Monthly Archives: January 2013

I am Shepherd, I am Spinner, I am Dyer,…I Am

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Yesterday was a day with many facets. Kids were home, tv in the background was a blur of inaugural activities and thoughts on Dr Martin Luther King Jr. All the while I focus on tasks with other priorities. Priorities that come to the front were updating my price list for my hand dyed yarn business, working on plans for the coming year. Then it was out to the dye studio to rinse out dyed roving, fill pots with more roving and yarn ordered by wonderful customers. As I am grateful for each one, I am focused on doing quality work. I later check in on weather reports that says it will be very cold this night so that means a heater to be turned on for the rabbits. I then head out to the barn to raid the shrinking hay stack and haul out hay to the different paddocks of sheep and goats. I put corn in the coops as the chickens are heading back from free ranging. They will soon be huddled together on their roosts. I check in with Nisa, our guardian dog to assure her she’s doing a great job as I count the sheep. I head over to the outdoor wood stove to lay more logs on the fire as the blustery wind picks up. My neighbor wanders over to the wood shed as I work to feed the stove and comments that I’d better not skimp on the wood as we are heading for a really cold spell. I laugh it off saying we are tough, we can take it. He agrees. I head inside to see what there is for dinner.

I then look over the news of the day. Seems most of the country was focused on other things. They talked of Dr King and his legacy of influence. I thought of how he has influenced my life. He has set an example of living authentically. He had a passion that we all have equal opportunity to pursue the life we want without obstacle of prejudice. He was also about personal responsibility of those choices. My choices have lead me to a beautiful life, but not an easy life. Making a living as a shepherd and a dyer has not always lead to financial success. But I feel I am meant to do this work and God has ensured I can stay on this path. It is not a path with clear and understood directions. Mostly I feel my way by faith and instinct. It is scary. I deal with fear all the time. But the work is mine, it is satisfying. I feel alive doing it. It is a path I have worked toward my whole life. Worked is the operative word. Having an idea is one thing. Following through is quite another. I take the lesson from Dr King that to have equal opportunity is not the same as equal result. That is up to each individual. This country is unique in that the real power and identity lies in what each of us does with our opportunities and our freedom. And we have to constantly strive to deserve the freedom we are bestowed. And that means designing our lives to make the most of our talent and abilities. So I challenge you as I challenge myself…to live with purpose, responsibility, with joy, with passion. Because only then can we say we are worthy of the gift of being American.

A Cream of Wheat kind of morning.

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View from the kitchen window.

The sun rises on an icy pasture. This is my view as I stumble into my kitchen, hoping my hubby had made coffee before he left. Most mornings he has and this one is no exception. From my kitchen window I take in the fact that winter came overnight and when this happens, I am always in awe of how my little world is transformed. What was a muddy mess the day before, is now winter white. Would that my wardrobe be so transforming.

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Looking over the landscape.

So I grab my shawl and a winter hat and slip on some boots and head out to capture the splendor and to see how the animals are faring.  I love the textures that are revealed. And the air is so crisp. It is one thing to look out of the kitchen window. Quite another to feel the wind on your face and stop feeling your fingers as they struggle to click off a few. Add the crunch of your boots and your frosty breath streaming from your mouth and your body is now wearing winter. So take in my little views, hope you enjoy as much a  I do. Afterwards…I still have chores, and dyeing to do. I hope I am feeling the same way.
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Sheep waking up.

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Place of employment, aka the dye studio for Scarlet Fleece

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Goats were moved to the barn yesterday.

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The Gazebo.

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The garden

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Another view of the garden.

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Sheep again.

Rain, rain and more…snow?

Regardless of rain or snow, Nisa is guarding.

Regardless of rain or snow, Nisa is guarding.

Ok…this is a boo hoo I think this weather sucks post. As someone who has a bunch of outside chores, and am tired of muddy boots…and who actually likes a challenge, is actually a bit tired of the 4th day in a row of wet weather. This is the thing that separate the can-do folks from the fair weather “farmers”. So I have to remind me that I can take it…I can take my sheep shelter flooded out…I can take cold fingers, wet wool hats, hay that sticks to wet pants and a permanently red nose with chapped lips. I can get my sheep, rabbits, goats and chickens fed. And I can still get dyeing done and wool washed. Just not sure how long stuff will take to dry.

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A washed shetland fleece drying…maybe

 

But I will git her done. And I will sip hot tea, and keep an eye to the sky….because the worst is yet to come. We have 5-8 inches of snow coming tonight. And I will be moving goats and rams to the barn before 2pm. Thank you mother nature for your wisdom. You say jump and I will say, “how high?”

Thoughts on the Fiber Path

All of us are on some path of some sort. Some are methodical about setting goals, resolutions and such, especially at this time of year. January is not only the first month of the year, but there is often not much happening. Nature has provided enough nasty weather to keep us inside and today is no exception as I am staring at a cool rainy grey day. So I thought I would do my bit and give some thoughts to tackle the notion as to plans, hopes and dreams I might have for the coming year…or should I say the year we already have dipped our toe into.

I am happy to be taking this time to evaluate the stage my farm is in and where I see it heading. Also my personal journey in the Fiber world I have created for myself. And maybe a dash of the spiritual too. Sweet Tree Hill Farm is starting to take shape. We have 14 registered Shetland Sheep, with 4 quality rams, 9 ewes-6 of which are being bred for late April babies.

One of our pastures has really good fencing in place. We (my husband and I) have plans to fence in another this spring. Right now, we have 3 of the rams along with 6 cashmere goats in temporary fencing the we move every couple of weeks or so. We have a functional barn with attached pole barn that is in need of repair. Not sure when that will take place. We also have a couple of small coops with some bantam chickens, enough to provide eggs for the family. And add 8 Angora rabbits, a farm/guardian dog along with a free roaming 17 year old goat and you get the gist of my set up along with my live stock.

My focus this year is to develop products. A farm….a real farm, needs to generate an income in order for it to be sustained. My hay bill during the winter months is $80 per month, feed bill is about $80 per month all year long, not to mention fencing, shearing, and so on and you get the picture. We have started by creating an Etsy Store and posting yarn and hand blended roving from the sheep and rabbits. We have added multicolored dyed roving from my wholesale business, Scarlet Fleece…some knitting kits with hand spun Angora. And more recently, I have utilized some felting skills I have picked up from classes and have created felted soaps and felted and embroidered jewelry, purses and ornaments.

Sales are slowly getting more regular. And this April, we are signed up for a Fiber Festival in Powhatan County. I have many fleeces at a local mill and by the festival, we will have yarn in several natural colors, roving and felt.

I am enjoying creating the products. I am trying to be true to myself and create some different things no one else is doing. The exploration is very gratifying. For instance, no one produces felted soap with Angora. It is more difficult to felt with Angora, but I have developed a process that works for me, and I add extras like blending in silk noil, or needle felting some rabbits or sheep onto the soap. I am most proud of my felted purses and jewelry. The first fiber skill I was taught was embroidery when I was six years old. It is fun to use that skill and create one of a kind products like the pendants, coin purses and cuffs. I use my hand dyed roving, along with different forms of silk to create the felt. So these products are not like anything else out there. It is fun developing the process for creating these items.

The other part of all of this is marketing. This is a challenge and one I need to look at this year. My goal is to develop a website along with the blog and Facebook page and continue to work the Etsy system…which isn’t bad once you dig into it. But I need to increase sales to actually make money.

Taking care of animals falls mostly to me, but a chore I love most of the time. Those exceptions might be during very inclement weather, like today. I like developing relationships with each animal. This is actually quite helpful when it comes to catching an escaped animal, or moving them to a different location. Not to mention working on them, like vaccinating, trimming hooves, working and shearing. It goes a long way if they are familiar with you. And mine are, I feel honored about it actually.

And feeding falls into the category of routine. I think there is balance and a feeling of calmness and security when you stick to a routine. When I feed each rabbit, I pet each one and talk to it. They often reach up to receive these little affections and it is good for them if we monitor them closely. If one is familiar with the behavior of your animals, you can catch things early. And it is a part of my day I look forward to…they are my coworkers and they keep me grounded.

Now don’t think all is a Beatrix Potter story, there is much hard work with deadlines. I have to meet the needs of my Farm but also the needs of my wholesale yarn dying business, needs of my family, like laundry, gardening, house cleaning and so on. So another aspect of my fiber path is balance. Last year, I lacked that balance. I felt like when I was working on the farm, I needed to be working on Scarlet Fleece.

And visa versa. Not to mention trying to do things with my family. I also was not taking care of myself, not exercising, or getting enough rest. So last week, I put together a weight lifting, aerobic, yoga routine and added meditation to check in with my spirit guides, along with a daily tarot card reading. This helps me to make decisions that I find difficult sometimes. It is also my idea of prayer. I also walk with my big guardian dog around the perimeter of the pasture and down to the lake to do a little meditation and she is also a good listener.

Finally there is my fiber exploration. I always like to learn about working with different fibers and work on personal projects. And as stated in prior postings, I am exploring the qualities of specific sheep, namely sheep with North European origin. So while working on a traditional Icelandic shawl, I am also spinning Gotland for a sweater and later I will be jumping into my own Shetland.

So this is my state of things now at my little corner of the world. I have much to work on and explore along the Fiber path this year. And maybe, I might find a better me along with a better farm and fiber business at the end of this year.

The Icelandic Shawl

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This is the time of year I can work on some personal projects, and this year I have chosen to focus on a theme or area of study. I have long been interested in gaining some understanding and appreciation of the different qualities of different breeds of sheep. And along with that, the traditions of knitting and weaving that developed along with the breed.

So after reading about Clara Parke’ s trip to Iceland, coupled with my reading about Norse Mythology, I thought I would contact the wool dyer she mentioned in her piece. And as luck would have it, she has an Etsy site. Hespa Yarn is the name of the site if you want to check it out. She dyes Icelandic single ply yarn with natural materials.

I chose a kit of sorts with the three colors pictured. However, I chose a different pattern than one that was provided. Traditional Icelandic shawls are not difficult. In fact they are very simple in their construction. They begin at the neck with a few stitches with eyelet increases in the middle along with plain increases at the beginning and end of rows. The pattern I chose adds some eyelet rows and towards the bottom, a feather and fan stitch. The pattern is in the Folk Shawls Book called Feather and Fan Triangle Shawl. The difference  I am applying is to change colors at random.

I am about a third of the way through and have a couple of observations. The Icelandic yarn is a single ply loosely spun yarn with a rustic feel. At first, was a bit concerned it was a little rough. But I have come  to like it as the fabric is lively and seems to not be that rough at all. And I love the subtle tonal changes in that it is actually a light grey and was dyed over. And for those this matters to…no knots in any of the skeins so far.

As I knit I am using my new yarn bowl that I won at the Fall Fiber Festival last October in Orange, VA. I won a blue ribbon for blended hand spun yarn in the skein and garment competition. Very cool as I have always wanted one.

Next post will be about the progress on my Gotland Fleece. I am starting to spin the yarn. Now off to get some coffee.

Winter, my favorite season.

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Most people don’t like Winter for some obvious reasons. It is cold first of all, and the landscape might be perceived as, well, dreary. But farmers, especially this farmer, see things a bit differently. It is the calm time. It is a time for quiet reflection. You see, spending time out doors helps align one with nature’s hints. Everything dies back and takes it easy to gain needed energy for the coming Spring. I feel we all need to do this. Working in high gear all the time does not lend itself well to good production, not to mention stamina.

So take some time to look around. I find beauty in the monochromatic landscape. It is peaceful to look at the bones of the naked trees, and feel the crunch of the dried grasses and leaves. Also, without all the growing vegetation crowding the view, you see space. The landscape is broader and more open.

Now take a breath. Feel the crisp cold air invigorate your nostrils and clear your mind. I like to walk around the pasture with my guardian dog, Nisa. We slowly walk the perimeter and she romps picking up sticks, sniffing interesting smells. I love watching her move with her strong grace. We always stop on the pier over our pond and just stand and look and take in everything, noticing small changes since the last time we were here. I look for the black duck that has become a singular winter resident. I see that the lilipads have all but retreated underwater. It is a beautiful spot.

But all the reflection is not done outdoors. It is also a time to gather indoors and collect garden catalogs, plan for the spring garden. And since little actual gardening is being done, I also work on fiber projects, finding more time to process and spin fiber I have been collecting. I love the creativity and the repetitive nature of simple yet time consuming tasks.

And yet there is important work to be done too. A planning time for two businesses. The wholesale yarn dyeing business of Scarlet Fleece is going through a metamorphosis of sorts in that a new website is in the works and a big project coming up in Spring. So much computer work and pattern planning and so forth is taking place. And the retail business of Sweet Tree Hill Farm. We are in a growing phase and plans for more fencing, a line of products and a spring fiber festival all needs to be planned for.

So a farmer looks to nature for a lesson in time management. For in every season, there is a time to reap and a time to sow. But also a time to plan, dream, prepare and rest. This is winter.

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