Posted on

Excited for the Great Northern Yarn Haul

What a year for us to have decided to focus on getting more visitors on the farm, eh?

We’ve given a lot of thought to the risk factors in having farm visitors this year. Matt has risk factors, so we know we need to be careful. But that said, visitors will be walking outdoors with masks on in a context where remaining 6 feet or further apart presents no problems. No Covid-positive sheep are yet recorded, so there’s another worry sated!

Our plan involves showing visitors the nearest group of sheep by walking or briefly driving to their location and showing. After that, we also have an outdoor yarnshop set up on our back deck. We’ll be on break from grilling so we can have yarn out for you to enjoy in the open air. This also helps to keep product sanitary from group to group, as ultraviolet rays from the sun(the same ones that cause sunburn) are nature’s own disinfectant!

Enough about the tough stuff – let’s talk about the cool stuff!

We’ll be offering our own yarns as well as our Bobolink Yarns lines. This is your chance to learn a bit more about our new project and sample our three current Bobolink yarns side by side.

We’ll be premiering a new pattern by KnittyMelissa – the Apricity shawl is a gorgeous, charming shawl with a weave pattern along one edge. Originally made from our Greensboro Bend BFL Fingering, it would look amazing in either the BFL or the Derby Line Border Leicester Sport. Let your creativity go wild!

Apricity!

But Wait, There’s More!

Readers of the blog may know that we saw Meadow Moon by Jennifer Steingass and fell in love. We are offering $25 off 9 skeins or more of our Derby Line Border Leicester Sport to encourage folks to follow our lead making their own gorgeous sweater for Fall. I’m not just tooting my own horn when I say that our yarn really suits this pattern. Soft, drapey, easier to handle than the pattern-suggested two strands of laceweight: We don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Meadow Moon

Don’t worry – if you aren’t up to a shawl or a sweater, we have some fun kits and patterns for you to peruse.
And sale yarn – don’t forget the sale yarn!

So we are confident that we can invite you to enjoy our farm and our view without exchanging aerosols, and we look forward to seeing you!

And if you are not going out right now or would rather shop from home anyhow, internet visits count, too! Just be sure to leave a note or send me an email that you are part of GNYH.

More info about Great Northern Yarn Haul.

Posted on

Responding To A World Without Festivals

Recently, I wrote about our anxiety about the cancellation of VT Sheep and Wool Festival and Rhinebeck. I’m glad the festivals were cancelled – we simply cannot risk joining each other in crowds during a pandemic.

We’ve spent several weeks reimagining our sales efforts. We can’t rely on folks to come find our yarn, touch it and fall in love, so we need to focus on visuals to really bring the yarn to you. Here’s what we’ve come up with:

For our Derby Line Border Leicester, we went searching for a flattering pattern that’s just right for all of the extra knitting time many of us have working at home. Dozens of patterns later, I fell in love with Meadow Moon from Jennifer Steingass. It’s a simple, modern sweater design that flatters a lot of shapes and sizes. The pattern is highly-rated and clearly written. The pattern is on sale at the moment so now is a great time to nab this cute pattern. You have the whole summer to knit this sweater that will be your go-to sweater all Fall.

With a pattern in mind, I chose my colorways carefully. I would need dark, rich semi-neutrals that would look good in a large colorblock and contrasting light colors to contrast. Of course, you could always choose a light sweater color with a dark contrast, too!

We’ve also created some fun variegated colorways – there’s no rhyme or reason, just ideas that I had and carried out:

For the BFL, I focused on colors for our favorite shawl, the Vermont Maple Shawl from Melissa Beyer, aka KnittyMelissa. This shawl is grand and simply gorgeous. Our soft and drapey BFL yarn compliments the flow of the garment perfectly.

We have several yarns and sets that would be amazing options for this gorgeous shawl.

And if these patterns aren’t your jam, there are still thousands of gorgeous ideas on Ravelry. I always love seeing what folks make from our sheep flock’s hard work!

Posted on

Shearing 2020

Shearing!

We had the sheep shorn today. Though it feels early in the year, we know we need to have the sheep shorn before lambs are due. The forecasts calls for continuing mild weather, so we aren’t concerned about cold or wind for now. The ewes were eager to itch all of the itchy places they couldn’t reach beneath their fleece. We watched each of them craning their necks around to reach that One Spot and then shaking in relief.

Mary Lake at CanDoShearing shears our sheep. Mary and I have parallel sheep journeys. We were housemates back in 2012 and 2013. She had just finished an internship on a sheep farm when I was in the middle of my goat-milking years. We were both struggling doing hard jobs under challenging circumstances. Mary has always been helpful and deeply honest about my sheepraising, so it felt wonderful to be able to show her a flock of healthy, chubby ewes with great wool. I am endlessly grateful to Mary’s patience and wisdom through all of these years.

Enjoy these naked ladies prancing around on our farm! We were thrilled to see how plump and ready for lambs our flock is. 51 sheep shorn today – the only ones still wearing wool are the Two Old Ladies – we think they’ll do better with a bit more wool on.

Posted on

Our BFL Yarn is Here

I am so happy with the BFL yarn that came back from Battenkill Fibers this year.

In past years, our BFL clip has been too small for me to send it to a mill.  Bluefaced Leicesters are bred to have light fleeces.  In the UK, this was done with the idea of reducing the fleecy bulk of Cheviots and Scottish Blackface ewes.  The ewes from these crossbreedings are known as mules, and they are famous for having better wool and more lambs than their mountain dams, but more fleece and ruggedness than their BFL sires.

20190810_150206
We just love our BFL sheep!  Here, Sally gets all of the petting she wants from farmer Matt.

In the US, where BFLs are not used as much for creating mule ewes, the small fiber clip is a bit of an issue for mill processing, which requires minimum amounts.  This year, with 17 adult ewes contributing, we finally have plenty of lovely yarn to sell.

The yarn itself is something else.  I have never had yarn so smooth, shimmery and soft, while not being ropey or hard at all.  I love how it shows off the dye efforts I’ve made.  It’s easy to envision this yarn as a luxury shawl or treasured scarf.  Slouchy hats would also be a great use for it.  I’m not saying that your BFL socks won’t stay up, but I am saying that this yarn deserves to be used doing what it does best, which is draping beautifully without pilling.  I chose colors that I thought would lend life and interest to single-color projects, though the colors complement each other well, too.

Our BFL yarn is fingering weight, 200 yards per skein.  

20190807_144408

Cloverworks Farm Greensboro Bend Yarn

Posted on

The Yarn is Here

Most years, I have sent my wool to the mill with the expectation that my yarn might come back just a few weeks before the festivals I regularly attend.  Usually, that was just enough time to count it and dye it while Mom might knit a sample or two.

20190601_163421

This year is different.  Our mill, Battenkill Fiber, has a different reservation system that allows me to place my wool earlier in the queue by making an earlier deposit.  This saves me a lot of stress and hassle in the fall; a time of year when I am busy with lambs and farmer’s markets as well as yarn.

Our yarn came out wonderfully, once again.  The Border Leicester wool we sent in became our Derby Line Sport-Weight yarn.   We also sent our BFL to the mill and got back stunning, drapey, glossy fingering-weight yarn.  It’s all dyed up, but I haven’t gotten it into the online store yet.  Ditto for some hat kits we will be offering- there’s lots to look forward to!

IMG_20190603_092022_967

As you read about in The Reality of Yarn,  getting the yarn off of the cones and into skeins took a lot of time and patience.  Choosing colors and dyeing the yarn relies a bit more on some of my experience.  I took careful note of which colors appealed to people and which ones just sat.  I really like orange, but I’ve eased-up on orange a bit this year in the Derby Line.  I have also made more solid shades and fewer semi-solid.   I did choose to make semi-solids and multicolor yarn with the BFL.  It was BORN to be an art-shawl, cowl or scarf, so having an art yarn is more appropriate.    Overall, I am pleased with the palette I’ve made and eager to see how customers receive it!

20190602_130615
The BFL yarn – freshly dyed and now drying out.

I admit that I am a bit selfish about dyeing the yarn.   Even though it would be a potentially fun group activity, I hoard it for myself.  Dyeing is the one place where I can do a bit of artwork in a profession that is otherwise mostly physical, so I make an afternoon of it with the radio on, a glass of wine, and a drawerful of powerful dyes and my dedicated pots.  I hope that my creative outlet will be your crafting inspiration!

 

Posted on 3 Comments

The Reality of Yarn

Don’t get me wrong.  Playing with yarn gives me great joy.  I love the texture, the sheepy scent, the slight dust of it.  I love the whole sensory experience and I am always happy to have more yarn.

This year, instead of having our yarn made into pre-measured skeins at the mill, we elected to have it delivered on huge cones to be made into skeins at home.  Matt built a skein winder that automatically spins and measures each skein.  Such a winder would normally cost $350-400.  He made ours out of spare parts and some pvc pipe for about $150.

20190521_092756

But please understand that this is Day 12 of winding skeins.  I have rewatched the entirety of Ken Burn’s “The Civil War” (11 hours and 30 minutes, for those counting at home) while winding skeins, and that just covered winding the white BFL and 1/3 of the white Border Leicester.  I watched Ken Burns “The Roosevelts” as well.  I also watched the whole “Avatar: The Last Airbender” series (23 hours 20 minutes!) while making the natural color Border Leicester skeins and white mini-skeins needed for new patterns that will be released soon.

Each skein comes off the line frequently enough to make tasks more complex than television impossible.  Likewise, my hands need to stay clean, precluding anything like cooking or dyeing other yarn.  Watching something informative makes me feel like my brain is engaged with something meaningful.  I know I’m letting my nerd flag fly by admitting to my preference for documentaries and straightforward storytelling.  The current selection of human-failure-intensive prestige dramas don’t appeal: to me, the world has enough genuine sorrow and pain.  I cannot enjoy watching people suffer for entertainment.  I left human services forever in 2010 for a reason.

I am happy to report that I am winding skeins from the final cone of natural-color Border, and I am really, really happy to be so nearly done.  Stay tuned for 2019 yarn!20190521_092711

Posted on

We Went to Rhinebeck

This post should have been part of a series of posts where we prepare for Rhinebeck, talk about our journey getting our stock together, and then go.

I didn’t get that done.  Picture me weighing and packaging just-finished roving from the flock the night before I left, because that’s about the pace things were taking.

We had already been invited to display our Bluefaced Leicester sheep in the breed barn, so we were committed to bringing sheep to the venue.  Then, we found out we would have a substitute vending space – awesome!  Except that we didn’t really have enough yarn to fill out a booth, so we would have to try to do some in-fill.   Fortunately, Kingdom Fleece and Fiberworks had some space in their processing calendar, so we had the lambs shorn and sent their soft, beautiful fleeces to Elizabeth.

So I left Vermont at 5am on Friday with 17 lbs of roving and 25 lbs of yarn in the truck cab, my display for both my booth and the BFL breed display in the bed of the truck, and two lambs for the breed display in the trailer.  I picked up some Icelandics in need of a ride down in Duxbury, and arrived at Rhinebeck right at 1pm.  I wish that Google Maps had a setting for navigation with a trailer.  I wasn’t keen to pay Thruway tolls for trailering, and I also had to keep de-selecting routes that used the Taconic Parkway (trailers not permitted there).  Did you get that, Google?  Good.

20181018_160627
Packed to the gills.  And yes, yes I do use a little booster to see in my F150.

Setting up went quickly once Mom arrived, and before we knew it Saturday morning arrived.  I thought that the attendees might come in at a jogging pace, but we weren’t near any of the “hot” vendors so we were just casually populated with shoppers until our booth felt full.  Kind helpers from Ravelry joined us to help answer questions and guide customers.  I owe a big thank you to Liz, Nance and Betsy for getting us food and water, and to Alisa and Alison for answering key Rhinebeck questions and being ready with a good phone charger.

We observed some interesting outcomes in our booth.  We sold more kep patterns with our Northern Borders yarn than we did mitten patterns with our Derby Line yarn.  Colors seem to be hit or miss with different crowds, but I will be planning on making more solid colors next year, even though variegated yarn is FUN!  We will have notecards for sale on the site soon.  Mom enjoyed interacting with fellow Kep-makers from her Facebook based Kep group and just chatting about the sheep and knitting.  Mom really makes the booth possible, since she is the real fiber expert on staff.

Sunday was a bit of a letdown, mainly because I will freely admit that our booth looked picked-over after Saturday and we were quite low on yarn.  We didn’t have all of the colors and kits that people wanted to buy available.  Good information for next year, when I anticipate having twice as much yarn made for a nice, lush booth.

It is a real credit to the organizational skills of Rhinebeck managers that the show ended at 4 pm but it only took an hour and change to pack Mom up with all of the booth contents and fixtures, and then 45 minutes more for me to pick up the sheep and take them home.  This will be my last year bringing sheep to Rhinebeck, so next year will be much more straightforward.

IMG_20181020_082153_242
Next year, I will have a banner instead of two aluminum signs.

 

Posted on 2 Comments

A Big Opportunity

A while ago, I had thought to put in my application for a booth at Rhinebeck (formally, the New York State Sheep and Wool Gathering) because I had heard that it could take a decade to get a booth.  So I figured I’d just send applications their way for a few years while I put together a schedule of fiber festivals where I can sell my yarn.

So imagine my surprise when an email arrives on Monday from the Rhinebeck organizers saying that they have a need for some substitute vendors, and would I like to sell yarn at the festival?  YES!

So I am going to be a Rhinebeck vendor this year, provided the State of New York processes my application for a Tax ID.  But I will assume that that will happen and I’ll be on my way to put some sheep in the breed barn and then we will set up our booth in a location TBD.

Wish me luck!

bannerpicture1.jpg

 

Posted on

Going to the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival

It is that time of year again!   We are headed to the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival, where we have 350 skeins of Border Leicester yarn to sell along with many other fiber goodies.

For starters, both my Northern Borders and Derby Line yarns have been selling well.  Even though the Montpelier Farmer’s Market isn’t an ideal venue for selling an item specific to the small part of the population that knits, the yarn colors and the tactile joy of touching yarn draw visitors in.  In fact, I have sold enough yarn that I need to consider dyeing additional yarn to round out my color availability.  My concern is not having the right amounts of the colors people want most.  Sales at the farmer’s market have depleted some of my colors!

IMG_20180909_125643_069

Another significant offering this year is hats.  Specifically, this Kep design that my mother has developed.  Keps are a traditional slouchy Fair Isle hat that features our Northern Borders yarn nicely.  Mom has cranked out six hats, while I am still working on hat number one.  She is really a knitting powerhouse.

IMG_20180907_222044_855

I also have gobs of BFL wool that wants dyeing and final touches.  Good thing Great British Bakeoff is available again!

The to-do list for the sheep is no shorter.  Ten lambs ship on 9/27, breeding groups need to be arranged next week, and everyone gets a Selenium shot because our soils are very deficient.  That is a whole lot of work!

Posted on 3 Comments

Lessons from the Farmers Market

20180811_082819.jpg
My friend Mike helped get the setup done.

I had my goods for sale at Montpelier for the first time yesterday.  I still have a lot to learn about effectively selling my goods.

  • Don’t forget your tent!   The market was on Saturday morning.  On Friday evening that I realized that my pop-up tent was 150 miles away in Keene, NH with my parents.  Oops.  I didn’t get a sunburn but I did have to model my rather dweeby hat that I wear while doing fieldwork.  I always wear a hat because sunscreen just melts off me in a river of sweat while I work.
  • I still have a “Meat and Yarn Don’t Mix” issue.  My booth had a lot of yarn-based visual appeal, which attracted yarn lovers.  But the Venn Diagram of Yarn Lovers and Sausage Lovers doesn’t have a big enough overlap space, so I wasn’t able to get yarnies to try or to buy the sausage.  At the same time, I am worried that the huge yarn display was actually discouraging the sausage-seeking folks from coming over.  Or maybe they didn’t see the signs.  Bigger signs are a must for next time!
  • Speaking of sausage:  You would think that sampling out sausage would be easy!  Cook a link, cut it up, feed people.  But it isn’t.  Law requires that hot food be served hot, but I had long pauses between visitors where cut-up samples would have cooled.  So I pre-cooked and pre-chopped my sample sausage for reheating on a little butane stove.  Regrettably, the stove caused samples to crisp up and dry out, and one woman even complained (very politely and informatively) that I wasn’t doing the sausage justice with the dry samples.  I wish I knew of a way to better offer samples of our juicy sausage- I don’t expect people to stay to have a sample whipped up for them personally.
  • Continuing my sausage thought-process: In an ideal world, I would be able to sell them as a cooked snack sandwich, but being a food vendor is really different from being an agricultural product vendor and we would need to invest time and money in regulatory compliance.  I would also need another person at the farmer’s market to handle that.  I should look for a vendor who might like to sell my sausage on commission.
  • I noticed that of the two varieties of yarn that I now have for sale, everyone touched both kinds but all of the buyers bought my newer yarn because of the soft, fluffy texture.  I will add the new yarn to the store soon.
  • I am proud to say that I remembered almost everything I would need for a day at the market- markers, tape, cashbox, etc.  I remembered everything except a plate to put the tongs on and my coffee.  Realizing I had forgotten my coffee was disappointing, to say the least.