Monday, March 28, 2016

Washer Woman

In between some of my other Easter projects, such as taking the snow fence down, I worked on washing one of the fleeces.

(The snow fence worked great by the way.  We got almost no snow this winter, so I figure it did its job of fencing out snow super well:)

Anyway, in between fencing, I gave some thought to the wool conundrum.  FB's water heater won't adjust upward, but she has the top-loading washing machine.  My water heater is adjustable up to scalding levels, but my washing machine won't work for wool.

Since I had the most important part of the equation, I decided to give it a try.  My methods might be a bit primitive, but people have been washing wool for centuries.  I went ahead on the assumption that it worked before the invention of washing machines so it must still work today.

I cranked up the water heater as high as it would go and started lugging buckets of it out to this old barrel trough.

I started with the fleece that I think is the worst.   We have several sheep who have very nice fleeces (according to the shearer) and several more who don't.  This was one of the latter.  In fact, I decided pretty quick that this probably should have been relegated to garden mulch.

I believe this fleece is from Mable, who is the flock matriarch.  I know that only because it has a lot of hair mixed in and Mable is half Katahdin, which is a hair sheep rather than a wool sheep (even I can tell the difference between hair and wool, although, now I think about it, what is the difference?).  Mable grows both hair and wool and her fleece is no good because of it.  I figured it would still make good stuffing for a dog bed and used it as my experimental subject before tackling the better fleeces.

The hardest part was figuring out how to drain it. The only real reason to use a washing machine is to spin dry the wool.  According to all the experts, you never want to agitate the wool as that will make it felt.  While I was pondering what sorts of complicated screens or racks I could try to cobble together, my eye fell on the pile of bee keeping equipment that is still waiting for more attention.  In particular, the metal queen excluders and voila, drying rack for wet fleece....

 As for why the wool needs to be washed....this is the water from the first soak.

Raw wool is kind of nasty. It is very oily and greasy from all the lanolin, sweat, manure and grime that accumulates from being the outer wear of a living sheep for 12 months.  The smell and grease of raw wool is a bit much.  The dogs wouldn't mind, but I do.  We would also like to use some of the better wool for making bed pillows and I definitely don't want to sleep on raw wool.

This was after the first wash...most of that brown is because Mable has brown splotches, it is not all dirt..

I ended up doing two soaks with hot water and dawn dish soap and two more rinse soaks.  This fleece was really grimy and it could have used another wash, but by midnight, my enthusiasm for cleaning a crappy fleece was wearing very thin.  It no longer smells and I have left it on the racks to dry.  I'll see what it looks like in the light of day.  I doubt I'll ever want to lay my head on this fleece, but I don't think Connor will complain.  If he does, we can always give it to the cats:)

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Seven Bags Full

The sheep got sheared a couple of weeks ago and, for the first time, we have decided to try to do something (anything) useful with all that wool.  Don't get too excited imaging spinning wheels, sweaters or caps.  We are thinking of something much simpler and more likely to be useful and successful in this millennium.  Like - dog beds.

Warning, any of you real fiber freaks out there may find yourselves cringing and shuddering at the rest of this post.  If you find yourself unconsciously pressing the heal of your hand to your brow and shaking your head, kind of like this...

...just take a deep breath and carry on because we do want your advice.  If you have any comments or suggestions, we would be very happy to hear them.  Trust me, we could use the help.

After a quick search through Sara and Robin's respective blogs for any expert advice, we pretty much ignored all of it because we didn't have any of the proper things on hand and did what we usually do: make do and wing it.

First, we set up a "skirting table"....

...pulled out one fleece at a time....

...and then squabbled about what was and was not good wool.

Like either of us knows the difference.

Each fleece was quite unique though.  I have no idea which came from which sheep, but no two are alike.

There was short, thick crimpy stuff...

and longer, fuzzier crimpy stuff.

The occasional spot of color....

Dense, fluffy stuff with no crimp and long dreadlocks, (bet you didn't know something could be both dense and fluffy at the same time).

 Longer, more organized crimpy stuff (these are technical terms you know?)

We even have a whole fleece of Donald Trump hair.  Scary!!!

And some shiny, crimpy stuff.

Heck, even the clouds were crimpy today.

We had big plans to wash some of the wool but were stymied by the hot water heater, which would not let me adjust the temperature.  It is set at a measly 100 degrees and can't be changed.

So, to all of you fiber folks out there:

How do we wash this wool?

We would like to make some soft, down-like pillows, which fleece would work the best?

Do you have any other suggestions on how or what to do with wool besides spin it into yarn?  Because lets be real here, that is not likely to happen in this lifetime.

If nothing else, we figure it should make some nice dog beds.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Puppy Day

I guess I missed National Puppy Day.  How is it that I have never even heard of it before?

Maybe because every day is puppy day in my world.

So, go a hug a puppy, whatever day it is.....

Unless, of course, you have a puppy like Connor.  If so, skip the hug and throw the frisbee.  Again.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Robbery in Progress

"Alright cat, I'm counting on you to be the lookout.  Don't let me down!"

"I just know there has to be something good in here...."

"If I could just get this latch open....."

"Hey donkey, watch out, here she comes! Act casual."

"Oh hi Ma.  I was just checking the mileage on this thing.  You know, I think it's due for an inspection too. You better get on that.  We wouldn't want you to get a ticket or anything."

"OK donkey, give it one more shot."

"You know Emma, I think we need to rethink this heist.  Why don't we just steal the whole thing and drive off with it? The keys are in it and everything."

"Whoops, here she comes, look innocent.  We'll try again tomorrow."

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Ten Times the Fun

To celebrate the first day of Spring I decided it was time to get my wooden work sled out of winter storage.  I foresee work in its future.  I turned my back for just a few seconds to get the ATV out of the way and my helpers rushed right in to 'help'.

Emma was particularly useful.

"I'm just making sure it still works Ma.  You wouldn't want to drag it out of the barn only to find that it needs an oil change or something."

"Yeah Ma, and I need to do a strength test on the strap before you go hauling rocks or some other dumb thing.  You don't want OSHA giving you a hard time right?"  

"Hmmm, I guess it passes....I couldn't chew through it."  Yet.

Donkeys are the most helpful of friends.  Everything might take five times longer, but it's ten times more fun.

Happy Spring!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Daisy's Irish Jig

Daisy's Irish Jig, AKA, Tessa is 8 years old today.  How did that happen already?  Must have been the leprechauns casting spells.  

Happy Birthday Tessa!

Down the Well

Here is another remnant that I stumbled on out in the woods, this one much older.  It is an old, hand-dug well.

RB and I first found this a few years ago when we were out riding in the woods. We were lucky to see it as it is nearly invisible in the summer when brush grows over it.  There is nothing left of the farm it once watered.  Accidentally riding into it would be a very bad thing.  The first time I saw it, the water level was quite low and there were the remains of a dead dear in the bottom of the well.

I am not sure why, but I often think about this well and what might lie at its unseen bottom.  I also think of the skill and labor that went into digging and lining it by hand.  Can you imagine anyone building this now?

For all of our "progress" we have lost so much.  Not least of which are the small farms and homesteads that once made this a thriving community.  If there is any one thing that has truly decimated this country, it is the loss of small farms and the communities that they supported.  It is the true American tragedy that few seem to even notice.  Agribusiness has replaced agriculture and the animals, people and land all suffer for it.

I have given a lot of thought about how to cover or fill in this well because I hate the thought of creatures falling into its cold depths and not being able to get back out.  Getting materials out there to do that would be quite a job though.  It is the kind of job communities used to gather together to do.  Like the skill that built this well though, the communities are also gone.

I believe it is on state-owned land, although property lines are a bit hazy out here.  Maybe one of these days, I'll drag some lumber out here and try to build a cover for what is now no more than a hazard.

PS - for those who wondered about the skull in the last post, it was that of a small doe.