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!)

The Yarn Weasel

We walked by the mounds of junk looking for treasure.  Cups of coffee in our hands, my husband and I looked among the stacks of items in the tents.  Broken tools, old dishes, and VHS tapes crowded overpriced lanterns and cast iron.  Then I saw it.  I have never seen one before but I knew it instantly.  I looked sheepishly at the price then let my jaw fall slack.  I picked it up in case anyone else recognized it.  Of course,  it was twenty dollars because no one knew what it was!  A Yarn Weasel.  From the 1700’s.

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One could take their freshly spun yarn and spin it directly onto the yarn weasel from the spinning wheel then pull it off the side, twist, and make a perfectly lovely skein of yarn.  Or spin it onto the weasel and knit from it.

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I tied the end of the skein of yarn to one dowel and spun the contraption to unravel the yarn.  It was easier and much faster than carefully winding a skein into a ball for crocheting.  Once it was on the wheel, I began crocheting a blanket for my granddaughter who is expected to be born next month.  Without stopping to untangle or rewind balls of yarn that have toppled off of my lap, I whipped through the skein quickly and was onto the next.

The wood is very dry so now that I am done with the afghan for Miss Ayla Mae, I will oil the wooden relic with walnut oil to seal the wood so that it won’t crack and will give it a beautiful color.

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Yarn weasels can be found for well over a hundred dollars on Ebay, but look for a good deal online or at flea markets.  A lot of folks don’t know what to do with them, or wouldn’t use them anyway and you may be able to get one for a song.  This yarn weasel does look ever lovely next to the wood stove in our little, old fashioned home on our little, old fashioned homestead.

Spinning My Wheels- Take 2 (from fluff to fiber)

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Jill’s friend was selling a spinning wheel.  I told myself I should not be spending so much money.  She had a carder available too.  Both of them were the same price I paid for my spinning wheel two years ago and each had only been used twice.  I figured that if we are crazy enough to jump off this cliff and give this homesteading full time thing a go, then we should just jump full out and see what happens.  If I fail it won’t be because I was five hundred bucks short.

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Do you recall my story?  Two years ago I bought a spinning wheel and two alpacas with the hopes of getting sheep.  Doug termed the name PackyWoo and we were going into the yarn business.  I had trouble getting the hang of spinning and was so frazzled at the time that I didn’t have the patience to learn.  The alpacas were not friendly and kicked, at about visiting kid height.  We were not able to sell them and lost all of that money.  We sold the spinning wheel for less than we paid.  It was a heartbreaking bust.  I didn’t know I was getting sheep.

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My sheep are the two craziest, cutest, little line backers around.  They love to romp and play and hug and nuzzle and get scritched (yes, that is how we say it).  They make me want some more sheep.  They make me want to create the dream I had dreamt before.  Raise the animal, sheer the animal, card the wool, spin the wool, grow the plants used for dye, color the yarn, and use it to knit or crochet hats, and blankets, and shawls, and sell some gorgeous yarn too.  I understand that only having two sheep will get me roughly a pair of socks.  But, I do this stuff for the love of it, not for the profit.  If they could help bring in a little income, they are welcome to.  If they just want to be freaking adorable and brighten my day, so be it.

In the meantime, I have a spinning wheel, a carder, two month old lambs, and a dream.  What could be better?

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 Love

It was a beautiful scene outside the French doors yesterday morning.  I had just filled the bird feeders the eve before and the commotion at dawn was enough to bring the cats to the window.  Out by the lilac bushes, not twenty feet away, stood the most magnificent deer.  Graceful in her movements, her towering frame was gentle and regal.  Mourning doves hopped by.  I love how they’d rather hop than fly!  Hundreds of sparrows and finches filled the quince bush singing their praises and no doubt sharing the latest gossip as they reconvened, chatting and hooting with laughter.  What a wonderful little mini-farm!

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I hope to have these same views on our next homestead along with a few others.  Those of alpacas!  We are vegetarian homesteaders.  Having a lot of cows or pigs would just be silly, as they would become spoiled pets who ate more than any teenager!  And Doug draws the line at having cows in the living room.  We do hope to get a few goats for milk, more chickens for eggs and entertainment, and alpacas.  Fiber animals earn their keep by donating to us their haircut every year.  They feel better, less hot, and we have lots of wonderful fiber to spin into glorious yarn.

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Now mind you, I don’t know how to spin yet…or how to dye yarn, or really how to knit….or how to take care of alpacas!  But this year we are learning.  I did do a spinning lesson, one, and was quite horrid at it.  It is a smooth repetition, one that requires your foot and hand to move simultaneously while spinning the fleece into a beautiful length of yarn.  I am taking lessons this year and getting a spinning wheel.  I hope the cats don’t like it too much.  It is hard to do fiber arts with cats!

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Many of the herbs that we use for medicine would also be great to make natural dyes out of.  I am anxious to try.  Black Walnut would be a lush brown, Goldenrod for yellow…would beet juice turn the yarn pink?  Oh, I do hope so.  So much to find out!  What fun in the process!

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We go to every Alpaca fair that comes through.  This is an active community of alpaca farmers.  We visit with everyone so that when we are ready to get our boys, we will have established a relationship with people who can help us get a few.  They teach us a lot in the meantime and we are trying to be as prepared as possible.  It would seem silly to have alpacas in town in our backyard so we will have to wait until we get our homestead.  (“No officer, that is a dog.  An odd type of Afghan hound…”)

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Doug even came up with a fabulous, sure to be a hit product (now don’t steal the idea!), PacyWoo.  That’s right, alpaca and sheep fleece spun together to make a wonderful, warm, and sturdy yarn that is soft and unique.  We sit around day dreaming quite a lot in case you didn’t notice.

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We went to visit our friends at Falkor Ranch who have seventy five alpacas.  It was a bitter cold morning but we trudged out to their farm for our visit.  We want to see as many farms as we can before we get our own.  Two beautiful white dogs came to greet us, tails wagging.  Their parents were surprised as the dogs are often aloof.  They must have sensed our childlike wonder and mistook us for seven year olds.  We snuggled with them before heading over to the alpacas.

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Alpacas are sweet, gentle animals.  Buck teeth, soft fleece, and the unmistakable appearance of those marionette puppets they sell at fairs.  They hum.  A gentle hmmm, hmmm, as if they are thinking and are nervous.  We were surrounded by an overload of cuteness and our hearts warmed our extremities.  As Doug was scrunching Noah’s thick fleece, Diane said nonchalantly, “When you get your own animals you will have to be careful not to mat their coat!”  We both jumped back looking as if we just got caught stealing.  She showed us how to properly look at their coat and taught us a bit about fleece grades and textures.  We went home with a Marans chocolate egg and a pair of alpaca socks.  What a treat!

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We learned a few things while visiting her farm.  We saw a great design of a greenhouse, her dome filled with delicious vegetables even this time of year.  We learned that in order to be a self sufficient farm we have to grow our own feed for our animals.  One cannot do this in Colorado.  We learned that roosters can fertilize any breed of egg.  We learned about Marans.  We learned that goats are eternally naughty.  I mentioned to Diane casually as we were leaving, “Is that goat supposed to be eating that tree?”  She shot off fast chasing the culprits away from the sleeping fruit trees.  We learned that Akbash dogs are a strong possibility as a farm dog for us.  We learned that alpacas are some of the cutest creatures God made up and we are excited to share our journey with them.  Snuggling live puppets while making fantastic yarn.  Someday…..