Monday, October 28, 2013

Fallen leaves

The walnut leaves turned from green to gold, and after the freeze, lost their connection to the branch and vanished on the wind. The walnut fruits themselves are rotting in a bucket of water on the back deck. Next week, I’ll simmer them for a couple of hours and strain the dye liquor from the nuts.

Walnut is a substantive dye. That means I can dye wool with only the dye liquor, no added mordant. I usually get a pale brown color when I dye with walnuts, but my friend Kate discovered that she can get a beautiful deep brown color by soaking the walnut fruit in water for a long time. I’m perfectly willing to wait until next week for a deep brown dye bath. After all, I’ve waited all summer, since the leaves first appeared, for the trees to produce nuts. What’s another week after the leaves have fallen?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

In the dark

photo by Dave Ellison

It’s dark when we take Newton for his last walk of the day. I like to walk in the dark. We leave the house lights behind us and head up the drive way, feeling the path through our feet. Eventually, an area of paler dark appears at the edge of the woods, arched over by branches. Next the stars appear through the trees. Newton is a pale blur on the road, I locate him by the sound of his dog tags. One night last week, a coyote howled, and then a second. It sounded as if they were right outside our pasture fence.

Our sheep were all in the far pasture, the one without a top wire of barbed wire. I had just talked to a friend who lost nine lambs to coyotes. “I’ll get the head lights,” Dave said and turned back toward the house.I finished walking Newton and then headed out into the pastures. I could see Dave’s head light bobbing in the south central pasture, but I couldn’t see the sheep. I followed the fence lines down and met him at the gate. The ewes followed him, puzzled but not worried. They circled around, confused by the lights. I went wide, trying to get behind the sheep without spooking them and a few turned to follow me. This could be the beginning of a mass exodus back to the pasture from which they had just come. “Call them!” I shouted to Dave.

“Hay ewes.” The stragglers turned and followed him through the next gate. I continued on out to the far pasture, sweeping my head from side to side as I walked, trying to shed light on every section of the field, checking to make sure that no lambs or ewes had been left behind. Finally, satisfied that all the sheep had followed Dave into the barnyard, I turned around, turned off my head lamp and headed home.

Behind me in the distance, the warm glow of Pelican Rapids filled the western sky. Ahead of me, to the north, a pale patch of peach drifted in the heavens. Another patch to the east, further south than I had seen the aurora for a very long time. I stood and watched the charged particles shimmer in the sky and then begin to fade.


“Did you see it,” I shouted. “Was it the aurora?”

“I don’t know what else it could have been,” Dave said as I joined him. “It was beautiful.” We walked side by side through the barnyard , listening to the sound of sheep eating grass, smelling the ripe scent of fresh manure, and feeling the dew soak into our socks, content in the dark.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Dakota Fiber Mill - almost local

When I walked into Dakota Fiber Mill, I knew that my wool had come to a good place.

Chris Armbrust, the owner, had four huge sinks for washing fleeces, rack after rack of drying fleeces, and in the center of the building a carding machine, gradually spilling out a rope of beautiful brown roving. Her carding machine was at least four times the size of mine. It self- fed the picked wool into the cards and fed the carded wool through a small hole to create the roving automatically. It was magical.

After she’s washed and carded a fleece, Chris consolidates three batches of carded wool into one. Then she runs the carded fiber up over a pipe near the ceiling and down into the spinning machine. The back half of the Mill was an amazing spinning machine that reached from floor to ceiling. “It’s only a part of the original,” Chris said. “I couldn’t afford the entire machine and didn’t have room for it either.”

Chris has an unbelievable turn-around time. Her carded roving is beautiful and her three ply sock yarn was spun tightly enough so that it should wear really well. After years of frustration with slow turn-around times at mills and mixed up orders, it is a delight to work with a person who checks in by email if she has a question, is flexible and willing to try new techniques, and who works fast. The best part for me is that the Dakota Fiber Mill is only an hour’s drive away. I love to do things “locally”.