Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Felted with Love...

A young couple in our church has a new baby girl, their third child-their first daughter. Since every little girl needs at least one pink outfit-I spent the afternoon making her a nuno felted dress. Knowing the struggle of getting outfits on and off newborn babies, I made one shoulder strap that snaps for ease of dressing. A tiny clay heart holds the strap in place as a message to the new little baby: "Felted with Love".

Nuno Felted Dress

Heart Button

Silk Ribbon Stripes

Silk Gauze Lining

Felted with Love for Elianna
Cap knit with cashmere wool yarn.

Dress made with silk and merino wool.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Gotland Gray Curls

Curls fall under the blade of the shearer, leaving behind a lustrous sheen on the ewe. Her first time shearing a Gotland sheep, the shearer comments on the slick black legs and lack of belly wool. Charcoal gray wool lays in a thick blanket on the barn floor as the ewe stands. Distinct curls twist and dangle as I gather the warm fleece in my arms. 

Gotland breeders tend to shear their sheep twice a year, once in the late fall and then again in spring. The fleece grows 10-12 inches within a years time allowing for two shearings. The fleece is long, fine, and lustrous. Soft to the touch, the smooth silky curls feel clean, having little lanolin. 

Dark Charcoal Gray Gotland Fleece

Snow fell overnight making the air crisp. The sun tries to peek from behind clouds to watch me as I skirt the black fleece. Beneath the outer layer of dark curls, I shake the deep charcoal gray wool to release any short cuts from the shearing. The wool makes a snapping sound as I test it for strength. I think about sending the fleece to the mill and getting our first Gotland wool yarn from our own sheep.


Sue Blacker, of The Natural Fibre Company in England, has perfected taking these lovely curls and turning them into yarn. She spins her Gotland fleece into a 4 ply knitting yarn. Upon asking why she prefers a 4 ply for the Gotland, she said that she finds that due to the silky nature of the fiber, it pulls out of a 2 ply yarn causing pilling. Sue separates her fleeces according to color in order to offer Gotland yarn from the lightest silver to the darkest charcoal gray. 

I must wait patiently until our spring shearing before sending our wool to be spun. In the meantime, I have ordered Gotland yarn from Sue so that I can knit a test swatch to determine how I would like our wool spun. I have worked with Stonehedge Fiber Mill for years, and feel confident that Deb will spin lovely Gotland yarn for us.

Outer Layer of Curls

Follow our Gotland adventure: Settling In with Gotlands

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Little Bit of Sunshine

Hollie and Phil, a young couple from England, stayed in our Farmhouse Suite at the end of the foliage season. When booking, they said they missed their four legged family, and were looking forward to spending time on the farm. Our border collie and barn cat immediately recognized them as animal lovers and enjoyed spending time with them on the porch and on walks. We shared our rural farm with them, and they in return, shared stories about their life in England.

A "Thank you" gift from a guest.

Today, I received a package in the mail from Hollie. Inside the package she sent a card thanking us for their stay and inviting us to visit them if we ever find ourselves in England. She also thoughtfully included gifts for all of us, even one for the dog and cat. Her package brought a little sunshine our way on a cloudy November day.

Thank you Hollie and Phil! We loved getting to know you and sharing our farm with you!

 p.s. A Vermont Farmstay Experience tells of another family's stay on our farm.

Cat Nip Mice and a Dog Bone

Monday, November 10, 2014

Felted Clutch Purse

Sewing onto the Clasp
My kitty wanted to help me this morning as I stitched the metal clasp to a wet felted purse I had made. Though she looks fairly innocent in the photographs, every time I pulled the needle and thread through a hole, she would reach out with her fuzzy little foot to grab my thread. I finally had to put her in her favorite sleeping spot, on top of towels in the linen closet, in order to finish my purse.

Emma thinks she is helping.

These tiny purses sold well at the Vermont Sheep & Wool Festival this year. Most buyers had the purse filled with cell phone, lipstick, and coins, before they had even paid for it. Some said they were going to use them in their knitting bag to hold their small scissors, stitch markers, and tapestry needles. I think of my dancing daughter every time I make one, as it is just the right size to fit inside a dance bag and hold all of the paraphernalia for making buns in your hair. There are so many different uses for a small little purse!

Watch my etsy shop over the next few days as I will be listing more little purses there.

p.s. More felting stories from VT Grand View Farm...
Felting Memories tells of family vacation memories recorded in a felted mural.
WOOF at Grand View Farm tells of a young farmer who falls in love with felting while working on our farm.
Open Studio at VT Grand View Farm tells of passing the art of felting on to the younger generation.

Felted Purse with Kiss Clasp

Perfect Size for Cell Phones
Little Sheep Grazing

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Mud Be Gone!

Our farm has a 150 year old dairy barn. Built at the low point of the property, the back of the barn becomes an absolute mud hole for about 6-8 weeks every spring. Between the snow melting and running down the hill to the paddock, and the runoff from the expansive barn roof, water pools in our sheep winter quarters. This is what Vermonters call "Mud Season".  The slowly thawing ground prevents the water from draining, and causes horrible drainage problems in the early spring. Paddocks, driveways, and dirt roads become a mire of mud.

After years of dealing with this problem, I finally decided to try to resolve it. This fall, with the help of a local quarry and a neighbor's Bobcat, we hope we have rectified the issue. All it took was a 17 year old boy with the keys to the skid loader, some geotech fabric, 16 tons of stone and 17 tons of quarry dust. Ha! Mud be gone!

Geotech Fabric

Spreading Clean Stone

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Woodsman and the Shepherd

An old stone wall marks the boundaries of the overgrown pasture.
We meet at the height of his land where the woods give way to an old pasture, he, the woodsman, and I, the shepherd. An old stone wall remembers when that pasture lay green with grass. I have my sheep dog by my side, full of exuberance, and he stands alone in flannel shirt. We talk about busy summers, and time slipped by. I ask if he found the jar of wild raspberry jelly I left on his tractor seat, and he asks if our college bound daughters have headed back to school.

Saplings and brambles fill the field.
We stand and gaze upon the beauty of the distant mountains on the other side of the field. The field now full of saplings and  brambles. He tells me to take it all in, to feast upon the view, for one day, that view will be hidden. He says in another 10 years all those sticks of trees will be so tall that you will not be able to see the sunset behind the mountains. The woodsman stands looking out over his land, dreaming of that day when the sugar maples have grown to full stature. He dreams of sugar taps and steam from his evaporator. He hears his chain saw, and calculates how many cords of wood those trees will provide.
Young sugar maple

I, the shepherd, stand looking out over the woodsman's overgrown field. I marvel at why anyone would want to cover up the splendor and majesty of layers upon layers of mountains. I dream of a small herd of goats clearing that land so my sheep can graze there. I remember the field full of wild flowers all summer and the scent of warm raspberries. I remember middle daughter with camera in hand, taking hundreds of pictures of that pasture and dreaming of building herself a little house, right there in the middle of the brambles.

The woodsman's firewood
For a few moments, we both stare in silence. The woodsman with his thoughts, and I, the shepherd, with my own. Then our eyes meet again in a knowing sort of way. He says he has not forgotten about his one acre open field that lines the lower part of my 2 acre field. He says we will meet one day soon, to talk, and to trade acre for acre....the woodsman's little field, for the shepherd's towering red pines. No words need to speak what our hearts know, his love is in the woods, and mine is with my sheep. We walk our separate ways, he, the woodsman, goes back to his forest and stacks of split firewood, and I the shepherd make my way back to where the woods open up to my field and my sheep.

Chloe watches as we make our way out of the woods.

P.S. More readings on the woodsman's old meadow.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Settling In with Gotlands

Our reassuring voices did not seem to make much difference as we loaded our first two Gotland ewe lambs into the back of our van.  As we drove down the long driveway, the lambs stood at the back window of the van looking out as if to say goodbye to their home and family. They had a 7 hour ride to Vermont ahead of them. 

Saying Good-Bye

Last spring, a friend told me about a book by Sue Blacker called Pure Wool. Her book features different sheep breeds and pure breed yarns which she produces at her mill in England. Within days, the book sat on my coffee table. I poured through the pages at night with my cup of tea, intrigued by the various breeds she describes. Soon the book had sticky notes through out marking the different breeds that I wanted to further research.

The two ewes settled down in the hay bed we had made in the back of the van as we headed north on the interstate. They did not get up until we stopped at a rest stop where they stood to look out the windows. I assured them that this was not their new home, and that we would be on our way again soon.

The Gotland breed caught my eye. Their clean black faces peer out from silky, lustrous gray curls. Originally from an island on the Baltic Sea off the coast of Sweden, these sheep are known for their hardiness, strong mothering characteristics, and their friendly personalities. Gotland lambs are described as vigorous and active. Slightly smaller than my Romney sheep, ewes weigh between 120-150 and rams weigh 160-190 pounds.

Enjoying Vermont Grass
Our two new Gotland ewes would join our flock of Romney sheep. I had spent the summer reducing my Romney flock, selling our lambs and some of our quality breeding ewes so that I could make room for the Gotland sheep. We will run both breeds in our flock. I kept some of my most reliable, calm, and stable Romney ewes in hopes they will help the Gotland lambs learn the routines here on our farm.

After some research, I learned that in 2003, Gotland semen had been imported into the United States. Foundation ewes were selected and artificially inseminated, beginning the process of building the Gotland breed in the U.S. I located several breeders on the east coast as well as the west coast. With phone calls to other farms raising Gotland sheep, I found other shepherds excited about the breed and confirming all that I had read about them.

After eight hours of driving, we arrived back in Vermont with our first two Gotland sheep, one 90% Gotland, and the other 81%. They would spend the first few weeks on our farm in quarantine away from the Romney sheep.

The decision was made, I would add Gotland sheep to our hillside Vermont farm. I would sell some of our Romney sheep to allow me to purchase Gotland ewes and a ram. Grand View Farm would be the first farm in Vermont to own Gotlands. The summer would be spent reducing our Romney flock, making room for a few Gotland sheep. 

I found downsizing my flock and bringing in new sheep challenging. It required taking a hard look at my flock and making difficult decisions. I found the process exhausting and a bit stressful. Purchasing new sheep has its own set of challenges as well, but with perseverance, patience, and the encouragement of one dear friend, most of the hard work is done now. The excitement builds as we have just found the rest of our Gotland flock. In another 4 weeks, all our new sheep will have arrived, and we can begin the process of settling in.

Our 90% Gotland Ewe Lamb