Farming Nuts and Bolts

Many folks might see farming in a romantic way, especially when it comes to raising sheep. One might think it would be great to work out doors in beautiful pastures with cute sheep running around. And yes, there is a little of that. But first and foremost, farming is not only a way of life, it is a business too, with lots of challenges.
One prominent challenge that comes to mind, at this time of year especially, is the weather.
The pastures are muddy and it is a challenge to deal with the cold and the rain. Muddy boots are the norm. It seems this year, we have had more than our share of rain, so finding a day to wash and dry yarn and fleeces can be tough. But we managed to do a little dyeing last weekend and used a rare dry day to hang out some freshly dyed yarn.
I do wear many hats, from shepherd, to accountant, to pattern designer and marketer…I can’t do it all alone. I am always seeking strong farm partners, such as a great mill. It took a few mill runs to find Lydia at Gurdy Run Fiber Mill in Halifax, PA. Mills vary in areas of expertise, and schedules. Many mills can take as long as a year to get yarn back after delivering fleeces. Most are run as part time businesses and that can be a problem to a farmer who is beyond the hobby stage and is making a business out of selling her yarn. Lydia not only achieves wonderful consistency in her fingering weight yarn (not easy with a unique fleece like shetlands) but she is reliable in her completion dates. She has always delivered our yarn within 5 months. Almost unheard of in the mini-mill business.
Another great partner is my hay guy. I went through a few until I  finally found Larry. He is a 2nd generation cattle farmer who now makes a retirement business raising hay for local farmers. He is a partner I cannot do without. He keeps my sheep fed especially during the Winter months, with quality hay. If he or his cousin is out of stock, he seeks out other sources for me. He believes in my farm business and shows it with his efforts. I pay him of course, but I also keep him in socks too!
And last but not least…I have my family and friends. Many show up on shearing day to help with sweeping, bagging and sorting. Some days it can be cold. like 3 weeks ago when we last sheared. But there were no complaints. All stayed until the job was done.  And my husband is not only an expert sheep catcher, he will do extra duty, filling in for me feeding all the critters when I am sick with a cold. I am so grateful for the angels in my life that participate in, support and honor our family farm.
Bringing an American raised and processed yarn with the beautiful characteristics unique only to Shetland wool is a real privilege. Mentoring a sheep breed like Shetland can be very difficult, but it is important to maintain the breed. Most shearers do not like to shear a small primitive sheep. The collection of breeds known as Northern Short Tails such as Finn, Gotland, Icelandics and Shetland can begin to shed. This event is known as the rise and it can make it difficult to get a blade through. The small size of the sheep also presents challenges as they have more angles. It takes a very skilled and willing shearer to handle these challenges. It takes understanding that the quality of the fleeces are worth the effort. These qualities include softness with strength and resistance to pilling. And the beautiful natural colors makes this an exceptional breed, loved by lace and fair isle knitters and handspinners around the world.
I love the Scottish history of this breed, who thrived on scarce rations on small islands in the North Sea, having been left by Vikings hundreds of years ago. The crofters (farmers) have protected and mentored this little sheep and  continue to do so today. Artisans have created works of art in lace from Unst and colorful stranded knitting known as Fair Isle. I fell in love with this little  sheep and strive to create an American version of Shetland yarn with patterns to go with it. And the socks we produce on the farm have been amazing too. So keep following along with us on our farming adventure. It is never dull and the work is never quite done. But we love it, and the friends we have made along the  way.
Our farm store is updated with 3 new colors of Hilltop Shetland fingering along with a new Spring Shawl pattern.

The Farm to Clothing Movement

This Saturday will be the first meeting of a new study group.  The group might be new but the concept we will be exploring is an old one.  Small family farms were once the center of village and town economies,  providing essential products,  from food,  to medicine,  and yes,  to clothing, bedding and household linens.  As time went on, the small family farms were replaced by large corporate farms and the production of finished goods was taken over by factories. The general population became further removed from not only where their food was produced but also where their clothing and yard goods came from in the name of convenience.  Along with convenience came ignorance.  We didn’t know what pesticides were used, how labor was compensated,  whether or not there were good environmental practices used and the cost of transportation incurred.  We are coming to terms with food,  with buy local campaigns and new purpose for the small family farms in the area of food. 

But what of fiber?  There are small wool producers and the beginnings of flax production and a little cotton production.  And long after the exodus of many of our large fiber mills,  we have small cottage mills that clean,  card and spin yarn.  But so little production of an end product like yard goods and clothing associated with the farm.  As a grower of wool,  I thought a way to support the farm would be to cater to knitters and Handspinners,  providing only roving and yarn.  But as a business model and of providing an essential product to the general public,  it was lacking.  And then I started looking back in history and the role of wool and flax farms in clothing production and a spark emerged.  Why not come full circle like the food production farms?   Why not explore the idea of local clothing production centered on fiber produced on the small farm?  It is daunting, as the knowledge of processing and producing with old skills is evaporating.  And in order to produce actual clothing,  there probably needs to be an effort to co-op materials,  tools,  processing equipment and labor.  And again,  we can look back and see that this was, in fact,  done in earlier days here and in Europe.  So as we explore the possibilities,  we can grow communities around fiber production. And maybe bring together a network of all those so called hobby farms out there.  I am excited about this effort.  We will keep fiber heritage alive, teach through example and take small fiber production to an end product… To clothing.  

For my little part,  I have chosen socks to be a clothing product produced from fiber grown on my farm. These socks are not from pooled fiber from many farms and then knitted in a factory like what is offered by many wool growers at markets. But instead,  the wool is washed and spun into yarn at a small cottage farm mill,  and I take that yarn and knit the socks on a 100 year old sock machine right on the farm where the wool is grown. 

And as I learn about other fibers,  such as flax and cotton,  I will be growing and experimenting with these fibers.  And there are plans for making the farm a teaching farm where folks can witness and learn fiber production skills.  

So the first meeting of our little study group will be this coming Saturday at Sweet Tree Hill Farm.  Send me an email for more information if interested in learning more about our efforts.  

A Step Back in Time… 

Anyone who knows me,  knows I am mad about the Outlander series,  first the books and now the television series.  And not just because of a hunky Scott… Oh shame on you for thinking it… No,  it is mostly because I love history,  especially Scottish history.  I love reading and discovering what everyday life was like,  especially for women and especially regarding textile production.  It is not by accident I chose the Shetland breed of sheep to raise, or love to listen to Celtic music.  I even took up the fiddle at age ten. And choosing to live in a 100 year old house has a special charm to me as I sometimes speak to the ghosts within its walls to ask advise or just enjoy the companionship. 

This fascination with fiber began back when I took a weaving class in highschool, at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.  My teacher,  Betty Johnson has no idea what treasure she brought to me, what world she opened up.  It began a quest of self study,  that has become my life’s work. 

Now to the phenomenon of Outlander… The cool thing about it is that the central character does what I have been trying to do for decades,  experience another time, smell the smells,  see life through other eyes in another time.   That is what learning how to knit and spin,  animal husbandry,  weaving, embroidery is all about for me,  experience the fiber past,  but in my own time.

 During the colonial period,  since England refused to allow colonists to purchase yard goods from any country except England,  it became expensive.  So many households went into production for themselves and their neighbors, growing flax,  raising sheep,  and processing the fiber,  then creating clothing,  bedding, curtains and most of the everyday needs of the household.  We don’t know a lot of the details because these tasks were mostly left to the  women and children and recording their tasks, how and what they did to contribute was not considered important history.  Of course we know it is important.  Often the economy of a village was based on bartering of these home produced goods.  An excellent book  was discovered then formatted with additional information called “A Tale of a Midwife” . One of my favorite books.  This diary was discovered in a Maine archive and it chronicled a midwife named Martha in her daily chores of attending to the doctoring of her town and her fiber business she ran with her daughters during the late 1700’s. It was mostly in the form of record keeping,  but what a wealth of information!  I stumbled upon this book over ten years ago in a little Charlottesville book store during one of my little anniversary weekends with my husband. 

So at times,  I feel a kindred spirit in Martha.  I juggle two careers as well… Instead of midwifery,  I am a travel agent, and I own and operate a little fiber business… For my family and community, growing,  processing and manufacturing clothing – mostly socks for the family and general public,  and baby things for all the new additions my family is experiencing. 

 And I am like Claire in Outlander,  living in a different time, but not needing to fall through stones to do it.  And I get to learn and experience a little taste of what so many women before me had done… Keeping their families warm with their skill and their ingenuity and hard, yet satisfying work.  

Too busy to die

I have been seeing a repetitive post on Facebook that you click on to see when you will retire.  It struck me that the notion of retirement means that one wants to stop what they are doing at some point.  So maybe if I am doing what I love,  retirement is either not necessary,  or I am retired.  And if I am retired,  then there is a lot of stuff to do to keep me busy… Not the idea most would have about retirement.  But that is farming. 

In days when this country was more agrural, the notion of retirement did not exist.  It was not until after World War II that the term come into the mainstream, and something we all aspired to.  Probably not a coincidence that office work was on the rise.  I was one of those folks with an office job in a high rise building.. In a cubicle… And I felt my soul utterly dying a slow death every day.  I kept myself motivated by saving my money and reading about farming and business ideas. The thought of spending the majority of my working life, and in essence my life,  in an office working for someone else dictating my schedule,  just a waste of a life, or at least not conducive to a meaningful life.  

It is hard to describe my journey to where I am now,  and too tedious to go into at length.  The essence of it is that I did trust the journey and trusted my guides.  And each stage was a learning platform,  even that dull office job at a trucking company.  So here I have landed,  a shepherd and a yarn producer… And yes, a travel agent for large corporations I can do from my home,  that provides me the needed steady income. But it is the farm that provides the most challenge,  the most energy,  the most problem solving skills,  the most time. Some days after inoculating and hoof trimming or working on the garden,  or shoveling rabbit manure into the compost pile,  or fence mending, or assisting in shearing and wool sorting…. covered in grime and sweat…that I ask myself… Is this what I wanted? 

I compare how I feel after those tough farm days to taking 80 customer service calls in canned air sitting in a chair in front of a computer screen all day and my answer is,  hell yeah!!!  I am in control of my days,  I keep my body moving in the outdoors in all kinds of weather,  I feel alive,  not slowly dying.  And the rewards of building something,  a farm and a business is invigorating.  And it is scary…and there are problems to solve… And there are sad days… Yet always lessons to be learned in those tough days to store in my arsenal of farm knowledge.  But I keep coming back to the notion about feeling alive. 

Now the tasks do mount,  and I am in the throws of learning I can’t do it all.  It does take a tole on my body,  and mental state.  So during this last year,  I am delegating and paying some folks to get some problems and chores done, as dealing with a 100 year old farm house also has its challenges.  I am putting my college student son to work on the gardens,  I hired some really good guys to fence in my back pasture,  and I now have a great house keeping company coming out once a month (woo-hoo!) and those living in my household contribute to paying for the house upkeep.  

This allows me to work on the farm business,  developing a stellar American Shetland yarn (Hilltop Shetland) that I can produce consistently and reliably and work on marketing it.  And producing,  on a small scale,  an end product for that yarn,  our 1910 socks.

 And… As a knitter and spinner,  I have too may works in progress waiting for me to tackle… Hoping for more time for these,  otherwise I would need to put these in my will.

It has been a long journey,  and I have a ways to go still… so retire? Why? 

I never aspired to stop something,  I aspire to do, to create,  to grow… And in essence… to live.  My grandpa lead busy career in the steel industry.  He worked very hard up in Pennsylvania and finally retired to Jeckyl Island Georgia for a life of golf and beach combing. I think he lasted a year, maybe two.  Not sure if retirement killed him,  he was a smoker… But not sure if he thrived.  He was a doer by nature,  and in fact was always looking to do,  to feel productive. I share that compulsion. 

So,  as I look at my farm to do list,  and decide what I will tackle on the day God calls the day of rest,  I figure that I don’t have time to die… Too much to do.. to much smelling fresh air while I do it,  too much hearing birdsong and frog croaking,  to much feeding and tending to my fiber animals. And at the end of the day, might take a dip into my God tended swimming hole,  that spring fed pond at the bottom of my hill,  that adds to my view in my workplace.  I will float to the middle and take stock of my blessings in this world. My thought will be that heaven has a lot to measure up to, as there is nothing like having an 8 acre pond to yourself except for the fish,  frogs, turtles, and geese.. And yes,  an annoying beaver.  Too much to do,  and yes also enjoy to leave the planet anytime soon.  So I guess I am foregoing the notion of retirement..what is there to retire from?  

Shop the latest from SweetTreeHillFarm on Etsy. Natural colored Fingering Weight Shetland in 400 years skeins.  

Five Natural Colors of Shetland Wool available in 400 yard skeins of fingering weight Hilltop Shetland. Perfect for Fair Isle, Lace Shawls & sock knitting. Knits beautifully on our antique circular sock machine. See 1910 shepherd socks in the store.

Put out to Pasture, Me or the Sheep? 

Spring is an exciting time for the sheep because Winter is finally over and so ends a diet of hay and the spring grasses and legumes start to come up.  As a shepherd,  we try to manage our flocks so that the sheep can receive good nutrition from the land and rely less on costly hay.  We want happy sheep and we want a profitable business too.  Easier said than done of course.

For years I have been relying on one pasture that was already somewhat fenced when we moved in.  (I say somewhat because it was old horse fence in need of repairs and woven wire added to keep sheep in. ) It wasn’t too bad because it was three acres and I only had a few sheep.  But as my flock grew, the stress put on this one pasture grew,  and as of last year, it could no longer support the flock.  Last year,  I had to buy hay all summer.  So this last winter,  I had to make a decision… Do I go smaller and sell a bunch of sheep?  Or do I pass through the threshold of hobby farmer and decide to make this an actual farm.. One with real sustainable products,  one that made full use of the resources in a planned and carefully managed way.

First I needed to answer some tough questions.  Have I finally developed a unique and worthy product or products to sell?  Am I done dabbling and ready to serious?  Am I brave?   Well,  first the product.  We now have two we are can now run with after the work and trial and error.  First,  our 1910 Shepherd Socks.

I have spent the last year and a half learning how to use our 100 year old Legare 400 sock machine.  And last February,  spent a week at the John C Campbell Folk School in North Carolina to build on those skills.  We now offer made to order socks with different options in the cuffs,  five natural colors and even ombre stripes. And the yarn used to make these socks is product #2. Five years of researching mills had finally gleaned that beautiful elusive fingering weight Shetland Yarn.

We introduced our Hilltop Shetland fingering weight yarn last week at Powhatan’s Festival of Fiber and it was our number one seller.  We also posted a picture on Instagram and non other than famed yarn critic Clara Parks commented “true gorgeousness” . High praise indeed.  So we have the products that we can run with, that is unique to my farm and can potentially sell quite well. What next?

Am I brave and ready to be a real farm business? It is scary,  but I remind myself that having a fiber farm has been my dream for at least twenty  years.  It is the time to either go big or go home.  And frankly,  hobby farming is expensive. Most fiber farmers never get past the hobby stage. They might sell some products,  trying different ideas,  seeing what might stick, but never really making a profit or coming up with that one product or two they can create consistently with an ongoing growing market. Business farming can generate real revenue. For fiber,  wool in particular,  one has to have a goal of fulfilling a need.  Our yarn is unique in that it is breed specific; Shetland with all the natural colors and strong softness…and it is a smooth fingering weight that works on the sock machines…one of the few if any American grown and milled yarns that do.  I am excited to see how this yarn does in a national marketplace. And our socks,  made with this yarn is a rare piece of clothing manufactured on the farm where the fiber is grown…from flock to feet.

OK…so the next steps was to add infrastructure to the farm to be able to rotate pasture to sustain the numbers it takes to produce this yarn and socks.  And that means fencing and shoots to move the sheep with little stress on the sheep and headache for the shepherd.  It means that the sheep can get nutrition mostly from pasture instead of hay, at least for three seasons of the year.  So I posted a request on the Virginia Farm page on facebook asking for a good reliable fence builder.  I did find one..and surprisingly quickly.  And less than two weeks later,  I have phase one done: new paddock around the barn with a shoot to it from the old pasture,

and the back pasture fenced into two sections with new gates.

I am over the moon… Especially yesterday when I was able to release my flock onto this pasture.

This is only the beginning… We have new fencing planned for next year. Using my tax refund to finance these projects.  But future plans include a new barn and paddock at the back end of our back pasture, and new sock machines and an employee, probably in about two years.  This will require some crowd funding. By then,  hoping our yarn and socks will be off and running.  So stay tuned.

Next step is to get my Etsy site redone and look for other means of selling our products.  We will be posting our yarn in a few days… But you can order your socks here.

And we are posting on instagram with two hash tags to create some buzz… #flocktofeet     and    #knitvashetland

You can follow our progress by searching those hash tags,  and please use those hash tags to share pics of your socked feet and projects with our yarn.  Thanks for supporting our farm.

My view of this great country,  seen from the vantage point of my little farm in the hills of Central Virginia…where Thomas Jefferson once traveled to visit family that lived nearby.  Where a few stones throws away in the Cumberland Courthouse came the first official call for freedom,  for the forming of the world’s first free self ruled nation…drafted and sent to the Virginia House of Burgesses.   (There is a marker for anyone driving through Cumberland Courthouse and we in the county celebrate it every year calling it Patriot’s Day.)  

From this vantage point,  I witnessed the discourse of this election.  It was heated,  it was robust but I will say…not unlike many elections.  It did not surprise me how nasty and emotional and robust it got. It is just we have short memories as a nation.  There have always been lies told, a biased media in the tank for one candidate or another.  Heck,  during the election between Adams and Jefferson,  one paper claimed one should not vote for the other because he is dead. In this election it was all about the labels.  It was about one party striving to define a voter by putting them in a box, labeling them  and then predicting how they will vote.  It was about another party loosing touch with that voter and hence tried to predermine who they thought would appeal to an electorate they did not know and could not define,  so bought into the labels the other side was using.  

 This election back fired on both parties, simply because both parties forgot something.  People don’t fit neatly into any box,  they are not their labels.  The media was biased,  but not in the way you might think.  Their bias was in how they perceived their audience.  They bought into and decided to orchestrate this labeling business. And in doing so,  thought they could sway an election.  You see,  they began to believe their own hype, their own spin.  They stopped listening to who they were talking to.  Instead, they began talking at,  talking past, dictating to,  lying to… a people that did not exist. 

You see the media and both parties thought they knew what motivated folks,  if they could define them.  They thought poor rural folks who were not college graduates would vote one way.  They thought college educated women would vote one way.  They thought urban blacks would vote one way.  They thought LGBT folks would vote one way.  They thought all Hispanics would vote one way.  They thought the military would vote one way.  They thought Catholics,  Jews,  Pagans,  and so on would vote one way.  

And then there was the name calling.  If you are for the second amendment,  you are a dumb hick and hold your bible too tightly.  If you are for gun control,  you are anti American.  If you are for a strong border you are a biggot.  If you are an uneducated white man and for one candidate,  you are a sexist. If you are a white woman and for another candidate you are a feminazi.  And one candidate in particular thought those voting for her opponent were in a basket of deplorables and labeled them xenophobic,  homophobic and so on.  And the media ramped up the name calling and labeling to a fever pitch. 

And the people often sited talking points the media put out there, labeling their friends and family in much of the discourse on Twitter, Facebook and such.  Even in my own family….when we were NOT face to face,  but behind the veil of Facebook, might dabble in the labeling. 

And where the label bias really affected the discourse was in the polling.  Oh my glorious God…the POLLING!  Have we ever seen so much polling?   There were the national polls, there were the state polls,  there were college polls, there were newspaper polls.  And as the election came closer,  these polls were put out daily. And yet… They got it wrong.  And not for the reasons you might think.  It was not the questions they were asking,  it was not the demographic of folks they were canvassing. It was their label bias.  They were not interpreting the data correctly because of the boxes they were putting people in.  But the funny thing is, is that people are not their labels. They do not fit neat and tidy into those boxes.  They do not vote according to how the media,  the parties, the pollsters thought they should vote.  

I am sure I am not alone when I say that we all know and have aquaintences that defy what we might have first thought of them.  I live in a very rural area that has a variety of folks. We have black, white,  Hispanic,  gay,  young families,  older retired (sort of.. many have farms so…they never retire)  and so on.  I know conservative gay people and young people that are liberal on social issues,  but conservative on fiscal issues.  I know women that are against abortion. I know some people who have never voted.  I know some people that will travel across the country for a political cause.  I know military folks that start out life voting liberal then change their thinking. 

So what does this all mean when it came to this crazy election?   The Democrat party had a candidate that whom they thought would win by a landslide because they thought she had broad appeal to who they thought were most people… people who thought like how most of the media thought because,  after all,  the media thought they labelled people correctly.  And the media,  most of them are college educated,  ride the train in first class,  many are married to people involved in government and they of course understood what drove people.  They knew what women wanted,  they knew what white college educated men wanted.  They knew what Hispanics wanted,  they knew what blacks wanted. And since they were the media,  they could convince others what they wanted,  or at least shame them into it.  Some of the media, ok,  let’s be honest,  most of it…was the Democrat Party Superpack.  They thought they had this in the bag,  because the polling said so,  right? 

Now shifting over to the Republican Party.  They believed this label stuff too.  Only because so many in the established leadership failed to leave the Washington Beltway and bothered to really get a feel for what the people were thinking. Or find out what has been happening in their lives. What was their job situation,  what are their fears for the future? What are they looking for in a candidate? They lost touch with the voter.  They had no idea it was not only going to be all about the issues,  but about personality.  Yes but not in the way you think.  Imagine the shock when the voters dismissed the Republican party’s chosen son,  Jeb Bush.  Why?  Wasn’t he accomplished,  believed in all the right things the typical conservative voters want?  He might have been right on some….some of the issues.  But wrong on personality. Imagine the shock when voters chose loud,  crude,  bombastic Donald Trump?  And dear readers,  the reason was… conservative,  bible holding evangelist,  gun loving, constitution purists… Wanted a BULLY! How about that label?  Yes.  They have been getting tired of being beaten up on by the label toting democrats and they were going to throw a label at them.  And have a champion willing to get dirt under his fingernails. And what farmer does not like that?  

Of course it got messy,  because now both sides were name calling.  And the names and labels were divisive, rude,  crude,  disgusting. It was a battle.  Many got hurt.  Families fought,  friends fought. The media had their spin machine in high gear.  And they did something amazing.  They stopped covering the candidates.  They did not do journalism.  Wikee Leaks filled on the vacuum and reported on the back room deals of the Democratic Party and their campaign. Media tried to cover this up,  but word did get out.  And the media totally ignored the last three weeks of the Republican campaign.  Because their candidate got razor sharp and bypassed the media and pulled an FDR.  Right, Trump’s version of Roosevelt’s whistle stop campaign.  Only he used the Trump jet. The schedule Trump maintained was dizzying. Sometimes he visited nine states in 72 hours.  He had rally after rally,  with tens of thousands of people attending… at a moment’s notice.  And guess what?  The name calling stopped,  well,  mostly.  It was all about the issues.  It was about issues actual people,  not labeled people,  not imagined people, not what the media or either party thought people should care about… But issues that real actual people cared about.  A strong military,  strong, safe border,  protecting the constitution,  getting rid of Obamacare that was bankrupting individuals and businesses alike,  bringing back the coal industry,  getting our respect back overseas,  renegotiating our trade deals to bring manufacturing back and manyany jobs back. 

In other words,  bringing back our greatness.  Since the mainstream media would not cover his words or his speeches,  Trump put his face in front as many Americans as possible.  In fairness, Fox Business did cover most all of his speeches.  

In the end, the media believed their own hype and labels,  the pollsters had eggs on their faces… and the American people did not vote their labels.  They voted… Imagine this…. They voted the issues.  Issues that were important to them based on their actual lives.  And as the results were coming in,  the media was dumbfounded.  They could not believe the candidate,  the one they attached every disgusting label they could think of…. sexist,  bully,  homophobic,  biggot,  xenophobic,  stupid,  deplorable, ….won.  Smarter folks than I will be studying this election. But in the end,  the people defied their labels. Neither the media or either party listened to the people,  they tried to define them instead.  

And this shepherd, from her little vantage point at the doorstep of where the idea of this country was first proclaimed watched,  like I watch my sheep, with caring and understanding. And yes,  I argued my views like many of you. Yet  I am so grateful I wake up on my farm in freedom. I do not care what labels we call each other,  because we all wear the best label,  American. 

Ollies Visit to Papa

I though my followers would enjoy this piece about the Shetland homeland….where our sheep came from.

Oliver recently spent the day clipping sheep on Papa, an island off the west side of Scalloway. Papa Isle is owned by the Smith family, the founders of Jamieson & Smith, he headed there with my…

Source: Ollies Visit to Papa

Book Review

The Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District

My review….

This book come to me at a time when my loneliness has set in and I question my calling as a shepherd.  I raise a small flock of Shetlands in Central Virginia.. on my own with little help.. and feel overwhelmed sometimes.  This book is a gift in that it brings to the forefront the tradition of shepherding in the Lake District of Northern England.  There is a rich tradition of shepherding that goes back centuries and those ancient traditions are practiced and revered today.  This book details this vibrant culture that has often been ignored by the tourists on holiday hiking in the
region,  having themselves been divorced from the land for generations.  The author sits you down in his living room and tells you the way of it.  That it is the culture,  working the land that shapes and becomes part of the landscape.. a sacred union that is so missed in most society.  I for one am drawn to the land and love feeling and experiencing the seasons as I work outdoors.   It is hard at times,  yet glorious at others.  I share this with the author.  I am not part of a traditional,  I seek to start it again.  This book shares the proof it still exists.. that man has not lost his way entirely. I have always taught my kids,  that your environment shapes you,  molds you,  is always part of your identity,  and this book sings to that notion.  I laughed,  cried,  nodded in the shared experiences and took note of the new things I learned.  This is a rich tapestry of images,  emotions and yearnings we all can identify with as each of us tries to make sense of why our souls chose to live life in human form on this earth.  It is full of wisdom…I was sad when I finished.    The narrator was superb. 

I listened to this book which I purchased from audible.  I did so while knitting socks from yarn gleaned from the backs of my sheep.  And while drum carding fluffy batts for the fiber festival coming up in Powhatan.  It linked my hands,  immersed in wool… To my head as images of the story came to life.  It was not really  a story,  but a memoir. And I felt honored to get to know this shepherd.  And I felt really ignorant, because I realized how little I know,  and frightened at the thought of it because I have so many lives in my hands. 

So I will get back to work… To the never ending chores,  with at least better perspective. 



“I keep sheep and my sheep keep me. ”

As one wanders through life making choices one hopes is in line with their purpose… sometimes you stumble on an ah-ha  moment.  I have been struggling with the notion that perhaps farming is not for me after all.  It has been tough this last year especially as I singularly work at the daily chores, feeding all the hungry mouths. 


There is just so much,  not to mention household stuff that goes undone (Why can’t there be maid service at home and not just at hotels!) And to pay the bills,  I have gone back to doing corporate travel.  And fortunately I work out of the house,  but it does take up some 25 hours weekly.

Well back to the subject at hand.  One of my goals with the farm is to manufacture an end product derived from the Shetland wool.  I have produced yarn and roving and other supplies for spinners and knitters…but in the back of my mind,  I wanted it to be clothing. So I had this notion,  why not try to obtain one of the antique sock machines used at the turn of the century?  Well that journey alone had a few dead ends as I learned more about these machines and to evaluate them.  But finally I made a wise purchase.  I then went about the business of learning how to use it.  I had lots of sock yarn I have dyed,  so last Christmas,  all of my family received socks and I have posted some for sale in my farm shop on Etsy. 

The other part of the equation was getting usable yarn from the wool fleeces I have been collecting. I was working with a mill close by for a few years in the hopes of achieving a sock yarn.  But her experience with her equipment and the unusual qualities of Shetland fleeces did not lead us to that goal.  And by now… I had a very good fix in my mind what the yarn needed to be.  No more than fingering weight,  smooth with no slubs,  two ply and a little nylon mixed in. 

So last fall,  while vending at the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival, I stumbled upon a booth for Gurdy Run Fiber Mill.  I looked at all the sock yarn she had on display and asked a few questions.  She specialized in sock yarn.  Music to my ears of course.  So I decided to give her a try.  She let me wash my fleeces so the incoming weight would be less and my costs less too. And another piece of luck… She was in Halifax PA,  on the way to my youngest son’s college and I could drop off fleeces instead of adding the cost of shipping.  So we dropped off 9 fleeces and crossed our fingers. 

Nearly five months later… The yarn came.  Cost was not too bad.. a rare thing from a mill.  And the eighteen pounds of Moorit and Shaela colored yarn… was what I had been seeking for the last five years. 


I was eager to try it on my machine.  I tweaked the tension… And made two pairs of socks, a Shaela pair in my husband’s size and a Moorit pair in mine.


They were strong and had the unique silky feel of Shetland.  And there it was… a realization I had achieved a major farm goal that few are doing…growing the fiber and manufacturing a piece of clothing on the farm. It is done with vegetables,  soap,  and meat.  But not with clothing.  Local sourcing clothing has happened little since mass production,  especially since it has gone overseas.  But there is a movement afoot (yes,  pun intended)  to grow the fiber arts.  And with it,  a quest for locally sourced clothing.  A farm is a business and the numbers have to work,  but also the work has to have meaning. If the heart is happy,  the body might not mind the sacrifice and work.  We will see if this part is true,  stay tuned. 

Oh and visit the farm shop for your own 1910 Shepherd’s Socks.  They will be posted soon along side the colorful hand dyed socks I mentioned. 

historical textiles

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