Category Archives: Fiber Artistry and Equipment

Yarn setting day – Oct. 27, 2017

After yarn is spun and plyed, it has to have the twist set.  With the Spinzilla competition, the yarn is measured before the twist is set and it was labelled with fiber type, yarn weight, and yardage and piled in a huge canvas bag.  Since Spinzilla, a couple more skeins have joined the bag.  Some of the yarn is designated for my use, some will be re-labelled and put in my shop for sale and taken to the two Holiday Market events at the Blacksburg Farmers’ Market along with the hats, mitts, soap, balms, and salves.

The canvas bag is generally the bag I use to take the 6 or more dozen eggs that I sell to friends each Friday morning but it has been unavailable for a few weeks.  This morning, with Jim off to an appointment, the grands put on the school bus, daughter and SIL at work, it was time to set the twist on all of the skeins.  To do this, the skeined yarn is submerged in a container of warm water.  Because I have handled the fiber and it has sat around, the wash pan contained a bit of wool wash too.  Some of the dyed yarns bleed a little color, some of the natural yarns aren’t as clean as you would think, sometimes turning the clear wash water the color of tea.

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Each pan with a couple of smaller skeins, sits until the submerged yarn is totally saturated, then it is gently squeezed out, placed on a clean towel and rolled to absorb more of the water.  Once done, each skein is given a gentle shake and hung to dry.

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Twenty three skeins of yarn of varying length hanging to dry.  It is a nice sunny day and normally I would put the drying rack on the back deck to dry, but with the deck in partial deconstruct and the deck boards hazardous to walk on, it is sitting on the hearth.  It will take a bit longer, but it will dry.  The barn kitty inhabits the front porch so I don’t want to try to dry it there.

When I started crocheting in my teens, and knitting when eldest grandson was eminent, I didn’t know much about fiber.  I bought what felt good to me and was a color I liked.  I shudder to think about some of the stuff I made afghans from.  With the pending grandson, I searched for organic wool and cotton, undyed for his soakers, tees, and sweaters.  The internet was available and so I wasn’t limited to the local big box stores.  There were fewer yarn stores then and I hadn’t fallen into the rabbit hole of fiber artistry, animal raising friends, fiber festivals, etc.

When I took the drop spindle class many years ago, the instructor brought many different types of wool for us to feel and use.  Who knew that there were so many choices each with their own characteristics?  Unfortunately, that rabbit hole has made me a fiber snob.  I have now experienced many different animal fibers and know what I like and what I don’t.  The twenty three skeins drying represent Coopworth, Alpaca, Merino, Silk, California Red, Hebridean, Targhee, and Cormo.  Some are softer than others.  Some with more crimp making them stretchier.  Some are dyed, some natural from snowy white to dark almost black brown.  I have spun Romney, Pohlworth, Shetland, Mohair, Dorset, flax, camel, and more.  I have spun clean prepared tops and roving and spun raw unwashed Alpaca.  I have even worked with washing, carding, and spinning raw wool.  My spinning started with irregular thick and thin yarn, now it is consistent and fingering to dk weight, fairly fine.  I need to practice making thicker yarn again, some projects just need a thicker yarn.

Back to the deck.  Eldest son after we took the railing down and stepped through more boards, suggested I block off the door.  It already had a small post it note that said not to use the deck due to its hazardous nature, so I used paper painters tape to tape across the half that opens.  That didn’t really slow anyone down from going out there.  Yesterday, the post it note and the tape came down.  Sturdy cotton string was tied from hinge to hinge and a “Stop” sign that says “Whoa” on it was hung.

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Soon we will redeck the portion outside of the doors, finish deconstructing the large rotting part and build new steps to the ground.  Maybe next summer, I will start on making a patio at the bottom of the steps for my kitchen herb garden and for some flowers.

Brrrr – 10/25/2017

We have had three light frost nights, ice on the car windows when taking the grands to their bus, but so far, the remaining garden is hanging in.  That may end tonight.  We had an overcast day that never got above 45ºf and tonight it is supposed to get to freezing.  I may be picking small jalapenos in the morning and  quickly chopping the for the freezer.

Each night there are two or three young hens that have escaped from their late afternoon confinement in the run and gotten in the garden.  As night falls, they have to be wrangled out of the garden and carried to the coop.  Most are “squatters” that go into a submissive squat and are easy to pick up and relocate.  One Welsummer is a runner and though she is distraught that she can’t get to the coop (she can get out of the pen but not back in), she runs.  Once caught, she is calm as she is carried to the coop.  Tonight I was later being able to get to them and it was full on dark.  The runner and the  Buffy escapee were perched on the fence in the dark.  The other side of that same fence is their run and the open pop door.  Stupid birds.

I was late because tonight was another opportunity to volunteer for Smithfield House, but not at Smithfield House.  The Director and I dressed in costume and worked an Outreach event on the university campus.  It was an outdoor event and chilly.  We did get a bit of interest in volunteerism and internships, were fed huge bratwursts and fresh pressed apple cider.  I am still trying to thaw out.  I spun, she recruited.

Friday night, Jim and I will participate in another Smithfield event, the Spirit Hayride, but as participants, not volunteers.

The Spinzilla results were released and our team was about halfway down the list of winners.  For our team, I spun the most and our sponsor, Strauch  Fiber Equipment Co. generously offered an incentive prize of one of their awesome ball winders.

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I have wanted to purchase one for quite a while was was excited to be the winner.

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To test it out, I spun a bobbin of Hearts of the Meadow Farm’s Coopworth and wound it into a center pull ball and plyed it back onto the bobbin.  The ball winder is so smooth and quiet. Thank you Strauch Fiber Equipment Co.

Olio, October 12, 2017

Olio: a miscellaneous collection of things

It has been a while since an Olio was posted, actually been a while since much of anything has been posted.

Spinzilla, the TNNA (The National Needle Arts Assoc.) team spinning competition ended Sunday night.  Our team had 25 spinners from across the US, sponsored by The Knotty Ladies and Strauch Fiber Equipment Company.  Most of our team has reported their yardage with a photo, it was due to our team leader yesterday, but mine was turned in before the official end of the competition by about 3 hours.  I was worn out, beat up, and generally over it by then and had finished plying a bobbin full of wool, so I quit.  During the course of the competition as my spinning wheel only has 4 bobbins and 1 of them has some pre Spinzilla alpaca on it that didn’t get finished prior to the start time, I plyed off every bobbin or two bobbins together, wound them off the plying bobbin, measured the yardage, and banded them with fiber, yardage, and weight and put the info in a spreadsheet to make the total tally easier to do.  In the end, spinning every spare minute I could on my wheel and everywhere we went on one of my drop spindles, I spun 5000.57 yards of wool, 2.84 miles in 7 days.

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Though we have often had our first frost by now, we are still experiencing daytime tempertures as high as 90, but the light drought we have been experiencing has finally broken and we have had some rain in the past week, greening up the browned grasses.  The trees are turning orange, red, and gold, some having already shed their leaves.

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The pullets seem to all be laying now, often getting up to 13 eggs from the 16 on a good day.  Only one of the old girls is still laying, though the molt seems to be winding down, it no longer looks like a chicken exploded in their coop and run.

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Normally in the autumn, we spend about 23 hours taking turns mowing our 30 acres with a 5 foot brush hog and our little tractor, but this year, we turned the task over to our retired postman and his helper and let them mow and bale the 3 big fields.  That leaves only from the house to the road to mow and that often gets done monthly anyway.  That was a big relief to not have to face that many hours on the tractor.

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He got 20 large round bales, not too bad for a second cutting of hay after weeks of really dry weather.  His cattle will appreciate it this winter if we get any bad weather.

Each day hubby and I try to get in a good brisk walk.  Even with the rain we have managed most days.  Between our house and Blacksburg, there is a large pond in the  National Forest and it has a nice path around it.  If we park in the upper parking lot, walk down to the pond and around it and then turn around and back track, we get about 2.3 miles.  From the library in Blacksburg to the rec center in Christiansburg is an asphalt trail on an old rail grade, mostly through wooded areas, behind residential areas, and some open fields and it has several access points.  There are two that we choose, from the library to Airport Road and back which is about the same 2.3 miles and from behind the hospital toward Christiansburg, a 2.5 section.  Our 4th walk choice is to go to Radford when we are over in that direction and walk 2.7 miles of Bisset Park on an asphalt trail along the New River.  As we are still seeing various specialists nearly weekly trying to determine what is going on with hubby, we have avoided steep climbs or walks that take us out of civilization where getting help if needed would be difficult.  There is another trail along the New River that we want to check out, but it is one that will probably involve taking along a picnic and making a day trip of it as it is a bit of a drive.

My crafting since the end of Spinzilla has been minimal, but I did get my studio corner cleaned up and mostly organized and used some of my hand spun, hand dyed yarn to repair my favorite pair of jeans.

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And I have read.  The Orphan’s Tale is an excellent historical fiction set during WWII set in Germany and France and set around the circus.  A really interesting read, highly recommended.

Chaos Corner – 10/4/2017

Normally, I am a neat person.  Disorganization, dust and dirt make me very anxious, but recent events have gotten in the way of my usual routine, and the chaos is making me nuts.

First we went away for the weekend and on that trip, attended a fiber festival.  Basically, I behaved myself, but knowing that the week long spinning competition was looming, I did buy a big bag of beautifully dyed Coopworth from my friend at Hearts of the Meadow Farm who was a vendor.  I also came home with a new Spanish Peacock drop spindle (not that I needed it), and a huge skein of fingering weight hand painted superwash yarn which was designated to the very short deadline knitting of a sweater for our youngest grand daughter.  Knowing that festival season is upon me, I spent the drive north, knitting on fingerless mitts for the shows and my shop.  Recently, two mitts patterns were designed by me and another free pattern was downloaded, a simple plain one.  Knowing that the festival purchases were made on Saturday and granddaughter’s birthday was Friday, there wasn’t enough time to wait until I got home to wind the yarn, so Saturday afternoon was spent hand winding all 555 yards into a center pull ball and then casting on the sweater.  Four rows into the pattern, I found an error and had to rip it out and recalculate the pattern instructions to make the stitch count work, then start over.  Half of the drive home, I knit, the other half, I drove.  Knitted frantically Sunday evening, every spare moment Monday and Tuesday until my arthritis was screaming at me, and steam blocked, sewed on buttons, wove in the loose ends on Wednesday morning and popped it in the mail.

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All of this resulted in no clean up and organization time.  Knowing that the first festival was coming up on Sunday, meant making more salves and balms, labelling, packing and getting ready for that event.  Most of my yarn had summered in a shop on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Meadows of Dan, Greenberry House, so a trip over there was necessary on Saturday to pick it up.  Saturday night, yarn was inventoried, prices updated, pictures taken and loaded into shop so it was on Square for the festival.  Sunday was spent in costume at Smithfield House at the Harvest Festival both vending and demonstrating the art of spinning.

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Sunday night, the car unloaded, the product in its various containers brought back to my “studio,” a corner of our loft and dumped.

Monday morning at 12:01, the spinning challenge began.  This is Spinzilla, I did it last year as well, and though our team of 25 does it mostly for fun, we are competing and I don’t want to be a slacker, so most of my “spare” moments this week will be spent spinning on one of my wheels, or one of the drop spindles.  I have several skeins of yarn completed so far, measured and labelled for the final count when it ends Sunday night at midnight.  All of this has resulted in no time to blog and no time to clean up and organize my corner.

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Monday’s priority will be to reorganize  this chaos and clean.  Fortunately, only Jim and I spend any time in the loft, it is our private space in the house.

End of week 9-16-2017

This has been a crafty week ending with a good session on the tractor to beat the too tall grass back to a reasonable length.  The unused chicken run is going to require the weed wacker and this body is just not up to that this afternoon.  Our house sits on a slope that has the main floor at ground level on the front and on the second level on the back.  To mow with the tractor first requires that the gas powered lawn mower (not self propelled) be hauled out and a couple of swipes around the house along with a couple of areas that the tractor can’t reach, must be done.  The typical mowing is 4 or 5 acres, around the orchard trees, the garden and chicken runs, and the front, back, and side yards.  The area that is hayed and we usually brush hog in the fall is going to be hayed this fall, taking this task from me this year.

The crafting has involved designing two new patterns for fingerless mitts for the shop. The patterns have been shared with a few friends, I am hopeful that if they knit them, that they will alert me to any miscues that might surface.  Also this week,  3 batches of Shea based cold process soap, and a couple dozen tins of salves and balms were made for the shop and the upcoming shows.

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The lower ones are for me, though I will knit a pair or two for the Holiday Markets as well.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked if I could make a particular hat for her grand daughter who is turning 1 soon and has yet to grow hair.  The project was quick and sent to the friend, who in turn sent it to her daughter.  The photo credit is from her daughter, they were very pleased with the results.

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And then today was Worldwide Spin in Public Day, and my new Spanish Peacock drop spindle accompanied me today as we went to our usual Saturday morning breakfast and Farmers’ Market trips.

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A busy week.  Tomorrow the garden and a batch of pickles will be the focus.

End of Week – 9/10/2017

The cruise obviously did not happen.  We are safely in our Virginia mountains, not at sea.  We will use our credit to try again in the spring when we are out of hurricane season.  Since we are home, we took advantage to make a short trip to Meadows of Dan to supply with Bent Mountain cabbages, Virginia apples, and Ashe County cheeses from the Poor Farmers Market.  This was done after our morning trip to our local Farmers Market yesterday.

Each day we try to take a brisk walk to improve our stamina and help both of us shed a few pounds.  Yesterday was a home football game, bringing thousands of extra people into the small town, making traffic miserable, especially as the main bypass road around the town is in the midst of construction, repaving great sections and a new interchange at the campus.  This has made travel even more miserable.  With no place to park on football days, we missed our walk yesterday but enjoyed getting away from it.

The apples purchased yesterday were processed today to make two batches, a total of 15 pints of spiced applesauce.  It is cooling from the canner to be labelled tomorrow and added to the shelves in the basement for our winter enjoyment.

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Two of the cabbages were slated for kraut.  One of our favorite winter dishes is pork chops seared then topped with applesauce and sauerkraut and slow cooked in the dutch over.

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Two half gallon jars are fermenting on the counter.  If I can stir up another wide mouth half gallon, the third cabbage may also become sauerkraut as one of these jars will be packed in pints or quarts and given to eldest son and his family once it is fully fermented.

Tomorrow, a couple of flats of jars will be purchased for another prep of salsa and an attempt at making Asian Pear Butter.  Once that is done, the fading tomatoes will be pulled and that bed seeded with a cover crop.  The peppers are being allowed to ripen to red before making a batch of Sriracha style sauce and for drying to use in enchilada sauce this winter.  The corn stalks are about to be pulled for fall decoration, the fall radishes and turnips pulled for salads and kimchee.  The sweet potatoes will be left until the first frost is threatened, then dug.

The young hens are now giving us 9 to 12 eggs each day.  The old hens have all but quit laying and some appear to be beginning to molt.  They have had a good life and will be humanely killed soon to be stew chickens.

On the craft front, I have spun little since I returned from the retreat, but I have been working on designing a fingerless mitt pattern.  I think I have gotten it all figured out and written up.  Here is a peek of the finished mitt.

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They should soon be in the shop.

 

Away, Far Away – 8/28/2017

Life continues to spiral away, hopefully to slow a bit now that the grands are back in school as of this morning.

The eclipse provided a great science lesson last Monday, with eclipse viewing glasses thanks to eldest son and the grands’ other grandma, reflections caught through the broken clouds in a planter saucer of water.

Daughter having to take a day off so we could do more appointments.

More canning, lots of Jalapeños.  Tomatoes being frozen to peel and process this week after more jars are acquired.

Pullets figuring out the egg deal and thus many to deliver to folks who appreciate their efforts as much as we do.

Relearning an old skill, Tunisian Crochet.  Another way to use some of the yarn I spin, but I am so slow with it still.

And a couple days of R & R away for me, friends and fiber, to my favorite fiber retreat, The Knotty Ladies (though there are a couple of guys that are there too).  It is an opportunity to vend my shop as well and yarn, stitch markers, soaps, and salves sold, though none of the knit wear, but then again, everyone in the room knits, spins, crochets, weaves, felts, or some combination of those arts.   A generous skein of sport weight Hebridean was spun and 12 ounces of the softest Merino/Alpaca blend of fiber purchased and one skein of it spun.  There may be a sweater in my near future.

Finally back home to my family and my own bed.

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More Smithfield – 8/16/17

Another opportunity to educate.  The teacher may retire, but never gives up teaching.  Today was a special event on a day that Smithfield is normally closed, but was booked for a USDA event in cultural awareness.  They specifically asked to have as many of the craft volunteers available as possible.  One of the blacksmiths and his wife who assists him are retired.  The lace maker was able to get the afternoon off, and I am retired, as are several of the docents that give the historical tour of the inside of the house.  Though there are several areas in which I can sit and spin, the winter kitchen in the main house, the large shaded side porch of the house, my favorite is the slave cabin that itself has a history, having been moved at least twice and houses the huge functional Appalachian Rocker Loom, a non functional weasel, a non functional great wheel, and the accouterments of the slave household.  This location allows a sharing of slave life on the plantation as well as history of spinning and demonstrating fiber prep and spinning on spindles and one of my wheels.

Today’s fiber for prep was some of the Dorset that I washed from raw and am still carding for spinning, and it was used with the drop spindles. Combs or a teasing board are going to be needed to get that done.  For spinning on the wheel, I used some of the Hebridean from Hebridean Woolshed in Isle of South Uist.  My bucket list contains a trip to Scotland to visit them.  One skein of that wool was finished last night so the visitors could see the unspun wool and yarn from the wool.

Each visitor from the group today thanked the volunteers for giving up their day for them and at the end of the day, each of us was presented with a thank you gift, a small burlap sack with bread, honey from Virginia, Peanuts from Virginia, and a few apples.  A delightful and pleasant surprise.

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Kitchen Alchemy and Camp – July 25, 2017

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This is the time of year that the herbs and wild plants that are used in the salves, balms, and some soaps in the shop are growing and being harvested.  Once a batch is dried, jars of the herbs and the oils that make the infused oils are started.  Sometimes they are suntea processed in a window sill for a month or so, but sometimes one or more are needed sooner than that and they are infused in a makeshift double boiler system for 3 hours.  Once the infused oils are made and cooled, they are strained into a clean jar and the portion needed measured out and rewarmed to melt the organic beeswax needed to make the oil into a salve or balm.  Before our weekend away, a kitchen alchemy session was conducted and several salves resupplied, labelled, and put in the shop.  Some of the oils are needed for the Mountain Makings camp that is in session this week.

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Today was day 2 of their camp, my first of two sessions working with the young ones.  My friend, Jennifer, and I worked with them last year and again today.  The children are 7 to 12 years old and all very involved in the activities.  We had a very brief discussion of spinning and how  and why it was used in past generations.  They were each given a few ounces of hand dyed fiber and a hand made drop spindle, an improved version of last year’s with a heavier whorl.  One parent was fascinated with this portion of their program today and stayed.  She was given a spindle and fiber and followed right along with the children, making her first spindle full of yarn singles.  After the spindles were all being used without too much more assistance, they put them down and each were given a packet that contained a cardboard loom, weaving needles, yarn, and an instruction sheet for reference at home and they began a small wall hanging that they wove themselves.  Once they were all working well with that, we moved to our spinning wheels and gave each child an opportunity to spin a long enough singles to double it back on itself to create a length of hand spun yarn that they can use in their weaving.  At the end of the day, they will go home with their spindle and fiber, their loom, yarn, and weaving needles.

Tomorrow, I will return alone to take the children on a plant walk to identify some of the plants that can be wild harvested for their salve making.  They will get a handout of plants, their uses, and recipes for making the infused oils and instructions on making a salve.  We will make salves together and they will take home a tin or jar of their salve.

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Once home today, with a clear bobbin on the wheel, I tackled a one pound bag of raw alpaca locks that I had purchased at the Farmers Market earlier this spring.  I have never spun raw unwashed fiber before, but the alpaca lacks the lanolin of wool and other than picking out some vegetable matter, it is clean to spin.  The fawn colored alpaca is from “Graham” an alpaca living at Poplar Hill Alpacas, a local farm.  It will be plyed with a brown ply from another local Alpaca farm.  This yarn will be knit into fingerless mitts for the Holiday Markets.  If enough is spun, perhaps a hat will be made to match.

And So It Begins Again – July 12, 2017

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The big pots and canner brought down from the high shelves where they rest between seasons.  At the end of the growing season last year, I ran out of jars and energy to can any more tomatoes, so 6 or so gallon bags were frozen.  Instead of using them first, which would have been the wisest thing to do, the canned jars of sauce and tomatoes were used and all winter and spring, the bulky bags of little frozen orbs were shifted around the freezer.  When the last jar of pasta sauce was opened, I decided to make a big pot of sauce from the remaining tomatoes, but chose to only use the spaghetti cooker and ended up using only a few bags of the tomatoes.  That sauce was frozen in wide mouth pint jars and most of it has been used as it takes about 3 pints to feed the 6 of us and 3 pints to make a large lasagna.  This morning, while looking for some chops to thaw for Jim’s dinner, one of the bags of tomatoes fell out of the freezer.  It was time to make them go away, but in a useful way.  After swim lessons, a roving dyeing session, some computer help for Jim, the tomatoes were tackled.  As they had been frozen whole in their skins, I knew that the skins would be tough, but I didn’t want to water thaw and peel 3 1/2 gallons of tomatoes, so they were just dumped into a huge pot to thaw.  The food mill was hauled down and the thawed tomatoes run through a fairly coarse blade to rid the pot of skins.  The remaining sauce was thickened slightly and 9 1/2 pints of sauce processed.  Most of it was canned so it is shelf stable, but the canner only holds 8 wide mouth pints, so the remaining pint plus will go in the freezer, a much smaller space consumer than the bags of frozen tomatoes.

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The new fresh tomatoes are just beginning to come in for this year, so far only a handful of small slicers, but the plants are heavy with fruit, so canning of tomatoes, sauce, and salsa will soon commence.

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The roving dyeing session was done as the camp that I will teach begins soon and the kids find the colors more fun than plain white roving.  Three pans were dyed, blue and purple, blue and yellow, yellow and tomato red.

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A dozen drop spindles have been made for them to each have one to keep.  Last year’s version was a bit too light for the beginners, so this year, I sought larger wooden truck wheels and slightly larger shafts so they spin longer.  My friend that works with me, bought small weaving looms for them as well.  We will take our spinning wheels and each child will be given the opportunity to make a strand of singles which we will double back on itself to make them a strand of yarn.

I still need to go through some of my commercial  yarn to help warp the looms and for them to use as weft to weave a small project.

The other prep is for the other day that I will work with them on herbal medicine.  The plantain leaves and the calendula flowers have been brewing in oil for many weeks now, the handout for the plant walk and instructions on how to use various wild and cultivated plants for food or medicine has been prepared, but still needs to be printed out for them.

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