Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Weekending with Anna Maria and Natalie

Anna Maria demonstrates twin needle sewing
If you've followed this blog for any time at all, you will have already figured out how much I love taking workshops from people I admire.  My friend, Diane (yes, we have the same name, different spelling) spent this past weekend in Nashville, Tennessee at Craft South, the brainchild of Anna Maria Horner.  "Fashion by Hand" featured Anna Maria and Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin fame and it was totally wonderful and inspiring.  Both women were so warm and down-to-earth and they made our workshops not just learning experiences, but so much fun.  We had the opportunity to sew with both of their fabrics and, for me, it was the opportunity to overcome my fear of stitching an Alabama Chanin design item of clothing.  I love the idea of making something entirely with hand stitching.  How rare is it these days that we wear anything completely handsewn?  Natalie brought "blanks" of the garments Alabama Chanin designs and we were able to try on to our heart's content.  Not only did that help with choosing a size, but gave all of us a better idea of just how flattering each item of clothing was to all types of bodies.  Natalie also brought along her sweet daughter, who appears to be headed toward becoming a clothing designer herself sometime in the future.

Natalie Chanin showing us how to trace our patterns
Speaking of flattering, if you sew and haven't considered one of Anna Maria's patterns, you should. A case in point is her pattern for the Lemon Drop Dress.  I watched as one after another of us tried on the sample dress and saw how flattering it seemed to be on everyone.  I finally screwed up my courage and slipped into the dressing room to try it on myself and was astonished to find that it flattered even me!  I think Anna Maria is a genius to be able to design a dress that flatters so many different body types. Anna Maria has a new line of knitted fabric, most of which I would have deemed too bright for me to wear, but seeing them in person and being able to touch them, made all the difference in the world.  The fabric is soft and lovely and easy to stitch.  I'll confess to bringing a bit home with me and plan to make my very own Lemon Drop soon.

Diane and Rebekah inspecting the Lemon Drop dress
Saturday evening, Anna Maria hosted all of us at her home, where we were treated to a delicious meal and an evening of music provided by various members of her family.  I believe all but the youngest two sang or played (she has seven children), along with her husband and father-in-law and they were all incredibly talented.  We got to see her home studio and where Anna Michelle and Pierrette (the sweetest and most talented young women who work for Anna Maria) take care of all the details of running the online shop.  So much beautiful fabric!  All those fabrics spread out on the table are Anna Maria's newest collection that will debut in November (and I did ask her permission to post this picture).

Anna Maria's newest fabric creations
One of the best things about going away for a workshop is that it forces enables me to meet other like-minded people.  I'm an introvert by nature and could happily spend all my time here on the farm, holed up in my little studio and only interacting with my sheep (and my husband, of course).  The group of women who attended the workshop came from as far away as California and as close as right there in Nashville.  It was a joy to get to know them and share the experience.

**Apologies for the unedited photos.  For some reason, Blogger is not allowing me to post edited versions.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


(Carson being one with the flock - notice the almost photo-bomb?)
 Life has been full of difficult decisions for me lately.  They're ones I knew would come to me some day, I just didn't think I would be facing them so soon.  For many years, Mike and I have had discussions about how much longer I would be able to handle the sheep and for all of those years, my answer has always been, "Oh, I think I've got at least 10 more years of shepherding in me."  I was obviously delusional,  which I sometimes can be, when facing something I'd rather not.  Just last week, we sent all of the ram lambs off to market.  That in itself eliminated a whole feeding group.  I also sold a few of my problem ewes and a few ewe lambs.  Mostly, the ewes were the ones that were flighty and difficult to handle.  They had beautiful fleeces, so I hope they are being appreciated.  We just felt like it wasn't safe for me to risk being knocked down or dragged around by animals that outweighed me by a considerable amount.  In the evenings now, when I feed Aslan his bowl of dog food, I have to bring him outside the gate to eat.  Otherwise, the ewes confiscate his food and gobble it down themselves (and he lets them!).  I use that time to go in amongst the ewes and wait for them to gather around me for scratches and rubs.  Just being able to sit down out in the field with them brings me so much joy that I can almost not feel too bad about selling the ditsy girls.  So, at this point, I've reduced the number of sheep in my flock by half and have maybe half a dozen more that I should sell, if I can find the right homes for them.  I just keep telling myself that this will allow me to be able to keep my sheep a little longer.  I'm hoping I can allow the remaining girls to die of old age right here on Tanglewood Farm.

Lady Sybil (or Sybie as we call her now), coming in very close!
Sybie's no slouch in the fleece department either.  I think it's gorgeous!

As for the little girls, they are getting calmer and sweeter by the day.  Because of a mix-up on dates with the shearer, they did not get shorn this summer, so they already have 4-5 inches of gorgeous fleece.  Soon, I'll be putting coats on everyone and I am already looking forward to shearing day in March!  I can't wait to see what these little ones produce.  They are all at least 1/2 Wensleydale, some of them 3/4 or more, and because of the cross-breeding I've done, their fleeces are soft and silky and beautifully lustrous.

We've had several fox sightings lately and Aslan has been kept on the alert for any who might stray close to the barn in hopes of a chicken dinner.  Our neighbors lost eleven of their hens in just a few days, due to marauding foxes and raccoons.  Raccoons may be cute, but they are death on chickens, as are possums (who are the exact opposite of cute, in my opinion).  Life and death go hand-in-hand on the farm, even when you're vigilant.

We have some exciting events coming up in the next little bit.  I'm heading south this weekend for a very fun workshop and then, within a very few weeks, the dream-of-a-lifetime trip for Mike and me.  More about that next time!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Sleepytime down South

On the warmest days of summer, the sheep, the llama, the alpaca boys and even the peacock spend their days dozing.  The cool of the evening is the favorite time for grazing.  Luckily for all, we finally got some rain and the grass is starting to look a little more appetizing.

Of course, even if the ewe lambs are napping, they seem to keep one eye open for any sightings of me.  They are spoiled and I can't imagine how that happened.  Any time they spy me outside they start calling to me (it actually sounds more like yelling at me!).  Every afternoon at feeding time, I try to sneak my way into the barn to quietly start the feeding routine, but nearly every day, they somehow catch me and set up a loud ruckus, until I let them inside to the feeders.

Except for feeding time chaos, it's been quiet here on the farm.  There's just not a lot to do right now because I'm not raising a garden this year.  Mainly, I'm trying to keep the grass mowed and the laundry done.  The RA issue has not gone away.  After being on steroids for 6 weeks, I managed to be off of them for almost 3 weeks and got hit with another flare.  :-(  Not happy about that.  I know that eventually things will even out.  It's just been a lot tougher than I expected getting to that point.

Besides being totally engrossed in all things "Outlander", I have managed to get a little sewing done.  I can thank Cal Patch and her classes at Squam for bringing me back to the sewing machine (and the fabric stores - oh, my!).  I've sewn up several tops and a few tunics to wear over jeans or leggings and am really enjoying making some things that actually fit me.  I've spent years being a frustrated sewist because I couldn't seem to figure out what size pattern to choose.  I'll admit that making a muslin first was not something I was ever taught, but if it's a new to me pattern, I certainly do so now.  It saves so much frustration and ruined pieces of fabric.  I'm collecting a little library of favorite patterns that I've tried and been satisfied with and finding it fun to search out the right fabric for it. We only have JoAnn's and Hancock's to pick from around here, but I'm getting more brave about ordering fabric on-line. Right now (and, truth be told, pretty much always) linen is my fabric of choice for almost anything.  I know it wrinkles and that's just fine with me.  After it's been washed a few times, it just gets better and better.

This light weight denim tunic is made from Simplicity New Look #6187.  The pattern is for a top and I simply extended the length.  I've also made this pattern in a linen short sleeved top and a cotton Julianna Horner print with 3/4 length sleeves.  I've got plans for making a black linen tunic or dress from the same pattern.  See what I mean?  I've finally found one I really like!

Remember that I mentioned letting the pokeweed grow completely out of control, just so I could harvest the berries for dyeing?  Here's proof.  This one by the back door of the studio is taking over!  There will be some natural dyeing going on around here soon.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Up, down and all around

(look closely and you'll see Aslan keeping watch)
Well, it might appear that I've fallen into a deep, dark hole somewhere, but appearances can be deceiving.  Things actually seem to be looking up around here, though there have definitely been some ups and downs.  I'm finally off the prednisone (fingers crossed) and that jumping-out-of-my-skin sensation is starting to go away (and possibly my chipmunk cheeks will return to normal soon!).

(my nuno felted, eco-printed scarf)
I'm late getting to this, but I promised a short recap of a fabulous eco-printing/dyeing class I took with Nicola Brown the weekend after the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival.  Nicola is so much fun to take workshops from that I'd sign up, even if I learned nothing, but learn something, I did!  The eco-printing workshop had me nuno felting a scarf (which I've avoided for years and years, because I was sure I wouldn't like it - go figure).  After the nuno felting,  Nicola demonstrated how to eco-print designs on the scarf.  We used a variety of plant material - certain types of leaves, flowers, even tea leaves, all dipped in rusty water, of all things, and it was thrilling to remove our creations from the dye pots and unroll them to reveal the patterns.  It's a bit mysterious and unpredictable and that's part of what makes it so appealing to me.  There don't seem to be a lot of hard and fast rules, which is even better.  I find myself being drawn more and more to natural dyeing and have been reading up on plant material I might gather here on the farm and down in our creek.  There have to be some mushrooms out there that will give color and I'm letting all the pokeberries grow sky high in hopes of harvesting them for dyeing. All those avocados I've been using to incorporate healthy fats into my diet .... bingo!  Avocado skins and pits are great for dyeing.  I don't consider myself an artist in any sense of the word, but I do love creating functional items and eco-printing allows for just enough creativity to be fun, but not intimidating. It's quite likely Nicola will be back in this part of the world next May to teach some workshops, so keep an eye out for announcements (I'll keep you posted here) and sign up for a fun learning experience.  If you're up for travel, you might find her in Ireland, where she lives, Portugal (where she just finished teaching), California, Ohio or other locations here in the US.
(a partial collection of the class projects)
The lambs are growing, growing and eating voraciously - about 60 pounds every day at this point.  That means I need to order feed every single week.  I'm grateful that the fine folks at Woodford Feed deliver and the guys will dump out those feed bags right into my feed bins.  I need all the help I can get these days!  Midgie and Phaedra are still as friendly as ever and a few of the others want quick scratches, but most of them are content to eat their grain and get back outside to their pasture.  The pastures are starting to look a little thin around here because we haven't had rain in weeks.  I'm hoping that before the weekend is over we'll receive some soaking rains to green things up a bit and give the lambs fresh growth to graze on.

(I'm greeted with this when I go to the barn-that's Phaedra front and center and Midgie behind her head)
(and then it's belly-up-to-the-bar, or feeder, in this case!)
What else is happening around here?  This weekend we were finally able to get the alpaca boys and llama sheared.  Usually, I trailer them over to my friend Lindy's farm.  Her shearing day was way back in April and back then I was physically unable to handle getting all my animals in the trailer and hauling them over.  I've worried so much about the alpaca boys having all that fleece in hot weather, but have kept a big fan available for them and have sprayed them down with water on the hottest of days.  They seem to have done just fine, in spite of my worry.  I am really relieved to have that off my to-do list.

(Strawberry on the shearing mat)

 Meanwhile, this guy keeps watch over everything that goes on here!