Category Archives: Fiber Artistry and Equipment

Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em – 2/7/2019

I am a spinner, both drop spindle and on one of my 4 wheels that range from ancient to less than a year old.  I started spinning about a decade ago only on drop spindles and using easy to spin, clean, dyed wool and silk.  My knowledge of wool was that it came from sheep, little did I know how many different breeds of sheep there were and how different the properties of their wool varied.  Along the way, I did get introduced to Alpaca and helped with a couple of shearings, being rewarded with some of the fiber to spin.  Alpaca lacks the lanolin of sheep wool and is easier to clean and can be spun directly from the dirty locks and then washed as yarn.  But I prefer wool and have had my preference for the breeds that I spun.

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A couple of years ago, there was a new vendor at the weekly Farmer’s Market and she had yarn and roving as part of her goods.  The wool was a breed I had not spun, in fact, had never heard of and I made a new friend and learned about the breed that was on the Livestock Conservation list, Leicester Longwool.  I enjoyed spinning the wool I bought from her sheep being raised locally.  I have been to their farm, visited with their critters last spring when there were lambs bouncing around and one little beauty being bottle fed as she had been rejected by her mom.

This friend asked me this past late summer if I had any interest in participating in a project that the Livestock Conservancy was putting together that would allow using fiber from threatened sheep breeds.  This was perfect timing as there was so much contention with the anti wool ads that were being publicized. I said yes and she said she would share the information when it was getting going.  She did, the idea that you purchase a minimum of 4 ounces of wool or yarn, spin, knit, crochet, needle felt, or otherwise produce something with the wool.  When the wool is purchased, you get a sticker, and that sticker goes into a passport book that you get for registering as a fiber artist with the program.  The program is scheduled for three years and to earn a prize, you have to use at least 5 of the 22 Conservation Priority breeds.  I fell in hard and immediately ordered several wools I had never spun and finished the first 3 before I could even officially register to get my passport.

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The first three I spun were Jacob, Navajo Churro, and Shetland.  Shetland is the only one I had previously handled.  I enjoyed all three of these, really falling in love with Jacob.  As I started the fourth, Karakul, they opened the registration and I quickly sent my $15 to get the passport, a lapel pin, and more information which I am anxiously awaiting the arrival.

Last night I finished the Karakul, an ancient Asian breed that as lambs have a decent fleece, it is a primitive breed with a double coat and as they age, the coat often gets fairly coarse.  It is the wool of Persian rugs.  The Karakul 4 ounces was interesting to spin, feeling much like spinning flax or a horse’s tail, but the whole purpose of this is to experience the different breeds and to support them as they are all in need of conservation.

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Many of the fiber providers offer a breed card with information on the breed and how to spin it and some have offered small samples from a sheep of the same breed, but a different color than the one ordered.  I am using the card to hold a bit of unspun fiber, a bit of spun yarn, and either using the sample to make a mini skein or just winding off a few yards of the spun yarn to make a mini skein that I will be able to use when I do demonstrations or teach camps to show the different textures and natural colors of these Conservation Priority breeds.

My fifth breed, Romeldale CVM is currently being spun.  In my basket are Tunis, Clun Forest, Leicester Longwood (from my friend), Gulf Coast Native (which is raw and has to be washed and carded but also from a local farm), and on order is Lincoln.

My goal is to try to obtain and spin all 22 breeds within the three years.  The ones that aren’t so coarse that they must be felted or made into rugs, will be knitted into a blanket, probably a log cabin blanket for our log home.

Supporting this endeavor, the shepherds that raise these sheep, and helping to dispel the horrible inaccurate ads that shearing is wrong is such a delight.  Thank you shepherds for keeping my wheels and hands busy and helping the public see that fleece comes from a sheep, not a roll of plastic cloth.

The Hoops – 2/6/2019

When I started crafting for selling at venues, I realized that I needed to have a business name, registered for a small fee, that I had to decide whether to be sole proprietor or an LLC, and jump through the State’s hoops to get an EIN and pay state taxes. Toward the end of last year, I received a notification from our county asking me for an inventory and a list of my equipment used which they used to bill me Personal Property taxes.

As I also like to vend at a couple of out of state fiber retreats, I have to register my business with those states and pay their state sales taxes as well, thus another set of applications and more hoops.

I don’t understand why organizers of craft shows, festivals, and retreats don’t let the applicants/potential vendors know that this is a state requirement and that there really is no exception, that fines of $100/day up to $1000 are real possibilities for not doing so.  I think that many vendors operate under the misconception that if they are doing it as a hobby and selling things they make or if they make under a certain amount each year that they aren’t a business.  It would be nice if the states recognized Cottage Industries and exempted them from the red tape, but it isn’t so.

Once the hoops have been cleared, it isn’t such a big deal.

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Fiber Fun – Jan. 17, 2019

The past few days have been stay in and play with fluff days.  With one of the fiber retreats coming up in late February, I decided to dye some of the Merino that I acquired last summer after jointly sending two fleeces off  for processing.  Using my soap pots and food safe dye, I dyed three 4 oz braids.  Today they were dry and labelled.

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With them is a 205 yard skein of  Merino/Alpaca yarn that I spun that will go with 2 other 200+ yard skeins.  There are 3 more braids of Merino and one of Cormo to dye.  All of these will be for sale at the retreat.

Yesterday, two of my wheels, a bag and basket of fiber, tools, and drop spindles made by me were hauled over to Wilderness Road Regional Museum.  The museum is closed in the winter except for appointments, but three of the volunteers had been asking for spinning lessons and I went to provide some instruction.  They were each given a length of roving and a drop spindle and started on some basic drafting and spinning techniques after some wool sampling. They were then given the opportunity to work with one of the wheels, the walking wheel that I repaired there and my wheels.

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It was a fun time, spreading the knowledge.  After the lesson, another of the great wheels in the museum was repaired by me, so now two of the wheels there are functional.  A spindle has been ordered by me to repair the third walking wheel displayed there.  Having three functional great wheels there will mean I don’t have to haul mine over there for events.

Today, the ice from last weekend’s storm had mostly melted away, except for sheltered and shaded areas, like right in front of our garage, so we left to run errands and get groceries.  While we were out it started to snow again and the predicted trace was rapidly accumulating.

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We got home to this around 2:30 p.m. and by dark there were several inches on the ground and wintery mix to top it overnight.  We may awake tomorrow to a repeat of the weekend.  Sunday is supposed to start in the low 40’s and fall all day to 7ºf with a very cold Monday.

Recently, I signed up for a three year program called Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em, a project to promote threatened, endangered breeds of sheep.  Shepherds that raise those breeds join and sell fleece, processed fiber, or yarn and fiber artists spin, knit, crochet, felt, weave at least 4 ounces of as many of the breeds as they can obtain. I ordered 4 ounces of Jacob roving, a threatened breed from Hobbyknob Farm.  It arrived today and I spun the 1 ounce tri color part of it this evening.

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There is a 3 ounce bump of gray roving to spin.  The Tri color spun to 64 yards of delightful fingering weight yarn.  Once the gray is spun, both will be knit into Fingerless mitts and a hat.

Today, I ordered 4 ounces of Romeldale CVM, another threatened breed from Marushka Farm.  It is fun to explore spinning and knitting some breeds that I have not previously used and supporting the continuation of these breeds.

Tomorrow, if the weather conditions and roads permit, we will drive back to Wytheville and I will put leathers and a drive band on the Great Wheel at the Edith Bolling Wilson Museum and try to get it functional.

Week on the Farm – 1/13/2019

With winter, not much goes on outdoors here on the farm.  The pullets have a usual routine of venturing out into the pen each day and back at night, they still won’t come when I shake the treat cup, so they can’t free range yet.  They have to be able to follow me back to the pen when the dogs are out.   There have been five days in the past couple of weeks where they remained cooped due to the very cold temperatures and for the past three days due to the winter storm and its coating of ice that has us encased.  We were in a winter storm watch awaiting several inches of snow.  It began as snow Saturday, getting a few inches then turned to a messy wintry mix overnight that melted most of the snow and left us with about a half inch of ice.

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With the cold hanging on, the ice is still here.  An attempt to check on the chicks on Sunday was a hazardous walk.  Monday, I chipped the ice off the car and carefully made my way to the cleared paved roads to get to daughter’s house so she could go to work and I stayed with the “snow vacationing” kids.  I left at dawn and returned near dark, so the chicks were left alone in the coop.  This morning it was time to go deal with them, though it was a very cold mid 20’s.  First order of business was to break up some of the spoiled hay bale outside their fence and get enough of it on the ice for them to venture out.  Ice chipped off their ramp so they didn’t slide out into the cold.

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They are busy exploring what seed or bugs they can find in the rotting hay while I tackled the inside of the coop to undo several days of confinement.  Their food was low, the water dispenser nearly empty, and the straw a fouled matted mess.  It is too cold to do a complete coop clean, but the old straw was forked out, new straw piled in, feed filled, and the water dispenser brought to the utility sink for a scrub down and refilling with warm water.  If it gets above freezing, I will go out and fill the black tub seen in the above photo with warm water also.  They went straight to it when I let them out, but I had dumped the ice disc out of it and not refilled it.

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They have clean dry quarters and a few warmer days ahead.

We did drive to the Edith Bolling Wilson Museum in Wytheville on Friday to see the exhibit and the living quarters that they plan on restoring, and to look at a great wheel that I am trying to restore as she kept sheep on the White House Lawn during the war and the museum promotes sheep and wool in the display.

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It is an intact, including spindle, old wheel that doesn’t line up quite right.  I have reached out to restoration experts and to an Antique wheel group to try to resolve that situation.  Later this week, I will return to put leathers and a drive band on it and see if I can make it spin wool.  Prior to that though, I am going to Wilderness Road Regional Museum to give spinning lessons to a couple of adults who are interested.

Today though, I am working on kettle dying some Merino top using Wilton Icing Color, a food safe dye that with a vinegar bath will dye animal fiber.  If I am successful with this batch, I will try more.  If not, daughter will get several little pots of the concentrated color for her cake decorating.

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This batch is cooling and I think the colors are softer than I wanted, so maybe more dye needs to be used in the next pot once this one has cooled.

The featured photo today is the ridge to the south, ice encrusted trees, the clouds lifting, and the sun trying to peek through.  That was short living, it is again thick and gray, but nothing wet or frozen expected for a couple more days.  Sunshine would be welcomed.

The Crazy Cat Lady – 12/14/18

But not cats, spinning equipment.  A while back, I posted that I finally had all the spinning equipment that I needed and it was all comfortable to me.  Well, an opportunity presented itself this past summer to purchase an antique sitting quill spinning wheel from Pennsylvania.  It couldn’t be shipped, but a friend was an acquaintance of the seller and was going to be in her area a few weeks after and she said she would pick it up and take it to her home until we could connect.  We live about 3-4 hours apart.  She and her husband were going to be setting up at the Shenandoah Fiber Festival in September and though that is also 3+ hours from home, we can visit our eldest son and his family in that region, a plan was hatched.

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This beautiful little wheel joined the huge walking wheel in our loft.  She has been taken to a couple of living history events as she travels in the back of my car nicely.  But this meant that the Ashford Traveller that I had been taking wouldn’t go anymore, and though a pretty little wheel, wasn’t what I wanted for everyday spinning, her bobbins were too small and I didn’t want to spend more money to get the larger flyer, so she was offered for sale and sold quickly.  The Ashford came apart enough to box it in a medium moving box and it could be shipped.  That left me with no everyday wheel and I wanted something with huge bobbins and yet small enough to travel, so Miss Polly came home with me, a Spinolution Pollywog, a tiny little 8 pounder.

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So now, I had the 49″ diameter great wheel, the sitting quill wheel, Miss Poly, and a gorgeous Golding drop spindle.  Then I found another Golding spindle that called to me and I purchased it.

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The Celtic sheep spindle is a joy and spindles are so portable to take spinning anywhere, anytime.

Yesterday was our spinning group’s annual Christmas Party with Dirty Santa exchange, potluck snacks, and camaraderie.  It is always a fun afternoon with the opportunity to give away fibery items you no longer want, sell those that you don’t want but don’t want to give away, and of course the Dirty Santa fun.  One of our group members has turned her interest to quilting in the past few years and has dropped out of coming to the weekly gatherings and the parties and she decided that since she was no longer using her wheel, that it should find a new home.  The hostess picked it up from her home and brought it to her own home.  The original owner did not want to sell it, she just wanted it to go to a new loving home.  The wheel is a 40 year old Jensen, hand made wheel and it is beautiful.  That wheel came home with me yesterday.

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She is larger than my sitting quill, but smaller than the great wheel, a large sturdy Saxony style wheel of Cherry wood and she glows.  With the leather fittings and old style hooks, she also can go to living history events with or instead of the sitting quill wheel.  The loft now houses 4 wheels, I’m running out of space, but not out of love for the art and the beautiful equipment.

Perhaps an intervention is in order.  At least an organization so that I can use them and get to the fiber to spin on them.

Experiments, successes, failures – November 13, 2018

The first craft event is creeping up quickly.  The preparation is plugging along.  Last night, the hand spun, hand knit Assymetrical Scarf was finished.  I played chicken trying to use every inch of the hand spun Merino and Bamboo and failed, resulting in having to tink back 3/4 of the width of bind off stitches and an entire purled row in order to have enough yarn to bind off successfully.  There certainly wasn’t much waste, only about 18″ of the skein remained.  It is currently spread out on a beach towel on a guest bed drying from being blocked.

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It will add one more scarf to the inventory for the upcoming events.  The other one I am working on is a 5″ wide rectangle and have decided once it is 20″ long, bind off, stitch up the ends and pick up stitches along the edge, knitting upward to make a hat.  I don’t really like it as a scarf and it is hand spun superwash merino, so it will make a good reversible hat to add to the inventory.

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Other experiments have been in the soaping.  The use of cosmetic clays has been part of the chemistry as natural colorants of the soap and as the clays have very beneficial properties, but the clays have always been blended in thoroughly, giving the soap an even color.  A few days ago, I decided to play around and divided the batch in half, mixing the clay with half and dark cocoa with the other half.  Cocoa is a good antioxidant and a natural colorant.  The clay layer was poured into the mold, the cocoa layer on top and lightly swirled with a plastic spatula.  I am very pleased with the resulting product that is curing for the December events. The green tea with European clay is a success and a nice green color.  It was fairly highly super-fatted so it is soft and will require a long cure.

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The favored Goat milk, oatmeal, and honey soap did not fare so well, there is a very soft tunnel through the top quarter that even if it firms up will leave a miscolored, misshapen bar.  That one fails about a third of the time.  The resulting product are bars that get used here at home.  It is most successful if I let the sodium hydroxide solution and the oil mixture cool to room temperature before mixing and by adding the goat milk, honey, and oatmeal before adding the solution.  It takes forever to get to trace, a thick pudding like consistency, necessary before pouring it into the molds.  So that one was a failure.

The 4th batch is saponifying now.  It is a Himalayan Pink Salt and Moroccan Red Clay scented with Lavender.  It will be interesting tomorrow to see how red it turns.  The poured color is never true.

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Kitchen Chemistry – Nov. 11, 2018

The day dawned very, very cold for this time of year.  According to our local weather blogger, the last time it was this cold this early was 1995 and a couple of weeks later they had a record snowfall.  I hope we aren’t headed for a repeat of that.

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More work has been put into the Asymmetrical Scarf of hand spun Merino and bamboo, the ball of yarn is getting thinner and the scarf is getting longer.  Hopefully it will be done by Saturday for the first craft show.

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I love the colors and realized that it blends with the project bag that is containing it.

The afternoon was spent with more kitchen chemistry.  The lotion bars that were molded yesterday weren’t firm enough and there was no more beeswax in the house.  A quick trip out to resupply it and get two essential oils.  Since the metal measure that was the top of the double boiler had another batch to be poured, beeswax was added to it and remelted, the soft bars that I froze overnight so they could be removed from the silicon molds were dumped on a labelled sheet so I wouldn’t mix the scents, the molds washed and refilled with a Man bar scent and some unscented ones and while they were setting up, one of the scents from yesterday was remelted and more wax added.  This process was repeated until all had been remade with a more solid mixture.

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While they were setting up, one of yesterday’s soap molds was sliced into bars to cure.  The other mold wasn’t quite ready yet.  A third batch was measured out and made, Moroccan Red Clay and Cocoa soap.  I am anxious to see how this one unmolds as it was divided in half.  One half getting the red clay, the other half getting the dark cocoa, they were then poured in two layers and swirled.  This was a new technique for me.

Once the soap was wrapped in a towel to set up overnight, the lotion bars were tinned up, labelled, and sealed with shrink bands.

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The big crate has 8 sections and seven of them have different scents of lotion bars leaving a jumble of salves in the front and a need for a way to display them.  There was a smaller deeper box that looked promising if altered.  The top part was sawed off and the slats broken apart, the two long ones cut to the length of the two shorter ones and the parts painted with the Melted Chocolate color paint that has been used on the other crates and frames.

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It is about half the size and once all the parts are dry, the slats will be glued in to provide spacers for the smaller tins of salves.  A bit of table arranging will be necessary to make it all fit, but it will work.

The kitchen chemistry for the day ended with the magic of making pizza dough and a homemade pizza with the fresh mozzarella purchased at the Farmers Market yesterday.  A jar of the pizza sauce I canned, a Farmers Market red onion and Italian Sausage, some mushrooms, and pepperoni from the grocer and again we enjoyed great pizza.  The chickens will enjoy the crust bits and the whey from the cheese tomorrow.

Back to knitting while the paint dried.

Craft season – Nov. 10, 2018

Craft season is upon us.  Today we wandered about the big show that may be in my future next year to see who had what, prices, and may have bought gifts for upcoming birthdays and Christmas.  One of my products is soap and there were at least three vendors with soap.  One had felted soap for $12/bar, one had beautifully packaged bars that you couldn’t see or smell for $4.50 each.  Another had melt and pour bars in gaudy colors and scents for $6 each.  Knitwear was scarce.  If my friend and I share a booth, we would have enough inventory of items to make a go of it, I think.

This upcoming weekend is my first show of the season, followed by the first three Saturdays in December at the Holiday Markets held by the Blacksburg Farmers’ Market.  Those are always fun, often cold and windy, but among friends.  Thermos of hot coffee or tea or soup and Hot Hands packets to go in gloves are in order.  I hope my shop apron fits over my parka.

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With it’s big pockets, it is good for cash, a pen, and the Square reader on my phone.

Once the notification came in today that those were a go, more soap needed to be made.

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Two batches were made this afternoon, the Goatmilk, Oatmeal, Honey soap which is my favorite, but has about a 33% fail rate, and a Green Tea European Clay batch.  Those need to sit wrapped in a towel tonight and labels need to be made so I don’t forget what went into them.  Tomorrow I will make a Moroccan Red Clay and Cocoa batch, and a Lavender batch.  Once the soaps are curing more lotion bars need to be molded and labelled.  The weather will be cool enough that I won’t have the melt problem I had last spring.

In order to have my sales come out even dollar amounts after collecting state sales tax, I have played with numbers to figure out how much to charge.

I have another half pound of alpaca/merino to spin and a two scarves to finish knitting.  Guess I had better get busy.

New – Nov. 8. 2018

Of late, getting to sleep or staying asleep have been challenging.  Not wanting to take drugs that have side effects including poor sleep, other options have been sought.

For starters, caffeine is out of the question after noon.  One cup of coffee in the morning, and a switch to tea, preferably herbal or decaf versions.  Putting down the screen at least an hour before bedtime and returning to real bound books, not an e-reader are other changes.  Knitting, spinning, or reading are okay.

Several of my friends have begun doing Zentangles, a mindful, relaxing, calm slowly drawing of patterns on a 3 1/2″ square paper tile.  Later other shapes can be used and color can be added.  Thinking that might help clear my mind of the daily detritus that accumulates and keeps me awake, a bit on online research was done and a simple book of instruction and patterns purchased.  Using a soft pencil and a thin microtip pen, I have been playing with this for several days.  Fearing that the shoulders would tense and my “it must be perfect” mindset would set in, I was surprised at how calm and relaxing it is.

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Click on the image to enlarge.

The top left is the first one, totally copied from the instruction book to learn some of the shapes,  the top middle is an altered pattern from the book.  The top right has no redeeming qualities as far as I am concerned and I have looked at it for a couple of days trying to see what to do to make me like it.  The bottom is left is a copied pattern to learn a circle and the bottom right is my first one that I did only referring back to a couple of shapes.

Some people keep all they do in a journal, I envision them as very personal note card fronts or individual bookmarkers.  We will see if it sticks, but now I feel like I understand more why one daughter-in-law always has a sketchbook with her and an assortment of pencils and pens.

The featured photo is of this morning’s visitors and a reminder that those doors needed a good cleaning, now done.  The chickens finally figured out their no waste feeder and it is indeed no waste, but the slackers haven’t laid an egg in a week, not a single egg.

Adjustments – Nov. 6, 2018

Every time my shop has been set up at a craft event, my space has been 10 X 10 feet, my pop-up tent is 10 X 10 feet when I am outdoors.  My application for the first event for me this fall asked for a 10 X 10 foot space against a wall and paid the premium application fee to get it.  Night before last a call came in and I was informed that there were no spaces of that size available.  My options were an 8 X 8 foot space in the middle of the room or a 4 X 12 foot space in the hall.  Not wanting a long skinny spot, nor being in the hall, I opted for the 8 X 8 foot center space and requested that the cost difference be reimbursed to me.

This produced a dilemma for me.  My stall is set up with a mannequin that is free standing, 2 tables that are 2′ X 4′ each, and the wooden ladder rack that I made that is two panels each 31″ wide hinged with a piano hinge so it doesn’t open fully.  And a space for me to sit on a small stool to spin or knit.  This needed to be arranged so that the stall is open and inviting, and not knowing who or how the adjacent stalls will be set up.

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Yesterday afternoon, an 8 X 8 foot space was laid  out on the kitchen floor and the tables, mannequin, rack, and my stool arranged until it looked appealing.  This produced another issue of where to hang the shop sign so that it is visible and not obstructive.  It hangs from the tent when outdoors.  Since the products are displayed in wooden crates much like old fashioned wooden soda crates, which have some weight to them, the sign will hang from the side of one down the facing end of one table.

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The other hanging sign is one that leads with “Why Buy Handmade?”  It will hang from the end post of part of the ladder rack.   The space is a bit tighter than that to which I am accustomed, but I think  it will work.  Hopefully, it will be a good event and worth the time put in.

Tomorrow is an opportunity to don my Colonial garb, grab a spinning wheel and help teach and demo to a group of home schooled youth visiting Wilderness Road Regional Museum for a history day.

I voted, did you?