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Spinners Guild – Weaving

Since Charlie and I entered the fiber world, we have seen a lot of weaving things. I wove one very bad hot pad when I was a kid, and that’s the extent of my weaving experience. Charlie has been interested in learning more about weaving so we check out all the weaving displays at fiber festivals and county fairs. This past week, we had a brief but informative weaving presentation at our Spinners Guild meeting.

One of our members is a prolific weaver, has multiple looms, and runs her own classes. She brought in a few of her looms and a large sample of her weaving. We learned that there is SO MUCH more to learn.

A little lingo: The strings that go tightly from top to bottom are called the “warp.” The strings that are woven through the warp are called the “weft” or, sometimes the “woof.” The “shed” is the space between the warp strings when some of them are up and some of them are down. A “shuttle” holds the weft strings and is slid through the shed to make a row.

This is a basic pin loom. It resembles the little loom I used as a kid, and the pulling in at the sides reminds me of my pot holder.0519151847a (692x800)

This is called a rigid heddle loom. Every other warp string is threaded through the heddle, which is the plastic comb-looking thingy toward the top of the loom. This allows you to lift or lower half of the warp strings at a time, then use the shuttle to just shoot the weft string through.

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This is an inkle loom. It was explained, but I still don’t get how it works. Heck, for half the night I thought it was called an “ankle” loom and that really confused me. Anyway, it’s cool looking and you can wrap the warp strings around as many of those little wooden pegs as you want, to make your piece longer or shorter.

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This one is really cool! It’s a 16-harness table loom. The harnesses are the wooden levers on top of the loom. Different sets of warp strings are threaded through different harnesses. This allows specific strings to be lifted for each row. When you see elaborate woven pieces, several harnesses are used. I think we will probably start with something like this. We will be limited on the width of pieces, but will have a lot of versatility in patterns, and it is small enough to not be completely intimidating.

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This is a big ol’ fancy floor loom. There were none of these at our meeting because it would have been too difficult to transport. I’m not sure exactly how it works, but I think all those pedals at the bottom work like the harnesses do on the table loom. This would be the “someday when we know what we’re doing and have a ton of extra space” loom. When you see large rugs and tapestries, they are done on a loom similar to this.

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The samples that were brought in were really impressive. I didn’t want to be insulting, but the best way I could describe them was that they looked “store-bought.” These are all hand-woven and are beautiful. Using different types of string, different patterns and different looms, created totally different textiles.

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Our little lesson was enough to make me want to learn so much more. Charlie says not yet, and he’s right. We’re in the middle of planting season and won’t have time to take on any big projects until after the last harvest. Until then, I think some books and maybe some classes are in order. I’m imagining my gorgeous alpaca woven into something fabulous.

 

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Picnic Table and Playthings

When Charlie asked what I wanted for Mother’s Day my answer was, “Nothing!” What could I possibly want? Our lives right now are pretty much ideal, and to ask for more seems wrong to me. But then I thought of something!

I had seen a picnic table at Lowe’s that I really did want. Solid wood, bolted together, just waiting for barbecues, watermelon and messy art projects with the kids. As always with Charlie, ask and I shall receive. Mother’s Day came and my picnic table arrived! It only took about 30 minutes to assemble it and we used it right away. Then, it rained for the next week.

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I really wanted to paint it, but that would have to wait. As soon as there was sun in the forecast, I headed to town to pick out paint. Some people would go with red, or maybe brown, but I had something else in mind.

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Yep, purple and yellow. It made perfect sense to me, but I got a raised eyebrow from the cashier. When I told Charlie I was surprised by her reaction, he just laughed at me. My family has gotten to where they know I have a vision and they’ll reserve judgement until I’m done. I will say, however, as the cashier gave it some thought she was willing to say it was bold, and she might just like it.

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As I was painting it, I couldn’t help but feel like it seemed familiar. After a time, I realized it was the exact color of a little rocking chair I had as a child. The rocker was originally red or blue with balloons on it, and my mom painted it purple for me because that was my favorite color. With this memory in mind, I just got happier and happier as I painted.

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And messier. I had purple on my arms and legs, and my feet, and my clothes. I blame it on all the little weird angles.

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Ta da! It will look fabulous out by the troll bridge.

I was excited to have the kids come up and play, and I got my chance when Joe as out of town and Carly had to work. I got the little monkeys for 2 days and we played hard.

They like picking up sticks and pretending they’re all kinds of things. I love the pretend, but they tend to pick up the longest pointiest sticks, so I wanted them to have magic sticks that were less likely to poke an eye out. I found them in Charlie’s scrap pile. All they needed was a little gold paint, some glitter, and that special toddler touch.

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Raymond and Reta Jean took their decorating task very seriously. I was surprised at their concentration. They very carefully picked out which shapes they wanted, and which colors, and where they wanted to put everything. They wanted glittery names and squiggles, so I helped a bit with the glue.

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The kids and I tried to come up with everything we thought their sticks could be. We came up with sword, magic wand, fishing pole, hitting stick (that was Raymond, he likes to swing at the branches), baseball bat, king stick (I think they mean scepter), and parade leader stick. And that’s just the beginning. As we spend our summer at the troll bridge, I’m sure they’ll come up with even more uses.

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For our first picnic table project, I thought it was a success. I am so looking forward to more projects and family fun ahead and I couldn’t be happier with my Mother’s Day picnic table.

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Shearing Day

The day I’ve been looking forward to all year! Spike and Tajo have been with us since their last shearing. They’re so much fun to be around, I always start my day with a smile while I’m out doing my chores. And now, I get to get my fingers into their fleece. Alpacas don’t shed like dogs, so they need to be sheared like sheep. I’ve seen some people who oppose shearing and I have to assume they don’t understand. Imagine wearing a fur coat year-round.  I found this picture online of an alpaca way overdue for shearing. Now, think of all that fleece weight in 90+ degrees.Unshorn_alpaca_grazing (800x600)

Alpacas get sheared once a year and, for the most part, they don’t like it. They’re prey animals with little to no defense, so being captured and handled isn’t their idea of fun. They also have very long necks and legs, which could get hurt if they were allowed to put up too much fight. Because of this, they are restrained for shearing. Once they are restrained they usually relax and go through shearing without incident.

This was our first shearing and we actually started looking at options shortly after we got the boys. We didn’t want to transport them because shearing can be stressful enough without having to travel first. We started looking at the possibility of a shearer coming to us, not knowing if that was even a feasible option for just two alpacas.

We came across The Shearing Monkey at the many fiber events we attended. Jen Armstrong is the shearer and she’s wonderful! Her family owns Alpacas by Armstrong and Evergreen Fleece Processing. Knowing very little about how to select a shearer, we felt that with her background we couldn’t go wrong. And we were right!

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As soon as Jen and her dad Chuck arrived, Spike knew something was up, and he wasn’t happy. Tajo, in true Tajo fashion, was just interested in what was going on.  See how fluffy they are?

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We’ve attended a few different shearings, and the alpacas are usually laid out on the ground. Jen uses a shearing table. We had never seen one in practice and were interested to learn more about it. Once the table is set up, the table top is placed vertically, the alpaca is walked up next to it, and a wide band is strapped around their middle. When the alpaca is secured, the table is returned to horizontal and the legs are strapped down. Again, once they’re strapped down they relax and the shearing goes very smoothly. The table is really nice because they’re now up where they can be reached, instead of everybody crawling around on the ground trying to maneuver them.

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Jen did the shearing, while Chuck, Charlie and I made sure the alpacas stayed put. My job was to control the head and neck, because there is no restraint there and they could hurt themselves if they jerk around. The extra benefit of being behind their head is the decreased chance of being spit on. Luckily, the only thing Spike was interested in spitting at was Tajo.

First, one side was sheared, they got their shots and their nails trimmed, then they were rolled over and the other side was sheared.  The whole process took about 30 minutes per paca. Charlie and I were so appreciative of the job Jen did. She knew we had some experience, but not a lot, and she was very happy to explain what she was doing every step of the way. She was gentle with the animals, checked in with us frequently about how we wanted them trimmed, and took care to make sure everything went smoothly.

While the shearing was going on, Chuck took the time to tell me more about processing. He has all the big, commercial equipment, including a felting machine that I’m very jealous of. I learned a lot from him about how to clean the alpacas before shearing. There is definitely a shop-vac in our future!

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Spike was done first. Tajo didn’t recognize him at first and came sniffing around to check him out. If I didn’t know better I would say Tajo was laughing. Spike repaid him by spitting at him. A lot.

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Tajo was next and they got along a lot better once they looked the same. Yep, that’s really the same two boys.

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Tajo was quite proud of his new haircut and posed for several pictures. Spike is going to pout awhile longer.

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All in all a very enjoyable and successful day. And the best part…

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Working the Farm

People kept telling us not to put anything into the ground until Mother’s Day weekend. At first, we thought they were maybe exaggerating a bit, but we’ve learned to listen. This weekend was it! We didn’t get as much done as I wanted, but we did enough that it’s going to hurt for a few days.

We got the beds tilled, with help from the chickens and Peanut, and all the raised beds are planted. The big field is ready to go, as soon as we can bend again. We have onions and garlic growing like crazy, and beets, radishes and strawberries are getting going. Carrots, lettuce, spinach, bush beans, and flowers went into the ground.
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The strawberries in the gutters love their home. We got flowers, which means we’ll be getting berries, and that’s a very good thing! The potatoes are doing great, too.   With Charlie’s PVC cages, the birds aren’t getting to the blueberries, and it looks like we’re going to have a good crop.

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There’s still so much that needs to go into the ground. The good news is, it has started staying light until almost 9, so we have lots of time in the evenings to get things planted.

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We also moved the birds around. The young ducks got moved into the big yard, and the turkeys and bantam chicks got moved into the run. The older chicks are all doing great, and should start laying eggs in 2-3 months.  If you’ve never seen ducks cruising around, they stay together darn near all the time. I’m very easily entertained, so I had to take a little break to follow the ducks around the yard, just so I could watch them move around in formation.

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And then, there’s this guy. Yep, this GUY. We buy day-old chicks, and the sex-checkers are pretty accurate, but it’s not unheard of for a rooster to get into the mix. When Charlie and I got the chicks, we picked out a special one for Raymond because he didn’t get to go with us.  Of course, that’s the rooster. Raymond is terrified of roosters. Maybe this one will be a nice rooster, and Raymond will learn to like it before he figures out it’s not a hen.

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I gave the duck tub a good scrubbing before moving in the young ducks. Spike and Tajo saw the hose and they wanted to play. At first, I kept moving the hose away from them. I wanted to be sure they weren’t afraid of the nozzle. They kept coming after the water, so I had to have Charlie come in and play so I could take pictures. Tajo kept dancing to get his belly cooled off, and Spike drank right from the hose, then wanted his but sprayed. Alpacas get sheared once a year, and ours are scheduled for next week. That means they’re wearing a year’s worth of fleece, and it got to 82 today.  I’m sure the cool water felt fabulous.

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While we worked, the dogs stayed nearby – mostly in the shade.

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While we were working away, this hawk started circling awfully low. Then it started calling its friends over. Charlie went in for the shotgun to scare it off, but it left on its own. Smart hawk.
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Busy day, and I think we’re going to be feeling it. We should have everything in the ground by the end of the week. After another few weeks, we’ll be able to start harvesting. Everything is off to such a good start, I’m really excited to see what we end up with. I see lots of canning, freezing, jams and jellies in the very near future. By the end of summer we should be able to feed ourselves 100% from our own hard work. Very exciting!

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Field Trip – Rabbit Show

Little known fact: I’m afraid of bunnies. Not the fuzzy part of them, the teeth part of them. Everybody says, “Oh, they don’t bite.” Yeah, until they do. Rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, mice. Any little critter with teeth designed to puncture skin will, at some point, puncture skin. And yes, I have been bitten by a bunny.

Being in farm country, meat rabbits are a thing. And Charlie wants some. He’s attended a couple of classes on rabbit raising and bunny butchering, and he feels like he’s ready to take it on. When this happens, I made sure he knows, he’s in charge of them. As much as I’m afraid of them, I still don’t think I could care for them, and then be responsible for them being butchered. That really is the main reason. The other reason is I’m afraid they’ll bite me when my hand is in there trying to feed and water them.

I have been making progress over the past year in overcoming my fears. When we go to rabbit shows, I’ll pet them, while their owners hold them. With their faces away from me. I’m seeing that breeder raised bunnies really are quite calm. The good ones breed for a calm temperament, and biters aren’t used for breeding. I’ve also noticed the great big bunnies act a lot more like a dog than a bunny. Little kids are carrying these bunnies around shows, just like a baby. We’ve even seen spinners spinning angora right off the bunny on their lap. That’s my motivation for getting over my fear. I want a giant angora!

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We’ve attended a few rabbit shows, and have learned a few things. There are show, fiber, meat and pet rabbits. You’ll see all of them at a rabbit show. The pet rabbits aren’t judged, but all the others are. They have standards that are very strict. I saw one bunny got disqualified because it had a teensy weensy white spot, that couldn’t even be seen, unless the fur was moved around. Here’s an example of each type:

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Rabbit shows also have a “cavies” category. In general, these are more rodents with sharp, skin-puncturing teeth. In shows, they’re mostly guinea pigs. I saw one that seemed to be supermodel quality, and another that looked like it was having a really bad hair day. Maybe it was supposed to look like that.

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Some of the patterns on the bunnies were stunning.

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And some brought to mind The Velveteen Rabbit. Just because I’m afraid of their teeth, doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate their plushiness.

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The fuzzy ones are my favorite.

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The shows themselves, like any type of show, have their own culture and merchandise. There are grooming tools I would never have thought of. TV tray type tables, topped with carpet, used for making them look gorgeous before judging. Combs, brushes, clippers, blow dryers. Just like a beauty salon, except these clients will poop on you. And maybe bite. (EVERYBODY in the rabbit world swears they don’t bite. I’m still not thoroughly convinced.)

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Some families bring their other pets. See the dog on the ground? See the rabbits in the cages? Those are big rabbits!
0502151132a (800x451)In case anybody is looking at the little cages and noticing how tiny they are, these are not what they live in. The small cages are for containing them at shows, only. At home, that have much roomier accommodations, and some owners even bring play yards so their bunnies can stretch their legs during shows. Many owners have enclosed yards at home, where their rabbits get to play in the sunshine every day.

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Charlie checked out, and bought, a 3-hole rabbit cage. Spring rabbits have been born, and will be ready to go to new homes in a few weeks. By the time they’re ready, we will be, too.0502151131 (450x800)

In case anybody is wondering if any bunnies found their way home with us, meet Tori’s new friend Sir Franklin. And don’t worry, he’s a pet.

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Gabba and Papa’s Wonderland Fort

Since the kids moved up here, I’ve been working on making their little corner of our world extra magical. They’re big enough to pretend now, which makes everything that much more fun. Every time they come now, I try to have added something a little different. And they always notice. You can see the tree fort from the house, so the first thing the kids see is our new pinwheel garden. When there’s just a little breeze, it looks so pretty!

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We started with our little troll bridge, and added extra straw bales. I still want to add more to make it even more climbable, jumpable and giggly.

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Reta Jean loves to rearrange all the “santas”. They’re garden gnomes, but I’m not going to tell. She also likes the fairies. When she’s playing with them, it’s like she’s in her own little fairyland and I love it! It makes me so happy to see her pretending.

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There’s also a set of farm critters, including a farmer, a barn and a tractor. Charlie screwed together some boards into corners. This way the kids can make them into anything they want. Today they were a big barn. They’ve also been boxes and a stage. We’ll see what they come up with next.106

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Raymond prefers to run, jump, throw and swing sticks at things. There’s plenty of room for him to do just that.

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Everything is more fun if you can dress up while you play. We have dinosaur hats, fairy wings, butterfly antennae, and superhero capes. There are also pinwheels and recorders. (The Dollar Store has become my new favorite place. I can get all kinds of stuff for the kids, and not have to worry about them breaking things or getting them dirty.)

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There are several different balls to play with, too. Of course, Reta Jean has to take the one Raymond is playing with, and the chase is on!

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The fairies and gnomes stay outside, but the rest of the toys go in and out in a basket. The basket is almost as big as Raymond, but he and Reta Jean will pick it up and haul it outside when it’s time to play. The other day, Carly brought them up while I was at the airport picking up Charlie. As soon as I walked through the door, there was no hello, no hugs and kisses. I got, “Come on, Gabba! Let’s go to the troll bridge and play!” It was chilly and almost dark, but they weren’t taking no for an answer. Raymond grabbed the basket and the two of them waited at the back door until I could catch up. I really couldn’t ask for anything more!

Charlie and I provide the playground, but the kids provide the magic. Watching them love what we’ve worked to create is absolutely heartwarming. There is still work to be done. Who knows what fun things we’ll find? As long as the kids keep coming, and breaking out with their giant smiles. As long as I keep getting squeals of delight and Raymond telling me, “Gabba, this is fantastic!” As long as there are kids in our life who believe in magic, we’ll keep working to make a magical place for them to grow.

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