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.