Monday, November 19, 2012

A Good Day to Dye

Oh, to be a poor photographer when natural dyes can give such delicate and subtle color!

This vessel was wet felted and then dyed in an exhaust bath of black walnut. It was then over-dyed in an indigo exhaust. The walnut shifts the indigo into an earthier blue-slightly less turquoise. Some silk fiber was added to the dyebaths at the same time, and this eventually was spun into the 2-ply silk yarn that edges the piece. Of course, I couldn't resist adding a bit of wool roving into the baths when I was finished. Can't wait to felt or spin this!

I have spent the past few days felting and today was ready to get into a bit of color! I worked with black walnut, an exhaust mix of madder root and cochineal, and my beloved lichen.
The above photo shows felt that was dyed in black walnut. I am now soaking the rim in the lichen, which doesn't get heated as it is a fermentation dye. It will most likely need to soak overnight to get the depth of color that I am looking for (I love the little droplet in the pic).

"Pollen Baskets" is a piece that is comprised of six little vessels that make the "whole". Each piece was felted around a stone or a buckeye and has it own organic form. I had been planning to dye them  in goldenrod, as that seems to be a staple for the honeybees when I am out foraging for it (I am a respectful forager). However, even the strongest goldenrod dyebath leaned a bit too far to a lemony shade- not quite the color that I envisioned. So, into the dyebath I added a touch of osage orange and there was that beautiful, sunny golden yellow!

The openings were rimmed in encaustic wax (beeswax and damar resin) and just "touched" with gold leaf. While I had only planned on making six little pieces, I am starting to have this vision of a table top covered with these little pollen baskets. Stay tuned!

This week we said good-bye to our old granny kitty- Belle. Belle adopted us 15 years ago. Our vet suspects she was 18 or 19 years old. She lead a love-filled life and brought great joy to family, friends and innumerable children through the years. We will miss you, dearest Belle! ThankYou!   

The new barn door is going up, even as we speak (or I type). We'll see how long it takes Clover to demolish this one. Oh, my little rammy! But breeding season will be over in a few weeks and, hopefully, life will be less dramatic. Then I can start thinking about spring lambkins.
 Actually, I am already thinking about lambs as I have started crocheting little newborn sweaters for them. Hypothermia is a real danger for newborn lambs and so I usually put them in sweatshirt sleeve "jackets" for the first few days. This year, however, I have decided to make them little sweaters out of their parent's wool. Why? Because I can.
  And come April, the lambkins will be needing  them!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

2012 Lambkins

I am sorry, but it seems that as lambkins arrive, my blogging departs. Just when everyone really wants to follow the fun, I am too busy or too tired! Oh dear! So now, as summer begins to wind down, I thought I would share the highlights of the 2012 lambing season.

When last I left you, sweet Willow had given birth to triplets:

Two boys and a girl, these three were friendly, curious and quite amusing-much like their mother!

Less than a week later, I awoke at 3:00 in the morning with the feeling that I should check on RosyPosy. Before my flashlight and I had even made it to the sheep cottage door, I could hear the distinct, high-pitched "maa" of a newborn lamb. I arrived in time to watch Rose cleaning up her first little ewe lamb and then giving birth to a second. Twin girls for RosyPosy, and she was an excellent mother!

Now we had five lambkins out and about, and it wasn't long before they were running the farm!

I had begun to suspect that Mary was not pregnant. She had continually been marked at every cycle during breeding season, and now there was no udder activity to speak of. When she had been shorn, my shearer agreed that she was most likely open. No lambkins for Mary! However, I had been feeding her as if she were pregnant and she had grown quite large. I slowly began to decrease her grain intake.

A week or so before I was to begin weaning the lambs, I was sitting upon the ground giving Mary a nice chin scratch. When I had finished, she turned to walk away and....Udders!!! Mary was making milk! I immediately upped her grain again, and two weeks later....

Mary's first lambing had me a bit concerned. She had always been my most nervous ewe, coming to me as a yearling. When she birthed her first lamb, she seemed agitated and confused as to what she should be doing. While I usually clean off the faces and noses of newborns, I then keep my hands off and am just there for any emergencies that may come along. As Mary pondered this new little creature, she would head-butt it and then walk off, only to return and head-butt it again. It was all that I could do to not snatch the baby up! Of course, every time she walked away, I was treated to a view of the next little lambkin's head and hooves- perfectly positioned and ready to enter into the world! With one last head-butt, Mary began to lick the first lamb clean and I breathed a sigh of relief. By the time the second lamb was born, Mary was more than happy to tend to it as well. One boy and one girl- with a fiercely protective mother!

                                                               Happy Mary!

And has been a very busy few months for all. Willow and Rose's lambs have gone off to wonderful new homes. Mary's lambs are about to be weaned. Hopefully they will find good homes shortly. Life is considerably more relaxing, in a bittersweet way.


                                              All of this my own backyard!

As far as my fiber adventures go, shearing always brings endless possiblities!

I'm also happy to say that I finally built the new firepit and am looking forward to lots of outdoor dyeing this Autumn.

And, thanks to a recent storm, I have LOTS of lichen gathered from off of fallen trees and branches. I will be starting a new lichen fermentation dyebath tomorrow. Let the twelve weeks of waiting begin!!!

It will be worth the wait!

Back to work for me, my sheep and chickens always seem to know when it is dinner time.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Welcome to the World

And so: On March 30th, sweet Willow finally gave birth to (gulp) TRIPLETS! Two little boys and one girl!

Mother and lambs are all doing extremely well. It is amazing to me how quickly they are all up and running- lambs AND Willow! I had some initial concerns with having three lambs and two udders. Sometimes one lamb will continually get shortchanged and may need to be supplemented. But not Willow's babies! Willow has plenty of milk for the lambkins and they seem to have worked out a bit of a schedule. Often I find two playing with one sleeping. When the sleepyhead wakes up, it is ready to nurse as the other two begin to wind down to rest. It seems to work for all!

During the day, I now let the little family out of the jug and into the barn. The lambkins are already getting springy and fast!  Everything is an adventure!


If you build it.....

.....they will come!

Yesterday, I tried to turn them out into the field with the other ewes. Not a success! The ewes are wary of these little ones (silly sheep!). When one lambkin found himself in the midst of the ewes, while looking for Mom, they began to head-butt him about until I had to move in for a rescue! I decided to wait for a few more days before we go that route again- to give the lambies more life experience first. Therefore, yesterday the lambkins got to have their first free-range!

The three of them stayed close to Willow, but happily explored the new terrain. They also visited with their daddy- Mr. Cloverfield! He is such a proud father and is so sweet and gentle with the little ones, even if it is through the fence for right now.

Here is the family, with brother Rocket and Mr. Cloverfield in the background.

The lambkins began to tire and it was time for Willow to take them back home, where each had a good nap.

Willow is so impressive. From her birthing of the triplets to her protective tending of them, she is a rock. Everyone deserves a mother like Willow!

Now I am watching RosyPosy- she should lamb in the next week or so. This will be her first, and it looks to me as if she is carrying one lamb. Here udders are really filling, and she is sleeping much more during the day. Won't be long now!

I see a visit from the shearer in the near future (actually, next week)!
Mary sez: "It's about time!"

Saturday, March 3, 2012

One More Month!

So now is the time that I begin to turn into the anxious sheep "mother" to my pregnant girls.  One month ago, Willow's baby bump was just endearing and she was quite comfortable.
Gentle Willow with baby bump

Today, it is another story.  Willow is quite large, with the huge, final month growth spurt still to come. Her udders are bagging up with milk and her teats are swollen. She is four months into her five month gestation. The earliest she could possibly lamb is on April Fool's Day!  For her sake, I hope her lambkins arrive that week so that she doesn't just pop!

A very pregnant Willow

RosyPosy will lamb shortly after Willow.  Her udders are just starting to bag up and her teats are a little swollen.
Sweet RosyPosy

 Still uncertain as to whether Mary is pregnant or not, but time will tell.
A very wooly Mary

The ewes are now on a nutrient-rich diet.  As the lambs grow and take up space, the mothers are unable to eat much at a time.  Therefore, they are getting a good amount of grain twice a day and have been switched from timothy hay to alfalfa. The grain provides energy while the alfalfa provides calcium.

This next month will be all about preparing for lambing season.  I will be trimming the wool from around the girls behinds, as well as cutting off the lanolin-laden wool tags from around the teats.

Lanolin tags around Willow's teat.
  Newborn lambs have been known to expend all of their energy trying to nurse from tags- a potentially fatal scenario.

The old bedding will be stripped from the original shed and fresh bedding laid down, as this will become the lambing jug.  A lambing jug is just a small space where mother and babies will spend their first few days together, bonding in a calm environment. The small space also provides easier access to the lambs in order to monitor their health (easier to catch them, that is), as well as a chance to provide the mother with the exact nutrition she needs at that time.

So, one more month before a season of sleepless nights begins: checking the barn before you go to bed, checking the barn at 2:00 in the morning, checking the barn as soon as you wake in the morning....checking the barn in your dreams....
But...what a reward!
Willow and lambkins 2011

On the fiber front, I just finished spinning a skein of yarn using some merino wool dyed in an exhaust bath of lichen.

The color is a very delicate pink, one strand dyed and one strand natural.  It is really lovely!

March 18th I will be at Grailville for their women and the arts sale.  It should be great fun and will give me something else to focus on, as I am sure to be getting a bit crazy that close to lambing!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Welcome ...

to my new blogosphere!  I am happy to have moved my blog from my website ( to blogspot and hope to write on a more regular basis.  I will cover everything from my sheep to wool to natural dyeing (oh, and the chickens of Camp Chickenheart).

Dyeing-wise, this has been an exciting week!  For anyone following my old blog, you know that last October I started a lichen fermentation dye.  Scraping gray-green lichen from a few of the trees on the property, I put them into a jar along with water and ammonia.

 The goal was to achieve a magenta color that is only given off by a certain type of lichen.  After one week in the jar, I could see a deep red developing.  This told me that I had collected the proper lichen. began the wait.  To get the true magenta, the lichen had to ferment for twelve weeks!  Also, the mixture had to be stirred (okay, I shook) vigorously every day to incorporate oxygen into it.

This past week, I strained a small amount of the liquid into a dyepot and added a bit of water.  I then soaked some silk chiffon scarves in the dyebath overnight (this dye is not heated).  And here is that amazing color I was working for!

It is almost unbelievable that such a color could come forth from these unassuming little lifeforms.  I now see lichen everywhere I look!  Even in the background of movies!  They are everywhere- just waiting to be met.  I love them!

I have yet to dye any wool in the bath, but I will be doing that soon.  I need to mordant some wool first so that it will retain the color.  I have kept the soaked lichen as I will be starting a new fermentation and will be adding some new to the old.  I hope to keep this dyebath going non-stop.  The adventure continues...

While I have lots of dyed wool that I am processing by hand, I have been playing with the leftover dyes and some silk chiffon scarves.  I have to say that dyeing these scarves seems to give "instant" gratification.  Not like dyeing wool and then still having various processes (combing, carding, spinning or felting) to undertake in order to bring it to some kind of form.  I also enjoy the way that a simple piece of silk allows one to experience the beauty of color!  This really has been such fun.  Today I used a tjanting tool to apply beeswax to an osage orange-dyed silk, and then overdyed with indigo.

  Here it is, drying on a branch of the redbud tree. Next I will need to iron out the wax. This is all just a basic batiking method.

Tomorrow the temperature is supposed to be in the 60's!  It will be a good day to rake out the sheep cottage and spend some time with them.  I think that they really miss that human contact when the weather is so cold that I just stay out long enough to do what I have to.  Today I sat down inside the shed and Willow immediately came over and laid down next to me-chewing cud. Such a wonderful little flock-I love them all and look forward to sweet, milky mothers and their spring lambkins (not to mention Mr. Cloverfield, who is always so proud of his children).

 It is the end of January and I am already dreaming of Spring!