garden soil, but come freezing, they won't last. So ultimately, that means back breaking work to dig them all up and get them "cured" for storage. We had five rows of five varieties. Not all of them are in this picture as my back was ready to be done before they were all dug up! In front here are the Red Norlands, behind the reds are the Fingerlings, then the Kennebecs, Blues, and I THINK the front right are the Irish Cobblers. They are "curing" in the shed for a couple of days before being put into storage. (They are on a panel that is larger than a door!)

After sinking into a soft sofa to rest my back, I picked up my knitting again, for I had an important project to finish! Holly has wanted a hat made from her ewe, Sweetie's, wool for awhile now. We waited until she picked out her new winter coat, then made it to match and she is DELIGHTED! I asked her to "design" her own hat. So we looked at hat styles in the stores, and this is the style she liked the most, just a simple round hat with a fold up brim, and a pom on top. We might embroider some lazy daisies or flowers on it yet...after Mom gets some rest! Her doll is modeling the hat for you.

I must say, I'm not very good at knitting hats! The first one I made a few years ago, for a then much smaller Holly, didn't fit. It DID, however, fit her jack-o-lantern pumpkin!!!!

Here are pictures of Esther's yarn. It is very challenging to get nice pictures of black yarn, in pouring rain! Esther is double coated, meaning she has a very fine, luxurious soft downy undercoat, and larger, white fibers mixed in. She's a fine, older ewe who has lambed a few times. The fineness of her wool really amazed me considering her age and lambing record! The yarn is super soft, with very long white fibers mixed in, enough to give the yarn super strength and a beautiful appearance! I wouldn't use this yarn for a neck gator or around my wrists, but it would be excellent for socks, mittens, hats, scarves over turtlenecks, and sweaters. The outcome of the time spinning has been a pleasant surprise. It spun easily and beautifully just from the washed lock.

The grist is about a medium worsted weight. It's not at all like any Icelandic fiber I've worked with. The white fibers are round and softer than the flatter, slippery pointy fibers on the Icelandic coat. They drafted easily and do not "pop out" of the yarn in straight, picky ways, but instead look fuzzy in the yarn. The yarn has a lovely handle to it...light, soft, bouncy, and appealing in some indescribable way. The Icelandic I've spun has felt heavier and sturdier somehow, having less bounce and handle, seemingly flat, like it would make a very strong, flat fabric that is impenatrable by wind or wet, with straight, smooth, pointy hairlike fibers projecting straight out of the yarn nearly a half an inch. Shetland is light, strong, bouncy, and somehow of different handle. I cannot describe it, but Shetland knits like a dream...floating from one needle to the next without requiring a push by a finger, and makes the most ethereal fabric that holds up to hard use.

Finally, I have really admired this shawl that was designed by Nancy Bush. She calls it the Truly Tasha's Shawl, and I've placed a picture of it here on my blog with her permission. The shawl was designed after she had the opportunity to visit Tasha Tudor, an amazing artist who recently passed away. Tasha Tudor illustrated many, many books with her unique watercolor paintings of things found in nature. She created the most amazing garlands around the outer sides of pages by drawing combinations of plants and animals in books (to put it very simplistically!!). If you love Forget-Me-Nots, or wood violets, or wild roses, you'd LOVE Tasha's illustrations! Tasha also loved drawing and painting illustrations of children, often filling sketch books with her drive to draw the images just right. Tasha frequently wore a shawl similiar to this one, and I am very grateful that Nancy had the opportunity to visit her, and design this shawl! If you'd like to order the pattern, you can find Nancy's website at Nancy also wrote the book on Estonian Lace (on her website as well). Such beautiful work! I highly recommend it!

Friday, October 2, 2009

It's so frustrating when...'re a cat, and you live in the house of a fiber-crazed person! (Sophie speaking here..."Maybe if I lay on her yarn so she messes up her tension, she'll stop knitting!....

....maybe if I threaten to bite her yarn, she'll stop knitting!

....OKAY! I'm biting your yarn! Stop knitting and pay attention to ME!"

"Yarn is sooo irresistable! No quiet laps to sit on, for my person is always knitting! But I want to snuggle in that lap, but those pointy needles keep getting in the way and bumping me on my head! So I'll swat at them, or grab the yarn with my mouth, or try to weasel my way inbetween the yarn and my person's face all to get her attention back on me."

Sophie finds it challenging to live here, great at times with blissful play, difficult at times in lack of warm laps. She loves to play with all the yarn. One night, I stayed up late to finish a sock I was working on. I was so tired, that I just went to bed when I was done, forgetting that playful kittens don't sleep at night! The next morning, I awoke to yarn all over the house! She had quite the time swatting the ball of yarn under furniture, around coffee table legs, and into other rooms and back. Then she must have picked up the ball of yarn in her mouth and jumped thru the banister poles onto the open staircase, went up the stairs, dropped the yarn, causing it to roll down a few steps, thru the banister poles and onto the floor, swatted into the kitchen, under the table and chairs legs, back into the living room, under the piano bench legs (with a few twists), and under the sofa. (This must have happened a few times since the yarn went up the stairs and back down in several different places!) It took me over an hour to get that yarn rolled back up!! (...and she had twisted the yarn around the base of a lamp, causing it to fall over and break the shade!) Never again have I left yarn out overnight!

Today, I had the opportunity to visit my favorite book store, one that sells lots of books on knitting and fiber. I grab myself a cup of coffee, sink into the Papa Bear arm chair, and lose myself into the world of pure, quiet concentration, with a stack of books and magazines so heavy I nearly sink into the floor. I found something that excited me greatly...The Art of Fair Isle Knitting by Ann Feitelson (Did I spell her last name correctly?)! Wow!!!! What a book! The very first paragraph in the acknowledgements is her gushing thanks to the women of Shetland. (Yes, I'm one of those people who reads every speck of a book, like someone else would eat every speck of crumb out of a bag of potato chips.)

I would highly recommend this lovely book. It is filled with lovely descriptions of Fair Isle knitting, and the voice of the Shetland women comes through in moving ways. I would love to meet Ann Feitelson! Thank you for your lovely and inspiring work!!!

I must also say that Ann's personal life is one of great study of this very topic of knitting. She seems to have dedicated her life to the subject in serious, careful study. I have a lot of respect for that!

Another good one I found was a new book by Alice Starmore called Celtic Knitting (Not sure that is the exact title name, either!) The patterns were stunning, the pictures extremely appealing...all set outside. My favorite pattern was for a child's sweater based on the Book of Kells illustrations, which added a touch of whimsy. Excellent!

It is also interesting to note that I found a book entitled Icelandic Knitting! It was a very interesting book! The people of Iceland were known for knitting insoles for footwear, replacing them as needed and wearing them for comfort and cush. Hummm...I thought that sounded interesting! I could use some cush in my shoes! Another great book I found was Nancy Bush's book on Estonian Lace (I cannot remember the exact title). I would have brought them all home...problem is, if I had done that, I don't think I'd be able to squeeze in the door anymore! There is a lot of stuff just inside my door as we prepare for farm markets (yarn sales) AND all the stuff coming into the house from the garden and trees...apples, pears, raspberries, zucchini, tomatoes, pumpkins, squash, potatoes and onions, and artemisia to dry in bunches, herbs drying for the angora bunnies winter treats, and so on! Anyway, back to the book...the Estonian lace was breathtakingly beautiful! I love knitting lace! I often tell my new knitting students that a hole made in knitting by accident is called a hole. A hole made on purpose is called lace. They love that! It really helps them feel they are capable of getting the hang of it, and that mistakes are beneficial, not a hindrance. The trick is...only making holes when you're planning on it! Anyway (again), the books were a great joy and after pumping myself up with caffeine, I was ready to return home to all my fiber (and produce!)

Stay tuned for pictures of Esther's yarn. I'm having battery problems with the camera...