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.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Was that meeee baaing???

I didn't think my baa was so deep! Yes Wooly Bear, that was you! His baa has gone from a sweet little lamby baa to a deep, raspy, garble-sounding, manly baa! He seems a little unsettled when he hears it, not sure if that is himself or not. He is noticing the changes and not recognizing himself. Being such a sensitive and sweet ram, his confusion is quite noticable. You can tell he wants to ram stuff, but isn't quite sure why he'd want to do that yet....and girls are interesting, although he doesn't quite know why yet. You can read the confusion on his face!

His horns are black/grey and very beautiful, having not made contact with much yet!
From above, they look pretty cool. You can see how they fling outward in growth even though his horns are not as wide as some Shetland rams can be. They are always very warm to the touch, and smooth. We try to never handle him on his horns since you can tell they are sensitive. Despite being good handles, (and I have had to use them that way a couple of times), he is proud and protective of them, as rams are. We don't pet him or treat him as a pet, but I do lay my hand on his back as a friendly jesture when halter training or working with him. He's come to know that as reassurance and seems to appreciate it. It won't be long now before we'll have construction work of the ram sort on our farm. Dear hubby is not looking forward to that!
Here is an update on the baby chicks. The oldest one is the dark brown chick. The black one is showing a green sheen in the sunlight. That surprised me! The other two are real light grey/brown. All have feathered feet. Momma hen is amazingly loving, patient and tender. She is an excellent mom! They went out into sunlight today to forage for bugs and grass. When they are happy, they make the cutest peeping noises and musical sounds. I love that about chicks. They are very musical in a soft, happy way. A pleasant way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon.

The yarn on my wheel right now is from Psalm 23 Farm. It's called Raspberry Kiss and the softness is amazing....a blend of shetland, mohair and silk noil. The colors are complex yet peaceful, grey/white/pink/ it beautiful depth. Thanks Laura!

Lastly, we had the most beautiful sunset the other night. So instead of capturing that, I took a picture of the colors reflected in the barn window! Silly me! Can't get enough of the farm.

Thank goes out to all my customers and new friends we met at the farmer's market yesterday! Hope you all stayed warm! If you get your scarves done by October 3rd, bring it back and show us your pretty new scarf and receive 10% off any purchase of yarn in our booth that day!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Gooey Chocolate Chip Cookies are like....

....handspun yarn! Warm chocolaty homemade cookies gooey fresh from the oven are so good! They are so different from packaged cookies from stores, hard, crispy and chemically-tasting. Handspun yarn is that way compared to machined yarn. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy machined yarn at appropriate times, such as when I made bunny puppet mittens for my child that needed to be machine washable and dryable at a moment's notice.
However, handspun yarn has a feel and liveliness you cannot get out of machined yarn. Handspun has life in it. It's cushier, bouncier, more responsive. If it's Shetland, it's so lightweight, even in a bulky weight. It has personality, character. Rather than being pushed from one needle to the other, it practically leaps! It is easy on your fingers, not needing pushing, and it doesn't squeak! I find I can knit longer with handspun, whereas I get fatigued sooner with other types of yarns. Just as gooey homemade cookies have a depth of deliciousness, so does handspun yarn. If you haven't had the opportunity to knit or crochet with handspun yarn, give it a try! I'm confident you won't be disappointed, but be ready for a new great feel!Here's another picture of little Wooly Bear (Woolchester). I LOVE his fleece! It would be called longish/wavy. It makes a different yarn than crimpy yarn makes. It is very clear, strong, warm, fine and soft and what was used in the original fair isle knitting. I have a button up sweater made in Shetland of this type of yarn, and it has been a staple in my wardrobe for nearly 10 years. It still looks newly made, with no pilling or fuzzing. It is timeless and always fits in with styles of the season. I've worn it in all seasons. THAT is a good buy!

Here's a baby chick update, taken a few days ago. If you look closely, you'll find four chicks...two in lower right with heads peeking out from under Mom (one black, one brown), one peeking out from her wing on the upper side, and the oldest one standing between her and the feeder. They are so fun! We give them tidbits of grass, clover, and dandelions to prepare them for foraging later when they are older. A non-foraging chicken is an expensive bird to feed, so we teach all our little chicks to forage. They love it! They love playing keep-away, where one will find a big piece, then peep and tear around with it, as if calling all the others to chase, and chase they do! GREAT for kids to see! These chicks are going to a wonderful home soon with children who will love them as much as we do.
In an earlier blog entry, I briefly showed how I wash my fleeces. Here is a picture of the screen panel I use for skirting, and drying a whole fleece. This is Iris's fleece just out of the bag...
...partially unrolled.....
...and spread out for final picking or skirting before going in the tub. I found it funny how clearly you can see how I sheared her upper tail wool, hanging down in this picture in the middle! I guess I got it all off in one nice piece! The two sides hanging down are her britch wool (outer hind legs). Her britch, being a beaver-coated Shetland, can get to 10 inches long or more in twelve months. I LOVE that!
Here she is before shearing, so you can compare. That britch wool is coarser than midside or neck wool. I love using it for socks and rug hooking with yarn. Um, don't know how to rotate the picture for you so you don't have to crane your neck to see.......

See you at the farmer's market Saturday!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Handspun Yarns

Handspun yarn is so amazing! Before I had my own sheep a few years ago, I purchased wool and roving from other producers (some not Shetland) and spun it up on my wheel. This is Weathered Barn from Hidden Valley Farm...the Carol us upper midwestern spinners know as the "I'm so glad you live near me so I can spend all my spare cash on your luscious roving Carol".

This is a natural colored yarn made from a ram Nancy Larsen had at Sheepy Hollow named Duke. He was emsket, and when I saw his wool on his back I started hyperventilating. Yes, she would save it for me. When time came to buy it, I didn't buy it all, worried if I was crazy. I regret now not buying it all. Duke has become famous in our house as his wool has been spun and knitted into treasured articles of clothing. Some of his yarn was displayed, but not for sale in our booth and received endless compliments. Nancy, if you still have him, send me a picture of 'ole Duke!

This dreamy wool is more from Hidden Valley Farm. It was such a pleasure to spin! I gave most of it away as gifts. Some of it was made into a simple scarf that draws endless attention at our booth as a display item, to show the beautiful things you can make with handspun yarn.

Handspun yarn, especially from Shetland sheep, is so very lightweight and dreamy to knit with. There are many breeds of sheep to spin and knit, and everybody has their favorites. Mine is hands down Shetland! While I enjoy other fibers very much, Shetland has a way of drifting from needle to needle in such an ethereal way. It is strong, soft, and silky. It makes knitting nearly effortless, and the colors are such a pleasure to either use naturally or to blend with naturals and dyes. It doesn't pill, is easy to wash, doesn't squeak on your needles, and is incredibly warm! I always come back to Shetland, and now I have many Shetland fleeces of my own and my own flock of purebred Shetland sheep. I continuously have something going on my wheel. If you spin or knit or crochet, try Shetland wool!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Can you knit?

I LOVE knitting socks. It was challenging to learn how to knit them, but I stuck with it. When learning to knit something new, or even learning the knit and purl stitches themselves, I find that people expect to pick it up really quick. They get frustrated if they cannot do it perfectly right away. Knitting, along with most skills in life, is a skill that takes time and practice to learn. It is bumpy in the beginning. You'll make mistakes. Your knitting won't look like an experienced knitter's piece in the beginning, but it is beautiful anyway. Trust yourself to learn. Trust that with forgiveness of your inexperience, that you too can become a great knitter. Save your beginning knitting so you can look back at it and see very concretely how much you've improved. I have a hard time convincing new knitters of these things. They want to learn how to knit perfectly NOW and they don't want to save anything, unconvinced they'll see any difference.

I often tell my new knitting students how in times past, girls and boys learned to knit from teachers who were helping them frequently, and how those students learned at a young age, practicing sometimes for a few years. Children would learn as young as four or five years of age, of course with forgiveness of their newness and mistakes as their fingers learned the dexterity and coordination. By the time they were nine or ten years old, they'd become the primary sock knitters for the family, expected to keep the family well supplied with socks through the long winters. In times past, people understood that it takes time to learn something new and become good at it. Mistakes were ok, and often vaporized as skill increased. (That is a really fun moment!!!)

The most disheartening thing I experience in conversations with other people about knitting is this..."I tried that but was no good at it" or "someone tried to teach me once but I just couldn't get it". If you are one of those people, you need a new teacher! A good teacher will tell you right away that knitting is a skill that takes time to learn and daily practice, even if it's just a few minutes. Mistakes are expected. Muscle memory can do wonders for you! You will me! Everyone can become a good knitter, and I urge you to try! Hang in there! Improvements come faster than you think. But it will be bumpy at first. Expect it, embrace it! It will be sooooo worthwhile!

The socks above came from this fleece (my ewe, Iris -- see Iris blog in July postings). I washed the fiber, then spun the yarn on my Lendrum wheel. The gray socks are 2-ply yarn with an accent purply blue yarn knitted in the cuff and heel flap along with the gray. I LOVE these socks! They are soooooo soft! I've worn them for two winter seasons now for all my winter chores. The underside of one sock has a small hole in it now but the other is still going strong! (My expensive Eddie Bauer wool socks only lasted part of one winter season...frustrating!) The red socks are the same yarn, only dyed in the skein with fruit punch Kool-Aid. They were so bright on a dreary winter day! Fast favorites, too. I did not card the wool. I know that makes some of you squirm, but really, carding is not always necessary when spinning shetland fiber and yes, you get a strong and beautiful yarn. :)

Here is a picture of yarn I spun on my drop spindle, then dyed with lemonade Kool-Aid. The color so reminded me of my Grandmother's daylilies! This beautiful daylily (handed down from her garden and moved with me many times) has a fragrance...yes...hard to believe as most don't. That fragrance puts me right back into her garden as the girl I once was, playing dress up in frilly dresses and sniffing lovely roses and daylilies while she baked peach pie. I cannot bring myself to knit up this lovely yarn so I admire it from my cabinet whenever I happen to look that way.
NEW: You can now leave comments on my blog! Do you knit? Have you always wanted to knit? Leave a comment!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Washing/Drying fleece

Here are three bags of lovely fleece waiting to be washed. They are rolled up and stored temporarily in plastic bags, which are left open at the top so the wool can "breathe".

After trying several different ways, I've finally found a comfortable way to wash my fleeces nicely. I started with five gallon buckets and horse water buckets with small amounts of wool, until I was confident I could get all the lanolin out. That progressed to larger water containers and more wool. Then one day I found this great wash tub in a basement of an estate rummage sale for ten bucks. Sold!! I brought it home, scraped it clean, and spray painted it the color I had sitting around from another project. Then I painted the little sheep on it, just for fun! It works great! The double walls hold the heat of the water. The depth of the basins allows the fleece to open up in the water for greater cleaning ability of the soap. It works great and makes washing fleeces quite easy.

After washing, I lay the fleece out on a screen door to drip dry outside overnight. The screen door was made by dear hubby for the chicken coop, so the screen is actually hardware cloth, not screening like on your house windows. It is strong, and lets air move through. Perfect. (Dear hubby also made panels for his ducks, which swiftly became additional fleece drying racks, too! He doesn't mind, the ducks stick around and are a joy to have waddling about.) I was going to show you a picture of fleece drying, but I see the pictures are on our other computer, which crashed! I'll take more soon and post those.

Once the fleeces are nearly dry (overnight or so), I bring them either under our front porch roof to finish drying, or if it is freezing outside, I bring them into an upstairs spare room that is quite warm in cold weather, which dries the fleeces beautifully. When dry, the fleeces get "bagged" in sheets, tied off, labeled, and stored until I need them.

Here are pictures of dry fleeces. It is really hard to get nice pictures of fleece!

This fleece is so dreamy, that I can hardly resist just taking a handful and sitting down at my wheel with it.
This gray fleece was huge, and is yielding lots of beautiful yarn. Handspinning allows for all the colors to present themselves in the finished yarn. You get amazing depth and beauty in the colors as they twist into the yarn, giving you a unique and all natural product. No fading, no washing out!

I love washing shetland fleeces as they are less greasy than commercial sheep, and shrink less when washed. They present a world of beautiful natural colors, and are small enough to manage when washing. I get many skeins of yarn out of each fleece, but soon it is all spun up, and I get to spin another sheep's fleece. I once spun a commercial white fleece...I was so bored with it by the time I FINALLY got done spinning it! I seemed like it took forever. I was surprised at my feelings! Seems even though I try other fleeces (and they are nice, too), I can never wait to get back to shetland fleeces!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Peachy Carumba

Well, this isn't about sheep. I just cannot resist sharing about my peach tree. It produced a sweet harvest of many, many little peaches this year. The horse in the background is my Andalusian cross mare. I'd like to sell her so her talent won't go to waste. It's hard to let her go as I really love her and what we've done together as a team. She advanced my riding skills considerably from mountain trail rider and pack outfitter (where the only sideways movement is around an open gate) to highly skilled lateral movements, engaging the hind quarters, lifting the forehand for lightness, riding without reins, and spinning...of the horsey kind. I neglect to keep up the advertising so here she still is...neighing twice a day for our time together.

Okay, back to peaches.

We picked, washed, sliced and froze most of them yesterday. There are now two large bags of peach slices in the freezer waiting to go in the blender for delicious hot summer day smoothies. I've also been washing fleeces this week. Watch for my next blog to see how I do that, and for pictures of piles of fleece screaming to be spun!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Fair Time!

If you have never had the wonderful opportunity to experience your local fair, don't miss it next year! I don't mean just going and riding the rides and eating fair food, but actually participate as an exhibitor. There are so many things you can do for entering an exhibit! Don't miss out on the fun!

I have a cloverbud who exhibited at the fair this year. Cloverbuds are the youngest in 4-H. They are not allowed to exhibit animals until age nine :(((((((((. However, they can do other projects. My little cloverbud hooked a rug! She was so excited to complete this project! I spun the bulky yarn on my spinning wheel, then we dyed it two colors she picked from lemonade and grape. When it was dry, she designed a pattern all on her own, coming up with a beautiful large heart in the center surrounded by little hearts all around. I drew the pattern on the burlap for her. She started with the center heart, doing the whole heart by herself. It took awhile! Then she asked if I could help her outline the small hearts, as they were challenging to get just right. She filled them in, then tackled the grape background. I steamed the back when she was done, and stitched the backing down for her. Isn't it great?

She also made a seed poster, showing how seeds can look and feel so much different from each other. We have plenty of seeds laying around here! She came up with a seed flower design to display them, picked out her seeds, glued them on, and wrote all the words describing how they are different. Then she numbered each one and made a key for the bottom, informing the reader what each seed was.

The scrapbook she made is three pages of a hen we own, Sweetie Tweetie, the Buff-Laced Polish. I put a picture of her on a previous blog. The scrapbook is really cute! Also exhibited were Red Norland potatoes she grew, a Johnny Jump-Up violet she started from seed (we had to trellis it to keep it upright, it was so tall and bushy!), fridge magnets and three lovely zinnias she cut from her own garden for a cutflower display! Whew! Seven exhibits, seven ribbons!! What a great experience!

I also had a knitting/spinning student exhibit carded wool, dyed carded wool, and a singles yarn handspun on her drop spindle. Blue ribbons for all! It was a really fun fair, and I cannot wait for next year! Between the fair, AND the farmer's market, we were sure tired on Sunday!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Farm Market

What a day we had! It started out stormy with pouring rain, flooding of the street, and lightning. We wondered how things would go or if anyone would come out. We set up our booth in nearly two inches of water and gusty winds. However, soon the storm passed and things quieted down, thankfully! People filled the streets and our booth became very busy. Thanks to all who bought yarn and learned about our sheep. Thank you for all your compliments, too! We really enjoyed the market and plan on setting up again in two weeks, with more inventory!

The hay bale in the photo is holding up our two dress models we've dubbed "Woolcrows" since they are constructed of lumber just like the beginnings of a scarecrow. Rather than stuffing them with straw, we dressed them in turtlenecks and flowing skirts, with twine around their tiny waists. This was a nice way to display scarves I've made, to demonstrate how pretty my handspun yarns are, and what you can make for your own wardrobe. Everyone loved them! Handspun yarns show color so nicely, and are very lightweight to wear. The scarves are so light and beautiful, they could be worn all day in a professional setting. If you work in a cold building, consider a scarf made with handspun yarn! You'll not only be warmer, but you'll feel cozy and look great, too!

Monday, August 3, 2009


This little ram will be put with our main breeding group this year. He has a fleece I never thought I'd find and am very excited about. Of course, being a lamb, the fleece is very soft and fine. When he is grown, I expect his fleece will be longish and wavy, almost beaver-like, maybe double coated. The fiber is already several inches long. I'm looking for strong yarn that won't pill quickly, and make great socks! His horns are beautiful, and his expression is soft and bright. Conformation is great with a nice top line! He was really wild when we bought him, almost jumping out of the pen the first day!! If you look closely, you can see a top rail on the fence added in haste to keep him in. Within a few days, he lost all his fear and fell right into routine, thanks to imprinting by the girls (whom we're constantly tripping over). We treat him like the ram he'll grow up to be, but expect him to accept being handled for hoof trimming, fleece picking, and haltering. Turns out he is quiet, obedient, and respectful, actually a sweet guy in "tough guy clothes". The sweetness is evident in many ways. I'm so glad I handled him properly and not roughly! I hope Woolchester will grow into the ram I see him becoming!

Sweetie Tweetie is a buff-laced polish hen who has lived on our farm for two years now. She was a flighty chick, panicking at every little thing and getting herself in such a tizzy that she'd get herself in worse trouble. One day she flew up in the coop and almost got her leg stuck in the poultry fence. A different day, she got lost in tall grasses behind the coop. I was always rescuing her! Now she is a mature and settled down hen who is a very good layer. Visitors love her top hat! We get lots of questions about her. She is the subject of a scrapbook my daughter is doing for the fair this week so I thought I'd share her photo!

The other excitement here is the baby chicks hatching out the last few days! What fun!!! We have two little cross hens that have been broody all spring (meaning they wanted to sit on eggs and hatch them out). We finally let them set and so far, four cute chicks have hatched! Three are yellow like the one in this picture, and one is black and yellow. The yellow chicks have stripes on their backs like chipmunks. Mother hen is a very good mom, leaving little for me to do but check on them and freshen things (food, water, bedding).
Look at alllll thosssse egggggs!