How To Tame Your Lamb

How To Tame Your Lamb

Phoebe and Beatrice are such good friends. Just because two sheep are the same age doesn't mean that they'll get along, but these two are a good match. 

Beatrice is outgoing, and has been accepted by the big girls, but she really enjoys hanging out with Phoebe. And without Beatrice, Phoebe would be lost.

For the past few nights, I've been separating the new girls from my old girls at night. My old girls are used to having my undivided attention, and they won't let the new girls get close to me. My evening routine has settled into taking hay and grain to the old shed, letting my old girls push the new girls out, and then closing the gate behind them. Then, the new girls are free to follow me to the new barn, where they get their own hay and grain.

I sat at the barn threshold with the grain trough in my lap. With their noses buried in the trough, I was able to pet Moon and even Beatrice. I didn't try to pet Phoebe the first couple of nights, because I didn't want to interrupt her eating. I just concentrated on keeping Moon from butting her away from the trough.

It helps that Moon isn't shy and will always walk over for pets--the two lambs watch her and it makes them wonder what they're missing. Beatrice had come over a couple of times to snuffle at my fingers, but both lambs seemed afraid of my hands. I can't blame them; I knew the breeder had been travelling this spring, and hadn't been able to cuddle them as much as she would have normally. And the last thing they remembered was being grabbed and hauled away from their mommies to be brought here. 

So for a few nights, I let them eat from the trough and only reached out to Moon and Beatrice. But last night, as I was putting the old girls in the old shed, Moon snuck by and decided to party with the other yearlings.*

Which left me with just the lambs! I got more hay and grain for the lambs, and they followed me to the new barn. Instead of the trough, I brought the grain in a scoop. I sat on the threshold again, which is basically at ground-level, and held the grain in my hand. They just gave me some suspicious side-eye, and wouldn't eat the grain. I sprinkled the grain on the threshold next to me, and Beatrice came over to vacuum it all up. When she started to look for more, I held out a handful of grain again. She'd only had a little grain and wanted more, so this time, she ate out of my hand. In the meantime, Phoebe finally came to the threshold that had been licked clean of grain by Beatrice. With the hand that wasn't feeding Beatrice, I sprinkled another handful on the threshold for Phoebe. As she was eating the grain, I took another handful and held it just above the threshold. And finally, finally, she took the grain from my hand.

When the grain ran out, I reached out slowly and started scratching Beatrice's nose. And then her chest. She froze, and I could see it dawning on her why the older girls would mob me for pets. I scratched her chest and started picking sticks and dried leaves off her fleece as her eyes glazed over and she started burping and chewing her cud.

Phoebe watched for a while, and then sidled up. I held out my hand, and then, I slowly withdrew my hand. I don't know if all sheep are this way, but when I draw my hand away from my sheep, they automatically follow my hand and step closer. Phoebe did exactly that and put her soft little nose in my hand. She had all sorts of leaves, hay, and other um, barnyard detritus stuck in her fleece, and she let me pull everything out. I got the feeling it was the first time she'd felt completely at ease here. She had a full tummy from being able to eat without having to worry about being chased, butted, or trampled by the big girls, and as I scratched her neck and chest, she flopped down and fell asleep immediately.

By this time, Beatrice was so over being shy that she'd bury her head in the hay basket, then come stand in front of me, dripping hay, and butt my hand to pull the hay off her. 

*And they did party, those punks! They pushed open the gate to the front field, and spent the night chomping on fallen apples and stripping the bark off the apple branches. They had so much fun all night that they've been sleeping all morning. Teenagers, honestly.

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Flock Integration: Barnyards And Schoolyards

Flock Integration: Barnyards And Schoolyards

Three new Shetland sheep joined my flock this week: one yearling, and two lambs. Moon, the yearling, is mioget (golden-brown), and the twin of my Poppy. Beatrice is a fawn lamb, and Phoebe is a moorit (dark chocolate brown) lamb.

Shetland sheep lambs

I'd met Moon at Rhinebeck in the breed barn, and had fallen in love with her sweet disposition and her super-fine fleece. When I bought the lambs, I was happy that a yearling they were were familiar with would be coming with them. I was worried about how they would integrate with my 3 yearlings. 

The first day was rough. I had the new girls in a separate field from my old girls, but they could see and sniff one another. When I finally let them together, it was a head-butting frenzy. My Poppy must have recognized Moon on some level, because she didn't go after Moon as violently as Quin and Roobie did. 

The two lambs shadowed Moon, who wasn't particularly interested in being their surrogate mother. She let the lambs be near her, but didn't let them get too close. Beatrice, who is bold as brass, marched up to the hay feeders as if she belonged there. She let the older girls bump her, but didn't let them chase her away. Phoebe, on the other hand, skittered away from any movement. 

As I watched them, I realized that lambs aren't very different from human children. Beatrice rolled with the punches (and head-butts) and was accepted, more or less. She laid down with them, and snuck in mouthfuls of hay and water whenever she could. Phoebe was constantly jumpy, and alternated between running away and trying to snuggle up to, and even nurse from, Moon. My guess is that she hadn't been weaned for very long, and she was used to being able to hide behind her mother. I think Beatrice had been weaned longer, and had gotten used to standing up for herself. By the evening, Phoebe was a target, with all 4 yearlings chasing her and butting her relentlessly. 

I have a party trick when people come to visit. I take them to the field, and as we approach the sheep, the sheep run away. I have my visitors stand still, and I walk away at an angle between the sheep and my visitors. When I'm sure the sheep are just dying of curiosity, I turn my back on them, and start walking toward the visitors. And the sheep feel compelled to follow me. They are, after, sheep. So every time Phoebe ran from the yearlings, the yearlings chased her. Sometimes the yearlings wanted to butt her, but sometimes, they just wanted to sniff her. The less they could sniff her, the more they wanted to chase her, and the more she ran. And 'round and 'round they went.

I decided to let them all sleep together in the barn that first night. It's a big barn, but since sheep like to have eyes and noses on one another, I didn't get individual stalls. I put a basket of hay in each corner, so there wouldn't be any crowding. I stayed with them for a while, to make sure they settled down. I had some sharp words with the yearlings, as they chased after Phoebe. Sheep understand stomping, so I stood in front of Phoebe, faced the yearlings, lowered my head, and stomped my feet. They eventually got the message, and one by one, laid down to burp and chew their cud. I snuggled with the yearlings for a while, so they knew that I still loved them. I might have even sung them a lullaby or two. But since we haven't installed the camera in the new barn yet, no one can prove anything, and my sheep aren't talking.
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A Reason for Yarn

A Reason for Yarn
I've been thinking about yarn lately. Don't laugh; I'm usually focused on the front end of working with fiber, so this is actually a departure. Abby Sarnowski (Folktale Fibers) and I share a booth at Maryland Sheep & Wool, and we like to pass the time by asking each other questions along the lines of, "how could we breed a miniature cormo sheep?" and "what breeds would you cross to spin the ideal sock yarn?" 

On the long drive home, I mulled over what fibers I would blend to produce the ideal shawl or sweater yarn. The Shetland Islands has been a leitmotif in my life this spring, so when I envisioned shawls, I had haps in mind. Unlike the intricate lace wedding shawls that, according to tradition, were fine enough to pass through a wedding ring, hap patterns were written with a simple lace design and knit with a thicker yarn, for everyday wear.  

My yarn, I decided, would be lofty for warmth, durable--no wimpy pilling!, elastic because my hands are getting arthritic, and able to hold a lace pattern like a champ. The yarn would need to make a finished fabric that was lightweight, but have enough substance and body so that it didn't just puddle around my neck. And on top of all that, it needed to be soft enough for my sensitive skin. 

The more I thought about it, the more requirements I kept dreaming up for my yarn. I wanted to be able to hand-pick each fleece from sheep I knew personally (or at least knew the shepherds), and I wanted a range of natural colors. But natural colors with depth and tonal complexity. And the last thing? I wanted heaps and heaps of this wonder yarn, which meant that I'd getting it spun for me. So it needed to be a blend of fibers that could be processed by a small fiber mill, and still retain its homegrown roots. 

When I got home, I started weighing, carding, and blending some fibers together. 

For weeks, I played with percentages and color combinations, and I spun and knit several test samples. I took the yarn with me everywhere, showing it to knitting friends and asking for feedback. It wasn't until I finished my Hansel Hap Shawl by Gudrun Johnston, and blocked it, that I was certain I got it right. 

It was time to go mill shopping. I heard so many glowing recommendations for John and Lydia Piper at Gurdy Run Woolen Mill, and when I spoke with John, I could see why. I've never dropped off fiber to be processed before, and he was very patient about walking me through the process. We talked about the the fibers I'd chosen, and the best way to draft them individually and together. We talked about starting with a combination of combed top, carded roving, and raw fleece to end up with a yarn that had all the qualities I wanted. 

Yesterday, I drove to Gurdy Run with my bags and bags of fibers. I met with Lydia, and we made the final decisions about colors, yarn weights, and put-ups. It was an incredibly educational trip.

The process of mill-spinning is both more high-tech and at the same time, more hands-on than I'd thought. Sure, the machines do the actual carding, drafting, and spinning, but it's not all one run-through. I didn't exactly think that John and Lydia just dumped fibers into a chute, tapped a few buttons on their laptops, and enjoyed iced tea on the porch while they waited for the machine to spit out skeins of yarn. What did I know? Not much, apparently.

The raw fleeces are washed by hand, and the carding, picking, pin-drafting, and spinning are each individual steps, requiring human oversight and adjustment. They handle the fiber between each stage, to weigh and evaluate what went in, and what came out. There's complex math involving weights and measurements, which Lydia explained and I nodded whenever I thought she needed the encouragement to go on.

There are cool gadgets like an air splicer (I want one!), but the skeining and tying are done by hand. I hope to go back for a visit on the day they're working on my yarn, and Lydia said if I'm lucky, she'll put me to work tying up the skeins. I can't wait. 

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Highlights from TNNA Needle Arts Trade Show

Highlights from TNNA Needle Arts Trade Show

This past weekend was the TNNA Needle Arts Trade Show. It was like the biggest yarn shop in the world; the yarn shop's yarn shop, as it were. Indie dyers, yarn companies, equipment manufacturers, designers, tool suppliers...if you've seen it in a yarn shop, it was represented at the show. 

My friend and mentor Dalis Davidson, of Dancing Leaf Farm, was a first-time vendor this year, so it was a great excuse for me to go hang out with her, and to check out the scene. Being neither a major wholesaler nor a yarn shop, I was just basically an unattended child in a toy store. I got to play with friends, paw through all the Habu yarn and knit samples, and I even carded an art batt on the Strauch motorized drum carder. It's not a model I have in the studio, so it was a treat. Having Otto Strauch himself hovering over me (and videoing!) my carding technique wasn't nerve-wracking at all. Nope.

The highlight of the day was getting the chance to test drive the new Schacht Flatiron wheel. It'll be available for sale in August, and I was very excited to give it whirl. I've been thinking about the experience, and it reminds me of the first time I tasted Marmite. Like Marmite, seeing the Flatiron for the first time elicits an immediate "what is that?!" response. Which, if you're me, leads to, "I have to try it!"

So what did I think?  Long draw is my go-to method, and I hold the fiber in my left hand. Which was convenient, since that's the way the demo wheel was assembled (the flyer can be mounted on either side). The drive wheel, measuring 22.5" (compared to the Matchless's 19.5"), has horsepower to spare, and its wide footprint ensures that despite the fact that it weighs less than the Matchless, treadling feels smooth and rock-solid. One perk of the design is that because the bobbin is about elbow-height, it's possible to see the entire bobbin. Maybe I'm the only one bothered by the fact that I can only see 3/4 of the bobbin while I'm spinning on the Matchless or Ladybug, but I appreciated the full-bobbin view on the new Flatiron.

And speaking of the's eye-catching and singular, no doubt. I asked Barry why it looked the way it did. His goal, he said, was to engineer a a wheel that could be shipped flat, and the design was influenced by a steampunk aesthetic that he hoped would lure the young IKEA crowd. Hmm. Any young IKEA fans out there reading this post and feeing the allure of a steampunk-inspired wheel? Please sound off below. 

As I was grilling Barry about the...let's say unorthodox...styling, a longtime LYS owner chimed in to say that when the Matchless made its debut, it was met with criticism and horror. So we'll see. Maybe symmetry and charming little ladybugs will become a thing of the past in the wake of this new design. It'll be available for delivery (in a flat box!) in August for $795. 


Double treadle

Spinning modes: Scotch, double drive, bobbin-lead

Spinning ratios: 4.6:1 to 26:1

Weight: 15 pounds

Drive wheel: 22 1/2”

Orifice height: 26”

Dimensions: 33” wide x 33” tall x 18” deep

Comes with 3 bobbins, medium and fast whorls, cotton and poly drive bands, threading hook.

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