Critters and Fleeces

It is almost that wonderful, magical time of year that is the Tour de Fleece. I love Tour de Fleece. The internet goes from housing some pictures of beautiful hand-spun yarn, to brimming over with said photographs. On top of being beautiful, these photos are inspirational, motivational, get-off-your-butt-and-make-something-spectacular-tional. I know, I know, I know. You are all saying, but you have never participated in the Tour de Fleece before, and really, what’s the big deal anyway? The big deal is that I learned to spin during last year’s Tour de Fleece, seeing all those gorgeous pictures is what convinced me I could afford to shell out the $50 for the class and to take a Saturday off work. And it was so much fun. My wheel came in the mail six weeks later (which felt like an eternity) and then school started and I didn’t have any time to spin. And then my lovely, brand new spinning wheel become more a piece of furniture rather than the well-crafted tool it was meant to be. I was practicing maybe 20 minutes a month, and since I wasn’t very good at it yet, it was a frustrating experience every time. Then, sometime during February or March, the spinning wheel and I came to some sort of unspoken understanding, all of a sudden I was making yarn. I still haven’t made very much yarn, but my skills have greatly, if slowly, improved over the last year. Now, I see the Tour de Fleece as a way to finally force myself to incorporate spinning into my everyday life.

For those wondering what the heck the Tour de Fleece is. . . It’s kind of like the Tour de France in that it runs from July 2nd through July 24th and it involves wheels. That’s about it. While in the Tour de France top cyclist in peak physical condition challenge themselves to ride through France in three weeks, in the Tour de Fleece, any spinner of any skill level challenges themselves with a set of goals, usually to improve their spinning or to work through the fleece and roving that has built up in the stash over the last year. Spinners typically do this in an air conditioned room, possibly in front of the tv. The really dedicated spinners might actually watch the Tour de Fleece…(I’ll probably watch Dr. Who or listen to Jeff Buckley.) The general idea is to push yourself and your skill as a spinner. In that spirit, I have made a few small goals for myself for this year’s Tour de Fleece, one of them a bit unusual.

1. Spin at my wheel for at least 20 minutes everyday of the tour
2. Work my way through the alarming amount of wool I have acquired in the last few months, spinning and plying as much as I can in two weeks, blogging about it (almost) daily.
3. Start a daily spinning/blogging habit.

And for the Unusual one:
4.Actually ride my bike for at least a few miles every day Sunday-Thursday.

Yup, I am including actual biking in my Tour de Fleece goals. I love my bike, and I haven’t been riding it enough lately. In fact, I haven’t ridden at all for a week, when I was riding at least four times a week there for a while. The main reason I stopped is because of the giant (and I mean giant, it grew to the size of my face before it started to heal) spider/insect bike I got on my leg a week ago. Everything, especially heat and activity seemed to aggravate it. I finally broke down and got drugs on Saturday when my leg started to feel as though it had a fever. Four days, lots of money, and too many pills later, I am feeling better, but the drugs have kept me nice and dopey. I have wanted to accomplish many fibery and blog related things, but have been giving in to the desire to sleep instead.

And because I have been sleeping, I haven’t had the chance to tell you about the Alpacas!

Last Friday we went out to visit the Alpacas at Orchard Hill Farm. Not only was the farm beautiful, but the alpacas were friendly and lovable as well. However, they seem to have a sense of when you are about to take a picture of them being friendly and lovable, so the above photograph is the only one I came away with. They loved Athrun though. Loved him, gave him a couple of kisses once he got used to them. I am still not sure I would want to add alpacas to my future fantasy farm, especially since there seem to be so many in Kansas already, but I do ever so much enjoy spinning their fleece, so who knows.

This is some of the black roving I bought from Marcia at the Farmer’s Market a couple of weeks ago spun into a lovely light fingering weight.

And this is what I bought from her at the farm.

The fawn colored fleece came from an alpaca named Maya, which Athrun picked out. It’s only about 3.5 ounces, but he seems to think he’ll get socks, mittens, a hat, and whatever else he wants out of the bag. He is so eager for me to spin it that he started changing the bobbin on my spinning wheel himself the other day. The dark brown is from an alpaca named Frankie (a female), and will hopefully make up Brock’s gloves for this winter. I am going to attempt to get Athrun to help me clean this fleece a little bit today. We’ll see how it goes.

In Which I Make You Hungry

I have a conundrum. It turns out that two of my favorite past-times are vying for the same space. You all know about the dyeing thing. It’s all over this blog. The interesting thing is, that for dyeing one needs some counter space, a couple of pots, probably some aluminum foil and some plastic wrap, and a stove top. This is where the problem comes in. I am really starting to fall in love with cooking, which uses similar equipment. (Not the same equipment mind you. Never mix your dyeing and your cooking materials. Dyes are not meant to be eaten.) Since it could be hazardous, I never dye and cook at the same time, which means when it comes to a choice between having enough time to dye some more products or cook a delicious, from scratch meal, the cooking usually wins out.

Joining the CSA this year was completely worth the money. I love that I can go pick up fresh produce once a week, and that there is usually a vegetable I haven’t tried before. So far it had mostly been a new type of green. It was a banner year for greens, let me tell you. This week it was turnips. I don’t know how I made it to 26 without ever (knowingly) eating a turnip, but I did. I made a turnip and potato potage from this book

that turned out delicious. In fact, I plan on having the leftovers for lunch. I the Local Flavors book a lot. It is good for generating ideas for using what you have instead of going out and buying food to cook a specific recipe. Also, the recipes I have made so far kind of follow my general method of cooking, which is to throw vegetables in a pan with some other stuff and see what happens. I especially liked making my own broth (for “Elixir of Fresh Peas”) out of pea pods.

And because I apparently have a deep desire to watch things grow and grow quickly, I bought a sprouting jar and some sprouts. I have a bag full of broccoli sprouts I have been putting on everything. They are delicious, crunchy, and have more flavor than alfalfa sprouts. I have a mix of bean sprouts growing right now that are mostly lentils. Who knows what I am going to do with those, but they are pretty.

Another recipe I have been making a lot is the Master Bread Recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Of course, I use whole wheat flour, which is not what the recipe calls for, but it turns out just as good. In fact, I find using whole grain flours actually adds to the flavor. (You should probably add an extra 1/4 cup of water, however.) This dough recipe is super versatile. It not only makes the usual little peasant loaf, but it also makes a delicious pizza crust (which Athrun will eat). I even used it to make pita bread one night. Amazing.

Tonight I am using the last of our spinach pesto (made when we had CSA spinach coming out our ears) and goat cheese pizza with caramelized onions. It’s my new favorite thing, and it makes me kind of sad that spinach season is ending. However, I am sure it will be just as good with basil pesto come August.

In Shop News
I mentioned on my Facebook Group that I have been thinking of adding some hand-knit goods to my shop inventory. Of course, this means I have to make some hand-knit goods to put in my shop. I have a few ideas, but I am slightly hesitant about taking this step. I am not sure I want to become a production knitter. (Plus, I have some things I want to make for myself, and still owe Brock sweaters…) So, I have a couple of patterns I will be knitting up over the next few weeks, and I will post them as an experiment.

But first I need finish up all my super-secret birthday knitting, so I better get to work.

Sale and New Wool!


To celebrate finally earning my bachelor’s degree, I have a sale going on over at the shop through this Sunday. Use code DINO10 and receive 10% off your entire purchase.

Here are a few of the things I have been dyeing up lately:

Two 100g skeins of fingering weight BFL yarn done in Robin’s Egg Blue.


4 oz braid of BFL Top in Wildflower


4 oz braid of BFL top in Fire Flower

(I will have a more substantial post later on, I promise.)

Inside Outside


The 100 degree has started in Kansas already this summer and my garden is exploding. Pictured above is my baby basil plant, which doubled in size yesterday My surprise cucumber plant, which I thought was dead at one point, has made a monumental comeback, complete with vines, blossoms, and little baby cucumbers. My roma tomato plant is visibly adding inches everyday as well. I have to say, this growing stuff thing is all very exciting. I have never had a garden before, and while my balcony garden is fairly low maintenance, I have really come to love going out each day and spending time with each plant. And now that the finch chicks that were nesting in my spider plant have all flown away, I might actually be able to spend a substantial amount of time outside without the mother finch having a panic attack.

The heat has also not stopped me from getting out and around on this beauty.

The bicycle was a graduation present to myself. My summer goal is to get to the point where I am riding everywhere (within a manageable distance) I want to go when I don’t have the kiddo in tow. Unfortunately, my job is not a manageable distance for me at the moment, and riding through eastern Topeka at 5 am is also a little scary. My bike and I have done a couple of trips to the grocery store and back successfully, as well as a few pleasure rides. I have even made it up the giant hill, at the top of which sits my apartment. It was slow the first time, and I am sure I looked awkward, but I am proud I did it, because last week I couldn’t. And when it did it a second time, it was ever so slightly easier.

The period it has taken me to adjust to not being in school has been longer than I expected. I kind of thought I would hit the ground running like I always have in the past. I did not count on being as physically exhausted as I have been, even though I have felt that way for much of the past year. I have been taking time out each day to rest and enjoy myself, and not forcing myself to work constantly. It has been good for me, but it means my productivity has been low. Here’s a look at the first BA-certified skeins.

I hope to get some more dyed this evening, but my hands are itching to spin and I am working on some top-secret birthday projects as well. It’s kind of nice having birthday presents as my only deadlines. Though, I don’t intend to keep it that way for long.

May, In Pictures


The Boys


Our Bucket-Full of Giant Hail Stones (which later made their way into some whiskey and cola)


Some Handspun. The yellow is a two-ply yarn made out of a carded merino batt from PortFiber. The rest is my first attempt at a usable singles, all from the first addition of The Cosymakes FarmClub. All yarns are about fingering weight.


The Garden. Or part of it anyway. Here you see cucmber, roma tomato, strawberries, and some mint way off in the distance. What you can’t see is that there are two more tomato plants, some basil and oregano to my left, and a whole box of growing peas to my right.


Some oregano, just because it’s pretty.


A picture of the landscaping taken from the second floor balcony.

On Haitus until June 1st

Here is why:

1. Finish final essay

2. Revise first essay

3. Biology Test 4

4. Biology Final

5. Knit Brock’s birthday socks

6. Continue to cook healthy, homemade meals

7. Don’t neglect sleep.

8. Graduate.

9. Vacation.

I have been hunkering down to finish the last semester of school. Those first two list items are currently consuming all my energy. I haven’t had much time for yarn dyeing or being on the internet or promoting my shop. There is a great likelihood that I will be very quiet until June. See you then.

Re-Emerging

I have been hard at work lately on a few things, but most of them don’t include my fledgling of an etsy shop. It has not been neglected by any means, but I do have to admit that my energies have been elsewhere.

School is quickly drawing to a close, and with it, a large, but not obscene amount of writing. It is all my kind of writing: the creative yet slightly self-indulgent kind. If you want to know what I mean, go to your library, local bookstore, or your (preferably) your bookshelf, or you can go here: Essays of E.B. White, and read the foreward. If you read nothing else, read the foreward now, and you will know what kind of writing I have been doing, what I am trying to do, and why I love E.B. White. (Now you should go buy that book, but not from amazon unless you can’t find it nearer. I have that problem myself quite often, you would be amazed how little a bookstore in Kansas actually stocks about agriculture. It’s shameful, really.)

Despite the large amount of writing which stands between myself and the rest of the school year, I am feeling remarkably calm. That is a big change. It helps that the writing I am doing is the kind I feel most comfortable with, but what is really different is that I feel as I am emerging from some the frantic state of mind in which I have been residing for the last few years. My time in school is quickly coming to an end, and instead of feeling the dread of not having an amazingly profitable job right away, I am just feeling excited.

Here are a few of the things that have been distracting me from the blog lately.

1.
This Earl Grey tea with lavender is not really a distraction, more of a crutch. I know Earl Grey is an afternoon tea, but I have been drinking this stuff every morning (and most afternoons as well). It is delicious and rich, and the perfect substitute for coffee. I am not sure when or how it happened, but I started taking my coffee with cream a couple of years ago, and not I can’t have coffee without it. I am trying to eliminate more of the dairy from my diet, because I am one of those people who does not do so well with too much of it. My solution is to drink this tea instead of coffee. So far I am doing all right. I got mine here, but your local health food store might carry it as well.

2. I am going to ReThink Topeka this afternoon. My friend Julie is doing her best to get me out of the apartment a little more often.

3. In fact, earlier this week, we hit the cutest yarn store in Kansas. I bought some fleece off a sheep named violet, which is going to teach me to better use my hand carders.

4. Jacob’s Reward Farm is another fiber CSA, of which I am a brand new member. I have really been enjoying their blog. They are expecting a lamb! Check it out.

5. I am visiting this farm on Tuesday to meet the sheep. I bought 1 lb of Aran’s (the sheep) roving, and the wool is gorgeous, so I assume the sheep must be as well.

Greener Shades and Farmers Markets


4 oz. BFL Roving dyed with greener shades acid dyes.

Part of the idea of starting my shop was to become a source not only of beautiful high quality fiber, but to also to do that in as an environmentally friendly way as possible.  Because of the sales I have made so far, I have been able to take a few more steps toward that goal. Last week, I ordered the greener shades dyes I have had my eyes on for awhile. They have no heavy metals in them, which makes disposal of dye bath easier and more ethical. Also, they meet the criteria for organic production, so when I receive the organic Lincoln CVM roving I just ordered from a local farm, it can still be called organic after I dye it with the Greener Shades dyes.

With the farmer’s markets starting up, I hope to be able to start a dialog with some more local fiber farms and get some good quality Kansas wool up on the website.

This is gearing up to be a very exciting summer. For the month of April, I have been able to arrange myself to have Sundays off my day job. This means I can dedicate most of the day to the fiber arts, which can only mean good things for the shop. I have been mulling over ways to make self-striping and gradient dyeing yarns easier…I tried some gradient dyeing on Wednesday which ended in a disastrous mess of knotted wet yarn. At least I learned my lesson about following directions on the internet from my virtual yarn-selling competitors and am coming up with my own, more expedient methods.


2 Skeins of 100% Merino sock yarn in semi-solid violets. Also dyed with greener shade dyes.