Friday, August 12, 2011

Farm Story for August 13, 2011

Deb Potter, Merciful Hearts Farm ,

This has been a noisy week. I had determined to get lots of dyeing done so that I’ll have a good yarn inventory for Saturday Market as well as a nice supply to get me through the Indie Craft Parade which is coming up here in Greenville in September. Last year I was juried into the Indie even and it was quite a big deal. I was able to sell enough in just a day and a half to pay for much of the winter’s hay. That is why I was tickled to get in again this year and to know that they’ve extended the event for another day. Another day means the chance of more sales but it also means I have to have plenty to sell. Everything that I do is time consuming which is why Saturday Market works so well. I can have a good day of sales on Saturday but then have the week to dye, felt, spin and knit for another Saturday. That will not be the case with the Indie Craft Parade which is now less than a month away. So this sense of urgency explains my noisy week.

I do my dyeing outside in a stall in our stable. I can keep all of my supplies safe and have electricity and water. The dye fumes do not stink up the house and I have no problem keeping my dye pots and vats separated from my kitchenware. It is also pleasant to listen to our many creatures going about their daily routines as I work. Unfortunately, some of the creatures feel they need to be a part of all that I do. That is especially the case with a handful of sheep who think that they must go in and out of the stable I do. And once they are in the stable they try to force their way into my dyeing stall as they are convinced there are wonderful things in there that they need. Their pushiness and nosiness slows me down so I decided to be sure they were all in a pasture rather than the barnyard before I began this latest marathon dyeing session. Al scattered grain and pulled everyone into pastures. There are a few lambs who can still slip through the slats of the gate but most prefer to stay with their mothers so that is a small problem. Little Jagger, however, sees things differently.

Jagger is a little ram lamb who was born this spring to Jezebelle, one of our oldest Shetland ewes. He has a Tunis daddy because he is that pretty red color but has also sprouted little Shetland ram horns. Because of Jezebelle’s age, we decided to supplement her nursing with a daily bottle for her little lamb. He is quite content to spend time in the stable with or without his mother and has also figured out that he can get an extra scoop of grain if he’s inside getting under my feet and I decide to yank a few spare babies into a stall by luring them with sweet feed dumped on the old church pew we keep in the first stall. Yes, it is an old oak church pew from St. Andrew’s in Jacksonville, Florida. We used to use it as a bench outside the stable and then pulled it inside to stack feed on. When we got better racking to stack the feed on we began to use the pew as a bit of a feed trough and goat kid playground.

Well, Jezebelle has been corralled in the pasture while Jagger slips in and out. Jezebelle is one of Eric’s original three Shetland ewes. He spelled her name with “belle” rather than “bel” since she is a Southern sheep. She has lived up to her Southern Belle name and is also the loudest and most persistent gal on the farm. She has a bleat that I can hear inside of the house. She will pursue us, often tapping at us with her front foreleg when she feels she needs special attention. And Jezebelle always feels she needs special attention. She started out as a pitch black ewe lamb and with age her fiber has lightened and grayed but nothing about her personality has mellowed. She knows she is entitled to be in the stable so whenever she has seen me go into it this week she has bawled even louder. Rather than just enjoying the sound of chickens working outside the stable as I paint my dyes on my wool, I’ve had to try to ignore her angry noises. She gets even madder when she realizes that little Jagger has followed me into the stable. As I walk to and from the stable she runs along the fence line at the edge of the barnyard so that she can be even closer to me as she fusses. I know there is really nothing wrong with her so have gritted my teeth and ignored her all week as I’ve toted buckets of wetted wool. A few times I gently dropped her lamb over the fence to her hoping that would calm her. She briefly lets him nurse and then goes right back to her tirade. She has enormous black eyes that have stared hatefully at me. She has also trotted along beside me when I am in her pasture, swatting me with that front foot and then trying to force her way through the gate the instant I lift the chain. A few times I’ve cut through the back of the old barn rather than push and argue at the gate. It has been a trying week for the both of us.

Finally on Friday I decided that I had done enough dyeing and let Jezebelle back into the barnyard. She looked at me as if nothing had ever happened. Jagger ran up for a quick peek at mama’s udder and then the two of them walked over to the stable door. Jezebelle stared back at me and started that horrific bleating again, quite confident that she could now convince me to let her in the stable. I crumbled. I opened the stable door, let the two of them escort me to the stall where most of the feed is stored and got them a big scoop of sweet feed that I spread out across the milk stand for them to enjoy. I did not hear a sound out of them as I walked back to the house.

I really do feel like I got some good fiber work done this week. I spent some time at the spinning wheel but most of my work was on the other yarns I sell. Every hand painted skein that I dye has to be wound into a giant loop held together with lots of ties so that it doesn’t tangle into a mess. It is soaked in a bucket of warm soapy water and then laid out on cellophane on an eight foot long table. My dyes are mixed as I need them and then painted and drizzled onto the wet skein of yarn. The skein is wrapped in the cellophane and placed in a steamer for about an hour. It is funny to peek in on the covered steamer near the end of the process as steam builds inside the packet and blows the packet up into what seems to be a colorful living blob of a creature. Once the steaming is done the skein is cooled, unwrapped, rinsed a few times, wuzzed and hung to dry. “Wuzzing” is the term for holding a wet skein firmly and then flinging it around so that much of the water flies out. I love to do that over the concrete driveway and watch the pretty patterns that the water forms as it sprays out. A dried skein must be untied, rewound in a form that I can measure the yarn, retied and then tagged for market. It is always a good feeling to grab an armload of finished yarns and load them up the night before market. It is an even better feeling to take the money I’ve earned by selling them at market and hand it to the hay man, knowing we are able to put away lush feed to hold them through the coming fall and winter.

And here is a picture of Jezebelle and little Jagger on the day he was born:

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