Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Howdy Strangers!

For the few of you who still read my blog on those rare occasions when I post, Hello & Thanks for stopping by! It has been a busy time on the farm. The lambs are growing, and we are beginning to practice “fancy pageant walking” with the lambs that we’ll show at Black Sheep Gathering. This is always an adventure. Some lambs are much more cooperative than others. We have everything from the princess/divas who take to it naturally (rare), to “jumper/floppers” who vertically pronk for several minutes and then go flat on the ground, to those we call “Ghandi” - the non-violent, non-cooperators. We’ll be sure everybody is trimmed (but in a natural way), and lip-glossed (just kidding), and we’ll head down to Oregon with high hopes. We have some beautiful colors this year, & pretty faces, but the bottom line (aside from fleece quality which is 60% of their total score) is body structure. We’ll see how our ram, Esteban el Guapo, did as stud muffin. He’s from the original CVM flock in California.
I have been knitting up a storm. Finally finished making the Must Have Cardigan (a Patons pattern) out of mill-spun yarn from Helena’s fleece. It’s so nice & cozy to be wearing her. She was one of the original four in our flock, and is a treasure. Ten lambs in three years earned her a little vacation this year from lambing. Her fleece is turning a warm milk chocolate with bits of frost. It should be a very special fleece next year, since she’s not going through the stress of lambing & lactation.
The other current knitting project is a shawl from Olive, our yearling ewe who will be part of Spinner’s Lead with me (provided I finish the shawl) at Black Sheep Gathering. This is hand-spun lace weight, in which I separated the fleece into six shades of silver to charcoal. With beads. Mmmmmmm. The big news at our home is that we’re hearing the patter of little feet. . . four of them, actually (puppy feet). MollySchnauzer has joined the family & is under the care & teaching of Shaela, our gracefully aging Boxer. She is joyful & loves most everybody. She is such fun that we are considering a second. The only one here with reservations about the new family member is the cat, who is used to having a monopoly on mommy’s lap.
Oh, yes, and I have taken up viola. I suppose you could call it a “bucket list” kind of thing, but it’s just something I’ve always wanted to do. I recently connected with the teacher at Lynden’s new Jansen Art Center. Her studio is adjacent to the weaving/spinning studio, where I was demonstrating spinning. A pleasant conversation led to a new viola (from Doug & Brian), and lessons. I’ve had two so far. And now, Molly & I are often found practicing “Duet for Viola & Squeaky Toy”.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Sittin' Knittin' Mittens

I wish I could say that my most recent projects have gone smoothly, but it’s quite the opposite. The Bird In The Hand Mittens were started and frogged four times. Not the fault of the pattern, just to clarify. First problem was gauge. My handspun yarn, from a friend’s East Fresian sheep took a couple of needle size attempts before I was in the right gauge range. (I am not counting those first attempts.) Then came the realization that although I was knitting white birds on a dark background, the pattern was the reverse. A sort of color value dyslexia, if you will, which threw me off within the first several rows of the pattern. Then, factor in my decision to change the pattern’s thumb to the version in the SELBUVOTTER book . I discovered that I had begun the thumb gusset increases waaaaay too early, resulting in a very short (if existent at all) cuff. So back to the frog pond. After those mishaps resolved, I sailed along with the graph, delighted with my progress. Gauge was good, fit was great, and I was very pleased with the contrast in value of the yarns, both of which had come from a single fleece from an apparently polka-dotted sheep. So I cast on the second mitten. After progressing a generous third of the way through, I realized that I was making two right mittens. So I ripped back to the wrist on the second mitten. Then discovered that the left & right mittens *are not* simply mirror images of each other. They are slightly different. Which put the thumb gusset three rows lower than I thought it was. Fortunately just a few rows to rip back. So there you go. I am rather proud of myself for not hurling the lot under the truck & running it over a few times.

The other mitten project is one that I started three years ago, at St. Distaff’s Day. It has been living in a basket on a time out, and for what reason, I couldn’t recall. I remember being seduced by some lovely hand-dyed yarn, locks of mohair which I carefully selected to blend with the yarn colors, and realizing that I had *exactly the right color* of alpaca roving at home to use for thrums. All my friends were making thrummed mittens by the dozens. Certainly it couldn’t be difficult, and really, it’s not. It’s just a matter of taking segments of roving, folding it into little bows, spit-twirling the centers together (well, that’s what worked for me) to compact/full the fiber, and knitting those into the body of the mittens. What my friends taught me was to pull the middle of the thrum through the stitch below the one on the needle, pull the loop up to the needle, and knit it together with the stitch. Every four stitches, every four rows (offset). At 48 stitches around, that’s 12 thrums per thrum row. I have discovered that I don’t *like* making thrums. Silly, really. What’s not to like about playing with fiber? But I discovered after this length of time that the alpaca, with the lovely pale camel color, that blends so well with the multicolored hand-dyed yarn, that has a lovely texture by itself, has segments *full* of VM. Not the large chunky kind which is easily pulled out. This is the nasty stuff - minute bits of grass, seeds, and molecules of God-Knows-What the alpaca liked to roll in. But I am determined, and slogging through.

The inspiration for The Great Mitten Binge is a snowfall, which happened here a few days ago. Temperatures have been as low as 8 degrees, have hovered for days in the teens, and for the first time, just now, are up to 32 degrees. We have had winds (Thank You Canada) that bite noses & earlobes. I hear temps are supposed to get up to 40 degrees now (somewhere). But when I got up this morning, expecting to see melty slush outside, I was disheartened to find yet another inch of crunchiness. Back to the mittens. I’ll probably have them done in time for the thaw.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ho Ho Ho 2011!

We’re going to completely ignore the fact that it’s been over a year since I blogged at Aquarian Hamster. It happens. Hubby & I are well (other than a whopping cold) & I have no excuses to offer. So here I am. I suppose I could consider my superpower to be Procrastination. . . I am, as a matter of fact, cooking (Thanksgiving) turkey for dinner tonight.

I’ve been trying to avoid getting into that phase of the Christmas season that leaves no time whatsoever to get an unreasonably humongous pile of knitting projects done, bringing on an exponentially increasing state of panic. The kids’ (not-knitted) gifts were done last summer & I am just making a few odds & ends - little projects that don’t require massive allotments of time. Yay!

I did manage to get to both performances of THE MESSIAH, done by the Northwest Chorale. My #3 son plays oboe in the Starry Nights Chamber Orchestra (yes, he’s a pro). The performances were *breathtaking*. I can’t find adequate words to describe the soloists. This production happens every other year. Doug & also I went on our annual downtown Seattle visit, staying at the Fairmont Hotel, where he attends an annual meeting. We always enjoy the festive atmosphere there. We saw A CHRISTMAS CAROL at ACT, which was a fund-raiser for Children’s Hospital in Seattle.

I have had time to relax a bit more throughout the year, and have to admit that this is my first real cold all year! OMG! Part of the more relaxed pace is that my hubby, Doug, has cut down on his work hours. That makes him available to help with our farm & flock. The truly wonderful thing is that he really enjoys it all. Loves the beasties, loves his tractor, and doesn’t mind hauling alfalfa pellets by the ton from the farm store home, and doesn’t mind climbing up to the hay loft to pitch down bales. The biggest plus is that he’s a great guy & fun to be around, to boot. :-)

We celebrated our 30th anniversary with a cruise last August. We took a Holland America Lines ship, the Prinsendam from Amsterdam through the Kiel Canal to the Baltic Sea, visiting Germany, Estonia, St. Petersburg (Russia), & Scandinavia, ending up in London. What a wonderful time! We particularly loved Estonia & Sweden. We hope to get back, and will take a land-based trip next time, so that we can explore the different countries more thoroughly. Cruising (although wonderful) allows for shore excursions which provide mostly a “sampler plate” - just a taste of each port of call. I did manage to come home with yarn from many of our day trips. :-)

On the knitting front, I’ve finished a pair of leafy fingerless mitts which went to a friend. I hope to write up the pattern (my own design, using a lacy leaf pattern from Barbara Walker’s Treasuries). Also finished some Selbuvotter Poodle mittens. I have been trying (for years) to break my lace knitting obsession, & progress to color work and cables. It’s not been an easy transition. I have both kinds of projects lying dormant in baskets until I finish my remaining wee little Christmas projects. So, assuming that I don’t get seduced by yet another lacy, frothy, delicate shawl (as if I seriously needed more to wear in the barn), I should be able to return to my new endeavors by December 26. . . this year.

Monday, May 31, 2010


Well it's about time. Christmas gifts are done! This year, I will not procrastinate. . . I will not procrastinate. . . I will not. . . . .

Here is the Andean Chullo Hat, a kit which was put out by Knitpicks a few years ago. I just couldn't resist making it for our dear friend & llama expert, Niki, who gave me such wonderful guidance over the last few years with our camelids. It was a fun knit (if you don't count the many issues I had with gauge) and eventually I will be making more of this pattern. I have stocked up yarn for several different colorways, and if I can figure out how to do sheep instead of llamas, I'll probably get to it even sooner. I do need to say that the kit is quite generous. I think there are at least two hats, maybe three, worth of yarn in that kit. Niki looks great in red so that was my choice for her.

DeeDee's booties were the other delayed project, mostly because I didn't have access to her feet when I was ready to felt the booties. The unfelted booties lay in a box in the laundry room for several months until I finally gave up & felted them on my own. I am known as “Bigfoot” to friends because of my generous but bony size 10s. My best friends & daughter all wear 8 ½ s which is very inconvenient when I want to do something like this. Fortunately, if they are way off D2 knows how to felt. Or she can bring them back to me, along with her feet, and I will redo them. The pattern is from Cat Bordhi's TREASURY OF MAGICAL KNITTING.

The other knitting project that I tackled in the last few months was a garter stitch shawl. I needed something that I could knit while waiting in the barn, in the cold, in poor light, for my ewes to give birth to their lambs. That needed to be something I could knit in a near-sleep state, with minimally confusing elements & cozy yarn. I chose Suri Dream alpaca from Knitpicks, size 11 needles and a pattern that I ripped out of a magazine years ago. I can't put my fingers on it right now, but it has double increases down the midline & increases on the beginning of each row. A couple rows of yos & togs add a little detail. So there you have it. That's basically the pattern. I did discover that metal needles in a 40 degree barn are not a good idea, so I switched to bamboo early on. Photo will have to wait.

Current knitting is the “Wings of Fantasy” shawl from Blackberry Ridge. I'm using handspun from my yearling ram, Elmer, a moorit (brown) CVM/Romeldale. Last year we showed him at the National CVM/Romeldale show in Estes Park, Colorado, and he came in Reserve (2nd place), behind a lovely ewe who now resides at our farm, too. Elmer won the trophy for “Best Fleece” on the sheep. So this is one very special guy, and I am enjoying every minute of working with his fleece. I am on the border now, last side, halfway done, and I will post a photo later, when I have it knitted & blocked, as we all know that unblocked lace looks like crap. Anyway, here's a photo of my boy, Elmer.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Early Spring

We celebrated Blossom's first birthday & sheared on January 23rd. Blossom has grown into a lovely little ewe, despite the really rough start that she had last year. In every way she appears to be a healthy and happy girl, and was very proud to get her first haircut. She is looking forward to being “auntie” to all the little lambs that will be born over the next month or so.

We chose to shear a little earlier this year for a few different reasons. Weather in this part of the country has been mild, the ewes will be more inclined to spend time inside the barn, and without the mommies' coat of wool, the new lambies will have a pretty easy time finding teats. The sheep are all coated, so that does provide some warmth for them as well. If you are interested in fleeces, email me at yvonne(dot)m(at)comcast(dot)net

Our eight hens go on a little sabbatical from laying eggs in the short winter days with fewer hours of sunshine. We choose not to force the issue by providing extra light in their coop during those days, so we are always delighted when they begin their production again. There's nothing quite like the feel of eggs, still warm from the hens, in my hands. The kids call them “just-got-laid eggs”.

On the knitting front, I am still finishing Christmas knitting. No photos right now because I don't want to spoil a surprise.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I'm Having Issues.

Gauge issues. This is the last of the belated Christmas gifts that I am still trying to finish. (Christmas last year. Long story. Don't ask.) And it's been awhile since I've done any two-color knitting. These little ear flaps are knitted flat (rather than circular), which complicates matters. It seems that I purl much more loosely than I knit, so my gauge is off. Not so much the stitch gauge, but the row gauge. The first time I knitted one of these pieces, what was supposed to be 4” tall turned out 5 1/4”. The width, which was also supposed to be 4”, was 4 1/2” How can that be??? Wouldn't it seem logical that it would increase equally in both directions? Clearly, my knitting is messing with me again. Anyway, I frogged & went down a needle size. When I finished these two pieces (and they turned out a bit closer to the suggested size) & attached them to the body of the hat to work in the round, my gauge suddenly changed, and I needed to jump back up a needle size to have the stitches look more alike. Live and learn.

Well, I am glad that I'm down to the last project.

I did finish a set of quilted placemats for the in-laws. Doug's folks in Arizona moved into a new home last year, and these should work well with their new décor & dishes. The placemats are reversible. I machine quilted a large piece of fabric for the centers, cut that into 12 3/4” squares, then added the side rectangles. Binding took the longest.

On another front, the chickens have suddenly realized that the days are getting longer again! We are getting 2 – 5 eggs/day from our eight little ladies. As the days lengthen even more, we will get 6 or 7/day. The weather has been warm enough that the girls have been able to go out & wander in the yard, searching out bugs & worms to consume. Amazing little creatures, these hens! They take leftover food, & veggie scraps from food preparation, along with a bit of chicken food, and make eggs out of them, all the while entertaining us with their antics.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year, 2010!

We were so happy to have the family with us for the holidays. Last year, snow nearly everywhere from Bellingham WA to Billings MT kept our daughter & her boyfriend on the other side of the hump. We didn't get together until spring. But this year, travel was without incident, and all made it here safely. Lisa & Josh, Brian & Robin, Scott, Jeff & Mandi were all here at the same time. Daughter-in-law, Libby had to work & we missed her, but her gift went home with Jeff. And Doug was actually off both Christmas Eve & Christmas Day!

We did have a house-full, and had planned to overflow into our trailer. When I went out to turn up the heat & make up the bed, I found that the carpet in the bedroom was saturated with water. Squishy. Nearly frozen. No mildew, though. There was “room at the inn”, fortunately, so Brian & Robin went to stay at the Comfort Inn nearby. I hear that the TV was better there, anyway. (The trailer will be fine.)

Brian & Robin have a tradition of making chocolate truffles every year. They got a late start this year, but worked early into the morning preparing ganache in various flavors (lavender/vanilla is our favorite), which they brought here to finish off with the assistance of other family members. It's a messy job, but, you know, somebody's got to do it. While the rest of us were in the kitchen, Doug & Josh pulled the soggy carpet from the trailer.

Gifting is sometimes a challenge, but I think I did okay this year. I swore up & down that I wasn't going to knit any Christmas gifts this year, and I really didn't do very much. The one that remains to be opened was the biggest project, and of course I can't tell you because the recipient hasn't received it yet. But here's a peek.

I can tell you that I got hooked on the “Mrs. Beeton” wrist warmer pattern from I wore the first one while knitting the second one, and I haven't been able to part with any of them yet. I can knit one in an evening, and despite the fact that they're, as one knitter describes, “a bit fiddly”, they turn out gorgeous, and I feel compelled to choose different colors of DK yarn to combine with different colors of lace weight yarn, and beads. Oh My, the possibilities. And I really don't even like ruffles. It just seems that no matter how warm the rest of me is, the wrists are cold. Not enough fat or muscle mass there, I guess. The ones I plan to keep are alpaca, which should be really warm.

The one major project that I did finish this year was the Christmas tree skirt. I've made five of this pattern now, and this is the first one I've kept. Over the years, one was made for Jeff & Libby using fabrics from their wedding, one for Scott (who was a banker at the time) out of neckties, and two of Christmas fabrics. This one is staying with us.

Happy New Year, everybody!