Monday, November 29, 2010

Brrrr!

My ears hurt! It's 32 degrees F with a wind chill of 23 degrees. Feeding the sheep was actually painful; that north wind is fierce. It's one of those days that I contemplate putting weights on the hens, so they don't blow away.

The sheep, of course, love it. What's a frigid wind when you have a nice wool fleece? Dierdre, our dog, thinks it's great, too. She kept stopping me every few feet on the way to the barn to play. Cold (really cold) weather seems to give her energy. I kept alternating between laughing at her and urging her to hurry up, so we could get out of the wind.

Well, I don't have to feed the sheep again until late this afternoon. The forecast says it may be 35 degrees by then (with a wind chill of 26 degrees). What a warming trend to look forward to....

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Christmas Stockings

Three months until Christmas! Yikes, how did that happen? And why am I surprised by this date each and every year?

As usual, I had intended to have several Christmas presents started, and quite a few completed, by now. How many have I done? Hmm, um, well, one. I've got some great ideas for some gifts, though; now the question is can I (start and) finish them in time?

Speaking of Christmas, I want to show off three Aran Christmas stocking patterns that I'm quite proud of.


Each pattern is $3.95. If you want to download a PDF of any or all of them, go to my website's Knitting Patterns page.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Books

I've decided to mention in my blog the books that I'm reading, so I thought I'd begin by sharing what I've read this summer.

Maureen Ash, The Alehouse Murders
Lorna Barrett, Murder is Binding
Rhys Bowen, Her Royal Spyness
Gordon Cotler, Artist's Proof
Linda Fairstein, Deadhouse and Hell Gate
Caroline Graham, Faithful unto Death
Ann Granger, Say It with Poison
Rebecca Hale, How to Wash a Cat
Lauren Haney, The Right Hand of Amon and A Face Turned Backward
Charlaine Harris, all the Sookie Stackhouse books except the one published this year (I've been on the library waiting list since June; I started out as 89th and have finally reached 3rd, so I'm almost there!)
Charlaine Harris, Shakespeare's Landlord
Bernard Knight, The Sanctuary Seeker and The Poisoned Chalice
Tim Myers, At Wick's End and Snuffed Out
Ellis Peters, The Raven in the Foregate
Anne Barclay Priest, Trafficking in Sheep
Michael Scott, The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel

and I just finished tonight: Paul Doherty, The Horus Killings

Obviously, I like mysteries, but my tastes are pretty eclectic, including such genres as fantasy and historical fiction. I also enjoy memoirs, especially those on rural living.

Monday, September 20, 2010

How Many Knitting Needles Do You Own?

I needed a 24" size 7 circular knitting needle. That’s a common size; I use them all the time. But could I find a set? No-o-o. All I found in my knitting needle container was an empty size 7 package.

Where were they? Like I said, I use them a lot. OK, so that, of course, explains it. All my size 7 knitting needles are in projects, in bags, throughout the house. Hmmm. Maybe I should finish more of my knitting projects before starting a new one…no! When inspiration strikes, you need to follow it! I guess I just need to pursue it to its conclusion more often. Or else buy more knitting needles!

I’ve already done that, though. That’s why I have an undisclosed but significant number of them. At least they’re small and don’t take up much room, unlike my yarn stash…but that’s a subject for an entirely different post….

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Snowden



Isn't he a beauty? Snowden is three years old and is very friendly. He kindly posed for photos without me even having to ask him.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ramses (Great Name for a Ram, Huh?)

I was late feeding the sheep this morning. I glanced out a window and saw all the sheep, except one, laying in front of the barn. Apollo, however, was standing in the shade of the cottonwood tree that lies about halfway between the barn and the house. He stood sentinel, unmoving, staring at the house as if willing me to come out and feed them. I don't know if the other sheep elected him as lookout or if he was just particulary hungry, but the sight was classic.

When I got to the barn, we went through the usual ritual. If the sheep are already in the barn, most stay there until I finish distributing hay, so they can avoid Dierdre as much as possible. A few of the rams always venture out, though, to start munching hay as soon as the first couple flakes hit the ground. Dierdre tries to herd them back into the barn, but they defy her and keep eating. The last few days I've noticed a new ram has joined this brave group: little Ramses. He's four months old and on the small side, but our intrepid eater is hanging out with big boys. This afternoon I took a couple pictures of Ramses that show how much smaller he is than the adult rams. In the second photo, Ramses' rear can be seen at the right side of the image. Just imagine that diminutive lamb pushing his way through to the hay, but he does it.



The white sheep at the front of the group, with the light glaring off of him, is Herbie. The small white lamb on the far right is Zenobia. The others, well, there are just too many woolly rumps to name them all!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Birds and the Bees

I don’t believe this. Seven years of raising and selling sheep, and I’ve never had such a ridiculous thing happen.

Last week a customer and her family came to the ranch to buy a ewe lamb. The sheep gathered around, especially the rams, and happily greeted the visitors. We discussed sheep raising, various traits specific to Cotswolds, etc. while we petted sheep, and my guests got to know them. My buyer spotted one gray/black ewe lamb, Bouidica, that particularly appealed to her. We coaxed all the sheep into the barn with some hay, so we could catch a couple of the lambs for a closer look.

It was pretty crowded in the barn: 25 sheep, six visitors, and me. One of the other ewe lambs walked by, so we caught it, and they looked her over but decided they liked Bouidica better. So, we searched the flock and spotted her. It took a bit of maneuvering, but one of the boys managed to catch her. We toppled her to the ground and looked at the quality of her wool. My customer decided that was the one she wanted, so a couple of her kids lugged the lamb to their van.

Everybody was happy (except maybe the lamb, who was in for a two-hour ride stuck in a dog crate).

The next morning the phone rang. My customer said guess what, Bouidica isn't Bouidica. She's a boy.

What! No, I couldn't believe it. I simply could not have overlooked that very important detail when we caught "Bouidica" to examine her wool before putting her in the van. True, the lambs in question are seven months old, so their wool is pretty long. Also true, young rams are not fully developed, so their "plumbing" is not near as obvious as that of adult rams. But still!

The buyer was very understanding--none of them had noticed the "problem" either. I told her I would figure out how to get the right lamb to her; since they are two hours away, it was going to take a bit of planning. However, she said they had been very impressed with my adult rams and had decided they wanted to keep him. They did, however, want to know who he was! Also, if he wasn't closely related to Zenobia (see previous posts), they would like to purchase her to breed the pair.

I checked my flock book and discovered they had Sophocles, one of Minerva's twins. Luckily, Zenobia is Jana's daughter and traces her lineage to a different line than Sophocles. So at the end of the month, when Zenobia is a little older, they are going to buy her (at a substantial discount as my apology for the mistake).

All's well that end's well, but I just don't believe I didn't notice....

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Manure

Great! A neighbor called this morning and asked if he could come over and clean my barn!

Well, okay, that’s not exactly what he said, but the result was the same. He asked if he could stop by for some sheep manure for his organic vegetable garden and orchard. He shoveled about two cubic yards of manure into his trailer and took it away, so he’s happy, I’m happy, and the sheep are happy. Ideal!

Now let’s get serious and talk about: The Advantages of Sheep Manure. (This phrase should be reverberating in your head in a deep baritone voice.)

Sheep manure contains more than twice as much nitrogen and potash as cow manure and 1 ½ times as much phosphorus. It doesn’t give off the sulfide odor of cow dung, and it doesn’t need to be aged, so it can go straight on to the garden.

And if you let the sheep into your garden after it's harvested, they can eat your unwanted plant remains AND manure the area as they graze. What more could you want?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Canine Work and Play

I think Dierdre, our dog, is as happy about sheep-feeding time as the sheep are--just for different reasons.

The sheep, obviously, think FOOD. But for Dierdre, it's work time which she loves!

She herds sheep, and she guards them (and me). The guarding she does throughout the day, whether outside where she can watch them or inside with me. However, for the herding part she needs the sheep and me to be together because she wants to show me how great a job she's doing. When she's working the sheep, she often stops to look at me, just to be sure I'm watching. If anyone else feeds them, she won't participate; she ignores the whole event. When I feed them, she MUST accompany me; if I leave her in the house, she barks and whines and creates a Dierdre-shaped slobber area on the sliding door.

I would say feeding the sheep is a bonding experience for Dierdre and me, except that we're already deeply attached. She's not co-dependent. She can happily spend the day outside on her own, as long as she knows I'm in the house or away from home. If I go outside, though, she has to go with me.

When we're outdoors, she stays close to me until she knows where we're going. The trouble is she wants to lead, so she keeps looking over her shoulder to make certain I'm still following which occasionally leads to her tripping over things. If I stay outside for awhile, she happily patrols the property, pesters sheep, races the fence line with the dog next door, etc, but she regularly returns to check on me.

If she's in the house, she must be near me (usually within six feet or less!). Mark simply has to see the dog to know what room I'm in.

And here's Dierdre recuperating after a typical sheep-feeding experience. Sometimes you just need to lay down while drinking your water!




Sunday, September 5, 2010

What's in a Name?

Well, rather a lot, actually. I thinks names are important, and we decided we would follow a theme each year for naming the lambs.

Let me backtrack, though, to our first sheep. Mark and I both have M.A.'s in medieval history, so, not surprisingly, we decided to name our new sheep after illustrious medieval women.

The first two ewes we called Heloise and Juliana--after the 12th-century abbess Heloise of the Paraclete, famous lover of the theologian Abelard and Juliana of Liege, the 13th-century nun whose visions inspired the institution of the Feast of Corpus Christi. The second set of ewes we named after Hildegard of Bingen, an abbess, writer, visionary, and composer in the 12th century and Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, a 10th-century Saxon playwright and poet. Below is a picture of Heloise.


We named Hrotsvit's ewe lamb Aurora. The name was not in keeping with our medieval theme, but it seemed appropriate for the first lamb born on our ranch. Hildegard gave birth to twins: Francesco and Clare, named for St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare of Assisi.

The following year, we dubbed the lambs after ancient gods and goddesses, such as Freyja, Minerva, Hermes, and Persephone. We had more than four lambs, but you get the idea.

My mother does genealogy, so the next year we named lambs after some of my ancestors: Thirza, Mehetable, Bernhardt, and Crescenzia, to name a few.

In 2007, we chose names of mountains and mountain ranges, so we had Brenta, Selwyn, Ranier, Sierra, Annapurna, Humphrey, etc. We also had Saphira, named by the kids next door after the dragon in Eragon, since they helped save her life when her mother initially refused to nurse her.

The next year was trees and plants, including Clover, Shamrock, Juniper, Sequoia, and Ficus!

2009 brought us to herbs and spices: Parsley, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Basil, Coriander, Lavender, and Sassafrass. I couldn't decide on a name for the last lamb, an adorable white ram, until a friend suggested Herbie (because of herbs). He's now a year old and still adorable.

This year we selected names of famous people of antiquity, such as Octavian (the lamb was born on January 8), Romulus, Remus, Bouidica, Cleopatra, Nefertiti, Sappho, Sophocles, Zenobia, and Ramses.

Naming is such fun. Feel free to comment on this post and suggest a theme for next year!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

An Abundance of Wildlife

Late summer is certainly bringing out lots of wildlife. Quail, jackrabbits, cottontails, doves, and bluejays are everywhere.

We've been trying to figure out what it is about our place that appeals so greatly to quail; we see dozens of them every day. Quail ususally keep to the ground, but we've even seen a large group up in our peach tree. (I hate to lose some of the peaches to the birds, but, then again, they deserve a share.)

I spotted a quail perched atop our wood pile, elegantly profiled and looking regal. There were several others investigating under and around bits of wood, as well. I had to take the pictures through a window, and they didn't turn out very well, but they'll give you an idea of the scene. If you look closely at the third picture, you should see four quail.




Monday, August 30, 2010

Apron Strings

It never did rain yesterday, but it was really chilly last night. I almost wore a long-sleeved shirt to feed the sheep this morning.

As I headed to the barn, I saw Zenobia race over to Jana and start nursing. Ewes usually wean their lambs between three and four months of age. By that time, the lambs are so big they have to kneel to nurse.

I was surprised Zenobia didn't knock over Jana considering how enthusiastically she collided with her. Lambs butt their heads against their mothers' udders to encourage milk flow. When the lambs get this big, I feel sorry for the ewes. The procedure looks quite uncomfortable: a large lamb (or two, in the case of twins) hurdles itself at its mother, thumps its head into her udder, and then greedily guzzles milk.

Not unexpectedly, the ewes usually let the older lambs nurse for only a couple minutes before walking off. They're definitely conveying the message that soon it will be time to move out and get their own apartments!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

August?







It's 76 degrees at noon on August 29! What's up? That's downright brisk for this time of year. It's been really windy since last night. Rain-laden clouds are scuttling across the sky. No precipitation yet, but it looks promising.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Next Generation

Breeding season has arrived. The rams are following the ewes around in groups, jockeying for position to get closest.

The poor ewes sometimes can barely stop long enough to grab a mouthful of hay without a ram trying to make his intentions clear. Sometimes she gets a break, though, when two or three rams start pushing each other out of the way; they can get so busy proving who's "worthy" of the ewe, that she can leave the scene without the boys even noticing.

Cotswold rams can begin breeding quite young. When I started my flock, I purchased two maiden ewes and two bred (pregnant) ewes. One gave birth to a ewe lamb (Aurora); the other produced twins: a ram and a ewe (Francesco and Clare). The next year the first ewe lambed ten months after the twins were born. Sheep have gestation periods of five months. That means Francesco sired the lamb when he was five months old! I'm surprised he was even tall enough to reach!

Monday, August 23, 2010

No Power

Around noon huge dark clouds started rolling in. The wind whipped up, blowing the tree branches, and thunder boomed. Then the lights went out. The power flashed on briefly, then off. This sequence repeated four more times before the electricity stayed off.

Now not having power for the lights or the refrigerator or the swamp cooler or my computer is inconvenient but not truly a big deal (except maybe the refrigerator if the outage lasts a while).

However, to fully understand our concern when we lose power, you have to know one thing: we have our own well, and we get our water via an electric pump. When the power's out, we don't have water. This lack is a big deal.

I called APS, the power company, and they confirmed that yes, indeed, the electricity was off and said it should take about an hour to an hour and a half to restore it.

I had an appointment in Prescott and had to leave while the lights were still off. I was a bit nervous when I got home, hoping we had power again--and sure enough, we did.

We would sure like to get solar and/or wind power. One of these days....

And after all that , we didn't even get any rain!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

They Grow Up So Fast



Jana's lamb, Zenobia, is three months old already, and she's so big! Here are a couple pictures of Jana (behind the tree), Zenobia, and friend (it's hard to tell from this angle, but it might be Scout).


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Crock Pot Dyeing

Dyeing fiber and yarn in a crock pot frees you from the stove. You can place the crock pot anywhere you can plug it in, so you can choose an optimal workspace.

You can even dye outside, if you have an electrical outlet to plug in to. Dyeing outdoors has numerous advantages, including keeping the smell out of the kitchen. Some of those dye baths certainly reek (black walnut hulls, ugh, shudder!).

Thrift stores and yard sales are excellent places to buy used crock pots for little money. Just make sure to plug it in and test it before purchasing.

Remember: All dyeing equipment should be used only for dyeing, so never use your dyeing crock pot for food.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Cast on Loosely

That's what the instructions always say, but every time I tried to "cast on loosely", my initial stitches would be uneven. If I cast on firm, even stitches, the edge of the garment was usually too tight.

There are two easy solutions to this problem, though.

1) Cast on using knitting needles two sizes larger than those you are going to knit with. So, if the pattern says to cast on using size 6 needles, grab a pair of size 8 needles and use them instead. You can pull the yarn firmly and evenly as you cast on and still not have tight stitches.

2) If you can't lay your hands on larger size needles, hold both needles together (the size 6 from the example above), and cast on as if they were a single needle. This method is a little more awkward than the first one, since you have to hold both needles parallel in one hand, and the yarn has a tendency to catch on the second needle point. However, it gives good results.

So, now you can "cast on loosely" and get an attractive, even edge without having to, oh so carefully, adjust the tension on every stitch!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

My Portfolio

I did it! I finally added my portfolio to my website. I've been working on it for months but kept feeling it wasn't "done enough" to go live. I've realized that my portfolio, like so many other things, is a work in progress. People will get to see it develop as I add new and old items.

I'm quite excited. Some of the photos are of pieces I made years ago, and it's fun to revisit them: a baby blanket I wove for a friend, handwoven bags that I photographed displayed on picturesque rocks bordering the neighbors yard where we used to live, my first handwoven cat. As a historian I should know--the past, the present, and the future are all linked.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Law of the Fullers & Weavers of Winchester, 1209

The hostility and jealousy of native merchants for foreign artisans under royal protection was reflected in the regulations for the weavers of the English cities. Trade was restricted to that with local merchants, full citizenship was denied them except for those who obtained wealth, nor could they dry or dye cloth.

Be it known that no weaver or fuller may dry or dye cloth nor go outside the city to sell it. They may sell their cloth to no foreigner, but only to merchants of the city. And if it happens that, in order to enrich himself, one of the weavers or fullers wishes to go outside the city to sell his merchandise, he may be very sure that the honest men of the city will take all his cloth and bring it back to the city, and that he will forfeit it in the presence of the aldermen and honest men of the city. And if any weaver or fuller sell his cloth to a foreigner, the foreigner shall lose his cloth, and the other shall remain at the mercy of the city for as much as he has. Neither the weaver nor the fuller may buy anything except for his trade but by making an agreement with the mayor. No free man can be accused by a weaver or a fuller, nor can a weaver or a fuller bear testimony against a free man. If any of them become rich, and wish to give up his trade, he may forswear it and turn his tools out of the house, and then do as much for the city as he is able in his freedom.

They have this law of the liberty and customs of London, just as they say.

From: A. F. Leach, ed., Beverley Town Documents, Selden Society Vol. XIV, (London, 1900), Appendix II, pp. 134-135, reprinted in Roy C. Cave & Herbert H. Coulson, A Source Book for Medieval Economic History, (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1936; reprint ed., New York: Biblo & Tannen, 1965), pp. 242-243.

Monday, May 17, 2010

How to Dye Wool with Kool-Aid

Kool-Aid is a permanent dye on wool. Kool-Aid will dye any animal fiber, but it is not suitable for dyeing cellulose fibers, such as cotton, or synthetics. Below are instructions for using the “sun tea” method of dyeing.

Equipment:
Large glass jar with a tight-fitting lid (such as an old sun tea jar, pickle jar, or applesauce jar)
Long-handled spoon that you don’t mind turning the color of your dye
Plastic gloves
Kool-Aid (unsweetened)
Water
Wool fiber or yarn

Remember: All dyeing equipment should be used only for dyeing. Do not return any of these items to kitchen use.

The amount of Kool-Aid dye to use per ounce of fiber/yarn depends on how dark you want your color to be. The more dye you use, the darker the color. In general, estimate 1 package of Kool-Aid per 1 ounce of fiber/yarn.

Pour the Kool-Aid powder into the jar. Fill almost to the top with water. Stir. Gently push the fiber/yarn into the jar with the long-handled spoon, making sure all of it is submerged.

Note: If you want even color, make sure the fiber/yarn can move freely in the jar; don’t pack it in. If you want an uneven, tonal color, pack in as much fiber/yarn as you can. The dye bath will color the fiber/yarn irregularly (which often gives lovely results).

Put the lid on the jar, and close it tightly. Set the jar in the sun for several hours. When the water is clear, all the dye is absorbed.

Note: If you used a large quantity of Kool-Aid per ounce, the fiber/yarn may not be able to absorb all the dye, so the water may not turn clear.

When the water is clear or you feel it is done (as per note above), drain the water from the jar.

To rinse, place the fiber/yarn on some paper towels (so it won’t stain your work surface) while you fill the jar with clean water of the same temperature as the water you just emptied from it. Return the fiber/yarn to the jar, and gently push it down with the long-handled spoon. Let it soak in this rinse water for 5 minutes, then drain the water.

Place the dyed fiber/yarn on a flat surface, or drape it on a clothes hanger to dry.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Another Lamb?

Jana lambed yesterday morning -- 4 months after the other ewes! I was certainly surprised when I went out to feed the sheep. The new baby already tried to bounce today as she followed her mother to the upper pasture for hay.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Wool and Craft Fairs

Shearing has begun! I sheared Hermes (black ram) last week and Snowden (white ram) on Monday. Hermes was much better behaved than Snowden; the process would have take 1/3 less time if Snowden hadn't fidgeted so much and tried to escape once.

Now I'm washing wool. I'm working on two mail orders and have a craft fair this weekend at which I'm selling, so I'm pretty busy.

Preparing for shows is always time consuming. It's amazing how long it takes to attach price and information tags to everything. Some items, like scarves, I need to measure; wool I have to weigh and package. Writing the fiber content and care instructions on each tag takes time, as well. And that's after I've sheared, spun, woven, or knit the items!

I enjoy it; I just tend to underestimate (every time) how long it takes to get ready for craft fairs. This one is the Mountain Artists Guild 24th Annual Spring Festival of Fine Arts and Crafts, Courthouse Plaza, Prescott, AZ, Saturday, May 8, 2010 & Sunday, May 9, 2010, 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. I will be at the Mountain Spinners and Weavers Guild booth, near Gurley St.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Just Completed a Handwoven Scarf


I finished weaving a great scarf yesterday. I used a weaving pattern I've never tried before, Eight-Fold Basket Weave, and used the "ribbed weave" treadling. I alternated a wool yarn and a rayon yarn in the warp, forming narrow wool stripes and wider rayon stripes. Then, I used a wool/nylon mini boucle yarn for the weft.

It worked great! There are stipes of textured boucle between columns of wool tabby on one side and columns of rayon tabby on the other. The twisted fringe turned out terrific, as well, with one fringe being wineberry rayon, the next rhododendron wool, and then back to wineberry rayon.

The scarf has a luxurios feel to it; I'm really pleased.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Spring

It has been sunny and warm all week! I can't tell you how nice it is to go out and feed the sheep without slogging through mud and snow and ice. We've had way above average amounts of rain and snow this winter. The sheep have enjoyed it for the most part; they don't like heavy precipitation, but they seem to enjoy light rain and snow, and they certainly appreciate cold weather.

We're up to nine lambs so far, all born within a three-week period in January: eight black and one white. It goes without saying that they're adorable. Lambs do define the word "cute".

With the warm, dry weather I can start washing fleece again. I've had several orders recently for wool, and it's a lot easier and faster to wash it outside. I need to start planning to shear in the near future, weather permitting.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ram, Ram, Ram, Ewe


We've got lambs! On January 8, Hildegard had a black ram lamb that we named Octavian (since he was born on the eighth). The following Tuesday, Frejya had twin ram lambs, Romulus and Remus. On Saturday, Heloise gave birth to a black ewe lamb, Boudica.