Sunday, January 25, 2015

Week end wrap up Jan 25

I'm gonna make it right under the wire. It's just been one of those days.

It was a slow week fiber-wise.

Still, I made some baby steps.

I washed the blanket that I'd posted last week. Yep, washing makes a difference. The weave tightened up and bloomed. It's much softer and fluffier now. I like it. Go figure.

before washing
after washing
after washing

In the spinning arena, I made a quantum leap. A baby quantum leap, but quantum all the same. I forced myself to switched over to working only on a wheel. Up to this point I've done most of my spinning on a drop spindle. Partly because I work mostly with only small batches of fiber at a time and that's just easier on a spindle. But mainly cause I just like them. Nonetheless, I know if I could get into a groove with a wheel, I'd get a lot more done. So that's what I worked on this week.

I spun more of Clementine. I was happy to see that I could just about match the yarn I'd already spun on the spindle. I estimate that I now have about 500 yards of single ply. Not sure how much I'll need for a sweater, but the box of washed fleece still looks completely full, so no worries there.

I spun a bunch of commercial BFL roving that I had lying around. It's not my favorite stuff, but it was good for practicing. I never figured out how much I spun. When I started to ply it, after just a few yards, I decided I'd rather keep it as a single to use for a woven scarf.

Finally, I got the storage system for my fiber inventory out of the boxes and set up. Yay.

I really like this system of wire drawers, not least of which is because I can dry stuff in place. It's a one stop system. I can also see everything easily, and if I want to, I can pull out a whole drawer and carry it with me. The only downside? It's a dog magnet. They think pulling the curls out through the wire mesh is a super fun game. Darn dogs.

Monday morning update: And at that point last night I fell asleep. Next week I'll shoot for Saturday so that I can actually finish the post and proofread before I hit the publish button. :)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Remember us?

Manny: May I help you?
It occurred to me the other day, that I haven't mentioned the Bluefaced Leicester lambs lately. People might think they've disappeared.

Not the case. They're just sequestered in a spot that is hard to photograph.

When Cricket got sick at the end of the summer, but before he finally died, I made one last ditch effort to break the hold the parasites had on the lambs by moving them to a shed in the front yard that was separated from all the other animals and free of any possible parasite contamination. Then I started stuffing their little faces with hay and grain, lots and lots of grain, as though I intended to eat them myself. Ha.

Bottom line? They thrived. There in their dark little hole (there's no fenced area for them to go outside) they have grown and grown and grown. Three months on and with only a few minor issues they are, or seem at least, huge and healthy. Only Butterfly, the little black ewe lamb is still very small, but she is genetically unrelated to the others so I think it's just her. I can also still feel one too many ribs on Firefly, the ram, but he's grown a lot as well.

Bumblebee, people might be pleased to hear, is doing extremely well and has a lovely fluffy fleece all grown in.

I sorely wished I'd done this in time to save Cricket.

Fortunately, no signs yet of any breeding readiness on the part of Firefly or the ewes. I really believe their maturation was impacted too much by the worms to manage anything this year. Fortunately. At least I hope so for their sakes.

Another month or two and I will grit my teeth and move them back to the barn in the pasture and come spring I'll let them out on grass. I have a field resting up, just for them.

Someone may have to sedate me to get me to do this, but that's the plan.

I caught them sleeping in a spot of afternoon sun the other day. They always pop up as soon as I walk in. The eldest, Manny, typically leads the way. Followed close behind by the rest.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Weekend wrap-up

Yeah yeah, I know. It's Monday. My internet went out last night so I couldn't get online. Today was a holiday anyway, so for me, it's still the weekend here.

In the service of my new year's resolution to be more mindful, deliberate, and strategic about my fiber work, I'm going to try to keep pace with thecrazysheeplady's weekend summaries of fiber work. She didn't ask for company, but...well...I need the motivation, so she's got it. :)

This first summary will include more than a week's worth of stuff. More like what I did over the holiday break. I wish I had lovely pictures to add, but most, if any will be shots from my phone.

Clementine's lamb fleece yarn
I started spinning Clementine's lamb fleece in earnest. Clementine's the Lincoln ewe with long curls. Her most recent fleece is bea.u.ti.ful, and I'm hoping to offer it in my online shop as curly locks, so I'm NOT spinning that. Her lamb fleece, on the other hand, though long (~8 inch locks), soft, and lustrous, is a mess. Mess, in the sense of chock full of junk and gunk. So I'm going to use it myself. This is pretty tedious work. I see a winter of hand flicking and combing ahead of me. Like cleaning Donnanoble's goat fleece last winter. This time, I'm better at it, faster, and I have a goal. A sweater. In fact there's enough fleece for two or three sweaters probably. Also, I do not feel the need to wait to see how this turns out before I start other things. I've already traversed that learning curve. This I will do in the background, so to speak, in between working on other things.

Hog Island yarn
I also spun up a sample of Hog Island fleece that I was gifted by a vendor I bought from recently. She gave the samples away with sales in her Etsy shop last month. The fleece came from the heritage sheep at Mt Vernon. I gather the sheep were very common during colonial times, but now there are only a few flocks in existence. Unfortunately, this fleece had been so dirty when the vendor got it, that she pretty much shredded it trying to get the gunk out with a picker. The sample I got looked like a wad of unorganized fluff filled with neps. I started spinning it only because I didn't have anything else cleaned and ready to go at the moment and I was curious. In the end I loved it and would happily buy a raw Hog Island fleece myself if I could find one. It was not like anything else I've tried. When you touch the yarn you can almost see the sturdy cloth that the colonists must have woven in your mind.

I finished a weaving project at the weaving studio downtown. This is the blanket that I'd intended to use Popcorn Pee Pee Pants' yarn for, before I chickened out and used an ordinary commercial yarn. I like the way it turned out, but I'm glad I saved PPPP's yarn. This is a huck lace pattern with a very loose sett (is that the right word? not sure). I'm not great about doing swatches before I start things. I tend to guess and hope for the best. In this case, the loose sett with chunky wool made the lace pattern a little more rustic than I'd hoped. I still need to wash it though, so that may change.

I made some behind the scenes progress on my horsehair weaving. I don't remember if I posted pictures of the most recent project around Thanksgiving, before I set it aside. It's a design for a sofa pillow - linen on one side, horse hair/linen on the other.

As I progressed on this project, I decided I  really needed better technology before I sank more time into it. Nothing fancy, just a better way of sorting and selecting the individual horse hairs for each bundle of the weft. I'd been doing it on the kitchen counter in the evenings after work, when the light was poor and the time was short. I was struggling with seeing and counting the individual hairs in the dark and then having to put everything away out of reach of cats and dogs and children every evening, so I took a break to think about it. After talking it over with one of my brothers -- an engineer -- we were both convinced that no easy straightforward tool exists to help with this job. So, I decided to go for an incremental improvement based on lighting. I ordered a translucent cutting mat, that has a preprinted grid on it's surface. I can place it on a glass desk top I already owned, with a light shining underneath (much like a light table) and hopefully sort the horse hair on top. The light will help me see the hair and the grid will help me sort it by length. I've set the whole thing up in a room where no dogs or cats are allowed, so I should be able to leave stuff in progress out when I'm not working on it. I've no tangible product to show for this progress, but I'm hopeful it will jumpstart things.

I made zero further progress preparing more fleeces for my online shop. I've washed a bunch of stuff so far (Bluefaced Leicester lamb fleece, Icelandic fleece, Lincoln curls, etc.), but I very quickly ran out of space to store washed fleece so had to stop until an affordable solution was found, which I found online of course. Although it came this week, I haven't set it up yet. It's still in the boxes. So, that's progress in a very very behind the scenes sense there.

And that's what's been going on lately.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

It's a new year

Hattie: Warning.
Mom's been thinking too much again.
I don't make New Year's resolutions.

Well, let's say, I don't make the kind of New Year's resolutions that matter or get kept.

But this year, 2015, begs for a more disciplined and organized approach to my farming and fiber efforts.

Cause, if not now, when?

So I have a resolution of sorts.

My inspiration comes from my work.

Say what?

My work.

I don't talk about my work much, cause this is, after all, a farm blog and sadly, I'm not really a farmer. Yet.

No, I'm a scientist by training and profession.

Have I ever mentioned that? I don't think so, but there it is.

Here's why it's relevant in an indirect, obscure, roundabout sort of way.

One of the hardest parts of being a scientist these days is the shear amount of individual discipline, organization and administrative effort required to keep research and its infrastructure (a lab) going, no matter what field of science you're in. Theory building, hypothesis generation, data collection, data analysis, data reporting, grant writing, etc. and that's just the science part. It's a big, expensive, complicated longterm process with many scientific steps and lots of bureaucratic regulatory obstacles just to get from a simple idea to a published result. On top of this, competition at the top levels of American science is fierce -- competition for not just ideas, but funding, jobs, students, etc.. All of which to say is that an individual scientist has absolutely no chance to succeed longterm if they work on only one project at a time from start to finish, before starting the next.

Juggling is key.

I was taught by my graduate school mentor, so many years ago, to think of my work as a pipeline. It's the only way. The trick is to keep every stage of the pipeline full and moving at all times. While polished journal articles are coming out one end, raw ideas should simultaneously be going in the other, and works in progress should be percolating the whole length in between. All at the same time. Never let the pipeline empty. Never let the pipeline stall.

Well, it has occurred to me of late that the farming I'm trying to do is very similar, especially as a fiber lover who's committed to  obsessed with producing and using my own fiber. It's a very long, multi-step process from feeding and caring for the animals to tying off that last knot of fringe on my latest woven whatever. Yet, in the past couple of years, since I stumbled backwards into this life, I have had the tendency to get bogged down at one stage or another of this long pipeline, for all intents and purposes bringing the whole thing to a mind numbing standstill.

In part, this is because as a beginning farmer on a start-up farm with only novice spinning and weaving skills to start with, it is easy for me to take ten times as long to do something as it would a more expert practitioner, at virtually any point in the process. I spent an entire summer doing nothing but nursing sick lambs. I spent an entire winter's evenings processing and spinning just one dirty goat fleece (it was really dirty. :)  ) Meanwhile, fences go unbuilt, other fleeces pile up, my fiber storage system is still in boxes, my big loom goes unwarped, my online shop remains little more than a logo and an idea.

Some of this is natural growing pains. I didn't become a practicing scientist over night. I don't expect to be a reasonable farmer or fiber artist overnight either. But there is no graduate school for me to go to in farming and fiber production. No formal education for me to acquire. I'm pretty much on my own, to succeed or fail, in my own way at my own pace.

As long as I don't give up my day job -- that darn science stuff -- nothing really hangs on my success, (except the health and wellbeing of my animals, which matters to me), so I'm not really complaining, just thinking out loud.

But of course, as long as I hang on to the day job, my time on the farm or in the studio is squeezed and it feels like I never make progress.


Well, I won't be giving up the day job anytime soon, cause...well...

I may be obsessed, but I'm not actually stupid. :)

Yeah, I don't need to explain the money thing. We all get that.

But if I want to ever quit the day job I've got to get this pipeline moving. At every stage. Every day.

So my 2015 resolution is just that.

Think pipeline.

Think stages.

Every stage, every day. If only five minutes each.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Alive and well

The babies seem to be doing well. 

Warm steamy tongues inside their tiny mouths, even on the coldest days. That tip alone set my mind at ease this week. Thank you Sara. 

I'm on the run at work at the moment. With that and the lambs, there's not much time to blog. Oh, and the thirteen-year-old continues to insist on groceries and attention. Sheesh. 

Thankfully, there's a three day weekend coming up and miraculously warm weather to boot. So maybe there will be more photos soon. 

In the meantime, we need some names - one boy and one girl. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Baby sheep!

Our first.

Only a few minutes old here.

Mom is Bo Sheep. She's some unknown cross of breeds. Dad is Jed, the Black Welsh herdsire. He caught me off guard back in August. I thought breeding season was still a ways off. My jaw dropped a little when he did the deed with Bo Sheep right in front of me one morning. At least I had the presence of mind to write it down, so I knew wondered if this day was coming. I even had today marked on the calendar. I must say I didn't really believe it though until I saw Bo start to bag up about a week ago.

She did it all by herself. At dinner time I saw her standing around watching everyone else without eating. This is not like Bo. She is a big eater. Always. I wondered then if it was time. When I came back around 10, for night check, the two little ones were already on the ground. All I had to do was move them into their new pen, i.e., the former tack room.

They seem healthy, but to be honest, I'm not sure I'd be able to tell if they weren't. At least one of them has nursed, possibly both. That's hard to track when you can't tell them apart.

Bo Sheep doesn't like to be messed with, so I'm going to leave them be until morning. It's pretty cold out, maybe 20 degrees F right now, headed to the low teens. Still it's nowhere near as cold as it was last week when the mercury dropped out the bottom of the thermometer.  Plus, they're protected from wind and drafts in the tack room. They'll be alright. Right?

I'll check back in on them in the morning.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Babycat takes a selfie

Remember the kitten?

She likes to sit on my shoulder. Yes, she's that small.

She wanted some screen time, so I let her take a selfie.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

What it's all about these days

Just tell me when it's over

Charlie: Close that door woman.  Can't those ponies feed themselves? Animals who live outside are called wildlife for a reason. 

I vaguely remember a time when I could hole up inside and wait for the bad weather to pass. 

Sort of.