Self-Striping Experiments!

For the love of stripes!!

I’m addicted. There’s no way around it. I started dying self-striping sock yarn, and it has taken over my brain. It’s such a different way of combining colors than I am used to from blending batts, and the process has been lots of fun.

I mean, like some of the process. The time I warped 750 yards of yarn incorrectly and had to unwind it all kind of stunk. And that other time when I was over-ambitious and had to ball 4 twisted skeins by hand (without using my swift or ball winder) wasn’t great either.

But, now I have a process. And an understanding that prepping, dying, and reskeining this yarn requires unimpeded unitasking. And also Bill – the calmest person on earth – has decided “yarn touching” (helping me reskein the dyed yarn) is about the most fun a dude can have at a warping board.

If you aren’t familiar with how self-striping yarn is dyed, here are the basics… Any given single stripe is likely made of up 4-10 yards of yarn. There are a couple of different options for preparing yarn to be dyed in long lengths. I use a warping board – a tool used by weavers – to create a large loop about 20 yards around. Then, I tie off lengths that tell me where each color will be dyed and dye each section by immersion. After rinsing and drying, the yarn is put back on the warping board, and Bill helps me reskein it.

So far, I’ve got three colorways on two bases – a fingering weight Corriedale/Nylon and a sport weight Targhee/Nylon. I’m open to exploring new bases and am interested in what you enjoy – or don’t. The colorways are…

County Clare, based on a trip I took to Ireland with Bill’s extended family in the early Aughts.

Barn Love is inspired by the colors of my barn.

Finally, Woolly Mammoth was dyed to match the quilt on our bed – a large quilt with wool batting made with pieces of old clothing.

The yarns will be introduced when I vend at the Knitting Pipeline Retreat in February, and hopefully available online shortly after that. I’m starting a little slowly because I want to get to know the yarn bases before I dive too deep. But, I see lots of fun dye days…and reskeining days…ahead of me!

Wool Noir – Conclusion

I think they’re still sleeping it off out in the woods…

The last shipment for the Wool Noir batt club contained the reveal of our mystery and a gradient batt. Did you guess the corn thief?

 

Chapter Three: Missing Pieces

The falling autumn leaves were giving way to light flurries. Decidedly chillier air was descending upon the farm when Cora called for an assembly in the barn. Some things were clear, but she’d need to talk with the flock to fill in the missing pieces.

Cora arrived in the barn 20 minutes before the scheduled meeting to find the llamas already set up and waiting, goofily expectant grins on their faces – and they were making popcorn. They LOVE drama, apparently. This real-life show has been better than anything they’d seen unfold before.

As the goats, chickens, and sheep trickled in, Cora went through the chain of events in her mind one more time.

At first, upon finding the black and white fibers, she’d assumed that Pickles was somehow involved. That theory was quickly dismissed when she realized the reason the farmer was working so hard in the orchard. Pickles, and the rest of the goats, had broken into the orchard, eating the apple trees, the raspberry bushes, and anything else they could find. An air-tight alibi. They were in trouble, but not for the corn. The farmer would deal with them.

Returning to the fence for more investigation, Cora realized that the fibers were not hairs, but bits of a feather. Following a trail, she found many more, and eventually, a large pile of mangled feathers. Black and white barred feathers. Only one chicken on the farm with feathers like that. Tailpipe. It appeared that he’d been attacked. When Cora first met Tailpipe, she’d assumed that he was molting, but this provided an alternative explanation for his crazy appearance. To survive such an attack was rare, there must be a connection with the missing corn… She needed to confront him to find out what it was.

When all the animals assembled, Cora shared what she’d learned with the denizens of the farm. When she finished. Tailpipe was near tears. “It was me. I did it!” he sobbed. “It was all my fault, I’m so sorry!”

“Why don’t you tell us what happened, Tailpipe” encouraged Cora.

“I spend a lot of time back there by the fence, because no one here in the barn likes me. One day, I saw that the fence was loose. I thought – hey – I’ll go exploring, and see if I can make some new friends! So, I made to slip through the fence. Just as I was doing so, I was snatched by a family of raccoons. I tried to fight them off, but there were too many of them. I feared that they were going to carry me away and eat me, so I tried making them an offer for my life. I told them about the corn. At first, they didn’t believe me, but I showed them. They called all their cousins, and ate ALL the corn in a single night. I think they’re still sleeping it off out in the woods-”

Tailpipe was about to continue his story when Martha interrupted him.. “Tailpipe – We are sorry. We didn’t mean for this to happen to you. We didn’t realize this until just now, but the missing corn is our fault. Not yours. We honestly thought that the goats stole it!” Martha shot a very unfriendly eye over to Pickles, who was sneaking up on the llama’s popcorn…

“Let me explain Cora, so you understand…” Martha began her story. “I see that even you have a scratch on your nose. From Tailpipe, no doubt. He has been scratching noses across the farm with in appropriate flying for years. Earlier this year, he scratched the nose of one of our lambs, as you may have heard. The scratch got infected, and the farmer thought it might be signs of a serious infection that she called ‘SEE-EL.’ She was very worried. She even talked about killing our lamb to protect the rest of the flock! Fortunately, before she made up her mind, the infection began to heal. That’s when the flock voted that Tailpipe had to go. He wouldn’t listen and stay on the ground. Stop flying onto our noses, Tailpipe!!!

“We wanted him to just leave. I asked the ram to loosen the fence back by where Tailpipe was hanging out. We figured we’d wait until he left, then make noise for the farmer to fix it. We NEVER wanted him to get hurt, just be gone.”

Cora nodded her head, and thought silently for a moment. Then she had a solution. “Martha – that was a very careless thing you did. What if one of your lambs slipped through the fence? They could’ve been eaten by coyotes!” For the first time, Martha seemed to become smaller. She realized the error of her plan – a plan enacted out of frustration and the desire to protect her flock, but with little thought.

Cora turned to Tailpipe: “Buddy, you’ve got to stop flying onto noses. You’ve not stopped when asked, so I’m afraid we’re going to take drastic action.” Addressing the crowd, Cora asked, “Does anyone know where the farmer keeps her wool shears?”

The llamas sprang to action and were back within 30 seconds, razor sharp shears in hand. Cora held Tailpipe down, while a llama descended upon the immobilized rooster with mischievous glee. One second later and “SNIP!!!” It was done. Tailpipe would never land on a nose again.

…And he was OK with that. The shears had painlessly snipped the flight feathers from his left wing. If ever he tried to fly, he simply tumbled to the ground. As he was now flightless, the rest of the farm started calling him “Penguin,” but Martha put a stop to that, saying that he’d been through enough, and shouldn’t be teased.

In the end, the incident of the missing corn brought the farm community closer together. All the animals better realized that their individual actions had the ability to affect many animals. Martha agreed to no longer lick up the chicken’s breakfast corn, and Tailpipe found contentment on the ground. With the exception of the shenanigans of Pickles, the farm was peaceful and drama free for many years.…to the great disappointment of the llamas.

Sweaters and Socks

A love letter to 11+ inches of brownish gray, fingering-weight stockinette sweater knitting on size 3 needles.

I am about 8 inches through 11+ inches of brownish gray, fingering weight stockinette sweater knitting on size 3 needles. That’s going to make an exciting blog post, right? Oh, but it is.

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My fingers are deeply in love with Wisconsin Woolen Spun yarn from Barrett Wool Co. Deeply. That the wool is grown in the midwest and spun in Wisconsin – thus supporting both American farmers and a domestic wool industry – is a nice bonus. The yarn itself is pure joy. Squishy, buoyant, elastic, and a gorgeous natural color. But it’s also strong. I have another woolen spun yarn in my collection that breaks when I look at it funny. I spent a lot of money on a small skein of Rambouillet that I’ll probably never work with because, in the course of winding it, it broke four times before I gave up. This made me a little nervous when I started my sweater, but the Wisconsin Woolen Spun hasn’t once even threatened to break – even when I tug a little hard on the yarn as I’m working.

It’s all just a dream. The pattern is Branches and Buds Pullover by Carrie Bostick Hoge. It’s knit from the top down in one piece and has just a little colorwork around the yoke. The kit I purchased from Barrett Wool Co included the cutest clothespin with scraps of yarn that will be used to make the “buds” when my knitting is complete.

I’m using stitch markers to track my progress, and I think that’s helping a lot in keeping me motivated. I attach a colorful stitch marker every two inches down the side of the sweater. There is a simple joy in celebrating my mini accomplishments in this way and the tangible reminder of my progress is motivating.

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When I’m taking a break from 11+ inches of brownish gray, fingering-weight stockinette sweater knitting on size 3 needles, I’ve been working on socks for Bill and me. Bill’s standard wacky foot socks were finished this week. The yarn is Desert Vista Dyeworks in the colorway Big Damn Heroes.

For me, I’m working my way through Cookie A’s book Knit. Sock. Love., and am nearly done with the second pattern, Mona. The lace is a nice contrast to ribbing or stockinette. I got the yarn at Rhinebeck a few years ago and am always happy to find semi-solid 100% wool sock yarn. It can be hard to find, but if you have any recommendations of dyers you love, please let me know!

Knitting for Sanity

But, whenever I feel overwhelmed, I know that I can sit down for a few minutes, or a few hours, and return to the routine of knitting.

There are so many times when knitting has made my life more comfortable – handspun socks hugging my feet, or a double layer of shawls keeping my face warm when I work in the barn…the sweater customized to fit just how I like it.

Mostly, though, knitting has kept me comfortable by giving me a productive way to chill out. I take small projects with me whenever I go out and know that “waiting” will be a task expected of me – appointments, restaurants, Bill wandering through the hardware store pondering shelves and shelves and aisles and aisle of pipe fittings.

Knitting has been a key part of my sanity for the last few weeks, especially. I am comfortable with routine and predictability. Spontaneity tends to make me anxious. My library, for example, is only a few miles from my house, but I need at least three days of lead time before I’m comfortable planning a trip. To return books. It takes me three days to get ready to drive five minutes – in a totally straight line – and jump out of the car to plop books through a slot in a door. An event which involves actually interacting with people requires at least of week of mental psych up.

The last four weeks have been anything but routine. We’ve experienced disruption on top of disruption. Some were permanent (my husband was laid off as part of a merger at work – we’ve had nearly two years to plan for the possibility, so we’re ok), and some were temporary (I got the flu! And this extreme cold weather, which changes the farm routine significantly – and broke our pipes…and our furnace). But, whenever I feel overwhelmed, I know that I can sit down for a few minutes, or a few hours, and return to the routine of knitting.

Except when I had the flu. That was four days of sleeping and whining with a small amount of banana eating.

The repetitive motion of knitting is very calming for my brain and my body. The feel of wool soothes my soul. Beautiful yarn colors and lacy stitch patterns delight my eyes. And most importantly, knitting is a show of optimism for the future. Adding a few rounds to a sock, or finishing a sleeve on a sweater is a profession of faith that sometime soon, this knitted item will be used – hopefully during a happy time. I may be struggling with two weeks of single degree temperatures, but a lacy sock means that summer will come and there will be a time when 18 layers of clothing are not required. Perhaps, at this moment, I have the unwashed hair, and body odor of someone who hasn’t crawled off the couch in a week, but knitting on a sweater proves that I know some day I will be germ-free, take a shower, brush my hair, and (with at least seven days’ notice) leave the house to meet up with friends.

The last few weeks of 2017 were disruptive, worrying, and difficult. Knitting helped me remember that the trying events were temporary, and helped me stay sane(ish) as we were getting past them.

I’ve got delightful projects to share with you soon! In the meantime, please enjoy some scenes from the farm, which is firmly in the grip of winter.

Wool Noir, Chapter 2

Opportunistic troublemakers that would literally pull the hay right from the mouth of a young lamb, the whole lot of ‘em.

Are you ready for the second chapter of Wool Noir? (The first part of the story can be found here.)

The fiber for this shipment was a set of mini batts in three colors. Each color had both a dark and light mini – one was mostly black and the other mostly the color. I hope to spin mine soon, but I’ve been dithering about the overwhelming possibilities! I think I’ve decided on a two ply with the yarn transitioning from dark to light.

One bobbin will be: dark, light, light
One bobbin will be: dark, dark, light

I think this will transition the yarn from mostly black on one end, to mostly color, in a smoothish way? We’ll see.

The second part of the mystery is below. Do you have theories on the crime? Club members should be receiving the third shipment, and the solution to the mystery, as I type…so it won’t be too long before I can reveal it to you all. Until then, I hope you enjoy the story!

(Signups are currently open for Waves of Wool – the next batt club – which will run from January through March. I’ve assisted a few generous family members in purchasing the club as gifts, and am excited to be “in” on their secret! Signups are open until December 30 and all the details are available in the Etsy listing.)

Chapter Two 

This doesn’t make sense.

A lot of things weren’t making sense. Cora finished measuring a gap in the fence and put her tape measure back into her project bag.

She’d spent the past four days following multiple threads trying to identify the corn thief. With a flock of 47 sheep and goats and over 200 chickens on the farm, all of whom were contributing their two cents, she heard a lot of crazy, ranging from “Aliens!” all the way to “There never was any! The corn is a lie!” Many of the animals wanted to blame Tailpipe, just because he was incredibly annoying, crowing at inappropriate times, and randomly flying into their faces – a terrifying blur of black and white feathers that disrupted peaceful afternoon naps. He had never been forgiven for the time he scratched a lamb with his spurs, and the animosity against him was high. It is simply not possible though, that unsteady Tailpipe could’ve made off with that much grain.

Tailpipe in turn (and most of the other chickens), were holding a grudge against Martha, the matriarchal ewe. It didn’t take much detective work for Cora to find out this was because Martha had a tendency to stray from her flock and lick up the chickens’ corn at feed time. If she’s willing to steal some of their corn, she must be willing to steal ALL of their corn. The suspicion was not unreasonable, but Martha was with the flock when the theft occurred. Every other sheep backed up her alibi, and indeed, many of the chickens grudgingly did as well.

After sorting through the noise, Cora really started focusing on two theories: 1) Woodland critters had found or created a gap in the pasture fence, and exploited it to gain access to the barn, and thus the prized corn. 2) The goats. Yeah… the goats. If guilt could be determined by polling the sheep, the goats would’ve been locked up. Opportunistic troublemakers that would literally pull the hay right from the mouth of a young lamb, the whole lot of ‘em. Especially maligned was the cute little black and white one named Pickles. Pickles had a reputation for getting into places she shouldn’t be. Consensus said Pickles would’ve had no trouble at all getting into the corn storage area. Furthermore Pickles had no alibi, and wasn’t talking. In fact, the whole herd of goats were suspiciously keeping their mouths shut.

Both of these theories had merit. But now Cora needed to rule one out. In favor of the woodland critter theory – here before her, there was a damaged gap in the fence, with traces of raccoon fur clinging to the fence wire. Not only that, but there were kernels of corn on the ground. It seemed as though Cora had found the thieves’ escape route. But even this didn’t fully make sense, though it took close inspection to see why. After taking measurements and wiggling the wire, it became clear to Cora that a strong animal pushed through the fence, popping staples and allowing it to hang freely, but that animal was inside the pasture when they did the damage. Any animal that knew about the gap would be able to leave the pasture, but no animals on the outside would be able to get in…at least without help. This gap was dangerous – it needed to be repaired quickly. If a lamb or kid made it through the fence they’d be exposed to coyotes, foxes, and all the other dangers of the wildlands. Cora made noise to draw the attention of the farmer, who was nearby planting apple trees. As the farmer approached, Cora nudged the loose fence to show the damage.

“Oh my! I have to fix that,” said the farmer, who then proceeded to make repairs. When finished with her work, she thanked Cora for pointing it out, grumbled about having to also replant apple trees, and headed back to the orchard.

With that done, Cora reached into her project bag for her magnifying glass and began methodically investigating the area near the fence gap. She was going to need hard evidence to identify the perpetrator. When, after 20 minutes of searching, she found some black and white fibers, she knew she finally had what she needed.

To be continued…

 

Happy Birthday Goats!

What time did that baby pop out? Set the timer!

Two years ago this week, mammals were born under our supervision for the first time ever. We’d hatched a bunch of chickens, but mammal birth is completely different. (Can you tell I have a BS in Biology?) It’s hard to believe it has only been two years since we stumbled through our first kidding, as we’ve learned so much – and cleaned so much goo off newborn lambs and kids – since then.

The spring before the goat kids were born, we had attended one day of “lambing school” at a nearby ag school. I had my hand (and arm) all up in intimate parts of a ewe who was having trouble delivering a lamb, but that included three old, experienced vets standing over my shoulder, and I didn’t know that ewe at all.

Two years ago, in the middle of the night, I woke up for the 5th time and called up our barn camera on my cell phone (oh! technology!!). My sweet, skinny, not very thrifty goat Kaylee was squatting and clearly in labor.

Or, she was peeing? How would I know? I’d never done this before.

Bill and I climbed out of bed and into warm farmy overalls and barn jackets and set out into the cold. The corner of the barn where Kaylee was (at this point) clearly giving birth was actually snuggly and warm with a thick layer of clean straw that I would have curled up on and taken a nap – it being the middle of the night – if I weren’t so terrified.

Terrified because it was the middle of the night and the vet was snuggled in his bed and not in his office just half a mile down the road, and terrified because mammal birth is really quite dramatic.

Fortunately, Kaylee is one of the toughest goats I know, and she knew what she was doing. Her first baby – a boy with a white tipped tail – was born without issue within 5 minutes of our arrival. Kaylee then delivered two more kids, licked them clean and stood patiently while they tried to nurse.

The general rule in lambing and kidding is that you’d like the newborn to be up on their feet and nursing within one hour. Since this rule is about the only concrete thing I know about delivering lambs and kids, I’m always on top of it. What time did that baby pop out? Set the timer!

Bunny, the first born, and Katya (who was born last and came out like a rocket), were up and standing and poking around for some milk. Watching baby animals stand and try to nurse right after they are born should be amazing. Like, they were inside another animal 25 minutes ago. They just came out into the cold December night. And now they are standing? What?!? How amazing.

It’s not like that for me. I’m watching the clock and watching them nose around under their mother’s front legs looking for an udder on the wrong side of the goat. Gah! Dumb baby thing that’s only been breathing on your own for half an hour – why is this so hard?? That’s a knee! Not a nipple! Stop chewing on the straw! Stop falling over!!

It takes a ton of restraint for me to not micromanage the situation. I know, in my brains, that the babies need time to bond and learn, and it’s best for them, as well as the does and ewes for me to stay out of the way. I know I shouldn’t intervene. It still drives me nutty. Fortunately, Bill is the calmest dude on earth, and I enjoy holding his hand, and the straw really can be quite snuggly.

After about 45 minutes of the waiting and watching, it became obvious that the middle kid wasn’t going to stand on her own and nurse. She was shivering and could barely lift her head, let alone her body. That fantastic technology that let me look at the barn from my bed, and helped me keep time from birth to nursing, also helped me figure out what to do with a “chilled” kid. It involved a trip to the house tucked inside Bill’s coat, and a long soak in hot water in our bathroom sink.

Lambs and kids are basically skin and bones when they are born and need to nurse quickly in order to maintain their body temperature. That rule about an hour helps make sure they don’t get so cold that they can’t physically stand and nurse. The middle kid was born so weak that she would never had stood on her own. If we hadn’t been there for her birth, she would have died quickly of hypothermia.

When we first got her into the house (it was our first time for a goat in the house), and into the hot sinkbath, we had to hold her head above the water, and she wasn’t showing many signs of life. After about an hour, she started kicking and being ornery. We dried her off with a towel, stuck her back inside Bill’s coat, and took her back to the barn. We helped her nurse, watched everyone settle in for a bit, and stumbled up to our own beds. I would have slept in the straw, but Bill still had to go to work later that morning, and I wanted him to get some real sleep before he did.

Later, I sneaked quietly out of bed and back to the barn. I was expecting the chilled kid to be weak and lethargic (or worse), but she was standing and alert. We’ve had to repeat this process twice with lambs over the past two years, and I’m always amazed at how little milk they need to get going.

After we were feeling confident that the baby goat was doing alright, Bill suggested that we name her Pandora because she helped us find hope where it didn’t seem like there would be any.

The three kids are all grown now – Pandora even had a kid of her own this spring. They sleep together in a big pile, just as they did when they were small enough to fit under the feeders. They are a potent reminder of how far we’ve come as farmers and how resilient life can be.