Tour de Fleece Evangelist

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tour de Fleece is coming!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (That is not an excessive number of exclamation points.)

Imagine if Christmas and your birthday and Rhinebeck with the most perfect sweater weather (and all the apple cider donuts you could eat, but you didn’t have to wait in the long line, you only had to wait in line behind one person and it was Stephen West) and your favorite vacation were all at once and all lasted a whole month. You feel that warm fuzziness? The excitement? Joy?

That’s what Tour de Fleece feels like to me. I LOVE TOUR DE FLEECE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If you’ve never participated, TdF is a handspinning event that takes place during some bike race in France. Spinners all over the world set a goal to spin every day of the bike race and share their progress with the world. My goal is usually to spin at least 15 minutes a day. Some spin on a team, which is focused around a unifying thing such as a specific dyer, a wheel manufacturer, or a shared goal like a sweater spinand some spin on their own.

My first TdF was in 2011 and this was my very first day of Tour spinning. 8 oz of BFL that I plied with a undyed gray wool for a sweater. You know that thing that happens when you begin something new and have no idea what’s crazy and what’s achievable? Spinning for a sweater 6 months after learning how a wheel works is definitely squarely inside that newby optimism bubble.

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I did knit a wonky short sleeved sweaterish thing from the resulting yarn, but it was dense and unwearable. All photos have been destroyed.

Tour de Fleece is an event of community support. We…ok, I…spend at least as much time scrolling through photos of everyone else’s yarns and sexy bobbin shots as I do spinning. The massive number of spinners sharing their work inspires me to try new techniques, seek out new wools, and use no less than 1.4 billion exclamation points in cheering for friends, new and old.

Admittedly…it’s also about another tiny, small, fun thing…WINNING PRIZES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I don’t think I’ve actually ever won a TdF prize, now that I think of it, but that’s not the point! The point is that every time I post a photo of my spinning I could win a prize and that has been a huge motivator to encourage daily spinning. As proof, here’s some more photos from my first TdF.

Such fond, indelible memories.

I have no idea where any of those yarns/items is now.

However! I spun this during last year’s TdF and am currently knitting amazing mitts with it that I will certainly be wearing during Tour de Fleece 2025.

Ok, but prizes…

I can blah blah blah forever about how amazing TdF is, but I suspect the opportunity to win free wool is a bigger motivator. I’m hosting a team again this year and offering weekly prizes, as well as a grand prize of two custom batts (designed to your specific wooly desires), for spinners working with Knit Spin Farm wool. Full details in the Ravelry thread, but all you have to do is spin and share your amazingness with the world. Even if you only spin a half ounce over the whole tour, you could win – but OMG you are going to want to spin more than that because TOUR DE FLEECE IS THE BEST EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Please join us.

PS: I’ll be adding some batts to the Etsy shop on Friday at 8 pm, if you’d like to stock up!

Shop Update tonight!

New batts, yarn, and handspun tags added to Etsy at 8 pm tonight (2/22)!

At 8 pm Eastern tonight (2/22), I’ll be adding batts, self striping yarn, and new handspun tags to the shop.

The yarn is available on two bases:

CORRIEDALE SOCK
Fingering weight, 3 ply
75% Superwash Corriedale/25% Nylon
4 ounces/115 grams
434 yards

TARGHEE SPORT
Sport weight, 4 ply
90% Superwash Targhee/10% Nylon
4 ounces/115 grams
350 yards
Made in the USA

There will be three colorways in the update. Barn Love (4 skeins on Targhee), Wooly Mammoth (6 skeins on Targhee (3 are discounted 100 g skeins), and 2 on Corriedale), and South Island Ocean Hike, below, (7 on Targhee (3 discounted), and 3 on Corriedale).

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I am already preparing yarn for the next update, which I hope will be in mid-March. I sold out of the green colorway, County Clare, at a vending event and I’m craving green, so there will be more soon. I also intend to add a Superwash Targhee/Nylon fingering base.

Also new for this update are handspun tags made from thick scrapbooking paper and strung with cotton string. They come in sets of 10 with unique, adorable or sophisticated prints including tacos, pineapples, and beaches.

There will be batts in the update as well, and a few are pictured below. Thank you for your support and please let me know if you have any questions!

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…

 

Wool Noir, Chapter 1

“I’ve been in charge of this flock a long time, because I follow certain rules. One of the most important rules is ‘Save the Drama for the Llama’.”

Wool Noir is my second batt club, and it features dark, brooding colorways with an accompanying barnyard mystery.

(I have to pause here to say that spellcheck doesn’t recognize the word “noir,” and would prefer I change it to “Nair,” which is ludicrous.)

There are so many things that I’m enjoying about hosting a club. Generally, I only make 3 or 4 batts of a single colorway, so it has been a lot of fun – and a lot of math! – working out a process for large batches. Plus, it’s always quite satisfying to see a big pile of uniform batts waiting in orderly rows to be sent to their new homes.

IMGP2221I also enjoy packing each mailer with fiber, goodies, and a note. It feels like sending care packages to treasured spinners across the continent.

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My most favorite part of the club, however, is that my husband Bill writes a little story for each shipment. Very early in our relationship, Bill shared a short story with me that he had written for our college art “magazine” (aka 4 sheets of paper stapled together – our tiny college is primarily a science school). I loved it, and his creative writing helped me see another side of the mostly rational, not-very-emotive guy I was dating. The story involved a Being of Grain Alcohol that was waiting to have lunch with his cousin, who I think was a comet. Like, none of it makes sense in my brain nearly 20 years later, but at the time, it was a profound awakening, and admiring Bill’s writing remains one of my favorite memories of our early relationship.

Periodically over the last two decades, I remind Bill of this story and try to enchant him into writing again. He’ll politely give the idea a bit of thought, but that’s as far as it goes. He shares a few ideas but never puts pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. His other concerns – usually overdue farm or house work – end up taking priority.

When he offered to write for the batt clubs, I eagerly encouraged the plan. For the first batt club, focused on unicorns, Bill wrote a short story in rhyming verse, that easily fit on the back of the batt tags. He dreamed up a sweet, adventurous, shrewd unicorn lamb named Cora, who had sparkling wool and could fly.

He also complained, monthly, that the back of the batt tag was too small a canvas, and could he please have more space next time.

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For Wool Noir, I removed the restrictions and encouraged him to write as much as he’d like. The story is fully his, and he has been drawing inspiration from our own farm. I love talking over his ideas and brainstorms. Reading his draft usually makes me giggle and always brings tears to my eyes. Bill is such a logical person, so focused on pragmatic concerns, and I really appreciate the chance to set aside conversations about solar panels, hay prices, and potato varieties, for the opportunity to discuss the talking roosters and flying sheep that live inside his head.

I hope club members enjoy the stories that accompany the fiber shipments, but to be honest, it’s for totally selfish reasons that they are included. Not only am I able to demand that Bill write me a story, but I get to set a deadline for him to do it. It’s pretty fantastic.

Below is the first part of the Wool Noir mystery. I’ll post parts two and three after club members have received them. If you have theories about solving the crime, I hope you’ll share them with us below!

Chapter One: An Imposing Shadow

The last beams of the day’s sunlight were still tickling the treetops as Cora descended upon the unruly mob.  The red and gold rays of illumination had been holding their own against diminishing flashes from a departing thunderstorm. But now, the nighttime with its comforting darkness was arriving quickly, chasing the light away, revealing the first twinkling stars overhead.

It was immediately clear that a great discord had overcome the flock– enough so that none of them noticed Cora, the world’s only lamb unicorn detective (not something that you see every day) until she joined their circle. Accusations and recriminations spiraled about like a vortex of autumn leaves. Cora spied a single ewe that seemed to be trying to remain above the fray. She approached, showed her credentials as a private investigator, and offered her services.

“What’s your fee?” This ewe, Martha, was the oldest ewe on the farm. She looked it, too. Cora thought that her eyes betrayed a weariness, possibly from leading her flock for many years. Standing in the door to the barn, she was casting a long and imposing shadow. Weariness aside, Cora could tell that this was not a ewe to mess with.

“I get paid in feed,” was the response from Detective Cora. “My rate is 2 pounds of corn per day. Plus expenses.”

Martha smirked as she explained the problem with this: “Well then, you’re of no use. You see – that’s our problem. All of our corn has been stolen.”

“If you want my help, I’m sure we can work something out.” Cora offered, and Martha nodded in acceptance, adding with a welcoming note “There’s some hay in the feeder in stall two. Alfalfa. Good stuff. The rest of the flock isn’t eating any of it because they’re all worked up over the missing corn. And while half goats are arguing with the flock, the other half are MIA, having been accused of thievery. Go have a nosh as an advance, then come back when you’ve had your fill. I’ll tell you all about what happened. We could use an outside eye to figure it out.”

Cora returned the nod with a thankful shake of her own but had just one question before going to collect her advance. “Everyone on the farm seems worked up about this except you. How are you able to stay so calm?”

All signs of weariness faded as Martha considered her answer, replacing it with a surprising playfulness. “I’ve been in charge of this flock a long time, because I follow certain rules. One of the most important rules is ‘Save the Drama for the Llama’.”

Nodding as if she understood what this meant, Cora made her way into the barn to find her proffered hay.  As she was taking her first bite and reflecting on Martha’s comment, she heard a commotion in the next stall. A young rooster – looking insane without half of his barred feathers – managed to fly over the stall landing on Cora’s nose and scratching it with his spur.

“Ouch – watch it buddy!” yelled Cora, with more than a little frustration. The rooster introduced himself as Tailpipe, and apologized.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to hurt or scare you. It’s hard to fly during my molt. Listen – I overheard you talking to the big crazy one about the corn heist-“

“-Martha?”

“Yeah, Martha. Don’t trust her. I know what happened to the corn… she took it. She took it all…”

To be continued…

November WIPs and Digital Detox

Settling in for the coziest week of the year.

The past few days on the farm have been very cozy. Temperatures have dropped and daily fires have been keeping us warm. The path to the barn is littered with still-colorful leaves and the sheep are burying their woolly heads in the hay feeders, searching for the best morsels of clover and grass.

It is finally time to revel in wool!! During small breaks throughout my day, I’m working on the Windsor Warmer by Cecily Glowik MacDonald from the Interweave book New England Knits.

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It’s a scarf. A rectangle-shaped scarf.

I usually have strong feelings about knitting rectangles. As in, I don’t do it. Because rectangles are so. boring. They’re depressingly the same from beginning to end and they are so rectangular. Ugh. I’m bored just thinking about it.

This pattern, however, is knit from side to side. It’s still a rectangle, but I’ll be knitting less than 50 rows, start to finish and that seems somehow more achievable. I can say this confidently now because the 240+ stitch cast-on happened a few days ago (with the help of some rum) and has been wiped from my memory.

The scarf is all lace, and the thought of 240+ stitch rows of lace did cause mild panic. I mentally gathered all of my most functional stitch markers and prepared for some fiddly knitting. However – Madam Glowik MacDonald is a benevolent genius, and the pattern includes columns of ribbing in between each lace repeat. Built in stitch markers!

IMGP3011It has been a good long while since I’ve knit any serious lace and I am already looking forward to blocking the finished scarf. The anticipated satisfaction is enough to keep my motivation high! Also, the yarn is glorious…far more complex than you can see in the photos (hey, Red, what you gotta be like that??). This is my second project using Flock Fibre, which is dyed in Canada by lovely women, and I am looking forward to having an excuse to purchase more. The colorway is Geranium Kisser, which I am told is a reference to another lovely Canadian, Anne of Green Gables.

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My second project is quite a bit more local. Though Bill has sheared our sheep for the past four years, I haven’t yet made him anything with our own wool. His favorite pair of socks are handspun from a down wool roving, so I promised him another pair before winter really took hold. He was noncommittal when I asked what color he’d like…he’s really so agreeable on sock colors. I asked him to close his eyes, clear his head, and tell me about some of his favorite things. Immediately, he decided his socks should be orange and brown like our bedroom.

I dyed 6 ounces of Southdown roving from our sheep, and spun it into a traditional three-ply a few months ago. I’m knitting a toe-up sock with the standard Bizarro Bill Feet Modifications, and have just finished the heel on the second sock (which is four stitches smaller than the first sock, and yet still a bigger sock…spinning consistency? meh).

They are going quite quickly as the yarn is pretty thick. My standard Bill sock is 68-72 stitches, but these are 52. Also, handspun. Also, orange and brown. Also, MY OWN SHEEP!

My last knitting WIP is a raglan sweater for coziness. The pattern is Clarke Pullover by Jane Richmond, and I’ve knit it before. I enjoy the construction and clear directions. The gray yarn has been reclaimed from a wonky sweater I never wore, and I think it’s Dream in Color…worsted weight?? The accent stripes are three Muppet colorways from Another Crafty Girl on her Merino Worsted base – #1 Fan, BWACK!, and Boomerang Fish. I love Sarah’s yarn and I race through the gray so I can knit another stripe with her gorgeous colors.

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Finally, I have delightful spinning on the wheel. I finished this 2 oz of Tuesdays at Three on Finn from Three Waters Farm a few weeks ago, and I’m nearly done with the last 2 oz. The fiber really wants to be spun thinly, but I don’t mind. I’ll chain-ply this second half as well, and hopefully have matching socks.

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I should make a ton of progress on all these projects over the next week, as it is our annual Digital Detox week. Each year, during the week of Thanksgiving, Bill and I turn off all our electronic devices and disconnect from media, social networks, and advertising. The quiet and slow-pace that results really complements a holiday focused on gratitude, and encourages us to be mindful about all the gifts and good things in our lives. It also serves as a vacation of sorts. The farm severely limits our ability to travel, so disconnecting from the noise of daily life provides needed respite. I always feel restored and energized after our unplugged week.

I am preparing a blog post to self-publish while we’re offline though, because technology can be pretty cool. I find, though, that I often need to remind myself that all these digital wonders are tools to help me accomplish goals, they are not a force to guide or control my life. Giving them up for a week helps me keep technology from asserting undue influence over my daily routine.

So, for the next week I’ll be quietly manipulating wool, cooking cozy meals, and staring pensively into the wood stove. It’s my favorite way to usher in winter.