Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mad Hatters

I started Sunday's hat class by saying that we'd LEARN how to make a felted hat from alpaca fiber, but that SOME may turn out not be wearable for their first attempt.... the seven women that attended proved me wrong, and 100% came away with a really nice looking hat!
Each participant had pre-chosen the hat form they wanted to use, and each got to pick from several natural colors of alpaca fiber. Everyone left with their hats mostly-dry and wearable enough for a group photo, but I'm sure that each person will add their own touch in terms of embellishment.
Everyone worked, played, talked and laughed really hard, and the class ran way over... sorry about that!
This was a fun and crazy group of students, but do you know how the name "Mad Hatters" came about? It's because hat-makers used to use a mercury-based product for stiffening hats, and it led to brain damage... thus the name "mad" hatters! (Sad, but true).Here's the whole group with their mostly-finished hats. I was so proud of them! I've scheduled two more felting classes... one will be a general/beginning class on March 21st to include both wet felting and needle felting and the other will be a hat class on April 25th. Details will be forthcoming, but in the meantime let me know if you're interested! (
Thanks to everyone who participated!
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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Feeling Fibery

This morning I was working with some roving I dyed yesterday, and felt a zen-like trance come over me while I was feeling fine fibers running through my fingers.
The colors and tactile experience in my quiet studio were mesmerizing.
Reality hit, and I realized it was time to go feed my famished, fretting fuzzy friends who gifted me their fleeces.SSF Peruvian Midas

What's with the F's all of a sudden? Oh... it is February! Pin It Now!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hot Soup and Homemade Bread

 We don't get the newspaper here any more (too full of ads!), and I've cut way back on magazine consumption.  About all I watch on TV is the news, so aside from fiction reading I love taking in blogs for recreation and information.  Who knew how much I'd learn, and what inspiration I'd glean from such a variety of blogs I read from around the world?

Blogs are a great source of recipes, and some of the best ones are from blogs that aren't necessarily focused on cooking... creative people just tend to be good cooks, I think it almost goes hand in hand.  (Case in point, my friends Marti and Dianne).
Anna Maria Horner has a fantastic blog in which she shares her art, fabric inspiration, and family stories (she's the mother of 5 or 6 kids).  I found a wonderful, hearty soup recipe here last week, and it went perfectly with the bread I already had rising at that time.  Check out her recipe, and here's mine for the bread... enjoy!
Grandma's Oatmeal Bread
      2 packages Hodgson Mill Active Dry Yeast
      1/2 cup warm water
      1 1/4 cups boiling water
      1 cup quick-cooking oatmeal (I used steel-cut, which I bought by accident)
      1/2 cup light molasses (I used local Kentucky sorghum- yum!)
      1/2 cup vegetable oil
      1 1/2 teaspoons salt
      6 to 6 1/2 cups unbleached flour
       2 eggs, beaten
       shortening to coat 1 large blow and two, 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pans

Add yeast to 1/2 cup warm water and let stand for 10 minutes.

Combine boiling water, oatmeal, molasses, vegetable oil, and salt.  Cool to lukewarm.  Stir in 2 cups unbleached flour and mix well (you may use a mixer).  To this, add 2 whole eggs and yeast mixture.  Mix well.  Add the remaining unbleached flour to make a soft dough.  Knead the dough until smooth, elastic, and satiny, 10 minutes by hand, or 4 minutes in an electric mixer or food processor fitted with dough hook.  Put dough in greased bowl, turning to coat thoroughly.  Cover with a damp towel and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 and 1/2 hours.  Knead down and allow to rise a second time until doubled, about 1 hour.

Turn onto a lightly floured surface.  Divide into 2 equal portions and let rest for 10 minutes.  Grease two, 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pans.  Shape dough into loaves and put into pans, seam side down.  Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free place until dough rises just above tops of pans.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Brush the loaves with a mixture of 1 tablespoon egg white and 1 tablespoon water, sprinkle wtih 1/4 cup oatmeal.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes until top is golden brown.  Remove immediately from pans and let cool on racks.
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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentines for Sweet Women

 I'm normally not very good at corresponding by snail mail, and even sending Christmas cards has fallen by the wayside the past few years, though I still love receiving them.  It's rare for me to hand-write a letter, especially since I work on the computer so much and type pretty fast.

But, I have always loved Valentine's Day and have fond memories of decorated valentine boxes stuffed with hand-made cards, back in 1st to about 4th grades at Smith School.  I wanted to make something this year from alpaca felt, and combine it with hearts and sewing and to give them to some of the women in my life that mean a lot to me.

I gathered some of the materials I love- red burlap, cute fabrics, and scrapbook paper, and even some paper Trader Joe's bags, without any idea of how I wanted to assemble everything.  First, I made the pins from hand-dyed alpaca felt, cutting heart shapes with pinking shears (I LOVE pinking shears, don't you?) and then sewing on hearts of coordinating fabric with zig-zag stitch.
I wrote a kinda corny/sappy but heartfelt poem, and printed it on scrapbook paper, trimmed it out with the pinking shears, and sewed it to the backside, signing each one in red ink.
 I found lots of online tutorials on how to make envelopes, here's one, and used a poster-board template to cut the envelopes from the Trader Joe's bags, leaving the printed side out.  I made label tags from the brown paper as well, and glued them to the outside with mod podge.  Homemade envelopes will definitely be on my agenda from now on, as they were fun and easy to make and added a unique touch.
Feel free to use any of my ideas, and Happy Valentines to All!
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Friday, February 12, 2010

More Color to Feed the Addiction

The more I've been working in the studio, the more I WANT to work, especially with color.  I got a bit daring today with felting a hat from some orange merino wool and embellishing it with the hand-dyed yarn and fiber I had left over from the project at this post.  I wasn't so sure that it wouldn't be extremely tacky, but I do like the way it turned out! 

Perhaps not just anyone could pull off wearing these colors, but my hats always seem to find "their" person.  I plan to list this on Etsy, so you can check it out there if you think you may be "that" person!

Since I've been learning to sew, I've found that giving the hats a stitched edge adds a bit of professionalism, and it does help protect the brim a bit.

I haven't done a lot of felting with merino, which is one of the most popular fibers for hand felting.  While it was lovely and soft to work with, I truly didn't find that it felts any faster than alpaca, so don't be misled by the fallacy that alpaca doesn't felt well.  Move over, Merino... alpaca is here!

On another note, be sure to check out our farm visitor that we had today, over at our Seldom Scene Farm blog. Pin It Now!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Color to the Rescue

 Our Kentucky landscape gets a bit blah this time of year- above is a picture I took from the studio window on Monday....
And then yesterday....The snow always seems to brighten the hills and my mood, but it's easy to see why I want to work with bright colors at these times.  Here's some of the roving that I just had processed at Ohio Valley, already hand-dyed, and the resulting handspun yarn.
Valentine colors seem to be attracting me right now, I wonder why?
I've even nearly finished a new hat knit with handspun from last week's batch of roving.
The studio is absolutely bursting with brightness. And that doesn't even include the valentine fabric and felt surprises.... more on those to come.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Journey to Ohio Valley Natural Fibers

Since beginning my fiber foray about 15 years ago, I have made the long trip to this fiber mill, Ohio Valley Natural Fibers, in Sardinia, Ohio dozens of times.  It's where I take much of our alpaca fiber to be carded into a more usable form (roving) so that it can be hand spun on a wheel into yarn, used for making felt, or prepared in a way so that it can be sold to other hand spinners.

The owners, Kent and Ginny Ferguson, are very focused, fun and unique people that run a great operation, using equipment from old textile mills, some of which dates back to the early-mid 1900's.  Their carders are LARGE, taking up a small warehouse space, and they welcome visitors to look around and see the big machines in action.  On a typical visit, they start with weighing and going over the order with me.  I had spent the prior afternoon sorting through the fleeces overflowing in the barn loft, "skirting" them to remove unwanted "vegetable matter" (VM) and coarser fibers, and deciding which ones I wanted to combine or blend with other exotic fibers.

Each lot of fiber that will be blended first goes onto a "picker" which helps to open the fleece's locks, fluffs it, and throws it into it's own little "room", mixing it with the added fibers as it goes.  Then it is taken to one of the giant carding machines.
The machines require constant attention and maintenance as the fine fibers float around.  Here, Kent is checking the machine and lightly spraying the fleece to help it go through the series of dozens of spiked rollers more easily.  Ohio Valley works hard to produce a clean product, and doesn't use acids or other chemicals to dissolve the vegetable matter as the large commercial mills do, resulting in a more green product which we can offer to our customers.  The process requires a lot of manual labor to keep all of that fiber cleaned up, which is why they're slated to be featured on the Discovery Channel show, "Dirty Jobs" this season!
As the fleece goes through the final roller from which the fiber comes off in rope-like roving, a person is there ready to carefully lay it into a box.  I love this part, as I can see how the fleece turned out, which is usually beautiful!  I'm always anxious to get home and start spinning on the most special fleeces.  I do believe that having this much hands-on with our fleece has helped me be a better alpaca breeder.  I'll soon post pictures of some of the projects I've already completed using my favorite fibers.

Thank you to Kent and Ginny for their many years of quality, friendly service to Seldom Scene Farm!
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