Handmade Holiday – Spinning Some Yarn

This year I’m trying to give everyone on my holiday list a handmade gift.  In this house, that usually means something crafted from wool or yarn.  I’ve been working on one particular gift since September, and finally making some good progress.  I won’t tell you who it’s for, or what the finished object will be, because most of my family members read this little old blog and I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise! But I will share the entire process with you.  Here we go!

The story of this project actually begins in Spring of 2011.  You may recall that I visited a friend’s farm for sheep shearing day, and came home with a lovely fleece.  The sheep was named “Morag”, and I must put in a word of thanks to her here, because that fleece of hers sure is a delight to work with.  In September, I began the process of blending some of Morag’s wool with another fibre (I won’t tell you what until after the holidays – don’t want to give it away!) with my hand cards.  Let me tell you, hand-blending these two fibres has been a long and tedious process.  Now that the carding stage is complete, everything else is going quickly.

Seeing the rolags pile up in my basket, blended and ready to be dyed, has been quite satisfactory.  The finished product is worth the blisters the carders put on my hands.

I was tempted to spin the fibre in its natural colour, but decided I needed to go ahead and dye it.  I don’t have much on hand right now, so I chose some food-grade dye hiding in the back of the cupboard and left the fibre to soak in a bath of vinegar and water.  I’d love to include a photo of the dye process itself, but my kitchen was too dark and none of the shots turned out well.

I mixed some red and blue for a lovely range of blue, navy, and dark purple.  After rinsing the dyed fibre and patting it with a towel, I set it out on the coffee table with a fan pointed at it to dry.  It’s still pretty wet in this photo, so the colours look a lot darker than they actually are.

Time to spin! I haven’t had a chance yet this Autumn to get my dear wheel out and spin up some yarn, so opening the case and setting her up was like reconnecting with an old friend.  Oh, sweet wheel, I do so love to work with you!

The kids were pretty excited to see my wheel out again, and clamoured around me to watch the fibre being spun.  Lynden used my phone to take this photo, and although it’s blurry, I do love it – it seems to me that the essence of the afternoon is captured quite well by a 5-yr-old and a phone.

The fibre is spinning up beautifully, I must say.  Some of the fibre had not quite dried yet, so there’s a lot more waiting to be done, but I can’t wait to set the twist and get knitting with it!  So luxuriously soft, just what I was hoping for!

I know you’re dying to find out what kind of fibre I blended Morag’s wool with, aren’t you?  And what will the finished product be? If you can handle the suspense, I’ll reveal all my holiday creations as soon as they’ve been gifted to the loved ones they’re intended for! Stay tuned!

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Garden of Woolly Delights

I’ve been a busy, crafty mama over the last while, gearing up for the cold weather. Nearly every night after the kids have gone to bed, I’ve been spending some time knitting or crocheting – or both! Here is some of what I’ve been up to.  If you like what you see, click on a photo to visit the item’s Etsy listing page.

"The Wave" - a custom order for a local child.

Lynden's winter sweater, which will eventually have a hood and a front pocket.

Warm winter toque, listed on Etsy

"Super Swirls", available on Etsy

"Pumpkin Head" beanie, available on Etsy

Bobble hat, available on Etsy

This is just a small sampling of some of my favourite projects.  I’ve also been busy with the spinning wheel!

Bamboo/alpaca blend in "Dreamy Green", available on Etsy

Now I really need to get started on my Christmas gifts so I’m not in the same pickle I’ve found myself in previously (rushing to finish Christmas projects at the last minute, that is).  I’ve decided to participate in Handmade Holiday this year, led by Tonya over at Plain and Joyful Living blog.  Since we have a very limited income to work with, I’m going to go all out and make every gift; in the past I’ve managed to do about half of my gifts by hand.  I’m pretty excited about some of the projects I’ve got planned!

On Living with Less

You may recall that Jae quit his job over the course of the summer in order to be free, in order to live the life of our dreams.  What, exactly, does that mean?

It means we are living on a lot less money, but that we have a lot more time together as a family and a lot more time to do for ourselves on our farm.

It means we are making a casual income. I teach violin lessons a few hours per week. We sell eggs our hens have laid, I knit hats that folks have ordered, I spin yarn to sell. We are fortunate to live in a country that gives mamas a child tax benefit, and that helps to pay for our car.

Beyond that, being jobless means we have much more time to take care of life for ourselves instead of buying things. I’m knitting the kids some winter sweaters, instead of working to buy them, with yarn that I’ve spun instead of purchased. We’re preserving food from our garden, instead of working to buy groceries. We’re foraging for wild edibles, and even ate one of our chickens the other day – a decision that I was completely comfortable with after nearly an entire lifetime of vegetarianism (stay tuned for a post on slaughtering your own animals – it may not be what you think!). We are doing what we can for ourselves instead of paying corporations to do it for us.

Despite the cold and rainy weather, we’ve got produce coming out of the garden, ready to be canned and enjoyed on a cold winter’s day.

Hot peppers - salsa in waiting.

Tomatillos, soon to be salsa verde.

Living on less also means living with less – and we’re ok with that. In fact, a life with less is a freer life. It is liberating to free oneself from STUFF, to deny the urge to spend money, to appreciate what you have and find new uses for old things. We’ve also realised how much of what we do have, we don’t really need. A large-scale purge is in process, and soon bags full of things will be donated to the local thrift store.

Living on less means working with your friends and neighbours to get things done. It means exchanging a helping hand on a friend’s farm for some bales of hay to get your livestock through the winter. It means trading a hand-knit hat & mitts for some cloth diapers. It means giving some eggs for basket of produce. It means forming lasting bonds & friendships and creating community.

Living on less also means having plenty of time to enjoy life’s beauties and wonders. How amazing the little things can be! So much to marvel at in something as small as a bouquet of wildflowers.

For our family, living on less means more togetherness, and there’s nothing I cherish more than the time I have with my loved ones. These are the best days of our lives.

Abundance

Life has been SO BUSY lately.  I guess that’s always the case, but it has felt even more so the past few weeks.  Here’s a glimpse of farm life, this last little while:

From the beginning, our birds have been completely free-range.  They enter and exit the coop as they like, they roam where they please.  A few hens breeched our garden fence and discovered the juicy green baby tomatoes in the garden, and we found ourselves with a problem.  How to keep those darned hens from eating our vegetables?  So Jae and I built a chicken tractor to keep the renegade hens contained.  I don’t like having them enclosed, but they seem quite happy in there and the tractor is moved every couple of days so they always have fresh grass and bugs to enjoy.  A compromise, of sorts.  The funny thing is, the chickens who are still on the outside, always seem to want to get in!

 

We have cucumbers coming out the wazoo.  Really! More than we can eat.  Our zucchini is starting to produce beautifully as well, and tomatoes are ripening.  Hundreds of dry beans have been collected.  We are eating fresh from the garden every day.  Rainbow chard is looking good, peas are growing nicely in the shade.  We live a life of abundance.

 

Herbs, herbs, herbs.  There’s lavender hanging in the kitchen window to dry (thanks, mama-in-law!!), nettle drying for tea, mint, sage… I love the sweet smells of herbs hanging to dry, filling the house with sensory wondrousness.  I can’t wait to expand my herb garden next season!

 

I’ve been knitting, crocheting and spinning like crazy lately, filling orders for yarn and hats and mitts.  I love the thought of little heads being kept toasty warm by something I’ve made, and other knitters creating lovely projects with my yarn.  It’s my way of sending love out into the world.  (I’m still filling orders for hats & mitts.  Contact me if you’d like to place an order!)

Yes, life is good and abundant.  I feel incredibly blessed.  The children and I have enjoyed so many wonderful days of play and exploration, soaking up the summer sun and enjoying all the small moments.  Alas, summer days are gone too soon…

Reflections on Our First Year

I realised something fairly monumental the other day: we have lived here on the farm for a year now!  Holy smokes, I can’t believe it’s been that long (and yet not very long at all).  Time sure has flown past and we have been busier here than ever before in our lives.  The past year has held so many amazing moments, challenging moments, stressful moments, exhausting moments, joyous moments – tears, laughter, more tears, more laughter.

I have learned so much in the past year, I don’t even know where to begin.  What immediately comes to mind is the ways in which our family rhythm has changed.  We now flow with the sun & the moon and the weather.  I do my laundry on sunny days.  My kids tend to sleep when the sun is preparing to set, and as time passes we get farther and farther away from an established bed time.  I weed the gardens during the coolest moments of the day, which is generally in the morning but sometimes in the afternoon when a cool breeze sets in, and sometimes at dusk.  Our prepared foods are more seasonally appropriate, too.

I’ve learned to really go with the flow, especially with our animals.  The books will tell you that if you do this, this and this, you will have more eggs, you will get more milk.  But you know, our animals are not production machines and I find they are happier when they live their true nature.  Sometimes that means that we don’t have many eggs, or that the milk pail isn’t very full – and that’s ok! We do our best and treat our animals well, and they are happy creatures.  And most of the time, they give us an abundance of good, healthy food.

I’ve learned that much of what we thought was essential when we lived in the city, really is not.  I’ve happily and joyfully hung the laundry on the line each day – who needs a dryer?  Never once has laundry felt like a chore when it gets hung on the line.  Instead it is a peaceful and meditative task that calms me.  And who needs a lawnmower? A dishwasher? A bread machine? Who needs a television? We’ve happily gone without these things, and life is better for it.

 

Remember this one? The best of everything - sweet baby, laundry on the line, long grass, blue skies - bliss

 

I’ve learned that sometimes, the best thing to do on a snowy day is just stay put.  Cancel plans, get the animals fed, and bunker down inside with some hot soup and lots of art supplies for the kids.  We didn’t have this luxury in the city – snow or not, there were places to be and things to do, and no time to worry about the weather.  I have a whole new appreciation for winter, now.  This past winter certainly was much more difficult than I ever imagined it would be, but there were many wonderful aspects to it, too.  I had moments of desperation in which I wondered how the heck I would feed all the animals when I had three very small children in the house and no other adults around to keep an eye on them for half an hour.  Somehow I managed, and I realised that I’m stronger and more resourceful than I previously thought.

Despite the challenges, there is so much beauty in winter, isn't there?

 

I’ve learned that there is nothing more satisfying or more delicious than producing your own food.  One of my greatest joys in life is collecting eggs and gathering produce from the garden.  I feel really good feeding the products of my labours to my children, watching them grow and thrive on healthful, real foods that were grown right here at home.  When I read about GMO’s, or wood pulp filler in foods, E-coli and salmonella poisonings, pesticide poisoning, birth defects caused by Roundup, rising rates of obesity & diabetes and other food woes, I am so grateful that we are able to produce at least some of our own food and that I am able to provide good, nourishing meals to my children.  What a  blessing!

So much more than just an egg - a promise of health & nourishment, a delicious meal...

 

I’ve learned that sometimes I need to stop carrying the world on my shoulders and rely on others a little bit more.  Jae and I have grown so much together over the past year, and I’ve learned what it means to really rely on another person.  I’m impressed by how much Jae has done around here – from thatching the roof  of the chicken coop to fencing in the gardens – there is no way I’d be able to do it all myself, and sometimes just having another brain to think on a problem means that the solution is so much greater.

And, of course, I’ve learned so many skills – milking a goat, trimming hooves, pitching straw, storing hay, eliminating tomato hornworms & cabbage moth caterpillars, growing a garden without needing to water, the best way to hang laundry, how to use power tools, basic carpentry, how to contain goats, how to can peaches, how to make mulberry jam, what to do with frozen eggs, how to tap maple trees & make syrup, how to hatch chicks, how to keep a baby happy while mama works in the garden (babywearing is a mama’s best friend!), spinning great yarn… and that’s the shortlist.  There really is so much more.

I feel so blessed, so lucky, so full of gratitude when I think on the past year of farm life.  My children have grown and thrived and we’ve all settled into country living beautifully.  I can’t wait to see what the next year brings!

To farm life!

 

Yarning

Next Saturday is our first day at the market, and I’ve been madly spinning away so I’ll have a nice variety of yarns to put out.  This house has been filled with so many gorgeous fleeces and processed wools lately!  Each completed skein gets me thinking about a great knitting project I’d like to do, and how perfect this yarn would be… BUT I don’t have time for every knitting project I’ve been dreaming about, and I don’t have space to store the mountains of yarn I am amassing, and I need to finish the projects I have on the go already before I even think about starting new ones.  So this yarn will make it to the market without falling prey to my knitting needles.

There was one yarn, in particular, that I just couldn’t let go.  It’s New Zealand Wool, a natural slate grey colour.  The yarn just came out so beautifully that I couldn’t resist starting up a project with it, immediately.

I ended up with five skeins of this, two-ply, after also using some to ply with other colours for other beautiful skeins.  I looked at my five skeins of lovely yarn and envisioned a shawl.  Not just any shawl, no, this shawl needs to be wonderful and quirky.  I decided on the Bat Shawl –

Marvelous, isn’t it?  (This photo isn’t my shawl, it’s from the pattern page. Click on the photo to be taken to the free pattern!)  It’s so fun to knit!

I think I’m officially a fibre junkie.

We Have a Winner!

Thanks for all of your lovely comments on the Wednesday Giveaway post! This afternoon I randomly selected a winner using a number generator.

The winner of the handspun New Zealand wool yarn is JENN!  Congratulations, Jenn! Email trinityfibrecraft at yahoo dot ca with your mailing information and I will send your yarn out to you on Monday morning.