Fiber Arts, Animals, and Projects

These desert mornings are cool.  I put a cardigan on before I poured my coffee.  I put the chicks outside yesterday but I may need to run the heat lamp out there for mornings.  It’s going to get warm though.  It was ninety degrees yesterday and it will be again today (wasn’t I just wearing a winter hat Sunday?), so it may seem a terrible time to talk about fiber arts!  Fiber arts are apart of our series here and a welcome skill on the homestead.  Think cozy sweaters, gloves, blankets, and unique gifts all created by you.

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I have found that folks that begin crocheting first have a hard time knitting (where is that darned hook?).  I learned how to crochet from my grandmother, among many things (Lord, I miss her!), when I was thirteen.  I entered my first blanket into the school’s art show and won first place.  I was sure thrilled!  I went on to make many a baby blanket (about my patience level) for friends, all of my own children and my darling granddaughters.  Then moved on to cozies for candles and mugs and fingerless gloves.  Lots of fun ideas.  I have a loom downstairs I am just giddy to learn to how to use.  It may as well be a car in a million pieces; I haven’t the first idea how to put it together, let alone use it.  That is a goal for this winter.

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Gandalf at dusk.  That’s not snow, folks.

What about fiber animals?  I can’t have them here in the city (actually….I saw a weird video about folks spinning their dog’s fur), but I have had them before and will have them again.  Alpacas weren’t my loves.  They are cute and marionette-like, and kick.  Some of my friends adore their alpacas, it just may not have been our thing.  I need goofy, friendly, cuddly animals on my farm.  So we got sheep.  Oh goodness, I loved those sheep.  Olaf and Sven were just as bright as a pine cone but they adored me and followed me around the farm, in the house, and rather enjoyed rides in the truck.  They also liked to watch television.  (Spoiled much?)

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I have had a spinning wheel twice, and due to moving and patience issues in me (I do hope those are remedied now that I am an empty nester), I don’t have one, but that too will become one of my goals….maybe.  I once dropped off a whole bag of alpaca fleece a guy sold me to a fiber mill and I got back many skeins of lovely spun yarn.  I wonder if I could do it again myself.

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Homesteading is a lot of doing and a little bit dreaming.  We are always striving to do more, learn more, achieve more, enjoy more.  In the meantime, there are a few projects I am inspired to work on.  Better find some chunky wool…

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Here are some old past posts and projects for y’all!

Candle Sweaters and Pin Cushions (homemade gifts)

The Yarn Weasel

Alpaca Scarves and Crooked Washcloths

Vintage Handkerchiefs (a crochet project)

How to Crochet Fingerless Gloves (easy pattern!)

A Looming Adventure

 

loomY’all know I am always up for a new hobby.  My friend, Lisa (our California vacation host), came to Colorado to clear out her daughter’s storage unit.  Her daughter is in Asia teaching English.  She doesn’t want to give up the loom, Lisa doesn’t want to ship it to China, so guess who is going to hold onto it?

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I have always been interested in looms.  I love the large, elaborate one at Los Golondrinas in New Mexico.  I had sheep, Sven and Olaf, to try my hand at sheering and wool though we lost our rented farm when they were only six months old and had to give them up.  We had two ornery alpacas that kicked.  They are now lawn mowers in Limon.  I bought and sold two spinning wheels that went to friends for between nothing and cheap.  Just the wrong timing for me in the world of fiber arts.  Heck, I can’t even knit.  I can crochet a bit though.  And I have studied the herbs to grow to use as natural dyes.  And I love yarn.  And once I get into our new homestead next Thursday I will try to figure out this lovely loom.

The Littlest Farmgirl and the Petting Zoo

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“What’s this, Grammie?” (except she doesn’t say r’s yet) Maryjane asked me as she stood before the sweetest cria we had ever seen.

“An alpaca,” I replied.

“Oh, hi!” she said to the baby as she gave her a kiss on the neck.

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Children would come near the animals then scream and jump back. Meanwhile, Maryjane Rose greeted and kissed each and every animal.  She was in heaven among all of the farm animals, especially the sheep.

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She rode the horses in the endless circle and each time she came around I heard her little voice singing, “Yee haw!…Yee haw!…”

It’s so sweet to see things through the eyes of a little Farmgirl.

 

Fiber Animals- Take 2

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Isn’t January a time of reminisce and future plans?  There isn’t much to do so we review our progress, our successes, our hopes, dreams, and ideas.  Two years ago in January we posted about alpacas.  Doug and I had been avidly attending alpaca festivals, visiting farms, yarn stores, and reading up and dreaming of the day that we would get our very own marionette-like animals.  I would while away the hours spinning on my old fashioned wheel, knitting socks from our very own fiber from our very own alpacas. *Sigh.

Look who wanted in this morning!

We adopted two alpacas, a sweet boy named Natali, and a young one named Cody.  The brown one was a Suri and the second a Huacaya.  The Huacaya was going to be our main fiber boy.  A big, fluffy white alpaca would be great for hand dying my own fiber with plant dyes.  A garden was going to be created with plants specifically for dyes.

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We bought two big bags of fiber from a friend of ours down the way to practice on.  I did not have the equipment to card the fiber and everything was so expensive to purchase.  So, we sent it to the mill.  The total cost to us was a whopping $20 a skein of yarn.  Let’s just say that was not a profitable adventure.

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I bought a beautiful spinning wheel, new, full price.  I practiced and practiced and used roving that a student of mine gave me.  My “yarn” looked lopsided, lumpy, and fell apart easily.

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The two alpacas were terrified of us.  The younger one kicked anyone that went by.  His leg cocked back was the exact height of a small child’s face.  Not good.  We had saved a lot of money (for us) to adopt these animals.  The farm folks that sold them to us had promised to help us and be a resource for us but were nowhere to be found when we had issues.  A mere four months later we had to give them away.  That’s right, gave them away for free.

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I was so upset over the whole situation that I also promptly sold my new spinning wheel for under cost.  I regret that now.  I do tend to make rash decisions rather quickly.

That was last spring when everything seemed to be going wrong.  Fast forward to a few days ago.  Knitting club at the coffee shop and we girls are talking about alpaca yarn and alpacas and my poor experience when two gals came across the room to greet one of the knitters.  They each have an alpaca ranch and we laughed at the coincidence since we were just talking about that.  We recalled my horrible experience and the alpaca ladies were horrified that that had occurred to us, especially after so many years of planning and dreaming.  We felt jipped.

One of the ladies offered me a free alpaca.  He has fabulous fleece, smaller than some, and is mentally handicapped.  Well, y’all know we are suckers for the misfit animals.  He apparently loves attention.  Of course, I don’t have her phone number but in a small town I bet we can locate it.  I had put it out of my head, not thinking Doug wanted to delve into the world of alpacas and fiber again, but yesterday he casually mentioned pasture fencing and special ed alpacas.  He loves alpacas and was every bit as disappointed as I was in our experiment.

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So, joining us on Pumpkin Hollow Farm (I need to go across the way to the owner’s house of this fine land and see if we can bring on more animals) may be a few sheep and a smiley alpaca.  Now I need to find another spinning wheel!

 

 

Designer Yarn; short and sweet

Look what I learned to do!  This is what every spinner I have spoken to refers to as “designer yarn.”  They are not being smart-allecky.  Truly, this would crochet or knit up into a nice scarf, something very beautiful and unique.  And I have been told that once spinners get really good and have all the even, thin strands of perfect looking yarn they wish that they could still create some of the funky stuff.  It sells well, apparently.  Come to think of it, it is something I would buy!

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I also do not spin like I was taught.  As with everything, I have to trudge through and find my own way.  Instead of smooth, impressive motions of tapping the foot on the petal, spinning seamlessly while stretching the roving and releasing perfectly spun yard onto the bobbin, I step on the petal using my right hand to spin the wheel and get the yarn into the contraption.  Then I stretch the roving.  Stop.  Repeat.  It sounds like it would take a long time but I got this whole bobbin filled during So You Think You Can Dance.  I am ever so proud.

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I took the other three “skeins” (you’ll see why that is in quotes in a minute) and tied four little embroidery floss ties on them, washed them as directed, and stretched them over the back of the chairs to dry.  Basking in the glow of aptitude and success, I started dreaming about how popular my yarns will be.  Our blend of alpaca and wool together being called wittily, Pacywoo, as Doug named it.

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I decided I’d better check how long a skein is.  I stood with my mouth open at the bundles of yarn I bought.  150 yards.  200 yards.  Folks, if I tied all the ends together of the yarn I made I would have 12 yards!  What the…..?  How on earth does one get even 100 yards and still get it to fit in the front seat of the truck?  How do I get the ends together?  The bobbin is full and it is probably only five yards.  Oh, this is makes me anxious. I need to consult an expert!

In the meantime, I am pleased with how the yarn is coming along.  Look at how far I have come! Spinning my Wheel(s) and Alpaca Love .

Spinning my Wheel(s)

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Yesterday I went and bought some new wheels.  Sleek, rose colored, needs a little wax.  One pedal.  Not a new truck, a spinning wheel!  You all saw it coming.  I have been bit by the fiber bug.  It’s a pity coordination is not my middle name.  I am providing free entertainment if anyone wants to come over and watch me attempt to push a pedal with my foot and use my fingers to pull and push and try not to knot and twist too much beautiful roving into respectable and lush yarn.  Last night I made dreadlocks.  That should make an interesting scarf!  I feel like a small child, tongue sticking out, in deep concentration, temper tantrum in the end.

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I should change the name of this blog to the “Patient Farmgirl” for I have had two lessons now on spinning and should be making skeins of luxurious yarn by now!  Okay, the first lesson I did talk a lot, the second was good though.  Now, it is a matter of practice, and according to spinners and books I have read, it will just hit me and I will all of a sudden be able to spin.  Much like when I learned how to drive a stick shift I imagine (another feat where one must do two things at the same time) only less dangerous.

Spinning wheels cost pretty pennies and I hesitated (for a minute) to give up $600 plus dollars.  It came out of my homesteading fund that I have been religiously putting money into (slow but sure; I think I can afford a wood stove and a chicken coop so far). I figured that this is a homesteading craft.  One that can bring in a little income, allow us to have farm animals without feeling like we have to eat them, make my own yarn (I spend a bit on good yarn), and make that much more of our own things.  I could even learn to weave at some point and make our own fabric.  That is pretty ambitious though, I’d have to say!

I cannot wait to be out at the barn with my alpacas and my sheep.  Right now I have been out with the chickens and the greyhound.  Not much fleece on those guys.  So, I do have a friend that will sell me one of his alpaca’s “blankets” or fleece.  I will have to card it or have it milled to turn it into roving in order to spin it.  That is this week’s task.  Price, find, conquer fleece.  Because once I do master this spinning yarn thing, I want to have my beautiful roving at the ready.  I am going to color it in natural herb dyes of my own making.  Spin some that is natural colored.  You will see them on the table at the farmer’s market and maybe on the website.  If I am worth my apron strings as a farmgirl, I tell you now, I will have luxurious (limited quantity!) yarn ready to share come June.  It won’t be perfect but it will be “artsy” and farmgirl-ready to knit or crochet into something wonderful.

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Alpaca Scarves and Crooked Washcloths

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I have been crocheting since I was twelve years of age thanks to my grandmother who patiently taught me.  Every time I wanted to start a new blanket over the next ten years I had to go to Grandma to get me started.  It takes awhile for things to click with me.  Since then I have been able to put together pretty decent baby blankets, lap blankets, scarves, and more recently hats and baby hoodies!  But I want to make close knit fabulous socks with my future fiber animals.  I want to make luxuriously warm sweaters without big holes in them like a granny square.  That would be a little chilly.

There is a group of ladies that meet at Grumpy’s Coffee Shop here every Monday at 4:00.  I try to get there after my fiddle lessons.  If nothing else, I sit for an hour, catch up on gossip, and leave fully inspired to make elaborate sweaters and try different patterns.  I decided to learn from these wise ladies how to knit.  I think I helped them view a special kind of learner.  I hope they have ten years.  “Where is the hook?”  “They are knitting needles, there is no hook.”  “No hook?  How on earth do I pull the yarn through?”  “Like this…”  Swish, swish, click, click, and the yarn magically came through the hole.  “I need a hook.”  I went back to crocheting the baby blanket I am working on for my soon to be here grand-daughter.

Yet, the fiber bug continues to bite me.  I suppose that if I want my homestead to revolve around alpacas and sheep for fiber, I ought to be rather savvy in the arts of fiber!  Crocheting may not cut it in the world of thick warm socks and sweaters.  So, I sign up to take a real knitting class that costs money at the yarn shop in the next big town over.  A stern English lady who told back to back jokes about Germans sat with four of us on a cold, wintry night before Christmas.  She must have forgotten that Americans are by and large mutts and we don’t know that we are supposed to be angry at one European nation or another because most likely, one of our grandmothers came from there!  In the warmth of her shop I started clicking the needles together as if I had been doing it for years.  She brushed me off to everyone saying, “Oh, she has already had lessons.”  I should have known it wouldn’t last!

I decided to stop using my expensive alpaca yarn to practice and since it was overwhelmingly told to me to forget about starting out making a sweater or socks (4 needles?  You’ve got to be kidding me.), that I should make a scarf or something.  In the land of a million hand made scarves (our house) I decided to use some old chenille yarn to make a wash rag.  I sat for two hours on the sofa concentrating until my eyes hurt.  Look at that beauty.  All I can say is….wow.  There never was an uglier wash rag.  It is very soft and I use it to wash a mud masque off of my face once a week.  So, it does the trick.  But I dare say, I’d be scared to see the sweater I make in the future!

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Back to crocheting, the first picture is of a head wrap/scarf that I made a few years back while sitting in the scorching sun of a farmer’s market.  I get migraines if my ears get cold and alpaca fiber is the only thing that keeps my ears warm.  So, I made this lovely shawl/scarf/head cover to keep me toasty.  The colors are drool worthy and it was such a simple stitch.  Simply chain until you have the length you want.  Then double chain back and forth until you get the size you want.  I switched colors after each skein.  Luckily I got a discount from my friends Marianne and Wade at T 3 Weavers because we were doing a market with them at the time.  http://www.t3weavers.com/yarnshop.html

Luckily, my friend Sandy showed me some patterns yesterday at knitting club to make crocheted socks (no holes) and I saw a sweater book at the library for crochet.  I do not know all the fancy stitches, but perhaps the girls at the coffee shop can help me out!  Happy Creating!