I finished my 2nd TDF pound this evening. Here it is, unwashed, 800-something yds of 2ply. I need to see it in daylight to form an opinion, but offhand, I think it’s less than the sum of its parts. I probably should have chain-plied. Oh, well.

Tour de Fleece 2011: Finished!

Tour de Fleece 2011: Finished!

Tour de Fleece 2011: Finished!

Tour de Fleece 2011: Finished!

Tour de Fleece Singles

Next up for Tour de Fleece: May's Pound of fiber

Viva la AC!

It is fucking HOT right now, but you wouldn’t know it in my office or bedroom because I’VE GOT AC, MOTHERGRABBER! We put in our little seasonal window units last week, after holding out for the multi-week heat advisory warning (though we didn’t know it at the time–it was only supposed to be 5 days, but has dragged on another 5 so far).

Now, the rest of the building is still a Bikram studio (especially the 2nd story–gosh, I could probably bring a yoga mat up to the dye lab and practice…), but I try only to leave the havens to procure food, check on the sheep, and use the potty.

Tour de Fleece Singles

While I haven’t succeeded in spinning every day as planned during the Tour de Fleece, I am well on my way to finishing my second pound of fiber, which still puts me two pounds behind for the year–but gives me better hope of catching up. I shouldn’t have any problem plying this before the end of the Tour, but my goals of spinning something unique for Team Wicked Stitch or Team Browncoats is fading into a mist. Instead, I think I’ll change my goal to finishing this pound and adding my fiber stash to my Ravelry stash so next time I need to pick something to spin, I’ll have a better place to start, and an easy way to update its finished version to my stash.

While I’m on spinning, I must bring up my beloved new WPI tool, which is so super awesome that I’m selling them in my etsy shop now.

New Superawesome WIP tool

New Superawesome WIP tool

Not only does it give you wpi without having to wind your yarn a gazillion times and try to maintain tension/not untwist your yarn/somehow monitor your wraps from time to time, but it also comes with a clip and a retractable cord so you can keep it with your gear but zap it out, and it includes a little wip-to-yarn weight conversion chart.

Right now I have 4 important WPI but my most pressing uses this:

Current project, new Craftzine pattern

Lorna’s Laces Pearl, which is just lovely to knit. It’s silk and bamboo, and I like knitting it way better than either of those fibers singly. It’s super soft but not too slippery, and it has a light sheen, but it’s doesn’t look like a satin NASCAR jacket or anything, and the color shifts are fluid and a joy to knit. Good yarn doesn’t come cheap, however, and this stuff is spendy, so I’m trying to be as thrifty as I can with it in my current pattern, which will be up (for free, natch) on Craftzine at the end of the month!

I spent way too much time updating my ravelry stash. I really need to destash, but I’ll save that for another day. Instead, I’m going to waste some more time adding my fiber to it. But I’ll need to dole it out a bit at a time as a sort of rewardy game. Much to do–I can only rationalize a little bit of dicking around–even if it is fiber-based dicking around.

Oh, wait! It’s the 22nd! No fiber stash dilly-dallying–I need to ply that yarn!

Hot hot heat

Little Ronnie

This refreshing-looking little sheepy oasis transforms into a blistering yellow hellscape that looks like the south-of-the-border segments of Traffic by about 10am.

Sunlight through Honeybunch's horn

I love how Uncle Honeybunch’s horns are translucent in strong sunlight. In the summer, their horns are like heat sinks, helping regulate their body temperature.

Now that the summer’s firmly in that horrible 100°+ panting netherworld, my constant preoccupations are the thermostat, water, and weeds.

During the summer, I let the sheep out on the pasture early (6.30-7.30) to eat what they can before the punishing heat makes them trudge back to the barn, where they lay, panting, in the shade and/or stand, panting, in front of the fan until about 7pm, when they head back out for dinner until dark.

Expecting a hot one.

The shape of my day in summer is: get up earlier than I like (6:30-7); let out the chickens and sheep, open all the cross-vent doors and check the water. When the temperature hits 100°  (I have a remote weather station in the hay shelter and can check the readout from inside), usually around noon, I bundle up in a long-sleeved button-up shirt (which, surprisingly, is much cooler than sun on bare skin) and my big red hat and trudge back out. I dump out the hot water on the tomatoes (I’ve switched the sheep from the big rubber tubs to 5 gallon hardware store buckets for my brilliant new watering-the-plants-with-the-dirty-sheep-water routine) and refill everyone’s buckets and pans with fresh, cold water. The sheep have 3 big buckets and the chickens have two shallow pans–some of them like to stand in the cool water–and a little waterer, plus a small rubber bowl over by the sheep, where they often hang out during the hottest part of the day. I put away the chickens’ normal 2-gallon waterer in the hottest part of summer–it gets warm and murky well before they can finish it, and they won’t drink enough if the water’s yucky. I also check on them fretfully for every extra degree or so over 100.

Kaylee's wading pool

Faith trying to swallow a grape whole

When it’s really hot, I also store the Chicken Bowl (were all the veg scraps go) in the fridge, mostly to prevent fruit flies. But this also means the chickens get a nice cold treat mid-day.

Inara's private cafe

I don’t gather the sheep back up until after dark (the chickens put themselves to bed a bit sooner), so they get plenty to eat when it’s finally cool enough to graze again.

The after-dark routine can be a big pain in the ass when they bust out of the pasture and get into a patch of stick-tights, as Hokey Pokey did last night. With the grass relatively dry, luring them back into the barnyard with grain is pretty easy this time of year (in spring, with the lush growth, it’s a nightmare; they’d much rather gorge on the green stuff than eat corn). However, checking their fleece for VM is less easy in the dark. I’m sensitive about VM. Since I haven’t blanketed them yet, I’ve been careful not to graze them with plants that have gone to seed (unless they seeds aren’t dry/sticky) . Of course, when they make a break for it, that’s the first place they hit, just to be spiteful. (Luckily, they only got them in their face and neck fleece, which always pretty much becomes mulch anyway, even when they are blanketed.

This year’s hot spell came on with a fairly gradual increase, so the animals seem to be handling it better than last year’s sudden climb. When I go check on them, the chickens run out of the shade to greet me, as usual (though panting comically), and the sheep are laying or standing around, chewing their cuds. You can tell they’re panting from their bodies, but they’re mostly panting through their noses, not their mouths, a good sign.

My other preoccupation in the heat is weed identification. As the grasses start to get old and tough and crap out, weeds crowd more of the available pasture, and I get all nervous about plant toxicity. There are just SO MANY different fracking weeds out there! There’s a handful I can identify readily either as safe or dangerous. But there are a lot of others I either don’t know, can’t keep straight, or just plain miss–it’s a pretty layered ecosystem out there in the tall grass, and it’s easy for me to miss the low-growing weeds, though that’s just where the sheep nibble first. So my days fill with games of Where’s Waldo and Name That Weed. (Name that Weed is literal–I post weed pics in a weed group on flickr to get help IDing them.)


Luckily, a coupe of the most deadly (the hemlocks) stand out pretty well in the pasture, so I caught them early. From a distance, the profusion of Queen Anne’s Lace by the north woods looked like it might be hemlock, too, but happily: nope! Not that Queen Anne’s Lace is at all useful–and I should probably pull it out because it spreads like crazy–but I don’t have to dig it out, a relief when the ground is as dry as it is.

Queen Anne's Lace aka Wild Carrot, Daucus carota

Queen Anne’s Lace has that teeny purple flower in the center, a profusion of delicate, minute flowers, and hairy stems (Charlene taught me the mnemonic “Queen Anne has hairy legs”), while the hemlock (which I didn’t photograph when I dug it out last month, because I wasn’t in Obsessive Weed Mode yet) has smooth stems, is bigger much earlier in the season, at least in my pasture, and its flowers are spread out more, like the hedge parsley flowers (which also plague my property; though they’re a nuisance, not a danger).

So I can spot hemlock, I can spot common milkweed, another toxic one, and if their little lanterns are up, I can spot Virginia groundcherry (and only the green lanterns are poisonous, not the leaves or the mature seeds); but the other highly toxic ones are either not present or I just haven’t found them yet. With several hundred plants in my Book of Doom (aka Weeds of the Great Plains), there’s a lot to fret about.

The flags are for very poisonous (pink), poisonous but not usually an issue (blue) and accumulates nitrates (green).

Poisonous plants tagged

The “accumulates nitrates” flags are the ones bugging me lately. Especially since plenty of weeds that are normally fine (and abundant out back) can accumulate nitrates, which means they can store up excess nitrates from the soil, and poison your animals. Nitrates are usually converted into protein in the plants, but if they’re working inefficiently for a variety of reasons, they may accumulate instead. Then the animals eat them and they’re converted to nitrites in the rumen, which in turn fuck up the hemoglobin somehow so it can’t carry oxygen. It’s apparently a big issue right after a drought-ending rain, so suddenly the drought-ending rains that seemed so welcome now seem like looming  specters. It’s incredibly complicated and involves a gazillion factors and makes my head want to explode. It’s probably not an issue for my pasture, since my animals have been on it so long, so if it’s an issue, they’re probably acclimated. And since I’ve never fertilized, there’s at least probably not excess nitrates in the soil, from what I can guess. And they get fresh clean water and a little grain for supplement, both good . But I’ll be feeding bought hay this winter, so of course now I’m all paranoid about that, since nitrates don’t dissipate in hay. I have healthy, pampered animals, so I’m intellectually confident there’s nothing to worry about , but the logical part of my brain seldom dominates the neurotic part.

Tour de Fleece continues with my May pound of fiber!

Next up for Tour de Fleece: May's Pound of fiber

Next up, May’s pound of fiber (I may get caught up, yet!). This one meets my HY/SE/SCF team goal. That’s Spinning Colors “Dune” merino, Hello Yarn Yarn School 2011 “Gentle” rambouillet, Hello Yarn Yarn School 2006 “Grunge” merino, and Woolie Bullies merino. My plan is to strip them, alternate strips, and ply the results.

As soon as I finish 2 things on my To Do list for the day, I’ll take a little break and dive in!

Growing fleece, Tour de Fleece

I was going to move the pasture for the sheep today, but it’s raining (finally, thankfully) and there’s still plenty to eat out there, so it’ll wait. But they’re not going along with my plan, which is for them to stand outside in the rain all day to wash off all the dust, so that when it clears up and they dry off on Friday, I can jacket them all. I’ve let them go longer than I normally would, but when they’re just eating grass, their fleeces get dirty, but not full of VM. Dirt washes out; VM does not.

I was even toying with waiting until fall to jacket them. That’s what a lot of farms do, and it does cut down on how many times you have to change their jackets as their fleece expands. But I worry about weathering. On the black sheep, you also get “highlights” on the outer tips, which does lighten the the overall color of the fiber once it’s blended–but not to ill effect. All shades of chocolate brown are pretty, as far as I’m concerned. But I think party time’s over at Cupcake Ranch. I’m going to mend all the jackets and give them a UV blocker bath and clothe everyone after they dry from this stretch of rain, but hopefully before the land dries and the dust rises up again.

Their feeder, though handsome and convenient, is also perfect for working hay into their fleeces and ruining the neck fiber, some of the softest and most yummy.

New order!

Hear they are in winter. The problem with this feeder is that they hay above falls into their coats and works its way in (the jackets protect their blankets, but their marvelous neck fleece gets trashed to mulch status). The bigger problem is that I, being both a dunce and a know-it-all, decided those little holes for the hay were too small and clipped out a few grids. Never mind that the nice people making the bunks have a lot more experience than me and clearly know the right size of grid to use; certainly, I must know better. (I blame my inflated sense of my own wisdom on my only-childhood. With no one to compare me to, my parents were always impressed at my abilities and gave me undue credit for everything. As an adult, I get near-constant proof that I’m WAY less smart than I think I am. Yet years of positive–albeit unwarranted–reinforcement about the size of my brain still bolsters my foolish confidence and prompts me to “fix” things to disastrous effect.) With bigger holes, the sheep burrow their heads deep into the hay and really grind the VM into their neck fiber.

I can console myself that even without my “improvements,” the design inherently causes this problem–all the smart fiber people feed low, so I bought my feeder knowing it wasn’t ideal, but liking the clean, simple design. Happily, my shearer suggested an easy improvement, which I’ll make before switching them to hay this winter: paneling the top 3/4 of each side with plywood, so they’ll be shielded from the hay above and only able to pull hay from the lower squares. May reduce waste, too.

Speaking of hay, I’m going to have to buy hay this winter. My pasture has gotten ratty and tree-filled enough that it’s not worth Jay’s trouble to hay, especially since he’s got another 100 acres of his own this year. My plan is to prune out and kill off all the stupid mulberry saplings that have proliferated, then to spray for weeds (I’m loathe to spray, but I can’t see any way around it–I can’t weed 6 acres by hand) and maybe fertilize–both of which will be expensive, but hopefully no more expensive than buying the hay; and it should really increase my yield–in theory, at least.

Ideally, I’d use composted sheep manure instead of commercial fertilizer, but I don’t have a way to spread it on that much acreage. Can you spread compost with one of those pull-behind spreaders? I’d assume they’re just set up for grass or granular fertilizer…

Yikes, I’m lulling myself to sleep. Enough of that!

Thanks to Tour de Fleece, I cranked out my delinquent April Pound of Spinning in record time:

April Pound of Fiber: Yarn School Orphans

Today, Day 5. Lacking an ounce to get the full April pound, I had to filch an unrelated braid of roving someone ditched in the Yarn School fiber buffet. Doesn’t go with the rest, but whatevs.
Tour de Fleece, Day 5

Day 4 (abandoned batts):
Tour de Fleece, Day 4

Day 3 (orphaned rolags):
Tour de Fleece, Day 3

Day 2 (dregs batts composed mainly of carder farts):
Tour de Fleece, Day 2

(That’s Roger Sterlingpants, the Mad Men chickenpants.)

Day 1 (dregs batts):
Tour de Fleece, Day 1

Most of it came from:
April's pound to spin: Yarn School scraps

Now I get to pick out what to start spinning next! Since I want to do something for each of my TDF teams, next will be Hello Yarn, probably. I also need Wicked Stitch yarn and Firefly yarn.

Happy 4th of July!

4th of July Reinforcements

In honor of both the 4th of July and Yankee thrift, this morning I replaced the header on our flag and used up a whole spool of thread reinforcing all the crummy seams with sturdy zigzags. Hopefully this will give it another season or two!

The breeze is being peevish and staying away for now, so I couldn’t get a nice billowy flag picture, alas, so here’s one from a couple years back.

Happy 4th of July!

Oh, and while I’m at it:

Roman candle, 4th of July 2009

Pyro box, 4th of July 2009

From one of the big boxes

Tour de Fleece 2011, yippee!

Oh, Tour de Fleece! I almost forgot about you! I’ve joined Team Yarn School Alumni, Team Browncoats & Team Wicked Stitch, the HY/SE/SCF Amalgamated Uberteam.

I don’t want to defeat myself, so I’m going to start with 3 basic goals and go from there.

1. Spin every day.

2. Spin up the rest of what was supposed to be my April uberlist pound of fiber, the Yarn School Spring 2011 fiber orphans (4 big dregs batts + assorted abandoned batts and rolags)

3. Spin up something directly related to each of my 4 teams. I can kill Yarn School and Hello Yarn with one rock, and I have some great Whirled roving from ages ago; but I’ll have to get my thinking cap on for my Browncoats selection. Maybe dusty Western colors that I spin whilst watching Firefly for the thousandth time?

So here’s my first dedicated batch in queue:

April's pound to spin: Yarn School scraps

I’m not sure yet how to combine my Hello Yarn Yarn School stash. There’s a big mix of colors and fibers, and I’m a sweater spinner, so I may be introducing outside fiber for my mixemups. On the other hand, I might just be ballsy and play against instinct and group them by fiber and totally ignore the colors and see what emerges!

Hello Yarn School!

I can not WAIT for Ron to put in the ACs for the season. I’ve had about enough of sitting in a puddle of my own sweat all day. Hopefully, I won’t have more than a few days of TDF sticky, icky, sweaty, gross spinning before I’m in my beautiful, luxurious, hermetically-sealed, AC-filled bedroom or office. Sigh.

Knitting in the heat ain’t fun. But at least I finally got a good-looking Brioche. I have no idea how I’ve managed all this time to avoid Brioche, but when I was fucking around with all those maddening sortofbutnotreally YOs and k2tog and p2tog, no matter how I tried, I could not get it together. I tried lots of different instructions from lots of different sources and always ended up with something that looked right on the wrong side but very wrong on the right side, variations of this mess:

Brioche fail

Finally, I checked YouTube instead and found the much-easier row-below method, which gives the same result as a slip/YO on one row and a work2tog on the next by simply working alternating stitches into the row below. FAST, easy, happy-making.

Brioche win

I was kind of astonished at how LOOSE a stitch it is. If I had guessed before knitting it, I’d’ve thought the above worsted sample was worked on 7s or 8s, but it was on 2s!

I’m feeling bitter that A) today was 97 instead of the promised 91 degrees and B) that the rain clouds passed coquettishly overhead without putting out. I WANT LOWER TEMPERATURES, SOME GORRAM RAIN, OR MY AC, DAMMIT! A weak box fan blowing hot air on your legs is a lot less refreshing than you might think.

Took advantage of the heat (figured if I’m going to be gross and sweaty, may as well add productive) to dye up a bunch of carder fiber, both for me and for the free fiber melange I include with drum carders:

Paint box

Okay. Ice water. Then spin. Then shower. I’d rather shower first, but there’s no point before the sun goes down.

Home again, home again, jiggety jig (and 2 new FREE patterns)

Well, I’m  a few days home from a marvelous vacation with my mom. I’ve recovered from the jet lag, almost adjusted to my seemingly invigorated allergies, and I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things. I’ve much to do.

Kristi and I used to take a mother-daughter vacation almost every year, but since moving out to the sticks, this is less practical than in days gone by. We definitely made up for lost vacation time, hooking up a balcony room on our cruise and visiting the spa twice, bitches! I even succumbed to the unaccustomed luxury of it all by buying some fancy cleanser. My normal skincare routine consists of a wet washcloth and store-brand Lubriderm, but I’ve recently been using some Magical Miracle Superfancy skin cream my mom sent me, in hopes that it will make me young and beautiful before I get to the bottom of the jar (which will hopefully last until my birthday, since I ain’t forking out the stack of cash for another jar, especially when I’m not in a massage-and-facial-induced state of suggestibility).

Cruise portraits

While I always feel a little sheepish about cruise travel (it’s about the least authentic way to see any place), I love it for the same reason I love a sampler platter: you get a little taste of everything and can decide what you want to come back for more of later on; and if you’re not crazy about any particular place, you haven’t invested much time or emotional energy in it. Gluttony without commitment. Now, in addition to my delusions about returning to Poland, I get to pretend I’ll go back to Venice, Croatia and Slovenia!

Maybe because this time, I didn’t encounter any yarn shops (on our Baltic cruise, I was positively overrun with woolly temptations), while on vacation, I actually read a lot more than I knit (thanks to my new Kindle, impulsively purchased before paying bills and quickly rationalized for its free 3G web/email connection, very handy in a foreign land with no international cell phone), though I did finish this little mystery number:

Sporto 2

I also repeatedly tried and botched brioche stitch half a dozen times. I’m going to drink a beer, kick back, and try again tonight.

While I was gone, two of my new patterns went live!

First, the That Girl! Tank, the companion piece to last year’s That Girl! Summer Jacket in Craftzine.

That Girl! Tank

Ravelry Page | Craftzine Pattern

And then Date Night, a quick-knitting lace top with short shell and long tunic versions.

Date Night!

Date Night!

Ravelry Page | Knitty Pattern

And I’m embarking on an exciting new round of patterns, as well! I am absolutely besotted with this new project. But more on that later.