Getting back to normal…

The summer has flown…. It is gone.  School is starting.  My kids are half started.  Since we homeschool I have never been in a hurry to start before Labor day.  That has helped me this year with trying to catch up after my whirlwind summer, fair and the gathering.  The oldest two have started an online shared school program for three classes and the other two start in a few weeks.  my youngest and I will start next week.  This week has been for catching up, working on lists.  Random stuff.

My tomatoes are coming in like crazy.  More every day.  imag1403.jpg

What, not into Roma’s and Pears?


There are Cherokee purple and Branywines as well.  Weirdly I ended up with one yellow pear tomato plant and one yellow Brandywine plant.  All the Brandywines were from the same seed packet…. same with the pears, all the seeds came from the same packet.  So why yellow? I am loving them none the less.

We have now made several batches of “fresh” tomato sauce.  Just chopped up hodgepodge of tomatoes, some garlic, a diced zucchini and some fresh basil.  Yum!!!  When they are gone next month, I will be sad.

Tonight I started my MSP level 5 homework.  Assignment 1 was to spin 100% nylon. It was way more fun than I thought… But that is for another post.

I am also working on a fun project.  I am spinning up some of my “A Verb for Keeping Warm” Color ways from her long ago luxury fiber club. imag1418.jpg The first is baby camel/silk, then some Cashmere/merino and finally just some yak.  I plan to use the 3 yarns in one project.  Not sure what yet. I need the final yardage.  It is such a pleasure to spin.

A week in the woods

This post will have almost no pictures. The reason is that my week in the woods was part of an event that was screen free.  Which in some ways was amazing, and I didn’t have cell signal anyway.  In some ways it was frustrating because I really wanted some pictures of my kids working and interacting with some amazing people.

So a week in the woods…. I was geographically only about 10 min from my house.  Which is actually what allowed for me to be able to do this event.  This was the primitive skills gathering (4corners skills gathering) I have been talking about and combing wool for.  It was the first year for this event which is similar to events like Wintercount and Rabbit Stick.  Unlike most of the participants and instructors, this was my first introduction to the world of primitive skills gatherings.  I had no idea what to expect, or if I would be able to teach spinning to this group of people.

Because I was very close to home it allowed for me to come to the opening circle and firelighting.  Set up my camp and go home for the night to do things like grocery shop and pack for a week in the woods.  So Monday afternoon I was all set to teach.  Since my kids were so excited to get there, we ended up at the gathering a couple of hours before I actually had to do any teaching and so I got to learn how to make pine needle baskets.imag1405.jpg  I have to admit that I am now totally addicted and will have to do some more hiking this fall to collect some more needles so I can do a bigger one before winter.

On the first evening I met a woman who was interested in some help with her cotton spinning.  She had been to another primitive skills class and had made her own cotton support spindles and was trying to spin cotton lint that had just been picked off the bowl.  she was supper frustrated with it.  I told her I would bring my cotton stuff (as I was heading home anyway) and we could sit and do some cotton.  So my first class, I taught several people park and draft and she showed up with her cotton spindle.  It was all very organic, people dropping in and out.  I showed my new friend how to card cotton punis.  She was so excited.  She carded all afternoon.  Then her friend who happens to live in my area and had taken the same class she had stopped by and the three of us spent all afternoon spinning cotton together.  The next day she stopped procrastinating and spun off a puni.  It was magical.  Still park and draft on cotton, but I think as she practices she will see it get better and better.

The rest of my actual wool spinning classes went super well.  I was able to get almost everyone making string.  Several people really took off with it.  I did not have spindles I could give out to take it home, so I started saving the spindles for people to come and spin on as the week went on.  At the end of the week, I had 3 people that I taught to Andean ply before they went home.  Two of them had more than 10 yards.  One of those lives close by and wants a fiber animal.

Much of the week was counseling people about how to wash wool, card wool, and spin wool.  I did not teach an actual class on washing fiber, but next year I need to.  I also spent a lot of time encouraging people to check out the wider spinning and fiber world.  People really wanted felting.  I am not a felter. However, there is a woman who lives in the next small town who teaches felting out of her studio.  I encouraged the locals to look her up.  I encouraged those who wanted an animal to go to the local fiber festivals and talk to growers and vendors and see what’s what.  I get self reliance, I understand getting back to nature.  However, I don’t get overlooking a real resource because it’s not part of the primitive skills world.

Over the course of the week, people started to notice than I had some pretty amazing skills with fiber.  Which of course I do, but I am not the most amazing fiber person out there.  I know this because I am plugged in to the fiber world.  However, in this world I am pretty cool.  imag1406.jpgBecause of that I was able to trade some of my yarn for some pretty awesome things like an Anasazi style clay bowl that was made by one of the other instructors, some amazing hand polished turquoise, a neat Navajo made bracelet, and a bunch of homemade elderberry syrup for my medicine chest.  It was pretty neat to trade with people who understand the level of skill and time involved in what you do.

My kids ran wild in the woods for a week, mostly under the supervision of a very knowledgeable outdoor instructor.  She is also local and my youngest loves her.  So this enabled me to focus on teaching and learning for the week.  My oldest and middle got to take a few classes.  They forged their own copper bracelets.  They learned to sleep in tents, pee in the woods, ignore the bugs, and play in rivers.  By the time the week was over, they were exhausted, dirty and can’t wait for next year.

I am unfortunately a bit busy.  Level 5 homework needs doing and then I still have to get through my level 6 class and in depth study.  However, this has opened my mind.  I would not mind bridging the gap so to speak in teaching this group fibery things and showing them the path.  I will do this event again next year and perhaps add a natural dye day and a class that is titled “so you want a fiber animal…” (I would talk about the fiber processing not the raising. )

Now onto starting school and the new fall schedule.



Observations from county fair

I need to say that we are a smallish county.  Our entire fair fits in a very small space.  I kind of like that.  I can let my kids even my 9 year old wander about and have freedom.  Mostly that is because they are 4-Hers and they know al lot of other 4H kids.  My middle daughter is on County Council this year and so she knows a lot of people.  She also just knows a lot of people… she’s friendly and a talker.  Anyway, because I am a superintendent I end up spending 12 hour days at fair.  Luckily, my kids don’t have to be with me the whole time because we do general projects not livestock.  So they take the bus home and/or into the fairgrounds as they need to.  Which is good because in my small world of Handspun/Handmade, and weaving I do not get a lot of help.

This year we have had a record amount of entries in hand spun/ hand made as well as in weaving.  I should say especially in weaving.  Last year we had 2.  this year 18.  It was crazy and it’s great to see.  Our grand champion in handspun/handmade is this Llama shawl. IMAG1395 She started from raw wool and then combed it and spun it.  It’s amazing!  People wander through and have no idea what they are looking at.

Every year I spin.  I love this part, because now that judging is over It’s pretty much 12 hours of spinning and visiting with people who come by.  Yesterday, I was connected to a new fiber friend.  She is a rabbit judge who lives on the front range and had been raising Lincoln.  We had a great talk about sheep and fiber and uses.  I got to see pics of her sheep which she is crosses with some CVM.  Crazy beautiful long staples.  She also has some BFL.  She’s going to bring me a small bag to play with when she comes back in Sept.

What always amazes me is that the people who are most interested in my wheel and my spinning are men.  It’s true.  Women will comment, but men will sit down and ask questions.  How does the wheel work?  Why do you have tape with inches on your leg?   What do you do with your product. And they are genuine about their interest and want to understand how it all works.  Now, I did have a 5 year old girl who looked at my wheel for a few minutes and looked and me and explained to me exactly how my wheel worked.  But she is a daughter and grand daughter of weavers.  So even though they spin, she gets stuff.

Oh and ribbons.  Because fair is about competition and winning, or not.  I always encourage my kids to enter into open class.  Not just in 4H.  They all did well in 4H.  My oldest won grand champion in photography, my middle got champion for her quilt (she was the only one) and lost grand champion to a girl who made a macrame hammock chair.  We are both ok with that.  It’s an amazing project.  Her quilt still goes to state fair for judging.  My youngest had her first year as a full 4Her and she only did a county project.  She got a champion in her age group and she had competition.  She also got a reserve grand overall.  When she saw those purple ribbons she was so excited.  It’s been her goal for 3 years.

In open, my son won a first place for a photograph.  My youngest won first, and champion in her group for her blueberry jam, she also ended up with a merit award.  My middle opted out this year.  It’s ok.  We were busy.  I took some of my pear tomatoes in and they won 3rd or 4th as did my sprigs of sage.  I am hoping they give feedback.  All the sage looked the same to me.  (which is why I am not a judge) My yarn came in 2nd.  I won 1st in fiber to fabric (no competition) however, my brown sweater got reserve grand champion second to the amazing llama shawl.  I find myself ok with that also.   Overall a great year so far.  Now is time for spinning and on Saturday the 4H barbecue.

Combing vs Carding

This is not an official face off.  More of musings whilst processing a fleece.  While at Olds, once of my class member brought in his motorized drum carder.  He made blending wool especially from commercial top look dreamy.  My drum carder has been collecting dust for the pat 4ish years.  I was carding heavily while I was still working with all of the Alpaca down in NM.  Since moved, it has had no love.

This is largely due to the fact that most of my largish projects have been on my hand carders for my final projects or on my new love, my combs.  I recently (June) purchased a fleece for this class I will be teaching.  My original idea was that we would wash the fleece in the first day and then work on it in the subsequent classes.  This thing being a week long event.  I have since revised that plan with input from the sponsor and organizer of the event.  I should just teach the same class each of the 5 days and let people float in and out as they have interest.  This idea has a lot of merit because I want to get people drop spindling and one, four hour class is simply not enough.  So now I need to process a fleece in about 3 weeks.

After Olds, I was convinced that Drum carding was the way.  I pulled out my fleece and skirted it.  Then I washed up a batch.  I have learned so much since the first time I washed a fleece! Anyway, when I wash a fleece I take care to keep my locks in formation.  No matter what method you choose after that, everything is smoother if the locks are still intact.  Just take my word on this…. Really.  I place my locks into little packets of window screen and pin them.  20160726_142001.jpgHere they are all ready to go into the first bath of HOT (usually around 140 ish) water and some wool wash.  My current favorite is Unicorn Power Scour as I found a bunch of samples I was given ages ago and have been using them up.  imag1376.jpgFirst wash…. YUCK!!!! you can see how dirty this fleece was!  I then put the fleece into two other hot water rinses.  They stay in the wash and rinse waters for somewhere between 30-60 min ish…. Really it depends on how distracted I get and if I forget that I am washing wool…

imag1377.jpgWashed locks on window screen to dry.  Usually, where I live this takes 24 hours ish or less.  Because it is summer and there is very little humidity here.  You can see the VM (veggie matter) in the pic above.  Much of this fleece is a bit full of it.  I have to admit it makes me cringe….

Which is where the combing vs carding thing comes in.  First, as I said, I was determined to comb this stuff up on my drum.  My drum should theoretically process wool faster than my combs.  imag1360.jpgThis made tons of sense in my head.  Until I actually pulled it out and tried it.  First of all, it took me hours to card the whole batch, which was just one batch.  Secondly, the VM was pretty imbedded in the batt when it came off the drum.  Thirdly, even when I attempted to “diz” the fiber off of my bat, it was really hard to make neat little rovings that would be helpful to new spinners.  imag1361.jpgI was sort of surprised that it took so long.  I felt that it should have taken me less time.  I am thinking that part of my problem is that I have been combing for the past year exclusively unless using my hand cards for a project.

The VM is the problem. imag1359.jpg If the fleece were clean with no VM I think carding would be the way to go, even if initially it took me longer.  I really probably could process more in a shorter time once I got the hang of it.  Also time is a factor.  I need to get this done.  In the next two weeks before fair.

So I decided to see what would happen if I combed it. It turns out that I can comb some sliver in about 5 min… with less VM than if I card it.  Now that’s 5 min per batch…. So It probably takes me around an hour-ish to comb the fleece I wash the previous day.  However, the result…. AMAZING!!!

In the pictures above, I decided to load my combs with the worst of the VM fleece I had washed.  Stuff I really wanted to just throw out.  The second pic is what the fiber looked like after 4 passes through the combs.  Not perfect, but much better.  The final pic is of the wool dizzed off the coms into top.  You can see that there is still some VM in it, but not like there was.  Much if the VM falls out while combing and the rest gets stuck in the waste on the combs.

See that is the real problem with the drum, there is no place for the VM to fall out to.  It just gets trapped and then makes the whole bat riddled with VM.   Most of my little nests are not even as VM filled as the pic above.  Because I can pick and choose which fleece I comb.  I can do that with the carder too, but again the VM mostly falls out of the combs, to which my floor can attest.


Aren’t they dreamy?

I tell you, I am so in love with this fiber.  It is a CVM fleece from the same grower that I bought Tipsy from last year. Just looking at those little fiber bundles makes me want to spin them into something divine.


I LOVE summer.  My flowers are blooming, I get to hear the humming birds fighting over the rights to my feeder.  My garden has gone INSANE.  The tomato plants I was worried about are now almost as tall as the fence, and teaming with fruit.  It it all turns we will have a pantry full.  20160722_074830.jpg I have massive sunflowers.  My herb garden is so overgrown, that I am going to have to relocate both the oregano and the fennel to make room.

When I started this post it was a total rant about how my summer is almost gone and I have so much left to do…. then I got interrupted, never finished.  Then I got some time to think and do.  See I have had guests in my home for 3 weeks.  Not high maintenance guests, but guests.  So it’s hard to go do what needs doing.  Like 4H books, and washing wool, and making jam etc….  I feel guilty when I take that time when there are people here.  Now that a day has gone by, My space is mine again.  Deep breath.

This morning the boys (husband and oldest son) went to hike a 14er, the middle was at a sleepover and it was just the youngest and I.  We went and picked some currants. imag1372.jpg Mostly black, a few red.  I live in a planned community, for some reason I have yet to understand the powers that be landscaped with fruit bearing shrubs and trees.  This makes for fantastic gleaning.  Remember last years plums?

So last year, my husband and I picked a small container of black currants and I decided to make jelly.  There are tons of sites with recipes.  Most don’t use pectin as black currants have lots of their own and you don’t really need it.  Well, you don’t if you have any idea how to get sugary syrup to set up.  I live at altitude, so handy things like candy thermometers are not so accurate for this sort of thing.  So we are left with the “plate test” where you put a drop of the jelly on a cold plate and determine if it has “jelled” enough…..  My first batch which yielded 3 jars turned into candy.  It’s actually quite good we have found out in a cup of green tea.  The second batch of also 3 jars was much better,   but still more syrup than jelly.

This year, I have decided to use liquid pectin.  Lets face it.  I really want more than 3 jars for this much trouble.  Not that it’s a lot of work, but when making jelly one must first make the juice.  So you simmer the currants and then allow them to strain for a couple of hours in a jelly bag.


simmering currants.  

I found out last summer that you can do this twice with the same berries.  So I have already simmered and strained the first batch and got 2 1/2 cups of the 5 cup requirement of juice.imag1374.jpg  I am simmering the second batch.  Once you have juice, it’s easy peasy with the pectin.  At least I hope it will be.


To Olds and Back again.

Fiber week 2016 is over.  I thought and thought about this post all the way home.  In case anyone wants to know it’s around 21 hours to drive there and back again from my neck of the woods.  Luckily, I only had to drive homewards.  My husband and kids picked me up when class was finished Thursday and we spent the weekend in the Canadian Rockies.

Let’s start with Olds.  It’s TINY.  A bit shockingly so.  It’s an AG school.  It’s an AG school in the way, that the US AG schools probably started out as before they grew into the multi discipline powerhouses that they are today.  We had our classes in the building that adjoined the green houses… It has a name, and when I unpack my map, maybe I can come up with it.  Anyway, the campus is old and many of it’s buildings are more industrial than beautiful.  However, their library and alumni building is beautiful and the dorms I stayed in were brand spanking new and delightful.

Did I mention, it’s an AG school?  They have a brewery on campus… that sells it’s stuff.  Yes, they do! And the local restaurants carry it!  Amazing!20160619_180426.jpg

They also have a meat market! And the greenhouse was having a plant sale BOGO…  I was so tempted but knew I would not make it across the border with a plant.  It was very disappointing because let me tell you they know how to grow plants! On the day of the sale they put up these bouquets on the tables in the atrium.20160620_122359.jpg

OMG the Peonies.  They were huge.  As big as shrubs HUGE. And they had20160620_202335.jpg

YELLOW!!!!!  I have never before actually seen a yellow peony!!!!

Ok, enough about the gardens, this is supposed to be a recap of LEVEL 5 classroom work. It turned out that our level 5 class was a conglomeration of several different level 4’s.  We all ended up together and became this year’s level 5.

After the last 4 levels, level 5 was dare I say mellow.  It appears we have learned most of the skills we need to go on.  So level 5 was introducing man made fibers.  These would be Nylon, Polyester (which thankfully we no longer really need to speak of or spin), and all the regenerated fibers:Rayon, Tencil, Bamboo, soy silk, and corn fiber.  We also get to spin angora (bunny) and Yak.  We moved on to Hemp (can’t wait to share that one with you soon).  Also we learned how to use fiber reactive dyes on cotton.20160621_144846.jpg

There were several interesting moments, like we were given 20 grams of raw wool to take back to our rooms and wash so we could card it into rolags the next day.  Luckily the dorm I was in had VERY hot water right out of the tap.  Which is great because I had no way to boil water.  So I used the Margaret Stove bar of soap method which worked great. 20160622_064946.jpg

That fleece was kind of crazy nice.  Our teacher bought it from the fleece show happening on the weekend.

The biggest thing about going to fiber week for the first time, was mingling with spinners from other levels.  All of a sudden I was part of a group breathing rarified air.  I was “Level 5” almost to the end.  Everyone was in awe of the Level 6 group who spent the week taking what amounted to a practical exam of what they know.  Up to now, I have only ever met other people in the same level so we have all had to do the same assignments.  It was interesting hearing the lower levels frustrations and successes.  Some of the complaints I heard made me laugh “we are learning woolen vs worsted again!,” this from a level 3 student.   They have not yet come to see the spiral curriculum.  Because I hate to tell you ladies (not being sexist, there were two guys in my class) but I am actually referring to the ladies in the above comment. Level 4 talks about “true worsted” and level 5 we learn “true woolen”.  In Level 6 my guess is that we demonstrate that we “know” the difference between the two and how to make them.  Again Level 6 is a practical exam.

One afternoon our teacher took us to the library on a field trip.  We were to look at level 6 projects from the previous graduates.  This was to get us to start thinking about our in depth study.  My mind was so not there that day.  I looked at all these books by previous graduates and thought “none of this is what I want to study.”  I was at a blank.  I had no ideas, no plans.  Many people in my class knew exactly what they want to do.  That was a bit of a shock to me.  Luckily, I have time.  Level 5 homework has to be submitted before they will even allow me to pick my topic.  I can submit an idea before that but it is not “locked” in place until I finish Level 5.  This made me feel better.  I need to find something that I can really sink my teeth into.  Something that will make my brain work.

In many ways level 5 felt like it was getting us ready for next year.  Our teacher would ask us to identify the best fiber to use for a certain purpose or a certain TPI.  (Yes, more TPI this year).  What would we blend for a specific effect?  How would we spin something to achieve another effect?  We are supposed to have the skills at our disposal to make decisions and create yarns with a variety of fibers to get what we want.  Fun….

By far the best part of being at fiber week? I got to spend an entire week talking about wool and spinning with other people who are just as passionate as I am about wool and spinning.  I got to spend an entire week with my friend Ric as we both looked ahead to what level 6 will hold for us.  I also got to meet a whole lot of new fiber friends whom I hope to see again next year!


I wrote this post on the flight back from my grandfather’s funeral several months ago.  I was on the fence about sharing it, but today my mom called with news that brought everything full circle…

This weekend, I said goodbye to my 100 year old grandfather.

Six months ago we gathered for his 100th birthday. It was a weekend full of family, and fun. My sister and I got to spend a rare kid free few days playing tourists in a town we often traveled too but rarely saw.  We went to lunch shopped, had cocktail hour on my aunts front porch, and reconnected with distant relations that we rarely got to see.

This weekend, we also gathered to celebrate his long life. We also got to reconnect  with our distant relatives, and have cocktail hour in the kitchen where so many of my life memories were made.imag1185.jpg

During the service,  the minister commented that my grandfather had lived most of his life (80) years in about 2 square miles.  He moved to the area when he was 10.  The store his father, and then he and his brothers owned. The home he built for his family on land his father gave him. And the church he belonged to and then helped to build and grow.  All of these places were in a solid square of land. Later when he moved in to take care of my great grandparents, the property was across the road.  At the ripe age of 91 he remarried and moved a few miles away to live with his new wife and my aunt and uncle lived alone in the house.

As my family gathered it became clear to me that this was an end of something.  The house which was built by my great grandmother is the last place that carries on unchanged since my childhood.  Other than painting the rooms a color other  than green, and updating flooring, everything in that house is the same as it always was.  So many memories reside there and in its surroundings.

My first day there  I was with  my parents and aunts and uncles when we had to go to the funeral  home and decide if the casket would be open or closed in the viewing.  One look, and I knew, I needed to find  some other way to say goodbye, because while physically it was he, it wasn’t my grandfather in that  box.  When we got back to the house, I asked to be allowed  in the shop to try to find what was left of my memory  of a good kind man.imag1184.jpg

Sure enough, one whiff of the smell of oil and gas brought me back to my childhood.  Walking by the barns and into the pasture.   Gazing at the field he used to plant with enough produce to feed every widow in the county.  There I found him.  Every part of that land reminds me of childhood  rides on the pony or in the buggy. Walking in the pasture with the cows.    The man I missed spent most of his days outside until he wasn’t able.  He mowed his own lawn well into his 90s.

My aunt has been trying to sell the home place.imag1186.jpg  I understand and don’t condemn her for it.  It’s a lot to maintain.  She wants to retire from tending barns and pasture, cutting grass, and an old house with problems.   The past few years of tending my grandfather in his failing have taken their toll.  It’s hard when I realize that this trip is probably the last time we will have gathered around the dining table.  The table where my aunt taught me how to set properly with china.  Where birthday Christmas was always spent until we all grew old enough for college. Christmas in my memories is spent in that living room opening gifts.  First with my great grandparents and then grandparents.


I have always had a thing for these tobacco barns.  The brick is just so darn pretty.

What saddens me perhaps the most, is that it was the place we gathered.  With it gone and perhaps that won’t happen  for a year or more.  I hope for my aunt’s sake it’s soon. With it gone, with my grandfather gone, will we find a reason  to gather?

What my mom shared with us today is that the property has closed and was purchased by a group that wants to keep it as a farm.  they are planning on renovating the big barn in the second picture as a teaching space.  They are even incorporating an owl into their logo in honor of the name of the well on the property.  It was a stopping point for travelers on the way to the tobacco markets and called Owlsborough.  Originally, the house stood in the midst of 100 year old oaks.  Over the years they had to be taken down.  If I could have had one dream it was that this place would be kept as is and not subdivided.  It looks like that is what will happen.  To top it off, it might just be a place we could visit with the kids as a tourist in the future.