Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Occupation of Yarn Farmer

As we slide into another Labor Day weekend, I find myself assessing the job I have chosen for myself, and that is growing, harvesting, spinning, coloring wonderful string lovingly called yarn. I feel it is more than a job, it is a lifestyle and a calling. It holds such an attraction, that I am convinced I am meant to do this. Not that it has been easy. Doing meaningful work is rarely effortless, in fact it is beyond challenging. Problems abound, they confront me at every turn. I treat each one as a lesson that I am meant to learn and an opportunity to achieve. The fact that the universe is throwing me road blocks is a test to see if I am worthy and really committed to this work. And I can say I am even though my kids think I am nuts and though he does not say, my husband probably does too. Another sign I am doing what I am meant to do.

Many people tell me that I am living their dream, that if they did not have other responsibilities and financial constraints, they would love to raise fiber animals. I tell them that I am no different in those constraints. The difference is that I am changing a dream into reality. The reality is not soft and fuzzy, but is muddy boots, building and repairing fences, moving stubborn rams, nursing sick and injured animals, mucking barns, hutches, and paddocks, loading 50 pound bags of feed, stacking 50 pound hay bales. But I have learned to doctor my animals, I have built relationships with them. It is a partnership. They grow the fiber on their backs for me, I care for them. We are coworkers. We both take joy in new births and a beautiful sunny day we can spend together. Many love a scratch along their necks and I am happy to extend the favor. I provide large green pastures for them to feast on, and play on. And I get to watch them with satisfaction at the end of a long day.

The sheep, goats and bunnies give me the gift of their fiber. Then I switch hats from shepherd to artisan as I convert the fiber into roving, yarn and products to sell. I have some help from my friend Mary Kearney who owns a mill in Ruckersville. We co-design the roving, yarn and felt. I will hand process some of the Fiber, especially the angora. I blend, dye and spin. I sew, embroider and knit. My dye stained hands with often dirty fingernails are my hallmarks. As I move along on the Fiber path, I take pleasure in learning more and more skills from generous fiber artisans. Most fiber folks are like that, willing to share and I try to do the same.

One of the hardest parts is making it all work into a viable business. I make it a priority to learn that side of things too. There is money management, my greatest weakness…marketing, product design, festivals to get ready for, computer expertise as in software, social networking and so on. In order to continue, I need to attract lovely customers who are excited about the unique qualities of Shetland yarn, expertly hand dyed roving, hand spun yarn, original knitting patterns and recognize the work and value of these products. And I do have wonderful generous customers who I am grateful for beyond measure.

I end this with a picture of one of my days last week. 6am rising, dashing off to deliver a child to school. Checking in with baby chicks and my 11 rabbits to make sure all have water. Sheep and goats had water topped off the evening before. I spin angora yarn while drinking my morning coffee. Next out to check on rabbits. A dear friend is apprenticing with me and is grooming one of the bunnies. Off to the studio to continue an order for dyed yarn, including steaming, rinsing, skeining, labeling and boxing up. Also I am still typesetting a pattern to include in a little knitting kit that will contain the hand spun angora. After lunch, I notice that rams and goats are milling around the barn. How did they get out? I head out to trick as many as possible into the paddock by the barn. The rams are the hardest. I manage to get hands on two and drag them into a stall. Pecan is the hardest. He goes uncaught. But where is Hickory? He is the 4th ram. I head upstairs in the studio, the best vantage point. I see the answer to both mysteries….how these guys got out and where was Hickory. He has tangled himself in the electric fence….again! I head for the house, my boots and my keys. I jump in the van, the fastest way to get to the back pasture. I bump along in the van and push open the door and hit a full run over to the solar box with the battery to turn off the power. Hickory is still and panting from the effort of his struggle. In my head I am wondering why he would let himself get into this trouble again. I sit on his legs so he will not kick and break a leg and so I can methodically untangle the fencing from around his curling horns. I manage to free him and pull him to his feet, grabbing his brown fleece. He can stand. I lead him to the water, soon he is drinking. He will be ok. I put the fence stakes back in place. I call the hubby to say we have a chore to do putting animals back this evening. I go back to the shop and put in three more hours.



Dye Studio Day, Shetland Roving in the Pot

Sharing my little dye secrets as I go about applying color to some Shetland roving I grew and had produced at the Virginia Fiber Mill.
I start off by winding the roving around my forearm. I place the ring of roving in the pot (steel or enameled) so I can distribute the dye through out the roving.


I add water until it just covers the roving. I don’t want it swimming around.


Then I set the pot onto a portable burner and set the heat to 180°. I let it come up to temperature, takes about 20 minutes. This allows the fiber to become saturated too.


Now to formulate the plan of action. I draw a circle and make a map of how I will pour the dye.


The Landscapes dye I use is an acid dye that contains all the additives. So no mordant required. It is in powder form.


I use old plastic tumblers to mix in.

I add the appropriate amount of dye, and mix with hot tap water. Once the temperature of the heating fiber is at 180°, it is time to pour.



I pour across the the rows of roving according to my map. I let the simmering continue for another 20-30 minutes. Then I let cool, usually over night.

Then when cool, I drain off the water which should be near clear. I rinse the roving in my work sink, being careful not to agitate.


I hang to drain the water and let dry…And there you are.


I bag up to sell in my etsy farm shop or at one of the fiber festivals I attend. It is fun to work with wool I grow in my own pasture. It is lovely stuff, great to spin, to felt with. The sale  of our hand dyed roving helps to support our farm and allows us to continue providing wonderful fiber for you.

Chicks arrive by Priority Mail!

I feel no farm is complete without some chickens. They are so valuable in so many ways. They help keep small bugs at bay, aerate the yard, oxygenate the compost pile and the garden. And most important, they provide lots of entertainment and breakfast too! I am a fan of the bantams…little sized chickens. They don’t dig to China and don’t need as much space.

Well, I was down to six Dutch bantams, five hens and one rooster that did not seem to be able to produce chicks. And these have decided to roost in the high rafters of the barn and not in either of our two coops. It works for them, they have not been taken by predators and I just feed them at the barn. But I wanted some chickens that use the coops, focus on the compost pile and are not flighty. I settled for cochins and a few silkies for decoration. Cochins are round fluffy birds with feathered feet, gentle personalities and aren’t flyers. Silkies are the poodles of the chicken world. Equally gentle but they keep fluffy downy feathers and have top knots. I could not find a source locally, so looked online for a mail order site. I found two companies, one out of Missouri and one out of Wisconsin. I ordered 15 mixed colored batch of cochins from one and 10 cochins and five silkies from another. I must confess that I was a bit nervous having live day old chicks going through the mail, but took the plunge.

I readied my brooder. I had not used it in at least a couple of years. I dug it out of the barn and put it under the pole barn and went to cleaning it out. The less said about the mummified mouse stuck half way through the mesh screen the better. I also cleaned out and around the two coops and will be adding a chicken fence to create a yard shortly. I nice source for a green chicken fence is Premier1. I am so excited to get the chickens going again.

So today they arrived! I received a call from the post office and both orders came at once! Yea! I went out to fill the feeder and both waterers. In one I put a solution of electrolytes. And got in the van to go get our new chicks, nervous, hoping all made it safely. When I got to the post office, a very small rural one, which I love because they know me and treat everyone warmly. Debbie asked if I was here for the chicks. I could hear them from the back, which was a relief, sort of like hearing your baby cry in the delivery room. She said they sound like they really want to get out of their boxes. She scanned their labels and handed me two chirping brown boxes with lots of holes. I looked through the holes…they seemed ok.

So home and took the boxes to the barn, and gently opened box one. All okay! I lift 15 tiny chicks into the brooder. And tiny they are, as bantams are miniature. Then box two. Yes! All alive! I lift them into the brooder too. With coffee in hand I settle back to watch everyone get used to their new digs. Several find the water quickly. Some sample the feed. Some huddle together looking a bit shell shocked. Then some start racing in circles, little laps around the feeder. Then I hear this loud chirp, over the chirps of the rest, from a different area. One of the boxes! One chick was pressed into the corner of the second box. Poor baby. I retrieved it and reunited him/her with his buddies.




And this brings up another point. I am not sure of how many hens or roosters I have. It is expensive to have the farm sex the chicks, and it is never 100% a sure thing. I do want a few roosters, but mostly hens. We will have to wait and see.



After enjoying my coffee, taking a few pics and a video, I come inside to blog and then get back to fiber work.

I’ll update more soon. I will enjoy the the bliss of having chicks on the farm again. All is right with the world. God hit home run when He came up with the chick.

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