Friday, March 27, 2009

For the shear joy of it

Yesterday, as I was finishing up lunch, someone shouted for me to come outside quick. They are shearing sheep next door and I can go watch.

Upon hearing this news, I threw on my shoes and jacket, ran back for my camera, then hurried along to see the sheep get all nakid. I was hugely excited as I've never seen sheep shorn before and especially because I've never taken photos of sheep being shorn before. This was going to be fun.

The only thing I did wrong was that, though I remembered to take my camera, I forgot to also take the memory card that makes camera work. So, sorry all, no photos.

I got there and I had a huge amount of fun. I learnt a lot about sheep. You have to remember that I have virtually no experience when it comes to caring for large animals. Sure, I've milked a cow before, well tried to at any rate, but that dosen't count. So, I spent the entire time questioning the shearer about everything even remotely related to keeping sheep.

The sheep were all rams which are definitely not pets. If your body language is not assertive and confident then they are extreemly dangerious. Even though they were all three years old and younger, I was very much aware that the smallest of them was almost twice my weight and almost all of that muscle. I even got to do some slight wrestling with one of them who tried to make a break for it. It was very strong, but once I got the grip right, I managed to turn it's head and send it home.

I got to bring home some fleece all of which were from breeds I've never worked with before. I have one Suffolk, a whole lot of Charollais, and a couple of Charollais crosses. The Suffolk is my favourite of the lot. Considering that this fellow was shorn in September last, it had quite a nice staple length. The Charollais is a very short fleece but extreemly fine and soft. It is going to make a nice woolen yarn. The shearer said that she spins that stuff up for baby clothes, it's that soft.

I might send some of this away for processing. I've been informed that the well at the farm won't support the amount of washing I want to do this year. I could collect some rain water and heat it up on a camp stove perhaps.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

ain't no one here but us chickens (two)

(sorry all, blogger somehow knew I was in a hurry so it was mean to me. Clare, please comment again, I had to delete the first post to fix the code on the page. Stupid internet making me re-learn html before I've had coffee)

One of the interesting things about keeping a blog, or any journal for that matter, is the psychological effect it has on the individual who keeps it when they let things laps. The first few days you don't blog, it's fine, you can blog tomorrow, but once so many days pass it's more difficult to write. There is nothing you can think about that is good enough to compensate for not having written. Or, maybe, you cannot get the wording right - that beautiful flow of words that comes so easily when you write every day, dries up. Whatever the reason, the longer you leaves something like this, the harder it is to get it going again. It follows faithfully one of Newton's laws: bodies (or blogs) at rest tend to stay at rest. You need substantial force (of will) to set things going again.

But really, you don't. You don't need some great thing to write about, some super-duper event to share with the world. The blog (well, this blog) is not about that. It's about little things. Every day things. Really, when it comes down to it, it is that sort of little everyday things that make up the world.

So, my every day things:

Well, for about two weeks, the cougar moved into our shed. This was great because the deer stayed away and stopped trying to eat the new buds on the fruit trees. But the cougar moved on when G'pa set fire to the yard. This was a few days after he fell out of the fruit tree (12 feet) and hit his head. You think that would slow him down a little, but no. After 24 hours and a night of observation in hospital, he was out and about in the garden again. I tell you, I can't keep up with him. Anyway, this bump on his head came to our advantage as it was the very same fire chief that helped him after the fall, who came and told him off about the fire. The fire men very kindly educated us on all the little details that the council neglected to inform us about when we asked (like yes the council was right, we can burn, but only under certain conditions-something the council denied). So we learnt something new, got to know the local fire chief, and started building a chicken coup.

What? I didn't mention the chicken coup? Yesterday I helped dad start it. It's nice to get outside after most of a month in bed (tell you about that later), even if most of what I did involved eatting popcorn and watching with the occasional fetch, carry and "hold this there, no a little to the left, no, my left". We made a floor and two walls. Today, it's the other two walls and with luck, a roof. Later, we will put some siding on and with any luck at all, it will be finished before Easter (when the cute little chickens come home). This house is for the hens (and one rooster) and they will probably be free range. The neighbors seems to be able to let their chickens out without any loss. The cockerels will go into chicken tractors so that they can move around where we need them to eat bugs.

I think I'm going to make a sign for our coup: "Ain't no one here but us chickens." I think that's how the saying goes.

And here's Ginger:

She loves watching us make the chicken coup but gets a little upset that we aren't spending all our time petting her.

Rabbits, eh.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tangled whispers

The Whisper Cardigan has created a rather emotional knitting experience for me. No, nothing has gone wrong with it; just I worry that it might.

At moments I am completely in love with this creation. The fabric is so airy and light. The yarn is amazing, if I may say that myself. I love the colours and, really, the whole thing is just so exciting.

At moments I hate it. The yarn is so thin and, to be honest, I don't have much faith in it. That's not a good sign considering I spun the yarn myself. This isn't going to be an everyday cardigan/shrug like I had hoped because the fabric is so gossamer. The slightest tug will end in this item being flung hopelessly into the repair pile. Also, the fabric is rather transparent so I'll have to take more care than normal to insure it dosen't clash with what I wear underneath. And then there is the unreasonable amount of blocking that this is going to require...

I do love it though, and I am going to finish it if for no other reason that to learn something new about spinning and knitting with such fine singles. Perhaps the structure of the knitted fabric will compensate for the weaknesses of the yarn.

Because I'm so conflicted (at moments I can't stand the sight of it, other moments I cannot put it down) I cast on a Tangled Yoke Cardie. Again, knit with handspun from some Louet fibre I picked up at last year's Spin in. Now this is a project that admits no doubts. I am completely in love with it. I call it my comfort knitting as it seems to sooth my nerves and gives me the strength to return to the Whisper Cardie.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Can't wait for spring

It's been uncharacteristically cold for this part of the world for more than a year now. It even snowed again yesterday and this morning. I wonder if that is why the finches are drinking from the humming bird feeder. Don't they normally eat seed?

It's a good excuse to stay inside and blend fibre.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Handspun handwoven blue scarf

I would like to tell you the story about this scarf.

It began by carding fibres at Knotty by Nature with Josiane. We blended together some merino and silk noils with the hope of making some textured and very interesting yarn.

Then I found some silvery grey corriedale and spun a warp which Kitten kindly let me measure out on her warping mill. Warping mills are cool and I want one just like hers.

As I've been house bound most of the last few weeks, venturing out on occasion only to over do it, so dad rented me a Knitters Loom from Knotty by Nature.

This is my first time using a Knitters Loom, actually, this is my first time using a ridged huddle loom all by my self. (oh darn, look! It's snowing again. Has the ice age started? I'm told we missed the last one in these parts, so we are over due for a glacier or two.)

It wasn't love at first sight with the Knitters loom, but I think if we got to know each other better, we could become good friends. But, I do like the ridged heddle more than I thought I would. They really took advantage of the qualities of the yarn.

With this scarf, I didn't try to do things the right way. Actually, I did everything as wrong as I could and still make fabric. I didn't set the yarn, I didn't fuss over math, I didn't beat evenly, &c. But I did, or didn't do, all this for a reason. Partly because I wanted to show off the texture of the blue yarn but mostly because I tend to obsess over technical aspects of fibre arts. With both knitting and spinning I've learnt all I can about technique, structure, and different ways of doing things as I can get my hands on. I tend to do this. I try my hardest to get the technical aspects of the craft as perfect as possible. I deliberately didn't do this with weaving. I wanted to see what happens when I play around with this, an inherently a technically focused fibre art, and see what happens. I also wanted to see if I could overcome my perfectionism.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


I admit, I've found it very difficult to blog lately. It's nothing to do with the blog itself, but rather to do with the setup of my day. Before, back in the condo, I would gratefully received my coffee, retire to my room and blog in privacy.

Writing for me requires a lot of thought and solitude. I find I just cannot do it with other people in the room. I have all these stories to tell you, but when I'm expected to make conversation at the same time (not to mention before I finish my coffee) I just cannot focus. It's a bit like how I feel about using a large kitchen knife; I can't have people too close to me for fear that they will bump into my arm and I'll loose another large chunk of my thumb. But when I am alone, I'm completely confident in my knit using abilities.

At the farm here, the internet is in two places: downstairs in the basement which I cannot go because that's where we are storing all the things that make me ill until we can sort through them and begin the elimination process; and upstairs between the kitchen, dining area and liveing room. I find it very difficult to focus on writing when I am watching people playing around with my spinning wheel settings which I only just got right, pulling on one of the drive bands and stretching it so that the wheel with the double drive band now needs re-drive-banding, and so on. I know that person is curious, but UG, I need my own space. Before, there was a respect for domain: if it is something that so-and-so owns, then you don't touch it except in an emergency, now if it's in the house, no matter how delicate (not just talking about wheels now) it requires fiddling with and occasionally braking.

For example, just now after getting covered with oil from disconnecting the old oil tank, it was necessary to tell me something that I have no interest or involvement in when I was just about to write something really good about how having Lyme infecting the brain causes one to have a very short attention span and makes it easy to forget the extreemly witty things they were going to write before they were interrupted.

As you can tell, not being able to write every day is taking it's toll on me. I've tried writing the post in my room then coming online to post it. Besides the fact that I have to wrestle with blogger for formatting (a hell I'm not willing to go through each day) I have to do it while people expect me to interact with them. I'm not sociable in the morning. I need a good four hours to wake up, no matter how early or late I get out of bed.

The house is in a state of becoming and will continue to be this way for several months. There is a lot of renovations to get done and it is surprisingly difficult to get people to sell you a new heating system. Even when this is all done, I don't think there will be a place where I can write and craft without constant interruption. My bedroom is out because of the need for it to be space. Everywhere else is public space and is open to the rest of the house.

I think I need to look into building a studio. How hard can that be? Somewhere with lots of windows and airflow. Somewhere with running water and internet connection. Electricity and heating would be nice too. Maybe a ceiling fan. Somewhere where I can be my grumpy, antisocial self in the mornings without feeling terribly bad about it.

I wonder how one goes about something like this? I wonder if I'll be able to start it before I go completely batty.

Anyway, I now feel considerably less grumpy for being able to express myself. I also have a plan of action, though no one else in the house realizes it yet and it will probably won't go into action until next fall. But I like finding solutions. They make me feel productive.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lovely Llamas

I wonder how I would get them home. I suppose I should install the fence first then go looking for livestock.

Monday, March 09, 2009

March came in like a Lion

Well, it started snowing again this morning. We now have over two inches of white stuff on our driveway. This is just crazy. I guess I'm not going to spinning tonight. I'll just have to stay home and play with yarn all by myself.

Errata: Yep, I know it, my spelling skills suck.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

dear deer

Deer in the snow at night is surprisingly difficult to photograph.

what the duce?

Snow? In March? Here? You've gotta be kidding.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Whispers of knitting

Believe it or not, I still remember how to knit. I know there has been relatively little knitting on this knitting blog of late, but I have been slowly plodding at it. I finally seem to have overcome the damage done to my arm by the car door last summer. It's not fully healed and I still have to stop and rest if I do too much in one go, but it's steadily getting better.

So, when I received my Spring issue of Interweave Knits and saw the Whisper Cardigan I knew I had to knit that. It would get my knitting mojo back into full swing. Lace weight yarn knit on larger needles sounds like fun.

I didn't have any yarn on hand and since spinning yarn is more fun and less expensive than buying yarn, I bought some roving from the local Spin In: Louet Thunderstorms.

The colours look very vibrant before it's spun, but the fibre is dyed in such a way that each individual fibre has two or sometimes three colours to it and the yarn becomes a softly muted heather when it's spun.

I spun up a sample and knit a swatch. As the yarn is single (one ply they call it sometimes), I don't need to spend extra time plying it; however, it is really very thin, a fair bit thinner than I usually spin these days for my three ply sock yarn. Therefore, I shouldn't be surprised that the first time I spun it, I didn't add enough twist to keep it together and had to run it through the wheel again. I've got the hang of it now even though it means that spinning it on the fast setting of my Ashford Traditional, I still have to treadle like mad and draft impossibly slow. I should have spun it on my Quebec wheel which is especially good at spinning fast, thin yarns. Live and learn.

To set the yarn before I knit it, I wound it onto my niddy noddy (my nid) and gave it a shower. I gently squeezed the water into the yarn then left it on the nid to set. When it was dry I wound it into a ball then knit a gage swatch. Then I washed the gage swatch in some clear, warm watter and lay it flat to dry. I didn't pin it to a specific shape as I always detest that part of blocking fabric and I wanted to see how it would look if I neglected that step.

The swatch, when dry, was on the bias. Instead of being a rectangle, it was more a trapezoid. As the yarn is unplyed (single strand) it has a lot of potential energy stored in it and when it is washed, it begins to release some of that energy and it twists or untwists I should say, so that the fabric, unless properly blocked, becomes slanted.

I like the fabric it produced. It was light weight and airy with a nice drape. The yarn was almost shiny and the colours merged together well. I wondered if the cardigan pattern actually called for fabric this open so I looked at the extra photos on Interweave Knits and yes, the fabric appears to be somewhat transparent so I'm on the right track. If it ends up being too open a fabric for me, I think I might be able to full it slightly once it's all knit up. But then again, the openness would be excellent for summer as it would provide just enough warmth to cut the summer evening chill when we eat dinner on the sundeck and watch the stars come out. The stars at the farm are almost as bright as the stars I remember from my youth.

As for the colour, I'm happy with this. I had originally hoped for a semi solid green, perhaps merino blended with carbonized bamboo. But this will work well. If I like this cardigan enough, I can always knit another one.

Given the speed that the swatch knit up, this should be a quick knit. I'm almost half way finished spinning the yarn for it. I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Wild life

I think I might have seen my first cougar last night.

It was the end of dusk and the light was fastly growing dim. The back of our property has a little over two acres (maybe more) of native, second growth forest and out of that thick undergrowth slunk a animal. I was doing something at the back of the house when I felt a sudden need to turn around and look behind me. There was a black patch on the ground that wasn't there before. The light was so dim that I wasn't certain if it was just a shadow or something alive. It moved, but perhaps it was my eyes, so I kept watching. I also started singing Stan Rogers' songs at this point just in case it was something dangerious. This tactic always seems to scare off bears, cougars and other dangerious critters.

It was as black as a black bear which was to say that it admitted no light to escape it's shadow. I've seen nothing in the world as black as the bears who live around here. Instead of lumbering along as bears do, it slunk; stopping every few moments to stand perfectly still, then continued to slink along the edge of the forest towards my neighbour's chickens. The shape was a that of a long, thin cat, only much larger. Over a yard long and perhaps three feet tall. It's hard to tell exactly.

According to my dad, the naturalist, it was probably a very old cougar. Cougars are probably the only animal around here that really frighten me. That and overly aggressive horned goats. Now I'm extra glad I'm not going to keep 100% free range chickens. They would be dead in no time and I'm fairly certain that cougars have no sense of a dignified death.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The chickens are coming

Yesterday was the most beautiful weather we have had at the farm so far.

When we got up to make some coffee, the sun was shining on the world. A rainbow glistened above the western hills. Then, as we drank the coffee, the sky clouded over and dark, dark rain descended upon us. But, by the time that coffee was drunk, the sun returned and spring arrived.

Yesterday was the day that the world woke up. It was finally warm enough to open up all the windows and doors to get some air in the house. I also cleaned the oven. It self cleans, so it was pretty stinky which is why I do it on a warm day with all the windows open.

As the stink chased us out of the house into the sunshine we pottered about the farm. We pulled up some brambles that were trying to conquer the front lawn. We examined the buds on the fruit trees that G'pa planted in February. The weather was so warm that you could swear that you could see the buds opening in front of your eyes. We tidied up here and there.

It was a day's worth of good weather that is directly responsible for what we did next.

We ordered chickens.

We ordered 50 Red Sussex Cross unsexed chickens from a local farm feed shop to be precise. This is a duel purpose bird which is good for laying eggs and for meat. They don't fatten up as quickly as your regular meat chickens which is good because those chickens tend to have a rather unhappy life with high rates of heart attacks and what with a tendency to grow so fast that their legs cannot keep up and support their weight. Not all meat breads are like this, but I'm not going to risk it because if I'm going to raise and eat an animal, I want to know that it had a good and healthy life with as little discomfort as possible and with an environment that fulfills it's essential nature. Think Michal Pollan's book the Omnivore's Dilemma. One point Pollan makes is that if you are going to choose to eat meat, and it is an active choice in this day and age, you should be aware of the standard of life of the animal you wish to consume. That's what I want to do.

We are going to build what are called chicken tractors. They are a long cage about 8 foot by 4 foot and 2 to 4 foot high with a shelter up one end and the rest of the cage with wire mesh which are more for protecting the chickens from the many predators than it is to keep the chickens in. There are a lot of hawks, eagles, vultures, mink, cougars, wild dogs, raccoons, feral cats, cougars, and other wild things that like to eat chickens around here. If I am going to be responsible for the life of a chicken, I don't want to allow it to die a slow and painful death when I can prevent this. However, I also want to give the chicken an opportunity to live according to it's chicken nature. The qua that makes chicken, chicken.

In each tractor will go about 8 or 10 chickens. It could easily fit 16 chickens according to the common practice of 1 chicken for ever 2 square foot of space, but to keep them so densely populated would put unnecessary stress on the poor birds and increase the risk of illness. These tractors are small like this because they are mobile. Instead of housing the chickens in a coup and giving them a run which tends to destroy every non-chicken living thin in that exercise yard in just a few weeks; these chickens will be moved to a fresh spot each day so that they have access to fresh grass and bugs. Chickens eating the bugs will be an essential part of our relationship because we won't be using pesticides on anything. And since chickens like eating bugs, we just put them where the bugs need eating. It's a good relationship.

The chickens are unsexed which means we will probably get a mix of girls and boys. They arrive at our home as only day old chicks which means they should be extreemly cute. After a few days we should be able to tell the girls from the boys. The girls and one rooster will live in chicken tractors with a special hut for laying eggs and the batchelors will live in the regular tractors. Or at least this is the plan so far.

The chicks should be here around Easter which is just perfect.

The only thing is, this morning it's raining so hard that I feel that I should start building a boat and gathering up two of every animal. Was it really such a wonderful spring day yesterday? Am I insane for ordering chickens? I know that Dad and G'pa have raised them before, but I have almost no idea what I've gotten myself into. To be responsible for fifty little lives... wow... that's a daunting thought.

Monday, March 02, 2009

English Doorbells?

What do you call those old style doorbells they have in England. It's a unit that sits on the center of the door and you twist it to ring the bell. Does anyone remember these?


I have several photos that I have collected over the last few weeks that I would like to share with you.

G'pa digging in the garden.

Spinning on the sundeck.

Chickens invadeing the backyard.