Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Brigid educates the local fair on Needle felting....sort of

Brigid loves entering items in the local county fair. Above you see a picture of her needle felted entry. yes, he is really small. Maybe 1.5 - 2" tall. We have been needle felting for years. The needles have barbs on them that interlock the scales of the wool and make a nice texture / fabric.  My mother knows how to needle felt really well also. And Mom, Brigid and Zoe all wet felt as well (as do I).

So, we go to the fair on Sat and we find the cute little guy on the front table with the Best of Shows and Judge's Choices. And it was the only item there that had no blue ribbon.
We went back to the hall later and were listening to people talk about things on the front table. We heard Owl and Penguin. And the person in charge of watching the hall said Monkey. After a while, we went over to the hall monitor and said "why don't you ask the artist?" Well, she was thrilled to meet Brigid. Turns out, the judges has no idea what it was (owl vs penguin, vs??; it is an owl), they had no idea what it was made out of (wool), or how it was made (needle felted). But they loved it. Apparently, one of the judges wanted to take it home with her. And they had to put signs up on the table requesting that people not touch the items on the table, because people kept wantign to hold it and touch it and well, take it! Brigid needs to make a ton of these things!

So, what a coup! No one knew anything about the piece but they absolutely loved it! And B is thrilled with the award.

Our needle felter has 720 of the needles discussed above.  Not terrific for such adorable 3D items but killer for other things!  Brigid says next year we all need to enter items and compete against each other.  And educate the locals about needle felting!

Monday, July 25, 2011

two months, really?

It has been two months since I posted?  Really?  Well, actually, I can believe it!

When we left off, we were anxiously awaiting shearing season and the promise of fresh fleeces.  We had spent months running old fleeces and assumed that fresh fleeces would behave better.  I thought lovingly back to my days as a sheep farmer, my favorite spinning day being shearing day.  The fleeces were so beautiful, the lanolin wonderfully warm and the spinning excellent with no prior washing and even no carding. 

But in SW PA, as well as many other places, it rained for the last half of May.  Rain and shearing do not really go together.  And spinning wet fiber, well....eeewww.  Since alpaca has no lanolin in it, the thrill of spinning straight from shearing is wasted.

We assumed wrong, by the by.  Fresh fleeces did not bring "the salad days" we were hoping.  in fact, it just brought a new slew of issues.  Issues we thought were so bad we brought in a consultant.  Then, having found that the consultant set us back even farther, we finally got ourselves back on track.  Sigh.

We are on track and doing well now.  Liz at Fiber4Ewe keeps telling me the first year is miserable and that it will get better.  Well, we are now into the 7th month of year one and hoping things get less and less miserable as we go. 

Summer is summer.  The kids have lots they want to do, only to realize their chauffer is busy.  Mom is working 10-12-14 hour days trying to get caught up.  They have been very useful though - they do incoming weights, skirt fleeces and tumble them so the adults can take over with the washing.  They also are great at tending the plyer and skeining. 

Alliey is working out well.  She is at the pin drafter most of the time.  This is not what we originally intended but, what is.  Given the temperatures lately, none of us has looked good enough for photos so there isn;t one of her yet.  That and Brigid went away for three weeks and took her camera with her! 

I am off to teach Beginning Weaving at the Augusta Heritage Festival next week in Elkins WV.  If you are not familiar with this, it is 5 one week long theme weeks in music, dancing and crafts.  It is held on the campus of Davis and Elkins College and is a great time!  I went for the first time in 1997, then missed a few years.  The girls and I have gone something like 6 of the last 7 years and this is my third year teaching.  My mom is going for her second year.  Our week has two themes - Bluegrass and Swing Week.  The music is beyond phenomenal and the dancing is fabulous.  We have camp buddies we hang with every year and it is nice.  If you are interested in attending (classes begin after the 4th of July and run through the 2nd week of August) check them out at http://www.augustaheritage.com/ .  

While I am away, Craig and Alliey will be holding down the fort, focusing on rug yarn, rovings and felt.  Oh, the new needle felter is here!  I just would love a good chance to play around with it!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Not so bored but behind

I really got behind there for awhile!.  Sorry.  We have been running a little fiber and doing some work at the mill that needed to be done while we had some down time.  Down time is at an end though.  Fiber is coming in and we are ready to hit the ground running.

We put gutters on the front and back of the building; had the dirt pile in front and back of the building graded so we could plant grass (waiting to do that when the water went in became a problem!); started putting together the sewing and weaving areas in the upstairs; are ready (once it dries out a little more) to put french drains in the back and get a screen door up.  We have also been getting ready in small ways for the product line.  We will be getting our online store up with the website soon.  We also have some new employees coming aboard.  We will introduce them to you later in the week.  One will be full time, helping with the machines, marketing and product line and two others are part time sewing and designing needle felter products.

Landshark (the needle felter) went away to get some work done.  We need to do something to make him useable, whether he stays with us or gets sold.  Right now, he is a very expensive door stop.  So those of you waiting for needle felted goods, we will hopefully get him back soon and the new needle felter is still online for arrival at the beginning to mid July.  If you want in the queue, get your fiber to us sooner than later. 

It has been busy in our personal lives as well.  Shearing was put off at  Craig's due to non-stop rain.  It was sunny yesterday and sunny today and we hope to get through to Wednesday with little to no rain adn get through shearing.  It is really hard to find places to lay out 40 plus fleeces to they will dry rather than mold...  We have had prom and SATs here, with another dance this weekend (yup, right before Memorial Day).  When it has been nice, there has been a ton of yardwork for everyone to catch up on.  And when it has not been nice, spring cleaning. 

here are your px:

Who ordered a bulldozer?

Front graded.  Note new gutters.

Landshark heading to shop.

Hadrian "hiding".

Fiber flower found during skirting.
Z & R ready for Prom.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A quiet week

Pre-shearing season sure makes for a quiet week! 

We did find a few things to do though.  We had an order that included 12 1/2 lbs of what I call kitchen sink blend:  multi-colored, multi-micron, multi-length fiber.  We all get it.  But what to do with it?  We were asked to make felt.  Ok.  But, as you know, the felter has been, well, tweaky.  And when I put the kitchen sink blend into the tumbler, it scared me!  It got fuzzier and fuzzier and hairier and hairier!  Something like this:

We added a couple of pounds that had fallen out of the tumbler from other batches of the fiber in the order, bringing the total to something like 14.5 or 15 lbs.  Given the quality of the fiber, a bit of it ended up under the carder.  The shorts and guard hairs end up there.  We lost about 4-5 lbs of the starting weight but the flip side to that is, we did not think anything would make it through.  And 2/3 did.

Surprisingly, it made kind of nice batts, like this:

And then it made, with everyone's fingers and toes crossed that the felter would work, pretty nice batts.  Ok, not nice like for a purse or a blanket but just fine for insoles or a boot mat.

This is a laborious process at the moment.  In order to get a 14 or 16 oz piece of felt, we need to create 3-4 smaller ones, hope they make it through the first time, then put 3-4 pieces of felt through to join together.  This is why we have called a moritorium on making felt for you at the moment.  But come July, what a breeze it will be!  Otherwise, Craig will look like this all the time (and no one wants this!):

Zoe was a huge help over spring break.  And she had some great ideas for colors and yarn ideas.  She really liked the tricolor yarn we did earlier for a client so we did some because she wanted to.  Fawn, med brown, and bay black were the colors she chose.  We also did another nice yarn at her suggestion but somehow I missed getting a nice photo. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Harrisburg and MAPACA were fun!

All of us enjoyed MAPACA a great deal.  Except no one warned us that the interior of the Farm Show would emulate the temperature of a mountain top in Peru....there were actually many, many people walking around in parkas (they were warned!!)  Not that it was overly warm outside either but it was colder inside.  Next year, we will pack accordingly.

Now, you may or may not know, but I do not own any alpacas.  Craig does, so I can see them outside the mill window everyday.  I have no desire to own alpacas (or sheep or horses or cows or chickens).  I spend a lot of time with fiber but not the actual animals it comes from.  So I was thrilled to finally see a "paca cow" in person!  If I was inclined to own alpacas, I would go out and buy an entire herd of suris.  Maybe just the cute, young ones were at the show, maybe it was just that they were a novelty for me, I have no idea.  But they are so cute and small and the fiber, oh the fiber! 

But, I can buy a lot of suri fiber from good suri owners as opposed to buying a actual animal.

We (the kids and me) were at the alpaca show Sat and Sun morning.  Then we had time to be tourists.  We went to the capital building and teh National Civil War Museum.  Both trips were requested by Brigid but no one minded.  She is a huge history and Civil War buff and with the 150th anniversary of the war starting, it seemed appropriate to go to the museum.

Craig and Grey Medea heading (one
unwillingly) to the show ring.  She
took a 3rd place ribbon.
Brigid gets and gives Starbuck kisses.

White alpaca?  Nope, haven't seen one.
Playing tourists at the PA Capital Blg.

Statue outside Nat'l Civil War Museum

Elmo has been to many hotels.
We have no idea how he got
in this state!  A nice giggle
at the end of a long, chilly day!

My favorite sign at the Farm Show.  Very subjective....

Friday, April 8, 2011

Off to Harrisburg

Nope, I didn;t forget about the blog site.  There are just not enough hours in the day lately.

We are at the lull before the storm.  Shearing season is just around the corner.  We are looking forward to it.

We have been process our own fiber and working on a few new things.  We tackled suri for the first time last weekend and it wasn't so bad!  We are also working on a 3 ply sock yarn that is a blend of alpaca and nylon.  I have a prototype made but before I get too excited, I want to actually knit socks out of it and be sure it is ideal for tootsies. 

And I will try to get some knitting done this weekend at MAPACA in Harrisburg.  Craig thought it would be nice for me to experience an actual alpaca show.  Since things are quiet, why not.  The girls are very excited to be going.  Me, well, I get to do all the driving, which really isn't that bad as Harrisburg is kind of close (2.5 hours or so).  And the hotel has a pool and hot tub, which will be nice.

seriously, he chose to sleep with his
nose between the pin drafter turn tables! 
And, no, they are not on!
I do not know why I remember this
but if yoru pirns or cones are
plying badly, put them in a box.
No more tornados in your plys.

The needle felter working correctly -
but not for long.
The secret to happy equipment
is someone watching it run.  Take
away the sitter and bad things
happen.  Hence, Brigid sits with Luigi.
Beautiful sock yarn was spun.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Winter Almost Over (?)

I am really looking forward to warmer weather and shearing season.  I am not much of one for the cold to begin with.  March in PA is all over the place temperature wise.  At least the mud hill out from of the mill dried out.  Just in time for the rains to move back in. 

I have been spending time on the website, so not spending as much time on the blogsite.  Only so many hours in the day.  The new info is on the following pages:  Yarn Sizes, Ideas for Yarns, Where to Buy Our Product, and We Buy Fiber. 

After completing the order shown below, which was for Bedford Lincoln Pike Alpacas, we went back to doing "our" fiber.  We made some rovings for handspinners and yarn.  I have been trying to make about the same size yarn using different fleeces.  Luckily, this has been going rather well.  Very much a fine tuning activity.

And I have been spending some quality time with Luigi, our little Italian lace spinner.  The language barrier is becoming smaller!  As are the yarns, since his specialty is fine, lace weights. 

We are also going to tread into the Suri waters soon.  I washed Maxie's fleece last night so as soon as it dries, we can see go to a whole new reported level of interesting.  Staple length and lack of crimp apparently mean all the machines have to be slowed down to accomodate Suri. 

Here are some px from last week:

Shipping / labelling dept hard at work
Variety pack of rovings

two and three color rovings
Beautiful medium rose grey "cookies" -
became a 3 ply worsted weight yarn.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Creative Cart Blanche

Sometimes it is fun to just play with color and the number of plies, etc.  We got an order recently where the clients had never had yarn made from their fiber before and were not sure what they wanted to get.  There were a few specific things (like keeping a couple of fleeces separate) and to stay in the DK / worsted range but we were allowed to do what we wanted otherwise.  I hope they enjoy their product!

We got fawns, light silver greys, dark silver greys, dark browns, true blacks, bay blacks, whites, and "paca cow" (multi-colored).  Here is what we made:

Top:  Fawn
Next:  3 color 3 ply (white, light fawn, brown)
Next:  2 color 2 ply (brown, white)
Bottom:  Paca Cow

Top:  2 ply light silver grey
Middle:  2 ply grey / white
Bottom:  4 ply grey, mixed blacks

Top:  2 ply brown/white
Middle:  2 ply mixed blacks
Bottom:  3 ply white

To get the 3 color 3 ply (or soemthing similar), you process each color separately and ply the strands together.  For more muted mixes, like the 2 ply grey white or the basket of brown white in the bottom picture, top bin, we sent different colored rovings through the pin drafter together and then they spin "randomly".  The paca cow was three colors as a fleece and they all got mingled during the process, making a muted yarn naturally. 

paca cow tumble

Paca cow cookies - thru pin drafter once

Paca cow yarn (sorry, bad px)

There are endless possibilites, even without dyes at the moment!

Another week slips by

So much for daily blogging!  Now that we are working 6 days a week, and a couple of those late, the blogging has taken a back seat.  Regular work time at the mill and diverting time to things like prepping to visit the accountant, figuring out on line invoicing, setting up paypal accounts, etc have taken its toll on my blogging.

We had a pretty good week.  We got a small order recently that was bigger than what we had gotten.  And to sweeten the pot, we were given creative carte blanche!  We got to try some things we had talked about but had not yet tested out.  And the good news is, they worked!  Something from my days as a handspinner still apply and others, well, they don't!  But color theory and the like do not care how you are spinning, just that you are!

And we had more bugs to work out on machines:  Tim has been diligently working on the needle felter, which apparently loves sheep wool but alpaca, not so much.  A few simple (and one or two not so simple) but time consuming modifications are getting that machine up and running.  If Tim hadn;t have knick the side of a finger on Sat with a needle, well, we would know more!  Both he and his finger are fine.  As is the needle felter.  Obviously, the safety guards were not in place during this incident!  I have put a felting needle in my finger a few times doing it the old fashioned way - needle felting small things on a foam square on my lap (anyone who has needle felted has doen this!).  It does hurt.

The splicer is also being tamed.  The splicer is supposed to make invisible joins in the yarn, so if it breaks during plying, or you want to change bobbins during skeining, no one should be any the wiser.  If you have ordered yarn from mills in the past (big or small or purchased yarn at Michaels or a yarn shop) sometimes you get knots.  because they do not use a splicer.  Sigh.  Ours works just veuatifully on 2 ply 1200 yards per pound yarn and not much else!  Our new chambers should be in soon, expanding our abilities.

Too many words....too many words....time for pictures:
Born Fri nite / Sat am

First cria of the year!

Z wrangles tumbled fiber

Eeyore "crunchies" (note R is the "Pin Draft Wizard!")

How many more needles?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Over the weekend

Having survived most of Thurs and all of Fri alone, the fam headed over with me on Sat.  It was time to train the teenage work crew.  They did an excellent job of cleaning, training, and working.  The dogs were with us, having taken Fri off.  Tim came over later and worked on the needle felter.

Here are your px:

B cleans the roving deck
Rob cards
Zoe tumbles
Tumbled alpaca "cow" fleece

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The week

The rest of the week went well and it is not over yet.  I am heading over today with my gang (Tim, Zoe, Brigid and Rob). 

Tues and part of Wed were what we call discovery days.  Someone asks a question or figures something out and then we start playing to see what we can learn.  Wed afternoon, we had a fairly nice yarn from fiber we were not sure we could process into yarn. 

Thurs and Fri, Craig was getting ready for the AOBA show in Westminster, MD.  Part of his preparations were for marketing for the mill.  Printing info, making mimi skeins to hand out, getting samples of our work is not an easy, 1 hour process. 

I plugged along on an order that needed processing.  Running all the machines alone was a good test for me and I think I passed fairly well.  but it requires the work to be really linear and I tend to want to multi-task.  So all the fiber had to go through the picker and carder before I could head out to Eeyore.  All the rovings needed to be fed thru Eeyore before I could think about spinning.  Eeyore takes a little more attention now that we have the other head running and can do two sets of rovings at the same time. 

So Thurs I got all the rovings ready and in cans to spin.  I decided to wait to spin until Fri morning.  For what ever reason, the first 6 cans went beautifully and didn;t really need to be closely watched.  I was tumbling some fiber at the same time.  Feeling good.  Feeling competent.  Then I put the 2nd six cans on!  Not the same experience at all.  We joke that the machines get jealous and refuse to work well at times if we are not paying full attention to them!  So I was good and paid attention.  It worked. 

Oh, Thurs I got to have some fun and play in the rain and the mud in my wellies (boots people, wellingtons,,,,)  The landscaping is not done and will not be done until the water lines go in.  We are at the bottom of a ridge.  The water runs down and wasn;t all finding its way to the culvert.  So I built a small dam to get it going to the culvert.  Kind of reminded me of my old archaeology days! 

6 rovings go in
Both heads working
Fiber "cookies" being spun

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Weekend Work Force

We had quite the crew at the mill this weekend:  Craig, myself, Bill, Tim, Zoe, Rob and the dogs (Yogi, Riley, Claire).  Craig and I intended to make yarn but there was no way with all the other activity.

Bill wired us a new outlet for Luigi (whom is very cute and spins lovely fine yarn).  Tim put eeyore's legs on and did some other maintenance.  Eeyore is really tall now and will take some getting used to.  But the turntable works better and we can use both sides now.   Craig and Bill put a ceiling in the tumbling room (the Pig Pen) as we tumbled over 100 lbs on Fri and there was dust everywhere in the building.  Zoe and Rob learned to process incoming fiber (weight, are there moths, etc).  Rob did soem work on the website.  Me, well, I talked to some folks who stopped by the chaos, went and got lunch, um.....supervised, yeah, supervised....

Here are some px:

Sorting Lesson
Dolly racing - I mean training!
Tim under Eeyore
Eeyore gets tall
Zoe in charge of Yogi luvin'
Craig and Bill get ready to
put ceiling in Pig Pen