Tuesday, May 24, 2016

From Then Till Now

Poor neglected blog. No entries since coming home from Maryland.   Let's catch you up.

We've had lots of weather.  Rain......

and worse than rain - snow.

"Maybe there's a slow, cold mouse in the grass over there....."

"Less picture, more indoors, please."

We started letting the sheep out on grass, beginning in the Baby Pasture as usual.  Just a short time each day so they don't overdo on the rich stuff but they will get accustomed to it again in a couple of weeks.   The pasture is slow because of the cold but maybe that's good - maybe they'll be able to keep up with it better when they get out on the bigger areas.

The old girls made it to grass!  Alfalfa pellets and beet pulp pellets made a big difference for those with crummy (or non-existent) teeth.  The lucky dozen - Alexandria, Bug, Bunny, Drambui, Pickles, Kahlua, Nibbles, Gilly, Ruby, Dollar, Fiesta and India.  Some are still gaunt but not deathly so and they are old....    Bunny and Drambui are the oldest at 13 each.  Four more are 12, and a couple each at 11, 10 and so on.  

The Shepherd's Market was a good day.  People shopping and also just taking the opportunity to sit and chat and do fiber things in the central gathering area.

My space consisted of 2 big round tables (a bit odd to set up with round ones, but we made it work.)...

And a smaller table in a corner.  Andy built a nice book stand for the booth.  We're starting to carry a small collection of books and DVDs that pertain specifically to spinning, knitting, and weaving - mostly basic materials that will compliment our fiber and yarn and be excellent resources for newcomers to the fiber world.

I've been working in the wool shop getting reserved fleeces skirted and also filling online orders and trying to keep dyeing to have more roving processed.  Kittin has been a big help.  At least she thinks so.

The deadline (it's a flexible deadline but I made it a firm one in my head) for handing in the guild KAL project was Saturday so I had to  found time to finish knitting the shawl.  I played yarn chicken twice, once on the border with two colors .....

And then on the bind off.  That little ball is all I had left and there was nothing else in the stash that was even close.  Whew.


And then it got a bath and was blocked and had a fan on it all night to get dry.  Nothing like waiting till the last minute.  It's bigger than I thought it was.  It got kind of hard to tell what was going on because of being all scrunched up on the cable.  Gee, I bet a better knitter would have figured out that that might mean something. Sigh  :-/

Spring seems to have come this week and I think it's going to stick this time.

The main flock has moved to the big pasture by the road and is enjoying fresh spring grass as only sheep can.  It's kind of quiet without lambs in the pasture, but boy - there's a lot of sheep out there.  :-0

OK, back to work!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Through The Looking Glass

Going to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival is like going to another world - a magical place made especially for addicts enthusiasts of all things sheep and fiber related.  It's fun for muggles non-fiber people, too, since the whole thing is a carnival of color, creativity and sheep.  Nobody gets bored at Maryland!

Friday it absolutely poured rain so set up was miserable for vendors. Thankfully, Saturday was dry (although it stayed gray all day) and the crowds were thick. (Biggify to get a sense of the density of people. Attendance is usually 50K.)  Notice the lady at lower right.  Yes, her hair is green. Yes, it's supposed to be green.  A lot of fiber folk are inclined to dye their hair for these types of events.  Red, blue, green, yellow, orange, purple - it was all there.  Maybe someday I'll dare.....

I was tickled to see that two of our fleeces placed in the show!  Cotswold 'Nancy' took second in her breed class and gray Cotswold 'Irene' earned an Honorable Mention in the Colored Long Wool class (essentially 5th place) competing against some very popular breeds. Woot!  Overall, between the show and sale-only fleeces there were nearly 1200 entries.

After checking the fleece show results the next stop was the Skein and Garment competition.  I'm always blown away by the creativity and technical expertise of the entrants.  Tables and tables and shelves and racks and displays - all covered in amazing fiber art.

Hooked rugs (this one was done with yarn, not wool fabric strips).....

Drawing (check the hand mirror - how sweet is that?!?)


Needle felting (yes, that's wool, not paint)........

Knitting (and more needle felting)..........

And of course, spinning...........

The sheep shows started at 8:30 AM both days and ran till the very end.  There were two judges working adjacent rings and they were both just what one would hope for in a judge - thorough, careful and clearly knowledgeable.  When judging livestock, animals are usually judged from the bottom up, meaning that the judge will dismiss to the rail animals that aren't in the running for the top spots.  I was very impressed to see the judges pause all handlers as they were dismissed and have a word or two with them.  This is huge for the animals' owner - if you don't know why the judge dismissed you then you have no insight about what to work on in your breeding program.  All too often classes are decided and the judge tells the reasoning for placing the top three and no word is made of the others.  The judges took an extra amount of time with young exhibitors and I like to think the comments were encouraging - "Your lamb is fitted well and is built nicely but in this class she's just so much younger than the others that she doesn't compete well and that's the reason she's at the bottom this time.  It's not because she's a poor animal." Or words to that effect.  When you see an eight year old pulled out first and she ends up smiling after the judge speaks to her you know something positive was said.

As one class was finishing up the producers would bring the sheep for the next class and pen them around the perimeter so they'd be handy.

It was fairly bright out when this white class was being judged and the light was good.

By the time some of the colored classes were happening it was clouding up and getting late in the day - not optimal for comparing black fleeces on animals.  No problem - the judge directed the class out of the arena and into the natural light.

"Colored sheep" covers a lot of territory.  Basically it's any color other than solid white.  Black, brown, gray, harlequin - they were all there, and beautiful!

I can't even guess how to describe this one.  Spotted merle?  Spots on ticking?  Solid over mottled coloring? Appaloosa??

The barns are open to the public and people were milling through the aisles looking at different breeds, talking with shepherds about their animals and getting up close and personal with the sheep themselves.  A lot of people had never been closer to a sheep than the chocolate lamb in their Easter baskets.

This boy was delighting in giving an appreciative Cotswold a good back scritching.

This colored  Blue Faced Leicester was willing to share a blueberry muffin.  (He didn't really eat it - the man holding it out knew better than to really feed someone's animal anything.  He just used it to get the sheep's attention.)

There is a whole barn devoted to breed association displays.  Just about every sheep breed you can think of brings literature, props and a representative sheep or two for display to the public.  It's a great way to learn about different breeds and what their principal uses are.  This big ram is a Montadale.  As luck would have it, our spinning guild is doing a sheep breeds study (sampling the fleece of many different breeds) and Montadale was on the list.  Thanks to Emma's Daisyhill Farm we now have his fleece to work with! 

He was a very mellow, friendly ram and after representing his kind in the display all weekend and the Parade of Breeds on Sunday he was whisked down to the shearing area.  A lot of show sheep were shorn after their classes were over so there was a steady stream of animals needing shearing which also provided a steady demonstration of that skill for all who wanted to watch.

This is Emily Chamelin, a professional sheep shearer.  She's amazing to watch - can shear with either electric or hand shears - and had this big ram neatly parted from his fleece in just a couple of minutes.  So adept is she at handling the sheep that this big ram never struggled a bit as she clipped him.  (She's still in costume from shearing for a Sheep to Shawl team earlier that day.  Argyle isn't the usual dress code.)  FYI, the other shearer on stage is a lady, too.  No gender bias on a farm when work needs to be done!

And after a long day of fun at the festival everybody gets to eat a good supper....

....put on your jammies and relax for the evening.

Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival - there's no event quite like it!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Yarn Along - Progress On All Fronts

As sporadic as my knitting time is, I have still made progress on the guild KAL - the Noro Woven Stitch Shawl.

I find time mostly in meetings or in the truck if Andy and I are going somewhere together as he prefers to drive rather than ride and I'm happy to grab those extra minutes to work on this.  I have high hopes for serious progress (dare I say finishing it?) over the weekend while at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival in early May.

I have seven fleeces entered in the show and sale at MD and have six of them fully skirted and the seventh on the table at the moment.  This is an improvement over past years when I was still skirting the night before leaving or having to take fewer than the allowed seven.  I've also been squeezing out some reserved fleeces for folks with 'must-have' dates for their fiber.  I'll be able to work fully on the reserved fleeces after I'm sure I'm squared away for MD.

In other fiber news I have a new 3-color roving back from the mill - Easter Egg!  For the life of me, using 3 different cameras, I can't get these colors to show up properly!  The dark "blue" is really a dark purple.  The pink is pretty accurate and the light shade is a very pale gray/blue.  Whichever way I try to correct one color it drags the other 2 off in a wrong direction.  I still have to get it listed online.  Maybe I'll try taking pics again....

At the last spinning guild meeting a friend brought in the rug she created using some of our Gosh Darn Big Yarn which we had made for the first time last year.  Brenda is a genius and SEWED the yarn on her regular machine using invisible thread. I never would have thought of this in a million years. Starting with a tiny loop she kept turning the work counterclockwise so the growth all occurred off to the left of her needle. Using a zigzag stitch she just kept laying the yarn next to the previous round (which ends up zigzag sewing each strand on two edges) and worked it till gone.  Rug measures just about 33 inches across.

The weather finally - finally! - warmed up enough to feel like spring.  Our tree bees emerged on April 17! That's late compared to the bees I know of in other people's hives, but we're guessing it just took that much longer for the warmth to penetrate the tree.  It worked out fine since our bees came out to find lots of flowers already blooming - no hunting around half starved.

Since then we've gone backwards in the temperature department and had cold rain, fog, and last night a heavy frost although the day then turned sunny and crept into the 50s.

The other fiber progress is getting the last of the flock shorn.

Drambui (mom of Count Chocula, living the life of luxury at Equinox Farm in KY) is 13 this year and looking really good!  We have several other 13 and 12 (and 11 and 10...) year olds who are having a harder time keeping weight on but we'll get them on grass soon.

Peanut was in this group to be shorn and was not intimidated in the slightest by all the commotion.

"I really don't see why everyone is so worried about this thing."

"C'mon, get the shearing boards swept before it's my turn.  I have to keep my wool clean."

The Cotswolds that we coated this year seem to have stood up well without felting.  I tried it years ago with some unhappy results. Maybe I just had a few individuals who have a greater tendency to felt anyway or maybe it was because I tried to coat all year rather than just the months of hay feeding season.  The curls are a bit flattened looking but there's no webbing between locks and I think the curl will reassert itself as the fleece is handled on the skirting table.

Next we moved up to the ram barn.   Here Brick has been done and is watching the next guy in line give up his wool.  

Two of our oldest rams are lighter than we like them to be but most are in good flesh and grass is just around the corner.  I had him leave the forelock on anybody whose dreads weren't too trashy, like Neville (white, already shorn) and Castillo, still unshorn and wearing his coat.  He's not a Cotswold but he has cool hair.  ;-)

The most recent book I listened to on tape was The Host by Stephenie Meyer.  Here's the funny part - I had no clue she also wrote the Twilight series which was wildly popular but which never worked any magic on me at all so I never paid attention to who wrote it.  The Host was a very fun sci-fi story (IMO) with engaging characters, interesting details and a satisfying ending.  The person who read it was also well suited to the task (unlike an audio version of The Hobbit which I started but turned off after 20 agonizing minutes of truly awful interpretation.  Bleah.)  

Joining in with Ginny...