Sunday, December 19, 2010

Knit, Design, Write, Repeat

Occasionally I give in to the little voices in my head that tell me I have bitten of more than I can chew .... but not very often. Though they do get my attention, I utilize them in a different way and rather than letting them tell me "I can't", I allow them to challenge me in to how, "I can".
knitting has not been one of my strong points until recently. I know, I know, that sounds really strange, sort of like the fisherman that doesn't know how to swim, but my lack of skill has come from lack of time. Sure, I can knit, just not fast, and not in intricate patterns. But that's about to change.

While vending at The Fiber Festival on New England this past November, I was truly inspired by all of the creativity around me. I had just finished dyeing my new Kaleidoscope yarns and really needed to knit a swatch to show how the colors knit up on the needles. I knit and purled, the woolen spun yarn flowed smooth and wonderfully over the bamboo needles. The colors produced in each row left me excited to see how the next combination would turn out. I added ribbing, and then some seed stitch. WOW! I needed more! The swatch measured about 8 inches long, and I bound off and reached for longer needles. With no pattern, I sat in my hotel room and cast on, guessing the number of stitches, measuring my girth with the length of the needles.
As I continue to knit I am designing as I go. The process seems simplier to me as I keep assuring myself that I can. Writing the pattern down may be a bit of a challenge, but I have experienced friends to call on for assistance. You can follow the progress of this sweater on my facebook page.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Baby It's Cold Outside!

It is time to build up my biceps again. The outside water spicket is once again challenged by the cold air. It is fussy, working only when the sun touches it with it's barely warm winter-time rays. My morning chores are now the basics. Everybody up? All is well? Here is breakfast, see you around 2:00.
During the summer months, I try to accomplish as many tasks as possible before the heat of the day sets in. But when the seasons change, and in the dead of winter, I wait for the "warm" part of the day when the sun comes over the tall pines and warms the barn in the afternoon. That is of course until lambs are born. Then I have no choice but to wrap myself in many layers underneath my stiff, insulated overalls and venture out at all times of the day or night. But that's okay is worth it.

The sheep don't realize how much they are used during the winter months. Our colorful chickens
keep close on cold days, using them as wind blocks and the occasional foot warmers. It is not uncommon to find a hen or two nestled into the warm, thick locks of a pregnant ewe, especially on a very cold night. Seems the rafters of the barn are not the best place to spend the night when the temperatures dip below freezing. Mother Nature does provide for our creatures and if you think about it we humans are quite fortunate to have them and to benefit from their warm, woolly harvest.
Our new bunny Willow came inside for a haircut yesterday and then moved into the basement with our two other bunnies for the winter months while her beautiful fiber grows back. The bunnies move around quite a bit during the year. Inside from the winter cold, back outside in the springtime, up to the big cool barn during the summer heat, and back outside during comfortable autumn weather. Their cages are large but mobile, and I think they enjoy being outside rather than in. Time for some BIG projects! After a season of traveling to shows, taking small, simple, "mindless" projects, I am ready for a challenge. This sweater ( which looks so much better in person ) has been a fun project. I am designing it as I go and having a grand time. I am using two different dye lots of my Kaleidoscope Yarn as well as Charcoal, Turkey Red, and now Licorice and White. I hope to have it done to wear to the Ag Show in January.

So snuggle in my friends, and enjoy the season!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Giving Is Good!

Time for some Holiday Cheer!! Beginning Dec 13th, Romney Ridge Farm Yarn Co. will be giving away a some fabulous fibery goodness every day until Christmas! Then on Christmas Day we will choose one lucky winner of our

Romney Ridge Farm Sampler Package containing:
4 skeins of our unique yarns.

A "bump" of our Angora/Wool roving.

4 handmade stoneware buttons from Sunshine Pottery -Topsham, Maine.

A handmade Mitten Pin from Sunshine Pottery -Topsham, Maine.

A handmade sheep pendant featuring our sheep - Littleput Land - Portland, Maine.

A Hooking Kit -Snowman Ornament.

Our 2011 Romney Ridge Farm Calendar.


Orders placed from Nov 1st until Dec 23rd will qualify you to win one of the 12 give aways and put you in the running for the Farm Sampler.

Good Luck!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

So there I sat completely out of my element, strapped into the seat, looking out of the tiny round window at the bustling ramp agents. Fear and total loss of control had me in it's grip. Why? I hate small spaces and I always have to drive. I am a control freak after all, and I was totally without any. I felt very small and when the plane touched down and we made our way to the ship, I felt even smaller.

I have learned a lot about myself these past few days. Excited to see a new world, and experience new things, I left the safety zone that I have created for myself over the past 13 years. I am confessing now, that I am phasing into the next step in my life. Not changing who I am, but beginning to allow myself to say "yes I can" a little more than I used to. And I am more inspired each time I step out into the world, life is good.

Good friends always make life just a little sweeter. Especially those who understand that I march to the beat of a different drum. I love old engines, gardening, art, farming, cowboy boots, architecture, big hair rock bands, painting and fast boats. I can't make it much past 9 p.m. and I need to see the sunrise. I am what I am and I have good friends who are okay with that.

Cozumel took me a little off guard. It wasn't anything that I expected it to be, though time limits kept me from seeing more of the island than I would have like to. The colors were spectacular, the people were friendly and smiling with their big toothy grins and beautiful skin. The water was a different blue than the waters of Maine, and the trees were fascinating.

My husband and I, and good friends Dom and Pam took a little off road excursion into the jungle. After several miles of rugged roads, rocks, flying mud and cow poo, we stopped at a deep underground cave where stalagmites and and resident bats were the main attraction.
The boys swam in the bat poop soup, while Pam and I pondered the reasons why roly-poly women choose to wear bikinis.:) Our wonderful tour guides, R-R-R-R-R-Roberto and Danny Boy, explained how the high calcium content in the water affected the "structure" of the Mayan people. They were short, strong people with little dental issues or osteoporosis.
After a quick shower and clean up on the ship, we headed into the Marketplace for some shopping, then on to Margaritville for some fun and the best guacamole I have ever had!

All in all it was a good trip. I really missed my family and my simple life. Too much hustle and bustle for me, too much rushing, and not enough to do on the ship. I knew sitting and relaxing would be a huge challenge for me. Next vacation I hope to be riding and roping on the range. Time to start saving.:)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Perfect Pot O' Color

If you "follow me" on facebook, you have probably seen these skeins already. They are a random act of color craziness that I had to get out of my system. What you do not see is the frenzy of designing, the how to do it this way, and step three and four shouldn't take too long as to leave enough pigment for step five, and I really should be doing something else today psycho -nutjob that I become when I think about new techniques and designs. I am after all, a super huge control freak ... I have accepted that.

Only one dyelot turned out as I planed. But there are no mistakes, only a lesson learned and a new note to take. In my eyes, the perfect pot of color would be very boring. I don't believe in perfection, or normal for that matter. A normal day? No such thing. And if it did exist, it would not have been filled with any sort of surprises that make me say "holy cow, how did that happen?" I am as excited by my experiments in dyeing as I am in the day to day colors that need to be replenished.
In the middle of my dyepot frenzy,
a mama hen arrived as proud as a peacock with her brood of 10 peeping chicks. You can imagine my surprise, then panic to find them all, then my surprise to find a second hen in the process of hatching out the rest of the clutch, sitting protectively over the last of the eggs, two of which had tiny beaks protruding through the escape holes that they were making.
Normal day? Nope, but I'm not complaining.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Fashion Show Featuring Joe!

Two years ago the realization that Joe was getting old hit me. I consider him the beginning of my shepherding adventure. I have learned so much from him over the years. So in early spring, when we sheared, I kept his fleece separate from the rest of the shearing and had my friend Nancy of Newaim Fiber Mill turn him into "just Joe" yarn. Over 3,000 yards of silvery- grey, worsted weight yarn was returned to me on cones. Then a friend, with incredible knitting skills, was hired to knit me a sweater of just Joe. I chose a pattern that I felt would serve the yarn well. Joe is a Romney -a long wool breed of sheep. Longwool is a bit heavier than down wools. Projects knit with longwools have a beautiful drape. So I chose the pattern for The Ursa Sweater and modified it a bit.
My Joe Sweater is a treasure to me. I pack it safely away when warm weather comes to Maine, but look forward to wrapping myself in it's warmth when the air turns crisp and cool.

In a few weeks I will be attending the Fiber Festival of New England in Springfield, MA. At 3 p.m. on Saturday there will be a fashion show. What fun! I am entering my Joe Sweater in the event as well as two other projects made from my yarns. This is the first year of what I hope will be a successful event. Check out the website for the dates and times, as well as the many wonderful vendors attending this event.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Right Stuff

"May I ask what will you be making with your yarn?" I ask my customers that question frequently. Yes I am being nosey, but more than that I am interested in making sure they are happy with their purchase, and if they are new to knitting, I want to help them to choose the correct fiber or combination of fibers for their project.

There are so, so, so many things to consider when you purchase your yarn, with end product being the #1 factor. Our super-soft Angora and down wool blend knits into a wonderful hat, scarf, pair of mittens, sweater or vest. Sure it would make warm socks, but being composed of fine down fleeces, and even though it is spun at a worsted weight, they would be extremely thick. Without a stronger longwool type fleece such as Romney or the even stronger Mohair fiber in the blend, I would be concerned that it heels would wear out. So softness does not always lend itself to durability in a garment that would see the type of constant use as socks.
Our Romney Mohair blend would make very durable socks. It is spun from adult and lamb fleeces and adult and kid mohair. Our Romney fleeces range from medium to fine grade as does our mohair. It has been spun into a light, almost DK weight, so - less bulk, and soft and durable. For some people though it might feel itchy. So a sweater or vest, more of an outwear garment might be a better choice depending on their skin's sensitivity. The heavier long wool and mohair give better drape to a knit fabric than the springy down wool. This brings us to what I consider the #2 factor. Your sensitivity to fibers.

I get a little tickle from folks who say that wool is itchy. Well it is wool after all and it's structure, with it's tiny overlapping scales, can feel itchy to some folks. But it those little scales that can cause irritation to some, are important to the structure of the fiber. Wool is the only fiber with the natural structure of overlapping scales which allows the fibers to cling together and create felt. No synthetic equal has ever been created.

Wool is flame resistant, warms and cools you, can keep you dry, and is just plain wonderful. If you are super sensitive to wool but love to knit and have woollen pieces in your wardrobe, then knitting outwear is a good choice. I suggest to my customers when they aren't sure of their own sensitivity to rub the yarn under their chin on their neck - a very sensitive part of your body. I also suggest that you sew a small strip of flannel around the neckline of a sweater or vest, or headband of a hat creating a soft barrier for your skin.

The third factor that I consider very important to a finished piece is drape. The weight and content of the yarn determines this as well as the way the fiber is spun. Woollen spun yarns are "poofy" and "fulled". A mohair blend will lay much differently that a 100% wool yarn that has been spun from down fleeces. The weight of the mohair makes for more of a flowing garment, where the down wools knit into a lighter weight end product. Longwool fleeces tend to have better drape as well, but can be a bit less soft than the down wools.

So if you visit our farm and I seem a bit nosey, it is only because I want you to leave satisfied with your yarn purchase. Your satisfaction with your finished project it as important to me as your experience here. Leaving excited about the piece you are about to create means I have done my job well. And please remember to send me a picture of what you make with our yarns to showcase on our website!:)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Common Ground Madness!!!

Wow. Let me say that again. WOW! What a weekend! As a first time vendor at the Common Ground Fair let me just say was all I could hope for and more. The GREATEST folks on the planet run the Fiber Marketplace and I sincerely mean that!
Like any show or even season for that matter, I find it very interesting what colors and weights of yarn are the most popular. Red and Turquoise shades were in high demand at my booth but the Double Dips in worsted and especially the bulky were my #1 sellers.

Sooooooooooooo .......... I have decided to add the Double Dips to my Fall Line of yarns ( in fact I have several dyelots in the dye pots as a write this) ! The dye process puts a dark and light hue of the chosen color in to the yarn. I will knit up a swatch asap so you can see the result knit.
A weekend filled with wonderful people, good wholesome food, and inspiration. What more could you ask for. Thank you to all of my friends, family and fabulous customers - old and new for a very successful weekend. Next up ...Sunday River!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Recycling Water PART II

Once the yarn has been rinsed free from the spinning oil, I prepare my dye. The yarn is then weighed and my personal dyeing process begins.

After soaking up the color for the amount of time you desire, preferably until the dye is fully absorbed and the water runs clear, test the water in a jar and on a dry paper towel. The water will be murky and will appear to still contain color pigments. It probably does, but not enough to affect the next color to go into the water.

The paper towel will be a good indicator of the pigment left in the water. This water, from Peacock Blue dye, is almost clear, but does not appear to be in the jar. The fibers of the paper towel do not absorb much color, and when rinsed holds no color at all. Now, I pull up a skein out of the water and watch that the water runs clear from the skein. Most of the pigment will have been absorbed my the fibers at this point. So I feel safe to pull all of the yarn out of the dye pot. BE CAREFUL! The water and the yarn is still HOT. I use salad tongs and sometimes wear gloves. Place the yarn in a drainer.

The water in the pot will be lowered, BUT you do not have to dump all of that water down the drain. It is still quite warm and ready to be reheated. Fill up your pot to the "fill line" that you usually use, and add whatever mordant ( if you use one) you might need. ( This picture is deceiving, as I only add about an inch to the fill line). Put the pot back on the stove, cover, and reheat the water. It should take very little time to be hot enough to add your new color.

Now, this is where you need to think out your next move. We all are familiar with the color wheel and what colors we can combine to make other colors.

In this pot I used Peacock Blue, a bright, "turquoisey" blue with green and gold tones. Because there is a slight bit of pigment in the pot. My safest choices of color to add next are in that family of colors. So a blue or green will work perfectly. If I were dyeing yellow, I might next change to shades of golds and oranges. Reds pretty much need to stay in the red family, as do purples.

This whole process is trial and error. Again, my methods will never be the same as yours. I usually try and run through 4 dyelots before I change the water. I figure that I save around 20 gallons of water per 4 dyelots using this method. So .... less water = less fuel to heat it. Rinsing the yarns in cold water saves fuel as well. Be sure and put covers on your pots when heating your water each time. The wide, open pots loose as much as 50% of the heat out of the top.


Recycling Water, Solar Drying & Minimal Packaging PART I

For a few years now I have been thinking about my dyeing methods and how to improve on them. It isn't that I wish to change the colors or even improve on the quality of my work. I am satisfied and confident that I am producing a high quality product, but the amount of fuel I have always thought I needed to heat my water and work with the fiber is not necessary.

Now, that being said, this may not work for everyone. My methods of dyeing are not conventional. I do not "follow the directions on the package" so to speak, but instead I have developed my own methods that accomplish what works for my types of yarns, the amount I dye, my water quality, and my time schedule. In fact there are so many variables that apply to this method, that it may not work for anyone else, but I promised I would post it in hopes it will be helpful to my fellow dyers.

First things first. If your yarn has been spun at a spinning mill. Most likely before the fibers were carded, they were sprayed with a light spinning oil. So before you dye your yarn, you need to remove the oil. For years I used very warm water to dissolve the oil, but I now have found that a diluted basin of cold water in the washing machine works just as well. So ....fill up the basin, add the soap, swish, then add the yarns. Let the yarn soak for 15 minutes, then spin out the load.

more in a bit!:)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dyeing, Dyeing and More Dyeing

I am back in the dye pots today after a weekend of shuffling sheep and cleaning the barn for winter. Angus, our Romney ram who should have been a Romney wether ( long story ) has finally found a great gig on Roque Island. He leaves in October, so I decided to use him with at least two of my ewes maybe three as he has such a classic Romney build and a beautiful fleece, both traits I would like to pass on to my flock.

Before the humidity kicked in last week the heat was perfect for quickly drying freshly dyed yarns, so I took advantage of the suns rays and worked on my supply of yarns for The Common Ground Fair. Over 240 skeins engulfed every inch of my deck, all four drying racks, deck chairs and railings. With kids and hubby off to a weekend fishing derby, I was a free to sprawl my work all over the house!
I am excited to be accepted as a vendor to this year's Common Ground Fair, just not sure what to expect. How much do I bring? Do I need help? Do I camp out or drive home every night? I guess, like everything I do, I'll fly by the seat of my pants and everything will workout. :)With several shows ahead, I will be in the dye pots all this week. I love dyeing with leaves falling all around. The small amount of knitting I have managed to finish is only a drop in the bucket. I have so many plans for the cozy, beautiful, bulky yarns. In fact I am going to try my hand at a design that has floating around in my head for a few weeks. Stay tuned!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Au Natural

Over the past few weeks runs of natural colored yarns have been arriving back from the spinneries. First the Babydoll Bunny Blend, then a portion of our Romney/Mohair ( which has almost sold out ...but more is coming!) Then on Tuesday I picked up the Bulky yarn I have been waiting for so long to have spun.

The Babydoll/Bunny Blend is a beautiful, soft, heathered grey. Our wool is down,the bunny is silky soft. It is a lofty yarn, wonderful for overdyeing , but beautiful as its natural color as well.
The Romney/Mohair is also our farm blend, created from our Romney sheep's fleeces and our Angora goat's Mohair. The addition of mohair to the wool
is just enough as to not make the yarn "over-fuzzy" as mohair can do, but to provide a soft sheen which also over-dyes beautifully! Then came the Bulky yarn. I had been holding off spinning the bulky until the crisp fall air arrived. I think my timing is right -at least here in Maine. This yarn is a real treat to knit with. Using sz 15 needles, I knit up this cowl from one skein in about an hour.

There is a large amount of
Southdown in the yarn so it is super soft. I may actually start and finish a sweater using the Bulky since it knits up so fast! :)

Saturday, August 07, 2010

I am up. It is early and the sun is just peeking over the ridge. The sheep are divided. Some lay quietly munching, chewing, burping up their cud, others are wandering, searching, investigating. I am up. Thinking about the months ahead, excited about the traveling, guilty for leaving kids and farm behind. Knowing it will all be okay, worth it, fun.

I haven't left this farm much in years. A young family, responsibility, building a business, busy, busy life has kept me close to home and though I know my life is about to shift again, I fully embrace it. Doors are closing, but many more are opening, some just waiting for me to be brave enough, strong enough, excited enough to reach out and turn their knobs.

When your mind is full of thoughts, and ideas, not just the ones that get you through the day, but the ideas that come from inspiring objects, places and events, and when you are a person who finally allows yourself to let them consume you, a smile starts in the center of your face. It spreads like vines to not only turn up the corners of your mouth, but to pull your whole face upward. It pulls your spirit upward. And if that smile won't go away, when you are standing in a place of beauty, taking it all in, blocking out the noise and world around you, centered,

focused, you are me. You know what it is like when

your spirit is fulfilled. A creative mind and spirit needs to be recognised, not put away because life is to

busy and does not have time for it.

It will fight to be heared, felt and used. Free.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Babydoll Bunny ?

Ooooooooo ...I can't stop touching it! It is soft, squishy, lightweight and cozy. I want to wrap myself up in it and take a long nap on the deck. What is it you ask?? It is the new Babydoll/Bunny yarn created by myself and my by good friend Betty of Spinnakees' Farm. Our combined Babydoll Southdown fleeces and Angora Bunny fiber have been spun together into this yummy goodness. Have you ever touched Babydoll Southdown fiber? It is unusual, springy and super soft ...especially on the animal. Once washed and ready to be spun, it's staple makes it best blended with other fibers. We focused on keeping this yarn blended with similar down type fleece, and added just enough of our Corriedale and Cormo to create a smooth flow. Then came the added silky, dreamy fluff of our German Angora rabbits. Though it is spun as a worsted weight, when washed and fulled, it blooms into the appearance of a light bulky weight yarn.

And did I mention the color???? Light, soft grey with flecks of white soft and cozy. What to make first???? Hats, mittens, a nice throw for fall? A cozy Poncho? The possibilities are endless! Can you tell I am excited? This is a limited run so if you'd like a few skeins click here.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Crazies

It is crazy here. I am going to blame it on the heat. Looking back to last summer with the endless rain and wet days, I feel a little guilty complaining. Warm sun and clear sky's have out numbered the soggies. My garden is way ahead of the season, unlike last year as I watched with sadness as my tomatoes "drowned" in the puddles. The new raised beds are saving my back and my time, weeding is a breeze and actually the weeds are much less evasive. Life is good and getting sweeter.

For those of you who make the trek to our farm each year be aware ...this summer you will notice that my yard is a bit more cluttered with woolly beasts, furry friends and feathered foul all running amuck, pooing and eating, sleeping on the front steps, and invading your cars. The chickens have doubled in numbers, Romeo has a new apprentice -Tomday, and then there is Junior, Mister Longlegs himself who truly believes he is still 14 pounds and able to climb on someone's lap.

Have you been here yet? Have you witnessed the chaos of the day when my yarn shop is full of visitors and two goats and one long-legged sheep invite themselves in?Have you been entertained by the countless fluffy Silky hens and their fuzzy chicks, the spotted, the speckled, the cock-a-doodle-doodles???? Have you seen Comet the old grouchy bunny appear from out of nowhere and then disappear just as quickly???? It is crazy here! ...and I love it.
I have been dyeing mostly in the later part of the day sometimes even after supper. The heat from the stove is just too much to bear first thing in the morning. This week I have been focusing on a few upcoming shows. The Harbor Arts Show in Camden is this weekend and the forecast is calling for sunny and hot. The harbor will be a great place to be, overlooking the majestic yachts and smelling the wonderful smells.
It may be crazy ....I may be crazy, but I cannot think of any place I would rather live. Come visit us this summer. And remember Romeo prefers Guinness and Lays Potato Chips!