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Weekend Foraging

It’s just days away until Summer is over. And it’s time to be gathering some of the best dye plants in our area. This past weekend, Bill and I headed out to find Goldenrod. It is an amazing dye plant. It grows wild all along the roadways here in Maryland. And we were lucky to find some that had been spared from mowing and herbicides that are used along roads to keep the weeds at bay. They were in full delightful bloom.

Goldenrod

My plan is to separate the blooms from the leaves and woody stem. The stems will go into the compost pile. The leaves will be dried and frozen for later dye sessions throughout the winter. The flowers will be made into a dye pot this week.

Here’s what I will be doing…. I will cover the blooms with water (at a neutral pH). In fact I may put my rain barrel back in service, since we should be getting some rain this week. I will slowly raise the temperature of the flower water mixture, careful not to boil it. I will keep the water just below the simmer. Then I will set it aside and let it cool. Once cool I will remove the flowers.

When it’s time to dye, I will presoak my scoured and mordanted wool and then add it to the dye pot. A good rule of thumb is to have equal weights of fresh flowers and dry wool. This will give you a nice shade. I will begin to raise the heat of my dye pot and again keep it under the simmer for 1 hour. I will check it to see if I want to leave the wool in overnight, or just stop there.

Then I can make a determination if there is leftover dye (exhaust) that I can use to dye more yarn in a soft, more muted color. I’m super excited to get started!!

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Love, Love, Love Your Yarn!

I have been on a quest, a quest for us to really, really love and honor the yarn we have for several years now. If you have been following my podcast or blogs or newsletter, you know this already.

But, it bears repeating, because I am still feeling the shame. And we are starting to have the opportunity for in-person shows. I want you to delight in the festivals. I want you to feel the pull of creating something new. That’s the best feeling right? It is for me.

So in order to do that you must banish the word….stash. I’ve spoken to many of you in person about ejecting this word and concept from your vocabulary. When I hear people talking about their stash it is not out of pride. I don’t hear “You should see my stash! It is lovely.” More often I hear, “I can’t buy anything until I use my stash.” It is said in a kind of Eeyore voice. It is said with shame. Let’s banish that word! Let’s trash the shame!

I propose that we all use the word, “collection” instead. You are the curator. It is your collection. Each skein and ball that is in your collection was lovingly acquired. Some with a specific project in mind and others just thrilled you with color or texture or softness. I know that when we change our language, we change our outlook or attitude about the yarn that we have collected. We will be able to see those threads in a different light. We may even go through them and realize, “Hey! I’ve grown out of using this yarn, or this color!” Those parts of your collection can be donated or gifted. You have the power to make the choices, after all it is YOUR collection. And you are the curator. That’s the job of a curator, right?

So, let’s make the commitment to value our collections, to explore them anew and discover what you love about them and which ones need to find a new home. Let’s find some new ways of using what we have and making room to buy new skeins to augment your collection. If you would like to explore your collection in an organized way, you can listen to Season 2 of my podcast. Click here to find the Season 2 Episodes or subscribe on Apple iTunes, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. I walk you through all the steps that I believe will help you organize your collection. I take you through these steps so that you don’t get overwhelmed.

And now is the right time to start this. Our first in-person show in the Mid-Atlantic is Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival and that is a mere 2 weeks away. So change your vocabulary and change your mindset. Really REVEL in your collection. And see what you need to make your collection more complete.

What do you think? 

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I Love Wool!

Wool has a bit of a bad rap. So many people tell me they can’t wear wool because they are allergic or it is itchy. Yes there are some itchy wools that shouldn’t be worn next to your skin. But there are many wool yarns that are soft to the touch and make fabric with lovely drape and softness. The trick is to understand the difference and choose the best wool for your project. In my opinion, it is totally worth the time and trouble to find a wool yarn that works for you and for the think you want to make. Even my itchiest mohair wool blend sweater loses it’s itch factor when I wear a cotton turtleneck underneath and I get the benefit of beauty, comfort, warmth and durability.

Our first two sheep: BFL named Puck and Cormo named Viola plus 2 angora goats

Wool is a totally renewable, sustainable fiber. It grows back year after year. Our sheep are mostly grass fed as well. So I’m not feeding them grain or other processed feed. This is a big part of regenerative agriculture. The sheep and goats eat down our grass and as they do they also fertilize the ground.

Processing wool does not have to have a large carbon or chemical footprint.  Cleaning takes hot water and some soap.  The rest of the processing (carding and spinning) can be done totally by hand, but even if it is processed at a mill, there is just electricity used in most cases. One of the mills that I use is even going solar. So even less electricity from traditional coal fired plants is being used.  

Naturally dyed wool and mohair yarns

Superwash wool has the least “itchiness”. It has been highly processed to remove the scales on the individual fibers. Tha means that it also has the highest environmental impact. I do like to use superwash wools for socks, knowing that it is a little less ecologically friendly. And knowing that the care and use of those socks will be easier.

Wool is biodegradable. In fact, it can be used as an excellent nitrogen source for mulching. Some shepherds use the skirtings (dirtier wool from the bellies and legs) as mulch for their gardens or orchards. You can also put it into your compost pile to add valuable nitrogen to your soil in your gardens.

Wool is flame resistant so it naturally defends against fire.  When exposed to a flame, the fibers extinguish themselves. This can’t be said for manufactured fibers that contain plastics.

Wool is a great insulator. Some new “green” homes are using wool as insulation.  As insulation, wool wicks moisture away from the home and reduces the presence of mold and bacteria. It also acts as a filter for odors in a home. This insulator property is also why wool socks, undergarments and sweaters are worn by hikers and other alpine enthusiasts. Even when you sweat the wool moves it away from your body and keeps you cooler. As outerwear, wool keeps you warm in the winter by insulating and cool in the summer by being breathable. It wicks away moisture from your body, so the moisture is evaporated. It also repels water since the outer layer of the fiber is hydrophobic.

For garments, wool is very easy to care for. Of course you shouldn’t put it in the washer and dryer, but handwashing and air drying is all you need to do. Most stains are easy to remove either with soap and water.  It is highly durable so it is a smart investment for your wardrobe.

Panchia says “Try wool! Ewe’ll like it!!”

Do you love wool? Why or why not? Post a comment to share your thoughts on wool.

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Life is too Short to NOT Use the Good Stuff!!

“I’m just learning, so I’m going to use cheap yarn/roving until I know what I’m doing. I don’t want to waste it.”

Skeins of the 5 Elements collection. Buy some here!

I hear those words all the time in classes and during fiber festivals. I even said it myself when I was learning how to knit socks. Before I had the yarn business, I wanted to knit socks, everyone was doing it. So I went to one of those big box craft stores and bought some acrylic yarn and needles and the pamphlet-like book “My first socks” or something like that.

I knit and knit and knit. I was just about to the heel, when I met Ellen. We roomed together at a SOAR retreat in 2007. She saw my very large and unwearable sock and said, “You need to get good sock yarn. That yarn will just not do.”  So at the vendor booths the next day I bought a skein of really teeny sock yarn. I was totally scared. I had to buy smaller (#1) double pointed needles, too. Ellen shepherded me through the casting on of 62 stitches and making the K2P1 ribbing. But that was as far as I got that weekend.

At home I again reached the heel. Ellen coached me over the phone and I was able to get through the instructions for the short rows of the heel. I could pick up the stitches easily and finish up that first sock. I cast on the other sock and soon completed that sock.

What I learned was that Ellen was right. The socks turned out so well.  I was kept engaged because the hand dyed colors kept changing through the socks. Yes, making those socks was more enjoyable. The colors were better. The end product was actually wearable, not 6 sizes too big.

Now I knit socks 2 at a time on one needle. Learn how here!

Since that time, I tell my students and customers to use the “good stuff”. It is like having great china and only using it for “special” occasions. Start taking out that silver and china and use it! Don’t save it for “later” and then never, ever use it.  Enjoy what you have! Don’t deprive yourself until you are a better knitter or crocheter or spinner. Use it today! 

Because if you don’t and continue use the wrong yarn or roving, you may just give up before you get to be a better knitter (spinner or crocheter). You think the problem is you, when really the problem is the cheap stuff that can be harder to use or doesn’t feel good in your hands or just isn’t very pretty.  That kind of reasoning becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. And you will think to yourself, thank goodness, I didn’t use the good stuff when I had no business even trying to learn to ____ (fill in the blank with spin, knit, crochet). So pull out that beautiful yarn, buy that gorgeous roving and USE IT!!

Sparkly yarn is so fun!! Find it here!

P.S. I love those socks and still wear them!!!

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goal attained!

This year one business goal was to widen out my farm yarn line. I have lots of choices in the Worsted weight yarn. I have Synergy: the marled yarn that looks hand spun. I have LiViLy that is from my fine wool Cormo Sheep. I have Trasna made from the long lustrous fleeces of my BFL Cormo Hybrid sheep. I have Fingals which is from my pure bred BFL sheep. That’s a lot of yarn in one single weight.

So this year, I wanted to add a fingering and a sport weight to my wool yarns. I also wanted to replenish my yearling mohair that is a fingering weight yarn. And I have a LOT of PolyPay wool that I bought from a shepherd in Virginia. I really want it to be a bulky yarn.

So yesterday I unboxed my yarn shipment from the mill. And I was sooooo happy.

I have a beautiful fingering weight wool from the hybrids. there are over 400 yards in a 4 oz skein.

Fingering weight fine wool yarn

I have a lovely sport weight yarn with the cormo wool that has over 300 yards in a skein.

Sport weight fine wool yarn

The yearling mohair came back perfectly matching the previous run.

Fingering weight mohair yarn

The polypay did not come back as bulky. It came back as worsted. But it is lovely. The wool “tells” us how it wants to be spun. And it really didn’t want to be bulky.

Worsted Polypay yarn

Time to get to the dye pots and see how these babies do. I usually don’t list my farm yarns in it’s natural form. But if you see something you really need, just shoot me an email.

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Time for a staycation?

Wow! Let’s be real here. The world is changing by the minute, right? Two weeks ago I was dreaming about my 10 days in Europe on a river cruise. I was thinking about what clothes to take, what books to read and what knitting projects to take for the long plane ride. Now? We’re staying home. Not because we are worried about getting sick, but because we were worried about getting stuck someplace. With MD sheep and wool festival coming up and off farm jobs awaiting, we just couldn’t risk getting stuck. Are you experiencing something similar?

Yarn for Conflagration scarf kit

If you want to drive out to the country and shop for materials to make a new shawl or sweater, just shoot me an email and make an appointment to come over and shop.

Another colorway for Conflagration Scarf

Do you need to self quarantine? Well, you can always buy a kit or a sweater full of yarn in our webstore.

Yarn for a Fade cardigan

Knitting is always there to help you through long days. And we are here to help you with new inspiration and ideas to make your hands and heart soar!

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yarn spotlight: Puck’s Choice

Puck’s Choice yarn is a farm yarn made from the fleeces of our beloved Puck, our first sheep. She was a BFL cross, a typical lustrous longwool sheep. I took her fleeces and blended them with charcoal mohair from Twilight and her babies as well as a black alpaca fleece that I purchased from an alpaca farm in Virginia. The blend is equal parts of these 3 yarns. The result is a wonderful dark charcoal yarn that has varying saturations of color.

This yarn is a 2 ply that is a DK weight yarn. It is soft and durable. Is it next to the skin soft? No it isn’t. But it will make a great sweater. I imagine an Icelandic inspired yoke sweater that is all the rage. You can add beautiful color for the colorwork and have Puck as the body of the sweater. It will make great hats, showing off cables or even lace. And it will make good socks and slippers. It is really versatile.

If you are local, in Maryland, you could use this yarn for the garment competition at MD Sheep and Wool Festival. There is a special award for those using a Maryland yarn. If you are within our fibershed, you can call this local to you and make a garment for your #oneoutfit100days. You can be sure that these animals were treated well and even spoiled. The yarn was made from animals with names. You can get the yarn by clicking here.

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on a roll with Chinook yarn

Yep! I keep getting more and more ideas for colorways on this wonderful, luxurious yarn. It’s a blend of superwash merino, nylon and cashmere. You can make the softest sock which still have the strength of nylon and the bounciness of wool. OR you can make a wonderful shawl or scarf that you can wear to keep warm that is next to the skin soft!!

These remind me of water and the coast!
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new shawl using Alto DK yarn

Kira Wharton just published a new pattern using our Alto DK yarn. It’s called Verdant Pines and is available on Ravelry here. It is a really ample shawl that has great drape and luster. This yarn is a blend of Blue Faced Leicester wool and silk. You can wear this with a dress or jeans.

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yarn made by the flock

Well they made the fleeces, right? They ate grass and a little grain. They hung out in the barn. They did their part to add more carbon and nitrogen into the soil here at the farm. And once a year they are shorn, no it doesn’t hurt them. And then I take it to be cleaned, combed and spun into yarn.

wool and mohair yarns made from our own fleeces

Sometimes I leave them in their natural colors and sometimes I dye them up in luscious colors.

2 ply mohair yarn dyed up
Fun color experiments that will become a stripe-y garment