Friday, March 30, 2012

Knit Local

If you're in the DFW area, you might really enjoy the first class fiber event going on in Grapevine this weekend:  The DFW Fiber Fest. 

President Anna Hulse (with mini mascot, Ike), has put together a wonderful event for knitters and spinners featuring lots of excellent vendors, top drawer national and local instructors, and admirable fundraising projects, all in one weekend.

Her army of volunteers makes the details come together seamlessly.  At least, I haven't heard about any seams showing.  Just today, I saw hundreds of happy spinners and knitters come through the convention center, beaming from learning new things and nabbing great bargains on treasures.

A busy home school family of knitters and crocheters takes in the sights, and takes some of the sights home with them.

Brenda, one of my former tri-loom students, shows off a gorgeous piece of weaving she completed with her homespun yarns.

We met so many wonderful friends today, and sent them home with yarns, rovings, sheep magnets and more.  We're right by the food concession, so you can stop by on your way to grab a nice bite to eat.

This evening, we were proud to help sponsor the Ravelry event, "Unraveling Ravelry," with speakers Mary-Heather and Sarah from our favorite knitting website.  The place was packed.

As much as I have loved and used Ravelry over the years, it seems there are whole truckloads of good stuff I have yet to plumb there.  We learned how much the site changes and grows, with the help of user suggestions and updated technology.  The power of this functional and aesthetically pleasing website is easy to underestimate.   Take some time to poke around on Ravelry if it's been a while since you checked out the search features, or the new abilities we have to catalog our patterns, stash, libraries, etc.

I looked down my row and spotted longtime friends of the farm, Dawn Bahr and Amy Semifero.  Ravelry has brought so many of us knitters and spinners into friendship and community.

Did I mention world-class instructors?  My spindle hero, Abby Franquemont, is here at the festival, teaching all kinds of spinning classes I should have signed up for, but didn't.  Thank the Lord she has them out on DVD, so all is not completely lost...  I hope to get the chance to thank her for her book, "Respect the Spindle" which has helped me so much advance my spindling skills.

Mary Heather visited with the hoi polloi after the presentation.  She tells me that they won't be attending the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival this year, which is where I usually run into them.  It's been fun having them in our neck of the woods this time.

Tomorrow is Day Two, of three, so I hope to spend a little time in the main vendor hall and get some more photos where the real action is.  The trick is to watch your check book while you're in that huge room of temptation.  No one is around when you need support to curb your stash enhancing.  In fact, most folks are happy to encourage you to go ahead and pick up that amazing treat.  After all, we deserve it, right?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

This Weekend and Beyond...

Wow - the roller coaster that is March is clicking its way up the last hill.  We're about to throw our hands in the air and holler, "WHEEEEEEE" as we dash toward the DFW Fiber Fest this weekend in Grapevine. 

The Fest starts Friday morning at 9 AM and goes through Sunday.  Click here to get to their site for all the specifics, including maps and schedules.  We'll be there with a booth, and also as a sponsor for the big Ravelry shindig on Friday night.  Can't wait to see everybody there!

Then the next bit of fun here at the farm will be a much-in-demand Tri-Loom Weaving class on Saturday, April 14.  I have 3 spaces still available for this class -- it's a limited group mostly due to the size of the LRB.  We want everyone to have room to spread out and really enjoy the day.  The looms from Barney Terrell are $45, the optional tabletop tripods are $20 and the class itself is $20.  Yep... just $20.  Bring your lunch and we'll make a day of it - 10 AM to 1 or 2 PM, depending on how much time everybody needs.  I'll have Midge Jackson's amazing patterns available, too, so once you know how to use the loom, you can think about how to use those amazing little triangles.  (It's not too early to start your holiday gift-making!)  Drop me a line and I'll hold your spot. 

April, aside from some new knitting and spinning classes, will be all about fiber preparation.  I'll try to let you know when I have a big day scheduled here to skirt, tumble and/or wash, and if you've been interested in learning the basics, I'd love to show you the process.  A day up to your armpits in fabulous fiber is a wonderful thing.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Everybody's Naked

It's done.  All the shearing is done and the fleeces are bagged for cleaning.  Ahhhhhhhh.  Give me a minute while I enjoy some major shepherd relief.  Nothing could have gone any better, from surviving the rain on sheep shearing day, to me learning how to successfully drag a trailer.

And the fiber is, easily, our best ever.  Here's Joseph without his amazing technicolor dream coat.  Cute spots, eh?

Here's his coat coming off in velvety waves.  Every bit as yummy as we had hoped.

The pasture is now populated with pipe cleaner animals.  They look like cartoon characters to me, freshly shorn.

And they match the nekkid sheep at the other end of the property.  Everyone is ready for the 80+ degree temperatures we're supposed to see, beginning tomorrow.  Whew.  Just in time.

Now, comes the big job of getting the fiber clean and ready to send to the mill.  We've been streamlining and perfecting our systems, so as soon as the last of last year's fiber is finished, we'll bang this stuff out.  And enjoy every minute.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Fiber Christmas

Since it only comes once a year, it sure feels like Christmas.  We trailer our boys up to my friends Amy and Arlin McCrosky's amazing ranch in Greenville, and we get to be part of a couple of days of assembly line shearing magic. 

Everyone has a job, and the collective works like a Swiss watch.  After four years, I've finally found my place in the machine, collecting the fiber into bags - one for the prime blanket fiber and the other bag for the leg and neck fiber.  The bags are labeled with the animal's name, date of birth and other background information.  We twist the two bags for each animal together and set them aside.  The floor mats are swept and blown off with an air compressor between each animal to keep the fibers from mixing.

After several hours, we take a break.  This is Mark Loffhagen, the shearer with the golden blades.  I've talked about Mark before... he's the same as ever, an Americanized Kiwi with a rye sense of humor.

We were all ready to take a load off for a bit after about a third of our animals were sheared.  Our lunch break came after about another third of the 'pacas were done.  All told, I think I heard that we did 74 animals.  Tomorrow we'll probably do about that many again.

Fun sights around the barn - this is a female boarding at Amy's place who has the cutest face ever.  Can you believe that silly smile?  And her dark eyes, and black snip on her nose!  She is a doll.

This is part of the group of ladies that occupy the barn where the shearing takes place.  It's quite a crowd - very good looking...

And then here came Amy's star herd sire: Abundance.  Wow - he is really amazing.  So much fleece coverage on his face that he can barely see.  The rest of his body is just packed with fiber as well.  They don't call him Abundance for nothing.

Hi buddy!

...And...  the "after" shot.  He's still a big guy without it, but the fleece is just enormous.

Every time I go there, I am amazed at Amy's fabulous barn.  This much hay would last me for years!  But with all the mouths she feeds, it lasts significantly less time.

She has a cool way of keeping her fleeces contained - we toss them into a big dog run.  They stack high, rather than taking up all the floor space.  Nice.

So, we got home without incident (and me pulling my very first trailer all by myself!) and the three shorn boys had to make friends all over with the still-fluffy boys.  They literally don't recognize each other without their fleeces, just like the sheep a couple of weeks ago.  Here's Boaz - a mere shadow of his former self.

And Moonstruck and Levi, together for comparison.  Not a fair comparison - Moonie is a big piggy boy, and Levi is the tiniest thing we have in the pasture.  But you get the idea.

And the payoff for the day's work:  pretty, pretty fleece.  This is Boaz's fleece.  We made an interesting discovery.  He's not a white alpaca with an apricot cast, he's a bona fide FAWN alpaca.  Amy says our good herd nutrition did that for his fleece, and that it's a very good thing.  Yay!

Levi's huacaya fleece is really, really soft and white, but what you can't see in this shot of the butt ends of the fibers is the outside of his fleece, which is a MESS.  Mud, spit, and who knows what else, got all over him, and it's going to be a job to get it clean.

And then our little Suri superstar, Micah.  Again Amy drooled over his fleece, which we have noticed has a lovely light silver cast to it.  We're considering whether Micah may have a new career path ahead of him, besides growing the softest, densest fleece we've had here to date.  (That may change once we get Joseph sheared.)  More news if it develops.

It was a really great day, and I learned more cool things about alpacas, shearing, fiber, and our own boys.  And the news is all good.  We have some really nice fiber on our farm.  Hallelujah!

And now I have an ice pack on my back and I've taken some Ibuprophen, so I'll be able to do all this again tomorrow, when I trailer the Boys of Color (black, fawn and gray) back up to Greenville for another day of shearing fun.

To wrap up, here's a video about how Amy "harvests" fleeces she may use later in competition.  "Show fleeces" get special attention, and must be handled differently from your regular, run of the mill amazing fleece.  The process is called "noodling," though no noodles are used.  Crazy.  Enjoy:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Today in Pictures

We had some dramatic weather yesterday, which almost always leads to some dramatic sunsets.  Like the one tonight...

Our very rare two-headed lamb was spotted in the north paddock this evening as I made my rounds.

All the sheep, including Crazy Phoebe, insisted on confronting the shepherd head-on tonight.  And she looks kind of put out about something.  There's no telling what goes on in that little sheepy brain.

It's been a while since our big ol' hoot owl hung out where I could see him.  I had to push the limits of my camera's lens, because he's a little shy and won't let me get close at all.

In fact, I barely got the camera to focus on the giant bird before he was going...



Earlier today we were paid a visit by another very large bird - a blue heron - who came to fish in our swollen creek.

Swollen and rushing past.  Though it overflowed its bounds, it never got up to the point that I was concerned.  The chorus frogs came out to sing, and added to the warm spring sound of the moving water.

I tried to catch this male Cardinal who was sitting on a branch outside my office window.
Arg.  Timing is everything.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Fairy Tale Weekend

Once upon a time, a beautiful princess and her handsome prince planned for like two years for their wedding...  Seriously, they worked really hard and saved every penny.

They thought and thought, and decided on many things that were important to them.  And their starlit wedding reflected all those things that made them very special.

And so Friday night, an honored group of us got to attend this beautiful wedding in a chapel among the trees.  Rita and Lawrence finally became man and wife.

And they were very happy.  

I had to show you her hand-knit veil made of some lovely silky yummy yarn.  Isn't it exquisite?  She made it herself.  We have been delighted to watch this fairy tale unfold over many years, as their relationship grew and matured.  Most good fairy tales take a long, long time to get to the happily ever after part.  Happy sigh...

But the weekend was young, and GrandmaTutu and I had to jump into the Extended Cab Chariot of Fun and head to Tyler, for the Wildflower Fiber retreat that very night.  We got to Tyler very late and checked into the Palace of Holiday Inn Express.  This is a huge departure from every other time I've been to this retreat, as I usually rough it in a cabin on a bunk bed.  But I decided to embrace my elder status and cushion the accommodations a bit.

For me, the most magical thing about this year's retreat was that I had very little responsibility, and I tried very hard to do some relaxing with my fiber peeps.  So in my sans souci state of mind, I did a crummy job of documenting all the wonder and awe of the whole thing.  I rested, and only got a few photos of our fun...

Tri-loom weaving was a big hit this time - here Lisa shows us how it's done.  Love those little looms.  We have a tri-loom class coming up here at the farm in a few weeks--would you like to learn how?

Dori needle-felted little sheep on the table decorations this year, highlighting the special breeds we would be learning more about: Shetlands and Jacobs.

Joyce Terrell spoke about her love of Shetland sheep, and told about how to best use their wool.  I got the opportunity to share about Jacobs, and we all got to play with some freshly washed fiber from the two breeds.  Midge talked about silk and we got some very nice samples of that fiber to play with, as well.

The atmosphere was very casual and laid back this year.  We enjoyed the usual great food, show and tell time, and a riotous evening of door prize giveaways, but the schedule was loose and flexible and allowed for lots of restful time in the vendor hall, or wandering outside among the pine trees in the fresh air.

The theme revolved around fairy tales and Renaissance-style spinning, so some folks worked on spinning linen yarn with custom-made distaffs, dressed with flax stricks.  (Don't you love the crazy spinning lingo?)  The finished yarns looked so beautiful...

Go Christine!  You can tell she's done this before.

We drove out of the pine forest, waving goodbye for another year, but the farewells are only temporary.  Heck, these are some of my favorite folks and I'm blessed to hang out with them lots!  The DFW Fiber Fest is just two weeks away, so there's lots more fiber fun in the offing, very soon.

Before you know it, we'll add our alpaca fiber to the harvest haul...  What amazing adventure will we have next?