Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Controlled (?) Chaos

Shearing is potentially the most chaotic day of the year. I expect an unknown number of volunteers (ranging from three one year to a possible 25 this year); I have no control over the weather; and I have no control over the events of the day. No matter how hard I try to be ready for everything,  I always spend a lot of time running back and forth to the house for missed items, coffee break goodies, extra mittens for whoever isn't warm, antibiotics, soldering iron, extension cords, barn records, etc.

Once when I went to the house for coffee and cookies at 10 am, I realized that I hadn't started the crock pot. The stew was thawed but not hot by noon. Fortunately, we had the microwave and lots of sandwich fixings.This year when I went in for a third extension cord, Newton, the dog, had had diarrhea in the front entry way, the kitchen and on the carpet. I wiped up the mess and ran back to the barn.

Every year we have some old hands at shearing and some novices. Dave teaches how to give shots and trim hooves. I explain how to label bags and sweep the shearing floor. But I spend most of my time teaching people how to skirt fleeces. Even with coats, the fleeces still need to be skirted. We pull off the dirty wool that was around the sheep's rear ends. We look for veggies in the wool around the ewe's necks. We sorrowfully throw out complete fleeces if the sheep lost their coat between coating and shearing.

I work around the skirting table advising and correcting and demonstrating good skirting technique. I run to the house and back. I help drive sheep into and out of the shearing pen. I try to talk with everyone in the barn.

This year, Ann Arbor Miller, a wonderful photographer, joined us in the barn and I was able to see shearing through her eyes, a completely new view. I saw Greg concentrate on trimming hooves, watched as Tom, the shearer finished a ewe and rose to release her. I saw the silvery simplicity of Tom's tools and watched the concentration on Betsy's face as she skirted.

On a day when the temperature was 6 degrees below zero, twelve people worked in the barn in complete comfort, enjoying the job, the company, and the sheep.  The chaos was all in my mind.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Beautiful color

"I don't know what colors are in," I moaned as I fingered my dye sample yarns.
"I could never be a fiber person," Dave said. "All I know about color is to say 'that looks nice on you.'".

I know what colors I like to wear - teals, purples and blues. But I'm so far from reading fashion magazine that it's embarrassing. I  love dyeing. At the beginnin of each year, with luck before we shear, I use up the old fleeces. I do a final skirting to make sure they are free of debris, wash them and then either send them to Chris at Dakota Fiber Mill to be carded and spun into yarn or dye the fleeces and then send them off to Chris to be carded into roving for spinners and felters.

This year, I had a backlog of fleeces to use up. Dave and I washed 100 pounds of white wool and sent the resulting 50 pounds of clean white wool to Dakota Fiber Mill to be carded and spun into a 2 ply sport weight yarn. Then I began transforming my old 2 ply white yarn. Six skeins dyed red, six dyed orange, six yellow, six bright green, six dark green. Before I realised it, I had dyed my entire stock of  2 ply white yarn. I was sad that I hadn't been able to complete an entire rainbow of colors.

Then I got a commission to dye eight skeins of bulky white yarn a rich sumac color. It took three trials to get the color right. The first skein, dyed with one tablespoon madder orange dye and tablespoon wattle bark dye, was too light. I used up the left over dye in the pot (also called exhausting the dye) on a pound of raw wool and then doubled the amount of dye for the next trial. The second skein was too orange. I exhausted that dye bath on another pound of raw wool. I began again, using two tablespoons of wattle bark dye and two tablespoons cranberry dye for each skein of yarn. When I pulled the skeins out of the pot, the color was deep and rich. I knew the woman's husband would say "that looks nice on you."

After the yarn was finished, I dumped a couple more  pounds of raw wool into the dye bath. When I take those three batches of dyed wool to be carded into roving, the end result will be a vibrant, deep orange red. It really doesn't matter if that particular color is "in" or not; people will buy it because it is so beautiful. And even if they don't, I will use it for felted sunrises and sunsets, for poppies and maple leaves, for pomegranates and sumac berries. The oranges may not be my favorite colors to wear, but they are still beautiful.