Winding up Wednesday: Spinning a Tender Fleece

Shearing season is finally coming to a close and I’m back to the wheel and the loom. My dear Sade was one of the last sheep in the flock shorn.

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My shy little orphan had two surprises for me. First – she’s not such a little sheep! She’s a decent sized gal with a five pound fleece! Guess that Merino finally kicked in.

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The second surprise is that she’s a Lilac! Her tips are still black from lamb hood, but that under color is spectacular.

There’s just one minor issue: she’s a little tender fleeced. It’s not bad, and it’s not throughout the entire fleece. It’s mostly at the spine and the areas of less crimping. I believe part of the issue is a combination of a Merino micron count (I’m guessing she’s around 19 or 20 microns) with a very Jacob texture and lock structure. Extremely soft, but not as strong as a pure bred sheep of either breed. No matter how strongly I feel about Sade, the fact is when you give some of her locks a good yank they come apart. I’m not apt to sell such a fleece to the average spinner, so this is my blanket fleece for this year. There are tricks to turn an iffy fleece into beautiful and useable yarn.

Fleeces are stronger in the grease than scoured, especially those scoured in hot water. I’m processing this entire fleece in the grease. Merino level grease to be exact. I’m glad she’s a fairly clean girl. However, it’s still Merino level grease – yuck!

I have the choice to either flick card the fleece or to comb it. If I just had a half pound or even a pound I would flick this. However, I have five pounds to power through processing and spinning within two weeks. My handy dandy Viking Combs are the best tool. They will be getting a bath after this… okay after my Rom Doll and Mini are done, too. What can I say? Viking Combs are made for serious work, and eighteen pounds of wool in twelve weeks is serious work!

I’m spinning straight from the comb instead of pulling roving. When you draft directly from the combs you are pulling on just a few strands, sliding them forward into the spinning wheel or to the spindle. I’ve found fewer major breaks in staple this way. Also, if you come up on a nasty bit it’s easier to get it out. Working in the grease really helps the fibers to slide past each other. This also minimizes breakage.

The actual spinning is a judgment call. I find that shorter fibers hold together better in a thin single with slightly higher twist. However, that single can also break more easily. This works, but you have to watch the twist carefully. Too much and the yarn ends up hard, not enough, and the tender fibers don’t hold together through washing. I’m going a little thicker than usual since this is a weft yarn. I definitely will not use this for warp! I’ve tried tender fleece warp and it’s not worth the aggravation. If you can do it… go for it… you’re more patient and braver than I. The fulling at the end of the weaving process will felt this slightly and hold everything together.

This brings me to the last issue in working tender fleece – the finished product. If just the tips are tender I have no issue creating sweaters, socks, or even warp yarn from that fleece. However, if the break is in the middle it’s not going to be as durable as other yarns. That’s why I reserve these fleeces for weaving and other crafts, specifically, for projects with felted finishes.

I have hope for next year’s fleece and the ones after that as Sade ages and her fleece becomes courser. Her father and mother both had excellent fleeces, and so does her daughter. Her lamb’s fleece was good. It might just be an off year for her. In the short term, I’m doing what few folks even try – I’m spinning a tender fleece, weaving it up, and enjoy Shy Sade’s work of art.

Until next time,

Craft no Harm,

Moriah

 

Monday’s Musings: And the Hits Just Keep on Coming

As most folks State side know, the weather this year has been grueling. Our typical harvest schedule begins in March and April with peas, kale, radishes, and lettuce. Lettuce and vegetables in general are the staple in our diet here at Serenity. But not this spring. Most years we’re planning for a hay harvest the first week of May, figuring out what to do with the old hay, and have all the animals out on pasture. Not this year. This year is the year of cutting bamboo leaves for our animals, driving near and far weekly to find scarce hay, and praying for warm weather. Game is still scarce. We are awakened many nights by coyotes and coy dogs on the porches or even trying to get into the barns with the geese and sheep. We are running on empty many days balancing a weak spring planting with repairs to the houses and barns, long trips for food for all of us, major cash outlays for hay and truck repairs, shearing, gathering herbs, jobs, etc. It’s only April and I’m feeling weary on the edges by the time Saturday’s rest rolls around. That’s usually an August feeling.

This week I checked out our pear tree. We’ll have no pears this year. Our pears are the old variety that Elizabeth of England loved. This is the second year of no pears and ancient trees nearing the end of their lives. I saw the dead fruit buds and felt like crying. But I didn’t.

Instead I took a deep breath and let it go. I chose instead to concentrate on the good goings on. The wool business is growing. Some of my fleeces are already completely sold out. The workshops, while lots of work, are coming up soon. That means a little money, but more importantly educated shepherds and another step towards my life goal of greater animal welfare on small farms and homesteads. Momma and I are launching an herbal tea and remedy business this year. We already have people wanting to place orders. The rains and warmer weather are finally here. The grass is growing. The hardwoods are budding. We found a plum tree and a friend told us were pawpaws grow in our woods. Last year’s black berry canes are putting out leaves. A sacred Elder tree has decided to grace my garden with her presence and strong medicine. Much needed hay came to us. It’s enough to last until a June hay harvest.

Did I choose to look at the positive instead of the negative? Yes. But that’s just the surface. When I saw those dead fruit buds two Proverbs popped into my head. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil there of” and “worry does not empty today of its sorrow, it empties today of its strengths”. That second one was said by my personal role model Corrie ten Boon. I chose to trust in the goodness and wellbeing of life. I chose to trust in the strength of today.

The worry of just today is enough to deal with without thinking about tomorrow and the hits that will come. The hits will keep on coming. The strength of today will keep coming as well.

Until next time,

Be strong and of good courage,

and craft no harm,

Moriah

 

Friday’s Farm: Death on the Farm

My sweet, blind Henny passed away this past week from what I believe was congestive heart failure. She was older, and I knew the inevitable was coming. As much as we celebrate life on the homestead, death, too, is our sober companion. If you are sensitive to reading about this subject I understand if you want to skip this post and I strongly advise it. I’m going to be very frank and open about how we handle the more practical aspects of an animal’s passing. It’s not pretty, but it is the reality of life.

 

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Lambi was just a month old when this was taken. We celebrate life daily, but we are still mindful how fleeting it can be.

 

Burial

Those of you who live in the country know that there are cemeteries tucked here and there down almost every road or behind most every old farmhouse. In fact, there’s one on our property so old that all the headstones have worn down to nothing and we aren’t sure exactly where it is. For small animals like cats, hens, geese, most dogs, and even smaller sheep burial is an option. We keep a small critter grave yard fenced off from the rest of the farm. Our gentle Dagny is buried at the center.

If your ground is like ours it’s full of rocks and clay. Frankly, I can’t dig more than three or four feet down. We also sit down in a valley and our water table is usually closer to the surface than two feet. Shallow graves are pretty much the norm. I usually wrap the body at time of death in a plain muslin cloth before riggamortus sets in to hold a sleeping pose. In short, I use this process as a method of compacting the body’s shape to better fit into the grave. I then wrap the entire bundle in an outer cloth, tuck in herbs, tie with string, and then place it in the grave. The outer cloths and herbs help to cut down on the smells that attract scavengers. To help further the grave being left alone I place large rocks over the grave for several months.

I dislike using plastic bags to wrap. It slows the decomposition process and puts toxins into the ground. We also make sure that any burial is down stream of our water source and out of grazing and growing areas. If an animal dies during the winter when the ground is frozen we store the bundled body in our freezer. It’s macabre, but effective.

I know some people with the right land type that use a back hoe to bury large animals such as horses and cattle. Unfortunately we don’t have that option. But, I think it’s preferable personally.

Cremation

When Lambi died I chose to have her cremated. It was a tough decision. I really wanted her buried next to Dagny. However, Lambi was over two hundred pounds. Not only could I not dig a grave, I had no way to move her body. Two vet techs came out from our vet’s office and retrieved her body. They were as caring and kind as if they were removing a human body. It cost almost $300 total. Lambi now resides in a box next to the front door. However, she was my first lamb and slept next to me. It was the best option available at the time.

Death Pits and Scavengers

This is my least favorite method of dealing with death on the farm, but it is effective. Those who have room can have a pit dug in an unused corner of the farm. When an animal passes you simply remove the body to the pit and allow nature to take its course. At the old farm we had a another tenant’s ewe die. So, Kate and I dragged her nearly a mile to the pit in the dark. When a cow died after an animal attack up in the wood line it was left. There simply was no way to move it. Sometimes the most dignified thing to do is simply to leave an animal’s remains alone. When this is a pet it’s difficult.

Preemptive Slaughter

Some people find this controversial. However, there is some practicality to this method of dealing with impending death on the farm. My cow Bossy has many years left in her. Daisy our matriarch ewe has less than five. I check their teeth yearly. When they can no longer eat hay over the winter they will face a long suffering death from starvation. Let me be clear: starvation in an animal is painful. They bleed internally. It can take weeks. It’s cruel. So, instead of allowing them to suffer I personally will attend to their slaughter to ensure it’s quick and as painless as possible. It’s one of the few situations when we kill and eat our animals. However, it is the kindest option. It’s not pleasant, nor easy, nor done lightly. I will process out my old friends and use every part of their bodies to feed and cloth our household. I guess it’s the Blackfoot and Apache in me that comes out in those instances, or maybe the practical Welsh. I simply find it more honoring than leaving them to starve and become food for the vultures and coyotes.

 

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Even when she has me running through the woods I want her to live forever. She’s the sweetest onery old boss cow ever.

 

In Closing

I know this topic has been anything but pleasant. But I hope you found it informative, especially if you’re new to homesteading and farming. We do our best to treat our animals with respect and dignity during life. We also do our best to extend that respect and dignity into death. As caretakers of the land and her inhabitants we have the incredible privilege of witnessing the grandeur of life and lesson of the ending. Each one of us will in turn face our own ending and return to the earth to nourish her and become nourishment. Nourish life, and celebrate the lesson our companion offers.

Until Next time,

Craft No Harm,

Moriah

Monday’s Musings: Silence

I don’t know if it’s because I had hearing issues as a child or because I’ve experienced the deep, unyielding silence of the desert that even the wind refused to disturb, but lately silence is the one thing I crave.

I don’t know if it’s because I had hearing issues as a child or because I’ve experienced the deep, unyielding silence of the desert that even the wind refused to disturb, but lately silence is the one thing I crave. Sure, it’s quiet here at Serenity Cove for the most part. Most people would find it very quiet, but I find the spring symphony of crickets, frogs, buzzing insects, song birds and even the content sounds of the geese and chickens deafening.

I was contemplating my craving this evening while putting bedding hay into Asset’s stall. It dawned on me. I am not craving the silence of my surroundings, but of my mind and heart and emotions. I’ve been so mentally caught up in what needs to be done for our up coming workshops, the spring garden, getting the early spring medicinal herbs gathered in from forest and field, writing my book, and listing items in the Etsy shop that I haven’t taken the time to clear my mind and just be.

Sometimes letting go of “need to” thoughts is difficult, especially for those of us who take responsibility seriously. But this evening as I was in the sheep stall being nuzzled by half a dozen noses it struck me: Need to thoughts are just another distraction from enjoying the moment. So I let go of my mind and just enjoyed the feel of Andromeda’s warm muzzle, the softness of Daisy’s freshly shorn head, the weight of Iris’ head and neck leaning on my shoulder, Broccoli and Lilac behind me gently nosing my neck and hair bun, and the soft brush of Sade against my arm. And then something wonderful happened amid the sounds of breathing, chewing cud, geese chattering, the rushing of the waterfall, and all the other thousands of little sounds; silence crept in, wrapped her gentle arms around me, and there was not a thought nor care in my soul.

The joy of each moment is when silent peace abounds.

Until next time,

Craft No Harm,

Moriah

 

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Shy Sade

 

 

Winding Up Wednesday: Viking Combs

Wow! What a busy week. I started training for my new job this week, Bossy took me for a few runs, and I’m almost finished with Charlemagne’s 2015 fleece. Plus, I’m busy shearing and getting fleeces ready to put up in the Etsy shop. But this week I wanted to feature one of my favorite tools for processing wool, and my newest way of using up left over scrap yarns from my stash.

VIKING COMBS

Ah the Vikings. Those seafaring, raiding, colony planting baddies we all know and love from History Channel. Archeological research shows that Vikings kept sheep and used hand combs, just like mine, to process wool into worsted yarn and thread.

Viking combs are easy to use, but not. They are basically big spikes set into wooded handles. We joke that they are a home defense device, and I’m sure some ancient Viking woman used them that way. They are sharp. I’ve accidentally dropped one and scratched myself. But they do their intended job well.

To use Viking combs, you simply put your locks butt end on one comb and then rake the other through the tips. This transfers the wool from one comb to another. When what’s left on the first comb is too short or nasty, you simply slide the refuse off and go at it again a time or two more. I personally find combing longer wool best. Three inches is the minimum I usually go. Yes, I can go shorter, but to me short wool makes better woolen. Traditionally, you should fill the combs three quarters full. But, when starting out use less. Your forearms definitely get a work out.

When you’re done you can either diz into roving, or be a crazy spinster like me and spin directly from the combs. Both have their own challenges. Being difficult for me to hold a comb and diz at the same time, I just go from comb to wheel.

Tips

I’ve read allot of articles stating that you should load your combs three quarters full. Don’t. Just save your arms, your wrists, your sanity, and don’t. I find a clean fleece does well about half full. A high VM fleece, and about a quarter full will do fine. If your fleece is hitting high on the ridiculous VM scale go ahead and flick comb each lock and then load those bad boys up to the three quarter full level.

Diz or spin off the but end of the locks. It does spin smoother when you spin butt to tip.

Don’t comb towards yourself. That includes your body and your legs. I promise it’s a BAD idea, especially if the cat jumps in your lap and you have on a thin garment. You will end up injured.

When not in use slide the combs into each other to keep the points “capped”. There’s nothing worse than forgetting your combs are in your project back and cramming your hand down on them or having them rip up your bag.

Don’t take them on airplanes. They will be confiscated.

Don’t let children play with them.

Keep them away from animals when not in use. For what ever reason, Pate found these extremely interesting as a puppy.

You can blend different fibers into roving with them! That’s one of my favorite things to do with them.

If you decide to spin directly off the combs, remember to keep the points facing away from your arms.

Have fun, be creative, and enjoy yourself!

Until next time,

Craft no Harm

Moriah

 

Monday’s Musings: The Illusion of Control

Today (Sunday) was one of those days. I overslept, and while stumbling from my camper up to the main house I discovered the cattle were out. Cash had “the calves” out front and upon seeing me directed them towards to logging road leading up to the woods – and eventually Kentucky. I hollered at mom and ran after them. Remember that running… it’s a theme. Fortunately, Profit, my little Jersey Angus ox to be likes me happy and helped me bring them into the barnyard. He and his baby brother Asset stopped off at their stall and had a snack while the rest of the bunch returned to the momma cows. I went back to get the boys and discovered that Asset was bit, well, on his namesake. He’s also bit on the leg. I think either a dog or coyote got after the younger animals. I lean towards a dog running them.

Later, we made a hay run. It was pleasant. But we spent a great deal longer than expected. We came home, started chores, and then chased the cows and “the calves” across the river and through the woods. Okay, I chased the cattle. Finally, mom appeared with the grain in the front field (after I chased them there) and into the secured paddock they all went with plenty of hay.

They sheep were WILD. The excitement with the cattle really lit a fire under their silliness. It was actually pretty funny to watch. My rooster Kang and his hen got out. I finally ran him into a stall and closed the door. Nancy the Gander became separated from the rest of the gaggle. Again – running. I no sooner had him in when Dragland the head gander attacked him. Draggy is spending some alone time this evening. Somewhere during all of this Henny Penny, my blind hen, started having breathing issues. We rushed her into the house and performed the necessary vet care. She’s much better.

These are just the highlights from today. Today with plans of fencing, baking breakfast bars, gathering wood violets for homemade candies violets, clean sheets drying on the line, and a Sunday afternoon nap. We had a plan. We had poise. We had control.

No. We had a plan. We had poise. We had chaos. Control is only an illusion. I can call today a bad day, or I can call it today. Today was just today. I accept today just as it is, as it was, as it will be. I have no control over today. I have no control over tomorrow. By simply accepting today as today I have no real disappointment. While chasing the cattle I discovered a patch of dyer’s broom, a glorious patch of violets, a new red flower I’ve never seen before, and found out my old retired milk cow has allot more agility than I thought. Profit proved that he can listen even in trying circumstances. We have a new hay source.

The only control I have is to accept and allow each day, or to fight every moment and rob myself the pleasures that each moment bring. Control is only a feeling, and it’s a feeling born of fear and disappointment. I don’t know about you, but that’s not something I really want in my life.

Until next time,

Craft no harm

 

Moriah

Winding Up Wednesday: Back in the Saddle

It feels so good to be over my aching back and up to spinning and knitting. Shearing season has started and I’m very excited about this year’s fleeces. So, without further adu, let’s jump into what I’ve been up to this past week!

Off The Wheel

I’m working on Charlemagne’s fleece. I’ve gotten his kempy britches all spun up into a three ply. For britch it’s not THAT bad. I’ve spun it in the grease, and just as it came off him – freckles, stains, and all. I ended up with right at a thousand yards.

I’ve also spun up a few fleece samples from this year’s shearing so far. Lilly has given us a beautiful fleece. It’s pretty dirty, and the spine fleece is worthless due to her being so short, but the dominant fleece from the sides is lovely.

Minerva is my surprise fleece star this year. She’s a whopping thirty five pounds after shearing and gave us a pound of Smokey black and silver wool. I was not expecting this at all. Her texture is similar to her grandfather’s Charlemagne’s, but she inherited the Merino softness from her grandmother Buttercup. I’ll be spinning this myself and then putting it in the shop. It is pretty high in vm, and it’s going to nep in a drum carder. I’m looking forward to her fleeces in years to come as she lightens up. She’s SO PRETTY!

On the Wheel

Charlemange’s 2016 dominant fleece in on the wheel currently. I’m working on a two ply light fingering weight yarn. It’s mostly white, but I’m allowing the dark bits just to sit in wherever they pop up. With all the bamboo sprouting I’m going to test some and maybe dye it a turkey red. That should knit up nicely. I’ve just washed it in hot water at 165 degrees and nothing else. I seem to be anti washing lately… except for Lilly’s fleece.

On the Needles

I ended up with five skeins of Charlemagne’s britch yarn. Each skein is about two hundred fifty yards. So, I’m making a wrap sweater for this spring and next fall. Not only did I spin it in the grease, I decided to be crazy and knit it in the grease. I washed up a swatch sample, counted, and now I’m knitting. It’s really kind of gross, but at the same time enjoyable. My hands are getting very soft, too. It squeaks on the metal needles. I think next time I decide to do something like this I’ll soak the fleece in cold water first. Grease minus dirt and a little less smell sounds good.

I also made a new shawl this past week. It’s Wendy’s Fern Shawl off of Ravelry. Great pattern, totally free. I used this green Romney yarn I made years ago when I was first learning to spin and dye. The spinning, or I should say plying isn’t my best. I dyed it with copper pennies and carrot tops with a splash of spinach. It’s bright. I think I may over dye with walnuts in a gradient. Or just leave it until this fall and see if someone picks it up at a festival. Either way, it was a pleasure to make at each step.

On the Sheep

I managed to shear Lilly, Minerva, and Night this past week. I’m hoping to shear Daisy this coming week. Lilly was pretty chill by the end of the process. She stomped her foot more than once, but as soon as the grain came out all was forgiven. Minerva left me with a swollen eye. Yep. That’s right. A thirty five pound ewe lamb decked me. Her Aunt Dagney would have been proud. I was dreading shearing Night. She’s a bit off, and frankly a little crazy. But she was actually very well behaved. She actually is friendlier with me now. I guess it was bonding time? Who knows. Sheep are funny that way.

Until next time,

Craft No Harm,

Moriah