Thursday, February 24, 2011

Dogs in my Life....

Our little Munchkin ("Munchie") was pretty stinky and scruffy before grooming this week, and now he's cold but oh so cute! My mom asked me the other day if he was my favorite dog ever. Hmmm.... that would be a tough call because I do adore him, but I have had a LOT of wonderful dogs over the years. They include....
Brandy #1 and #2- They were Boxers, the first when I was very young and the second a rescue dog that we found full of fleas and all skin and bones with a big rope burn on her neck. When she became well again, she was constantly by my side. I made a jumping course in our backyard, and we would run around it together... this was before anyone was doing agility competitions. One of the smartest and sweetest dogs, I cried sooooo hard when Brandy died when I was a freshman away at college. She was incredibly loyal- though we did have a break-in at our home while she was there- the police thought she may have been poisoned/sedated.

Bonnie- my grandmother's West Highland Terrier that we had for the 2nd half of her life, cute but very feisty. (Terriers have never been my favorite, though I have recently met a few older Jack Russells that I've liked).

Bear- a mixed breed puppy that I bottle-raised, had been found on a sidewalk abandoned at just a few days old and was brought into the vet clinic where I was working. He actually came on a few dates with me, in a box in the backseat! My parents helped place him in a new home when I went back to school, and my Dad actually shed a few tears. (I'm so grateful that my parents were always so tolerant of my pets, which included ducks, rabbits, and a ferret).

Buffett- a beautiful blue merle Australian Shepherd, very intelligent dog that I truly let down as I lived in an apartment and was a very irresponsible pet owner before I finally wised up and found a more appropriate home for him (he did a lot of damage to my apartment, expensive lesson and I deserved to pay for every cent!). That dog was extremely bonded to me and ended up having a pretty unhappy life after I "abandoned" him. I still feel bad that I let this dog down.

Hmmm, what's with all of the "B" names?
McKenzie and Toulouse, in front of our house under construction

Toulouse- the first dog that Paul and I had on the farm, she was a beautiful red-tri Australian Shepherd. Sweet, sweet dog, well-behaved and smart. She seemed to have 9 lives, and used up several at once when she was run over by our big Dodge pickup and came away with only a bloody nose and black eye. Toulouse helped to mother the two coyote pups we raised (that's a story for another day....!) I think she'd win for the #1 favorite! (Don't anyone tell Munchie).

McKenzie- a huge wolf hybrid, she was gorgeous and bright and gentle, never hurt a flea (except for killing a fawn once). She once had both ears "pierced" by gunshots when she wandered onto a neighbor's farm, LUCKY dog! (In fairness, they probably thought she was a coyote). Although she had never shown any aggression, I insisted on finding her a new home when we brought our baby son Robert home... just couldn't take any chances. She went to a great home and lived a long, healthy life with another family.

Moon(shine)- I'd always admired Border Collies and wanted to potentially try sheepdog trials. A great dog, eager-to-please and energetic (which we'd expected), we couldn't keep him out of the neighbor's cattle. We found a good home for him where his talents were put to work as a trial dog.

Kate (Spanish Water Dog) and Chicklet (Corgi)- nice dogs, but neither were good with kids and tended to be high-strung and a little aggressive. Both went on to other homes.
Farley- our first LGD (livestock guardian dog), this huge Great Pyrenees had the run of the entire farm and he patrolled it well. A gentle giant, he inserted himself into any and every group photo and escorted us on many llama treks around the farm. We've had many other LGD's since, and currently have Dillon, Crockett and Rosa (Maremma sheepdogs) and Lucy (a Great Pyrenees). They literally allow us to sleep at night, guarding our alpacas and sheep in all weather and at all hours. At one point, I started saving the shed undercoat from a few of these dogs to spin, then realized how ridiculous that seemed since I had over 40 fine alpacas in the field! Each and every one has had a memorable personality.
As you can tell, I've been mostly drawn to larger dogs that are working breeds. Not our "lap dog", Munchie (who is a Shihtzu that was rescued by a friend).... He is not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he's great at warming my lap, and snuggling by my feet in bed, and he's gentle and not too yappy, doesn't shed, and he loves everybody. He travels well, likes the cat, and doesn't try to bite the UPS driver. He's definitely a keeper!

I wonder what other dogs will join our family in the future? Watching the Westminster Dog Show last week made me realize how important dogs have been to me and our family. If you are a dog lover, be sure to read A Dog's Purpose. It will make you appreciate every dog that's ever been a part of your life.
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Thursday, February 17, 2011

TGIFAF (Thank God It's Fiber Arts Friday!)

This has been one of those not-so-great weeks (a LOT of running kids around with little free time to enjoy the beautiful weather, though we did have a llama trek yesterday). Our teens have been pushing my buttoms and my fuse has been short (is there a full moon or something?... yes!), but as I pondered getting out of bed early this morning I thought, “YEAH, I can wear my new slippers!” (Sometimes, no maybe always, it’s about the little things).

My last blog post described my first attempts at felting slippers. I scoured the net for tips on finishing the bottoms. A lot of people paint latex onto the bottoms to make them skid-proof, but I liked the idea of keeping them more natural plus I felt that leather would protect the bottoms a lot more. This blog had some good information on felted slippers and adding bottoms. Someone mentioned using scrap or even recycled leather thrifted from old coats, and a search turned up this Etsy seller. I ordered enough leather in a neutral color to make many future pairs, and had it within a few days. The leather is huge with a few scratches and holes, but for $30 I can probably get about 30 pairs of soles compared to $10 per pair that I’ve found elsewhere.
I made a template by tracing the slipper, then easily cut the leather with regular scissors. I may have trimmed it down a bit small, but time will tell. I used an awl to punch holes in the leather, and sewed them on using a heavy, waxed leather thread.
From the way they feel on my feet this morning, I declare this project a success!
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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Felted Slippers and Vessels

It's so funny how one thing can lead to another... I went to a class and learned how to use a resist to make a felted bag, then I started making felted birdhouses. As I got better with those I realized that I didn't need anyone to show me how to make a vessel (which I'd been wanting to try), I already knew! Then as I made more birdhouses and a few vessels I thought I could make slippers, so I finally did (with some prodding from my sister-in-law Barbara!). It's intriguing to see how skills build upon one another, especially in art (when you're not a "natural talent!").
So, here are some slippers that I just made! I have had two pairs of awesome hand-felted wool slippers, both which I got in a great little shop off the main square in Cusco, Peru. It's a shop with lots of handmade original silver jewelry (not mass-produced touristy stuff), and also has felted items from the shop owner's friend in Scandinavia! I completely wore out the first pair, and bought some more on my fall, 2009 trip there. My current pair is a little large and I don't love the decoration; I kept thinking that it would be so nice if I could make some myself, custom fit to my feet. Well, I finally did it!
First I made the "baby" slippers (top). I was pleased with how they turned out, though to be critical one is thicker than the other and it was a good reminder that I need to weigh out the fiber and take notes when making things where matching matters.
I made these with alpaca on the inside for extra softness, then C-1 wool (which is rough but shrinks well but gives a lot of structure), then merino wool on the outside. The picture above is a good illustration of the amount of shrinkage that occurs after fulling. It also shows the original resist, and the pieces that were cut out- wow, doesn't the hole grow a lot?
As I was fulling/shrinking them, I kept putting them on my feet and molding/rubbing them for a good fit. I was pleased with how well they matched up, and wanted to add some additional color so I spun up some yarn from roving I'd just hand-dyed. Then I did a blanket-stitch around the opening and stitched a little design on one. I've yet to do the other as my thumb is sore from pushing the needle through the thick felt!
To finish them off completely, I'm going to stitch leather to the bottoms to help with wear and keep them from being too slick on our wood floors. I hope to receive the leather in the mail tomorrow, and if all goes well my next post will be about that process and I'll show the final results. And in the meantime, here are a few completed vessels...
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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fiber Friday

There's been lots of felting goodness and dyeing happening in my studio during the early mornings this week, thanks to the rejuvenation I got from last weekend's retreat! I posted recently with photos of a lattice scarf I made for myself. As excited as I was then, I've changed my method a bit (to make the openings smaller), and have had good success in doing some with pure alpaca (hand-dyed, from our herd). I like these a lot better than the first.
Here's one with a flower pin that I'm including for the buyer, my friend Charlotte.
I'm going to try to do a bit more "direct selling" (I'd love to cut out the middle man wherever possible to keep prices reasonable), so if you're interested in any of these let me know and I'll be glad to send more pictures/details. The scarves are $65-$80 and the pink/orange shawl is $105 and I'll include the pin if you respond within the week!
Oh, and here's a skein of yarn I spun on the retreat- I just love doing those coils! You can tell from the color palette that I'm craving some spring color.
You may notice that I've updated my blog roll to better reflect what I've been reading these days. Lots of new felting blogs are listed! I'm excited that Nicola Brown (Clasheen) from Ireland is coming to Kentucky in late May and will be giving a class at my friend Jan's home. I'm very excited that she's coming to the area, and hope she'll have time to come to the farm! Check out her site if you're interested in the class.
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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Snug Hollow

My friends and I had a wonderful 3-night retreat at Snug Hollow Inn and Farm in Irvine, Kentucky last weekend. Even though I live in a paradise of quiet and nature, it's great to have a change of scenery every once in a while (lest we get any weirder, as my friend Dianne says is apt to happen when we don't get off our farms enough!). The chance to be with friends with common interests and to enjoy their laughter and stories was priceless!
The drive into Snug Hollow brought back memories of our farm's bumpy gravel driveway before we paved it, and there was a gate to open and shut and that feeling of, "I sure hope we're going the right way!" As we got further into the hollow, the house and cabin finally appeared.
Barbara, the proprietor, took us on a tour of the main house and the original cabin (above and below) where two other parties of 9 women would be staying for the weekend. We stayed in her brand-new cabin, and it was just perfect for the five of us, with a bathroom, reading nook, small kitchen, and a cozy gas fireplace.
Word has caught on that the inn and farm was listed as one of National Geographic's 50 Best Girlfriend Getaways. The endless character and Barbara's special touches were charming.
Her organic garden supplies a lot of the delicious vegetarian meals served throughout the year, and the products of her canning were artfully tucked in here and there.
The grounds, too, are filled with Barbara's touches and those of local artisans who produce stained glass, pottery, carving, and weaving. I loved the wood-carved chairs that were nestled in the perfect vantage places for sitting.
A few of us took a side trip to Tater Knob Pottery, a short drive from the inn heading toward Berea. The owners couldn't have been friendlier or more accommodating, and I scored a few pieces of their beautiful work.
We ate breakfast and dinner in the main house (huge, delicious meals!) and in between eating and drinking wine we spun, knitted, told jokes, laughed, and laughed some more.
One morning I awoke early and took a hike by myself. It was damp and misty, all gloomy and beautiful at the same time.
I've found myself shaking off some long-held procrastination this week and in addition to homeschooling and paperwork and yuck-stuff, I've produced several felted pieces that I'm pretty pleased with (more on those later this week). I guess that means that the retreat worked as planned!
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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Something to wear

Have you ever bought something and just couldn't WAIT to wear it?! Going out with your new digs can give you a real lift. Now, have you ever MADE something yourself and were anxious to wear it out? An even bigger thrill awaits!
I have coveted the felted lattice scarves that I've seen here and there amongst felting circles, and was assured by my friend Dawn (whom I met at a felting class in Michigan) that they're really easy to make. Well, my first attempt was a disaster. I tried using pencil roving, and despite lots of rolling and rubbing it just didn't seem to want to felt at the joins and was a big, unsalvageable mess.

This time I used my own hand-dyed merino top, and made a sample first. The strips in the sample were a little too thin, so I drafted strips thicker than pencil roving and laid them out on bubble wrap, then followed my usual wet felting steps. That did the trick! Only one join isn't holding, and I think I can easily fix it with a felting needle.
Another big discovery was with my dyeing. Comparing dye results with others, I realized that I was "washing away" an aweful lot of dye after heat setting and cooling longer than the directions call for, and not getting the more vibrant colors I sometimes wanted. Hmmm, could it be our water? We have a well with sulphur water, and despite an elaborate filtration system our water quality can still be.... let's just say a challenge! I'm not the scientific sort when it comes to dyeing, don't use ph strips and such, but thought I'd trying adding some citric acid at the fiber/yarn soaking stage. Voila!
I'm wearing my cheery new scarf to a knitting/fiber retreat I'm attending this weekend with a few friends. I know, I know, another retreat? Life is good! In case I am sounding a bit too manic about this new scarf, consider that I have a teenage daughter that always sets me straight... when asked if she likes my new scarf, she scrunched her face and said, "No, not really..." Oh well, I guess this means I don't have to make one for her!
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