Tag Archives: sheep

Cozy Cozy Snow

Yesterday we had a beautiful day of snow.  I didn’t have to be anywhere, our neighbor across the street who helps us had his plow blade thing on his truck, the wood stove was going- so I thoughtsnow-jan-8-2017– let it snow! It did and we have 12″ of beautiful fluffy snow.

I never think much about January until the holidays are over. So now that I realize it is 2017 I decided that yesterday was a good day to organize my thinking about the various places we as Eagle Lake Fibers are teaching through April. Each place has its uniqueness and I enjoy thinking about uniqueness (run of the mill is so dull) so here are my impressions:

Jan. 14th we are teaching natural dyeing at the Northeast Organic Farming Association Winter Conference in Worcester MA. This is the 10th year we have taught a fiber spinning related workshop there. NOFA conferences are always a breath of fresh air for me. They are full of idealistic young people full of ideas about self reliance and sustainability and – ok, I will say it,  people with some gray hair who continue to believe in it despite decades of real life. I had no gray when I started teaching there 10 years ago.   🙂   NOFAMASS.org


Marigolds and onion skins for natural dyeing at NOFA.

January 21st shows life on a different plane when I go to the Cabot Bradley  Estate in Canton MA to give an overview of the Sheep to Shawl Process and then allow people to try their hands at carding and combing wool. This is an estate that was given to the Trustees of Reservations in the 1990’s by Mrs. Bradley, of Cabot lineage which anyone anywhere near Boston recognizes was sort of royalty, who had enjoyed having farming on the estate including sheep. The Trustees are working to have more events and workshops on the estate such as one our friend Jenny Hauf of Muddy River Herbals gave last fall about herbs she grows, mine on spinning wool and many others.  It is a beautiful oasis of 90 acres and a mansion not far from Boston. Thetrustees.org     Muddyriverherbals.com


Guard llama and sheep – little and to the right- at Bradley Estate Canton MA Sept 2016

Then on February 5th I am teaching a drop spindling workshop at Auntie Zaza’s Fiber Works in North Easton. Elizabeth has created such a cozy little shop and it has become a happy thriving fiber loving community.  I don’t know what I would have done without it when we moved here. auntiezaza.com


This student will not be present at the drop spindling workshop because she is now proficient with the drop spindle

Our scary fiber tools and some not so scary will be put into use on March 5th at The Fiber Loft in Harvard MA when we teach a class on carding and combing. The Fiber Loft fills a much needed void for the sale of spinning wheels, looms, hand cards and combs in this area. I bought two spinning wheels and my little rigid heddle loom there. Harvard is a beautiful little New England town with a great General Store where you can get coffee or have lunch.     thefiberloft.com

tools fibers for Jan workshop

The drum carder which made these batts is my second favorite fiber processing tool. The combs on the left are the first.

Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School’s adult ed program Assabet After Dark has asked us to teach the Sheep to Shawl workshops we taught last fall again in the fall of 2017. Before that however we will be teaching intensive wool combing and carding classes in April. These classes teach students how to take clean, sometimes dyed, wool and get it ready to spin. assabetafterdark.com


Rolags from blending fibers on the right using the blending board behind

These workshops start soon but for today I will enjoy watching the birds at the feeder and watching my cat Pippi watch the birds at the feeder. I will enjoy hearing children nearby sledding and screaming with fun. At least I think it is fun screaming, not screaming because our bold coyote is coming around and I sit here hearing them and doing nothing to scare it away.

Me with Boone

Me with Gulf Coast lamb Boone on Cape Cod

I bet you could spin coyote- but that doesn’t grab my interest right now. Ugh. Back to thinking about sweet little lambs!

My Life with Little Libraries

The town I live in, Easton MA, is in the process of putting “little libraries” in 6 spots in town. A lumberyard in town donated the wood, the students at the technical high school in town built them and local artists decorated them. My favorite so far is of course this one that has sheep on it.

sheep pasture lib front

Little Library at Sheep Pasture in Easton MA

sheep pasture lib backIt is at a place called Sheep Pasture which is on the grounds of an old estate where I can go when I need a sheep fix. Wool spinners are nodding as they read this because we all have to have an easy source. Sheep Pasture is owned by the National Resources Trust of Easton and a wonderful spot with trails, woods, farm animals and many events and workshops.

The little libraries hold maybe 15 or so books. Anyone can take a book and leave one, or return it. No computer catalogue, sign out or library card needed. The books will be constantly shifting as people take and leave them. Finding the boxes is a little treasure hunt for me.

Seeing them reminded me of my rich history of spending time in little libraries. Not as small as the ones here of course but pretty little by today’s standards. I grew up in Waterford CT and I distinctly recall my mother taking me to the little town library which was in a small Cape Cod style house on a hill  off of Great Neck Road. I remember the room of books and where the children’s books were in that one room. The far back corner on the left by windows and a window seat. Just now I had fun, with some bittersweet feelings about times and people long gone, researching the history of that library to put dates to my memories. I recognize last names of people involved in creating the first town library in the 1920’s.

I learned that the library books were moved in Feb of 1961.  I was 4 1/2 then which would make that first little library one of my earliest memories. At that time my mother would take me to my brother’s football games and she claimed I looked at books the whole time. I still prefer books to football. He was 13 years older than me.  I distinctly remember the moment in First Grade when everything coalesced in my brain and I knew I could read so I know that I wasn’t actually reading at his games, just looking at my books and being absorbed in the pictures and stories. I also remember how nice my teacher Miss Lyons was at Great Neck School and how encouraging she was about my reading in First Grade. That day I could read was truly like a light bulb going off in my head. “See Jane. See Jane run.”I don’t think I was reading this line in the Dick and Jane series necessarily but I certainly did learn from them.

I do remember when the books were temporarily moved to a larger space, an old post office near the old library building in the section of town called Jordan Village. My best memory there was being 7 or 8 and feeling so grown up one time because my mother actually let me stay there and read while she did an errand or two. I sat at a table near the check out counter and can still see two women working there who sort of kept an eye on me. Sort of because what was I going to do- I was perfectly happy sitting and reading and didn’t need to wander around. My mother knew that when she gave me that responsibility. They told me to let them know if I needed anything but I didn’t- I had it all at that moment!

My mother did not particularly enjoy reading books but as always helped me to do the things I liked even when not sharing them herself. I also remember at a young age that occasionally she would let me read books at church during the service rather than go to Sunday School. 🙂

Waterford built a lovely large library soon after which I avidly used until I moved out after college in 1979 and married. In 1982 we moved to East Glastonbury CT and much to my delight were close to a little branch library which was in an old 2 room schoolhouse. When I was pregnant with my first I walked a mile each day and often walked there.  Glastonbury itself had a large beautiful main library and I remember that the first place we took our second child to was that library when he was a few weeks old. Going to choose books for myself in the stacks, alone, in peace and quiet for a few minutes while my husband stayed with our sons in the children’s section are memories I still hold dear.

In 1987 we moved to Holden MA, a town which became home for 25 years. Okay, I knew when we moved there that the library was being expanded and renovated and that a little old meat market was housing some of the books and functioning as the library for a couple years only. Even though I knew this intellectually the first time I went in my heart sank. It was just so small and had no big children’s room. Of course I adjusted and now a memory my second son and I share is going there when he was 4 on a field trip from nursery school and being taken behind the scenes and seeing books stacked in old meat bins that were once refrigerated. So funny to us.

Holden soon opened the doors to the expanded library and it became a weekly stop for pretty much the rest of the time we lived there. I remember the excitement when each of our children were 6 years old and could get their own library card. I still have one.

A rite of passage. kyle lib card

After they left for college I became active with the Friends group and stayed that way until we moved, making dear friends, again a little bittersweet as now some of them are also gone. I was so lucky to have known them. holden lib bag

So now I have sort of come full circle and am enjoying a different kind of little library than the one in Waterford 54 years ago. My husband was not surprised when I went to the first one in the Queset Garden at the back of the Ames Free Library in Easton and started organizing the books so all could be seen and would stand up straight. I used to do that at the large and sadly now closed Tatnuck Booksellers in Worcester which is next to Holden. I would neatly arrange the knitting books and even sometimes feature one if there was space for the cover to be shown. I figured if they didn’t like it someone would tell me to stop and no one ever did. Why would they stop someone who was doing their work for free.

Now I get to discover all the little libraries here in Easton!



Onward to Spring

Here are some random thoughts and updates as I move towards spring.

I gasped quietly when I saw in my  yard on April 1st:

crocus April 1 (1)

First Crocuses!

The snow is receding like a glacier and this gives perspective on my excitement at the sight:

crocus April 1 (2)

Crocuses by snow

On Saturday spinning friends gathered at my house and as promised some big scary dangerous equipment came also.  The picker is used to open fiber up for spinning and is the first step to getting rid of any short fibers and vegetation. Short fibers can be the result of what are called second cuts when shearing. The path of the shearing blades is not always exact and they may have to go over an area again- like when a lawn is mowed and a small length remains on the side of the path-that results in some short fibers in the fleece. A few second cuts and some vegetation are not a problem and come out with processing.  If I am choosing fleeces and there are a lot of short cuts and a lot of vegetation I pass it by since a lot of time would be needed to get them out and wouldn’t be worth it.

I love the sign that comes with the picker.  I feel so important because of it.  Like I operate heavy construction machinery.

picker front

Wool picker warning

Here is why it works so well, why we wear protective gloves and why I would never have it anywhere no matter how well guarded in a house with children. What a great feature it would make in a murder mystery.

picker with fiber

Picker with fiber

I have some beautiful Cotswold fiber I dyed green in it here. Truth be told I seemed to have felted it a bit so opened it up with the mighty picker jaws that I swing back and forth. Now I will hand comb it to get out any end felted fibers that came off and will be able to use it good as new. Cotswold is a rare breed with long lustrous curly locks. Its shine, or sheen, remains when spun. Some day I will talk more about that breed since it is so beautiful.

My last Gulf Coast fiber from my sheep of the month March  is Fernando. Here is the picture I posted of him as unprocessed washed locks.



Here he is after going twice through the picker:

Fernando picked

Fernando picked

He weighs 22 ounces. Not sure what I will do with him but he’ll be ready when I am.

So, you know you are an out of control spinner when you were on an escalator yesterday at Logan airport and you see on the floor below tiles that create different Massachusetts scenes such as a runner in the Boston Marathon and you are delighted to see a spinner at an old walking spinning wheel pictured so you stop when you get to it and realize it is a fisherman at the wheel of an old sailing ship. Which you love too but not the same. Darn it.

Funny Spinning Fact

It is a scientific fact that every spinner who has a significant other be he or she called husband, boy friend, girl friend, partner has gone through an initial time when this person has tried to get the spinner to limit their fiber stashes, and failed. Supposedly reasonable comments such as “don’t you have enough” “what will you do with it” “where will you put it” are silently  ignored and after a time they give up. It is bigger than they are. But here is a funny story about old time spinners in Iceland that I read in Bette Hochburg’s book Spin Span Spun. It says that after the men finished their work they would card wool for the women and someone would tell stories and lead the group in singing.  I am sitting here enjoying the image of our partners engaging in that together. Especially singing. But I know they won’t go that far!

Last but not least:

Update on discarding fiber paper clutter:

I have been working my way through paper files that I have on fiber and fiber related information. I am happy to announce that I am done and since I like to weigh things I can say I have discarded and recycled 19 pounds of paper and files. Nineteen. Now my home files and my fiber files fit in one file cabinet drawer. Hurray! Can you get rid of some too??  It isn’t mandatory to weigh it, just dig in, do 5 a day like I did!

Happy April and the start of sheep and wool festival season in New England. Saturday April 26th is the Connecticul Sheep, Wool and Fiber Festival  in Vernon Connecticut.  http://www.ctsheep.org/sheep_and_wool_festival

Let the games begin!



Hardy Souls

I have decided to focus this month on Gulf Coast Sheep rather than Bluefaced Leicester because of a pleasant ovine encounter that I had on Sunday. My husband and I visited the small but mighty Coggeshall Farm Museum in Bristol Rhode Island. This living history museum is set in the year 1799 and depicts a small tenant farm. The house is  the original house that was there and has furniture, period kitchen items, hearth cooking, and workshop activities that reflect the goings on in the  lives of ordinary people of that time. Coggeshall farmhouse

We were there on a cold late morning when snow was about to arrive and had the three friendly and knowledgeable interpreters to ourselves. I was bundled up in my handspun hat, cowl and mittens and my LL Bean coat and was not cold at all. None of the animals were shivering either. We enjoy visiting house museums and those with barns are my favorites. My top interests are always wool spinning and any animals of course. This place has all of that and the animals and poultry  are heritage breeds that would have been found on this farm in 1799. Here is a little of what I found in the house.

Wool to be carded at Coggeshall Farmwalking wheel at Coggeshall Farm

Let me at them!                 But even better was who came out of the barn.

More sheep at Coggeshall FarmSheep at Coggeshall Farm

Gulf Coast Sheep!  One of my favorite breeds-let me at them!  So as not to be neglectful I should add that the heritage chickens, turkeys and cows are also wonderful. This is a Devon cow which is a very old breed used for both milking and meat.

Devon cow at Coggeshall Farm

For that fun reason of just having seen them I decided to change my fiber focus this month to the rare breed Gulf Coast Native Sheep. I’ll get back to the BFL later on for sure. Gulf Coast sheep ancestors were brought to the southeast of North America by French and Spanish explorers. Many were later abandoned, became feral and were able to survive on their own due to good foraging skills, toleration of heat and cold, resistance to parasites and resistance to foot rot. All are domesticated now yet they retain these hardy qualities,  instinctively are good mothers and their wool and meat (yikes) can both be used. They are considered to be one of the few uniquely North American breeds and are not found elsewhere in the world.

The breed’s wool staple length is 2.5” to 4” which means that is the length their fleeces grow in one year. The micron count of the fleece, which refers to the diameter of individual fibers and determines softness/coarseness is 26-32 microns. Lower micron counts correspond with softest fleece. A count of 21 or below is often considered the range of fiber that will be comfortable next to the skin for most people although many can tolerate higher counts. I don’t know the micron count for my Gulf Coast fiber which comes from three unrelated sheep- Sophie, Fernando and Henna-  however I subjectively think two would be on the lower and softer end and one is on the coarser. The softer wool can be used for mittens or outer socks and all the fiber can be used for many other items such as bags, or in weaving or rug hooking. It takes dye beautifully.

Okay, enough history and facts for now although I myself can never get enough of either. Next post will show you my lovely Gulf Coast fiber and tell you where it came from and some of my plans for it. Even I don’t know what the plans are right now. Until then I would love to hear about others experiences with these fantastic sheep and their fiber! This is truly a rare breed that needs to be preserved both for its tenacious place in history and for its hardy qualities that make it an animal with fewer health needs than many.  Coggeshall Farm Museum is definitely a place that deserves a visit and helps us at this time of year to remember the tenacity of the human spirit in the winter of 1799, and the winters that followed, as well!



Snow on Snow

Snow on snow describes our New England landscape right now. Christina Rossetti wrote a poem, In the Bleak Midwinter, in the mid 1800s which became a Christmas hymn. It has a haunting melody and often goes through my head these days.

But I don’t find winter to be bleak. It has such peacefulness to it and makes our homes cozy. My home was built in the 1830s and we also have a barn built then. Both built before she wrote her poem. They are sturdy and with proper care have withstood many winters. I look around my backyard and think about all the people who have lived here and seen these sights.barn with snowside of house in snow

The colors in our scenery are mostly white snow, green pine trees, gray tree trunks and blue sky. There is a lot of glitter too as the sun makes the snow sparkle. Having a dye day recently with friends helps to bring more colors into our lives. We gathered in a cozy kitchen, played around with color, ate black bean soup and chocolate, and as it does with women, our conversation at lunch skipped between laughter, teasing, reminiscing, sharing some sad/bittersweet personal situations, and talk of when we could get together again for more fiber activities,  and more laughter.samples of dyesDyed Fibers Feb 2015Kid Mohair (2)

And now, what to do with these beautiful fibers? No spinning plans right away. I will just enjoy looking at them and touching them. That kind of attitude, common among spinners, has resulted in my recent fiber organizing that revealed that I had 500 ounces of washed fiber ready to process and spin. Wow. That’s a lot. I have used up some of them since then but not much. I’d like to think that I will use this blog as a vehicle that will give me accountability to use more up and not buy anymore in 2015. Yep, we’ll see how that goes.

But I will give it the old college try and my next entry will include information about Bluefaced Leicester Sheep , the individual BFL sheep whose locks I have, and how I will use the 12 ounces I have. Each month I hope to do the same with other breeds. But for now I am off to pull out that fiber to enjoy its tiny curls and to think about how cute they are. That alone makes me happy and for a short while I will forget if we have snow on snow or spring flowers.