It has been a nice, warm winter. I spent yesterday afternoon outside shoveling around the greenhouse, collecting snowmelt water for our indoor plants, and doing sheep-related chores such as cleanup of breeding paddocks and barn. We are overwintering our largest flock ever, but it's still small. Check our sales page for sheep for sale, as we still have some. Prices will go up to spring prices after February 19th because we are buying more hay soon and need to feed these critters! We got our sign finished last summer, so we're easy to find now, too. Most of what we have left are fiber pets or horned breeding stock, one horned ewe for sale and a couple other polled ewes. Every lamb we kept over the winter has FFSSA Grade 2 fleece or finer. It's a good time to find someone special for your spinning flock! At the end of this week I hope to be picking up our 2015 spring-sheared processed wool at the mill. We'll have mill-spun yarns in several colors and rovings in several colors. New this year will be single-ply Lopi style mill-spun yarn as well. Of course, I am continuing to hand-spin yarn at home, too, and to knit various items. Many babies born into our extended family this year, so I've been knitting primarily baby items and also hats and cowls to sell or give as gifts. I also made many, many dryer balls this year for gifts.
Our 2015 lamb crop totaled 22 live births, all 22 are healthy and doing well. Of the 11 ram lambs, we castrated 9 for meat or fiber pets (all for sale) and left two intact, Jupiter, the gray katmoget horned ram pictured above, and Mercury, the horned yuglet pictured below. Below that is Snowy Eve's moorit wethered ram lamb. We will be retaining 3-4 of the 11 ewe lambs and selling the rest; many are excellent and we have blacks, moorits, and fawn katmogets available, most but not all are spotted.
Our Northern Lights Handspinners Guild Retreat in February was a very fun learning experience. Our main theme was colorwork this year. Immediately above is the beginning of our Fair Isle knitting project that we did in a class taught by guild member Celeste. I just finished the knitting today (March 7) and will now full it in my washing machine and dryer to shrink it into a tight, strong little cup to hang on my spinning wheel to hold woolies or tools--something I need and have been wanting to make for a long time. Besides, any owner and breeder of Shetland sheep should know how to do Fair Isle knitting, since it was developed on the Shetland Islands and Shetland wool is its original material. Looking forward to doing a lot more but am sticking with simple patterns for now.
The photo at the top of this post is of rolags I rolled from a multi-color batt blended and created in a class taught by guild member Rene', who is an expert with color. She taught us to take a favorite photo, analyze it for color, and then quantify and blend the colors in it (just as you would blend colors for a watercolor or acrylic or oil painting, but you use fiber instead of paint) and create batts which we then spin yarn from. With the yarn, we knit or crochet or weave an item that will have the colors of the picture we started with in same pleasing proportions as in the picture. The knit sweaters and vest she made for herself using this method were stunning, one of a kind wearable art. I am excited about spinning my rolags and knitting something from the yarn--probably a hat or mittens. The picture I used was a small acrylic abstract I did while "playing" in an "Artist's Way" course taught by Jerilyn Dinsmoor when I lived in the La Crosse area 4-5 years ago. Jerilyn would be pleased to know that "play session" designed to enhance creativity was the beginning of a new wearable work of art. She has also delved into the fiber arts in the past.
Happy Valentine's Day, 2015! I knit these from sock yarn and a heart pin pattern in Closely Knit: Handmade Gifts for the Ones You Love
by Hannah Fetting. They have pins sewed on the back. I have mailed them to my 3 girls in Denver. It was a fun little project and I might do more next year, but for this year, 3 was my time and energy limit! Too many other projects to work on. Next blog will be about what we did at the Northern Lights Handspinners Guild retreat in the Twin Cities area last weekend--lots of interesting colorwork with our able member/teachers, Celeste and Rene' stay tuned...
I ordered some blank silk scarves from Dharma Trading Company in mid-August. On the left is a blank, undyed Habotai Silk 8" x 54" one and on the right is its twin which I dyed with natural dyes in a two-step Shibori tying process that Anne Burgeson demonstrated to me while she was here at our dyeing workshop September 12 and 13, 2014. First, I folded the scarf in half as they are seen here hanging from a towel rack in the photo. Then I folded it lengthwise so it was half as wide. I made 1" pleats in this, ironed in the pleats, basted gathers, and tied the gathers tightly with carpet thread. I then solar-dyed it in Hass avocado dye I had previously extracted from saved avocado skins and refridgerated.. This produced a scarf that had narrow horizontal white stripes where it had been tied and was a rosy apricot-tan over the rest. Once it was rinsed and dried, I re-ironed the same pleats and re-tied them halfway between the white stripes created by the first tyeing. Then I re-dyed it in a first bath of Japanese Indigo dye I extracted from fresh leaves that I've grown and harvested. I dried, then redipped it; silk uptakes indigo more slowly than wool does. Then I dried it again, and soaked and rinsed it to wash out excess dye and chemicals, and dried it overnight, not untying it until the following day. I pressed it, and here it is, all done! Note how dye also concentrated in the pleat folds for a subtle vertical striping effect as well, and note the blue stripes the indigo (applied to previously white stripes where they tying was the first time) made. I am reasonably pleased with the color and pattern blends that resulted. Next, I want to try indigo with yellow overdye or vice versa on the blank scarf I have left, but that will have to wait until next summer--it's going to freeze and destroy me Japanese Indigo bed ttonight, and I have run out of energy and chemicals. Three double batches of Japanese Indigo extraction and dyeing in one season is enough--time to move on to spinning up some pretty yarns.
I'm still dyeing. Solar dyeing in this series of Sept. 15 photos includes, left to right Old Man's Beard Lichen (which went on to turn pale blue green, although the lichen in the sunlight turned dark aquamarine!), avocado (peach color), and red cosmos (celedon color). There is now an additional Black-eyed Susan jar incubating, but that one is difficult to extract to its full potential of olive green with alum mordant. Mine will be tannish. Photos of dyed wool drying on the rack in my workshop/studio were also taken Sept. 15, and more have been added since. i've been protecting the Japanese Indigo patches from light frost and hope to have time to do one more indigo dyeing session--blues are very deep this year, as you can see in the photos, and the 2nd (boiled leaves) extract is so strong it is coming up a beautiful peachy color this year instead of the usual yellow. it has really been an excecptional year for natural dyeing. I have a silk scarf that I Shibori-tied that I pre-dyed in avocado to a very warm apricot/tan. I will re-tye and over dye in al blue indigo extraction if I get time. So fun to play! The silk scarf blanks are very reasonably priced from Dharma Trading Company (http://www.dharmatrading.com/) ; I have 2 more on hand to play with later!
It was time. Frost was coming. I canceled my Saturday plans. Russ cleaned his workshop and generously shared it so that Anne Burgeson, my friend and Fiber Arts teacher from the Twin Cities, and I could convert it into "Dyeing Central." Besides Anne, I invited several friends and their fiber over for a visit on the spur of the moment, because the weather forecast just wouldn't allow us to wait any longer. Russ's workshop magically became a beautiful space cleaned up by him with a fire in the wood stove, the hot water heater turned on, and Anne's dyeing equipment set up. We had a variety and fresh and preserved natural materials to work with; yesterday's workshop specialized in natural dyes that do not require mordants. Simple is good. We pumped or dipped pure, very soft rainwater from our rain barrels. The range of colors, variety, intensity we got was, well, to dye for. More later, with photos...And yes, it did freeze here last night. So, we had harvested my very growthy, succulent Japanese Indigo just in the nick of time, and what a good time we had. We even did experiments, and they all worked (except for my annual failed effort to get nice reds and pinks naturally.) Thank you, Ann, Russ, and my friends who showed up on short notice to make this wonderful, spur of the moment event possible. I'm letting a couple final baths cool now and this morning I dipped into the mordants just a bit to try and pull those elusive pinks and reds from my red cosmos, but, no dice, no red, just the usual pretty greenish yellow. Will try an avocado bath next, but it will probably be just the usual pretty apricot,and this weekend we discovered much easier ways to get that.! Thanks to Russ for facilities and kitchen support, and to Anne and my other dyeing friends for making this such a special event. Did I mention this photo is already out of date? More colors added this morning.
We waited until the ewes were showing signs of not letting the lambs nurse, putting a leg in the way, walking off, etc. That is usually when the lambs are 10-12 weeks old, and now all the lambs are 12 weeks old. It was easiest then to separate the ewes out and put them in their own pasture, which is what we did. Their initial reaction is usually one of gratefulness for the R&R and the lambs do all the bleating, not the ewes. Then after 12 hours or so when their udders are more full, the ewes call back to the lambs. In a couple days all the noise subsides, with only occasional calling back and forth. I check the ewes once a day or so to make sure they are not experiencing excessive engorgement. If we can catch one who appears engorged, we sometimes put her on the stand with the headlock and milk her out, freezing the milk for any lambs who might need it next year. Usually this isn't necessary and if we do it, it prolongs the weaning process slightly. After 3 weeks to a month, everyone can be back together again. Meanwhile, the yearling ewes do a good job babysitting their little brothers, sisters, neices and nephews. We make sure to check for signs of worms and worm if necessary. We also check and trim hooves at weaning time. Our home-made chute is very handy for separating the mothers from the yearlings and lambs. If we wean during the heat of the summer in July, we also can leave both sexes of lambs together for awhile, which simplifies things. In the photo, our white horned yearling ewe lambs Gale and Eve babysit a bunch of lambs.
Our sheep all got a new look June 5 when they got their annual haircuts! We have 17 lovely fleeces available for sale. Right now they are in the raw state and most are on the 2nd skirting. Once I have skirted them all 2-3 times I'll start washing them, so if you want a raw one, speak up now. Colors available are white, black, shaela, fawn, oatmeal (light fawn), moorit, mioget, and light gray. (I only have one black and one shaela, however, so will probably keep those for myself. Most this year are FFSSA grade 2 fine or grade 3 medium fine.
Our flock in Rusk County (Northern) Wisconsin is finally starting on grass. Above is Velvet Night with her ewe twin lambs Victoria and Tasha, who will be 7 weeks old tomorrow. These lovely purebred Shetland lambs will likely have have premium, fine, uniform fleece, and they also have excellent overall confirmation. We'll probably keep one and sell one, but the decision on which to keep and which to sell will be tough.
Yesterday Russ let our flock of ewes and lambs into a small paddock he fenced with electronet our very large yard. (The rams are already on grass.) With all the rain and some warm weather we've had recently, the pastures are lush and ready, however we are adjusting the sheep gradually. In 3 to 4 days, we'll start them for a few hours each day in the big pasture's grassiest portion and after several days of increasing pasture time, move them to the richer portions that have more legumes. Meanwhile, we have plenty of hay and free-choice rumen buffer available as they make their transition to fresh pasture, and rumen buffer will continue to well-stocked for the grazing season. We are also gradually swiitching our Pipestone winter mineral (pre-)mix that contains Vitamine E to the very economical summer (pre-)mix without Vitamin E, since fresh pasture already has plenty of Vitamin E. Winter and summer mineral concentrates that mix with plain salt you buy from your feedmill can be purchased online or directly from Pipestone Veterinary Services located in Pipestone, MN and at 2 locations in Iowa. Pipestone also has sheep (and other types of livestock) experts on hand who listen to your situation and provide excellent advice online or by phone for questions about a product you are thinking of purchasing. There are informative newsletters online at their website, too. We met Dr. Kennedy from Pipestone Veterinary at our Indianhead Sheep Producers Conference in February, 2014. We were impressed. He gave us and the other shepherds there excellent, very practical advice which we are implementing in our flock with great success. He and his wife have years and years of hands-on experience caring for sheep, and besides being so knowledgable, they were also very kind to us. Thank you, Dr. and Mrs. Kennedy! And if you don't believe us, just ask Brian and Tammy Michealson, one of the 5 or 6 commericial sheep dairy owners in our county. (Rusk County is known for excellent grass growing and contains all but one or two of the large commercial sheep dairies in Wisconsin. Thanks also to Brian, for recommending Pipestone 's products to us.
Jeanne Dukerschein loves animals and also has enjoyed lifelong interests in fiber arts, nature, and writing. In 2006, she learned to spin her own yarns and purchased her first Shetland ewe. Her poetry and fiber art, as well as her 20-year career as a freshwater biologist, carry common themes of nature, ecology, and