Monday, June 22, 2020

Nothing Goes To Waste

This photo provides you all the information you need to know about how my mother raised me:  

Must get every last drop of soap before recycling that container.  Actually I would soak the bottle in my hot soapy water, but this was the only thing I could find that was ready for a new bottle to illustrate my point.  Normally this would be ketchup.

I still hear my sister (10 years my senior, passed away many years ago).  She's in my head every time I scrape a pan after the meal and am tempted to just toss the remaining 1/3 cup of casserole into the garbage.  She says to me inside my head, "What are you doing?  There are three bites in there!".  Then I sigh, dig for a match set of the elusive small sized tupperware container and lid to put the 3 bites in the fridge for later.  And she is correct, there are moments during the day you want something good, but not a lot, and those 3 bite portions are perfect.

Anyways, I wanted to show you a few examples of how this early training has been put to use with farm waste.

First up is scrap wool.  There are a few categories of scrap wool.

Belly wool - when the shearer begins to clip the sheep, he shears the belly first and tosses it off to the side on the barn floor.  It is dirty, short and packed with VM* (*vegetative matter including but not limited to hay, poo, a bit of hoof clipping, random flotsam and jetsam).  Fortunately, it doesn't make up much as a proportion of the entire fleece, so there isn't very much of it per fleece.  Day of shearing it is all pooled in a separate bag, this immediately becomes mulch.

Belly wool makes a lovely calico mulch around my sage plant

Short poopy skirtings - so you've bagged up and labelled the fleece on shearing day.  Then later on make time to go through carefully to evaluate, weigh, take records and skirt.  The first skirt around the fleece I pull off the short poopy bits - these are also mulch.  The properties of wool make for very good mulch - it holds water, insulates, smothers weeds and whatever is left in autumn is easy to rake up during garden cleanup.  If it has poop pellets in it, there is your time release fertilizer.

Fleece on the skirting table

My next circle around is the side skirtings and britch that aren't under the coat, so I won't sell as part of the raw fleece.  This gets sent to the mill for processing into combed top, roving, yarn or quilt batting.  The criteria for this sort are as follows:

Short bits less than 1" - quilt batting (don't have any right now to show)
1- 2.5" - combed top (don't have any right now to show)
1- 2.5" - roving
3+ - millspun yarn

Roving from our fawn rams processed at a mill

Millspun 2 ply yarn using britch skirtings

I wash and hand flick the neck wool - its really dirty and really fine, I think the amount of mill processing it would take to get it clean would ruin the quality, so its all done by hand and carded into batts

Batt made from pooled neck wool

I have done a ton of experimenting with the waste from flick carding. 

This is a blob of wool that is waste from flick carding - ie short bits, tip, second cuts - undesirable for spinning

I have carded it into batts and spun it, so far hated this, but just saw a cool video on art yarn with thread wound around a textured single, so am going to try that with Sif's flicked waste that I carded into batts on my drum carder.

Not sure why but she had a lot of matted tip, but it is spread consistently throughout so going to play around with this.


I used it to stuff pillow forms made out of T-Shirts that my boys outgrew, so I cut off the sleeves, hand whip stitched the open parts and stuffed the wool in.

Never got around to knitting a pillow cover for this one.  One of these days I will...
The sleeves I use as bandannas.... 

One of my mannequins modeling my fancy bandannas made from sleeve of Andrew's discarded T-Shirt.  I have a pair of these!

Its a sickness I know.  But the pillow forms, they are kind of lumpy and stiff, so not sure if that is something I'm going to continue with, but they smell amazing!

Of course I make dryer balls with the flick carding waste. 


I have actually begun going back to some of my very early processed batting and turning that into balls, only because it is just too coarse to meet my standards of wool that I offer spinners today.  Its remarkable to look at some of our early wool compared with what we produce today.  It was pretty coarse and not very crimpy.  

Current offering of our wool on left.  What we offered in the beginning on the right.

That pretty much covers the wool.  But there are a couple other items that generate potential waste that I have been thinking about.

Here is my knitted binder twine market bag! 

I think it is hilarious and outrageous, but I'm gonna tell you, this bag is BUILT!  I can load this thing up to 50 lbs plus and it just mocks me, like, "Really?  You think that is a heavy load?  Give me a break!"

I am trying to force myself to sit down and write the pattern, but that is not one of my strengths.  Love to figure stuff out, hate to document it.  So I take the binder twine from our square hay bales, cut the bale open at the knotted spot, and then cut off the knots, which do go into waste.  

Binder twine used to be an organic material, called sisal, but now it is plastic unfortunately.  

Then I tie the ends together and wind into a ball.  Then I'll knit the bag, give it a nice soak in some soapy water, dry and use!  There are a lot of knots is the only thing, but the bag has a lot of utility, and in farm communities, it draws a lot of attention.  Many like minded repurposers appreciate the idea of finding a use for all that binder twine that would normally end up in landfill.

Grain bags are another raw material that have many uses.  I have seen billfolds, skirts and aprons made from the grain bags.
My neatly folded used grain and mineral bags.

I don't sew, but I have an industrious like minded friend who collects my used bags, as well as from other farms and her vet office, sews up these spiffy market bags and sells them at festivals.  They are fun because grain suppliers are starting to print very decorative graphics on the bags of the animals and their environs, so you have some very farmy country design potential.

For ordering info - send me an email and I can connect you with the maker.  She has different sizes, handle lengths and all sorts of animal feed bag graphics - birds, bunnies, kittens, etc.

I am mulling over a design in my head for a sit upon, to use when I go out on the pasture and don't want to drag a chair, but need something to sit on when the ground is wet.  Thinking maybe use washed scrap wool as padding, simple blanket stitch on two sides...need to think about this a little more.

Another item I repurpose is a little more obscure and isn't waste from the farm.  Although sometimes the stresses from the farm contribute to the need to purchase this item.  So in the initial stages of the Covid-19 lockdown, we ordered our wine from a delivery service, and it came packed in horrible large styrofoam blocks.  Now, I guess it didn't occur to me that the bottles would require careful packaging, and I regret we did this, but now I have a couple 6 or 8 of these foam insert things that I am determined to find a use for rather than place in landfill.  And happily I did.  I use them to separate out my wool when I am making self striping yarns and gradient yarns.  Haha!! 

5 color self striping yarn, wool neatly tucked in 5 compartments where there used to be wine.

You can see I made a note for weight for each color in total and for individual stripe.  I never have to do this calculation again!

Two containers with equal amounts of each shade in each section.  Each container makes a ply.  I take out all wool from container section, and lay it out darker to lighter within each section and spin locks in order.  Perfection!

So this will explain if you closely examine my self striping or gradient yarns why there might be little circles of styrafoam in the wool.  Just pick 'em out.

So those are some of my attempts to lessen my carbon footprint repurposing waste generated from the farm.  I will put a full disclosure statement here that I am by no means virtuously spending time repurposing all my waste, I make my fair contribution to landfill unfortunately.  But I do spend a good amount of time thinking about what I could do with stuff that gets thrown in the trash.  I can't help myself, its how I was raised.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Shades of Shetland (Knitting & Hand Spinning)

Whispering Pines, Psalm 23 Farm, FFSSA and Shetland Sheep are featured in this podcast episode by Lisa Baker of Soulful Spinning.  I am sharing with the hope you will enjoy, comment, like, share and subscribe to her show.  It is all about spinning, fiber, and is just really informative and enjoyable to watch.  I highly recommend you check out her other episodes on YouTube.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Everything I can think of to tell you about Sheep Coats

So I woke up at around 3:30 am last night (to pee of course) and couldn't get back to sleep.  I knew by 4 that I wasn't going back to sleep, and that I was up for the day, so said screw it I am washing the sheep coats.  

We took the sheep coats off at shearing in mid April, and I've been hesitant to go to our 24 hour unmanned laundromat due to Covid-19.  I figured one of those mornings when I couldn't get back to sleep I could run up and get them washed and dried in the wee hours when no one is around.  Well yesterday was the day.

Loaded up the van and grabbed a bunch of singles from my fiber festival change till, and drove off in the dark to our quaint little village laundromat located about 250 yards from the Erie Canal. 

Middleport is on the Erie Canal between Rochester and Buffalo

As expected, it was nice and squeaky clean and there was no one around.  A little creepy, but cool to be doing something so outside the routine.  Ended up using 3 machines to get them all done at once.

I got them home and decided to sort them and take an inventory, to see how we are set for this year's combination of ages and sizes.
Washed coats sorted into piles, Rich made a handy reference for sizing/colors

Every year the flock is a little different with sizing - lambs, yearlings, adults and the nursing home set have all got different builds, requiring a different size coat.  So not only do we need enough to transition through 1 year from (usually 2 coats per ewe as the fleece grows) we have to have enough to cover the combination of frame sizes also, and the mix is always different one year to the next.

They come in many different sizes, we order from Rocky Sheep, and they have tailored a line for shetland sheep to meet the smaller size requirement.  Rich made a chart to help us know what size to upgrade to as the fleece grows, they put colored tabs on the coat so you can match up the size.  

This is the orange size 25"

Their site has a ton of information on the benefit, ROI and quality of their coats - we agree 100% with all their claims.  Isn't it nice to find vendors you can trust to do and be exactly what they say they are?

They cost around $25 each, plus shipping and here is our inventory:

 Color Size Qty
 Blk/Blu19 5
 Silver23 15 
 Orange25 15 
White 27 34 
 Red29 23 
Green 31 
Navy 33 

117 coats at ~25 each, we've invested ~$3000 in coats to keep our fleeces nice and clean.  Every ewe on the farm gets a coat.  Right now we have 52 ewes, 16 of them lambs, so probably going to have to invest in a couple more as every year the mix is just that different.

I don't know how long coats last, Rich has been managing that, I don't think we have tossed any out.  Some have gotten ripped, I don't sew, so we use those usually on the nursing home set.  We have been coating for a few years so I would say they last a good 5 years if not more?

The size refers to the length of the coat/body.

Many people think they are to keep the sheep warm, but they aren't.  They are designed to keep the wool clean and free of VM that can either destroy a fleece, or greatly reduce its value to a spinner, or add additional processing cost if you take your fleece(s) to a mill.

Very proud to be able to offer such clean raw fleeces to spinners

When I corral the ewes into a small area of the barn and they have their coats on, it makes a very soothing swishing sound like in this video:

We put them on before we start hay in the fall, so they don't have them on over the summer when they are on pasture.  We have tried all sorts of feeders and methods, but in the end we feed hay off the ground.  Its going to get in the wool either way, especially the lambs and yearlings as they are underfoot, and of course they have the nicest wool.  Sometimes we'll catch taller ewes eating hay off the yearling and lamb backs, but that isn't and effective method to keep vm out of a fleece.

The coats come off on shearing day, and then we bag them up.  When things settle down after lambing, they get washed, sorted, inventoried and then packed into clearly marked bins in the garage.

After shearing they go in bags to store until washing

Ahhhh.  Nice and organized in bins by size.

Once in a while when we sell a sheep, we will sell the coats along with, usually if the customer is a spinner, they appreciate not having to deal with sizing and ordering.

We didn't use coats for a long time, but decided after an embarrassing fleece show at Rhinebeck where practically all my fleeces got set under the table for excessive VM, that it was time to get serious and coat the girls.  I am so glad we made the decision, it has greatly improved my enjoyment of processing the fleeces, and I am very comfortable and yes, proud to be able to offer such a high quality product to my spinning friends.

The neck and britch aren't covered, so I set those aside during skirting.  When I sell a raw fleece, I only sell the portions that are under the coat, so the fleece is nice and clean.  Cleanish britch with tags removed goes to the mill sorted by color for my millspun yarn.  

A skein of millspun yarn from fawn skirtings

Neck wool I pool and hand flick and process into batts on my drum carder for spinners to enjoy.

Hand washed, flicked and drum carded batt from luxuriously soft neck wool

Someone asked me if we have problems with lambs getting caught up in the coats when the moms have coats on, never had that issue thank goodness.  We do make certain the coats are fit nice and snug, but not too snug as we don't want to smash the fleece.

Susan with her lambs, looking elegant in her coat

I did something a little different this year as I had the time to roo a good number of ewes.  I started rooing before shearing and was nervous about putting a rooed ewe back in with the flock.  The reason for this is that the sheep don't recognize the shorn ewe as one of the flock.  They identify her as new, and she will get bullied a little bit, and I hate that.  Nature can be cruel sometimes.  Anyways, the way I got around this issue was I only rooed what was under the coat, and then put the coat back on over the rooed part!  This way she appeared from the outside to look and smell exactly the same, and it worked beautifully!  The coats came off the rooed ewes on shearing day, and the neck and britch I did after shearing at my leisure, and by then, they were outside much of the day, distracted by the sun and grass.  So that is another great benefit of the coats!

We never had an issue with felting or mold, I will say when we used to submit our fleeces in shows, ocasionally the judge (LK) would fault us for clumpy tips, as the normal tips on the shetland fleeces get kind of blunt under the coat.  

 I don't mind this, as I really think the best processing for a fine shetland fleece is combs or flicking, and it comes off the same either way.

I flick washed locks with my Majacraft Flick Carder to open up the tips - click this link for the Youtube Video of me flicking

That's pretty much the lowdown on our coats.  We put a lot of effort into a great product.  If you have sheep, and spin or sell wool, I strongly recommend you take the leap to coating your sheep.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Majacraft Bobbin Color of the Year

Every year Majacraft has special edition colored plastic bobbin.  They decide the color with a voting system where they put up a few colors and then we get to vote on which color we would like to see used for special edition plastic bobbins for that year.  They do one color a year, except 2017 which was their 21st anniversary celebration, they did an additional special color for the celebration, which was lilac.  At this point it looks like the only colored plastic bobbins that are available from factory are Rosebright, Ocean Blue and Atoll.  They said they aren't doing a color for 2020, rather are coming out with a new plastic bobbin to replace the brown, and hope to do a color for 2021.  I will be sure to paste information on how you can cast your vote here when the time comes.  These were the colors for the past few years:

2019 – Atoll
2018 – Eastern blue
2017 – Rosebright (pink)
2016 – Lime green
2015 – Purple

Atoll - 2019

Eastern Blue- 2018

Rosebright - 2017

I had one client who purchased a couple to prepare for the Tour de Fleece.  I wasn't sure exactly what that was, so did a little research, here is the nutshell

  • Originated by Star Athena, a knitter, 16 spinners in 2006, 10K+ at last count.
  • Spin yarn on wheels as the cyclists spin their wheels
  • You start on the starting day of the Tour De France, and spin every day that the cyclists ride.  This year is June 27th thru July 19th.
  • Goal setting is part of it, on challenge days you can do a challenging spin, like an art yarn.  Commit to spin a certain amount of time or volume each active day
My guess is you need extra bobbins for the Tour de Fleece because as you spin so much volume you maybe don't make the time to ply it all, so the bobbin is used to store the singles.

Here is my source for the Tour de Fleece info:
And here is the ravelry group:

I have Starlight Pink, Ocean Blue and Atoll in my Majacraft inventory - they are $29 each, plus shipping.  I have them listed in my Etsy shop, but can also ship direct if you send me an email with which colors and quantities you need and your zip code, and I can send you a paypal invoice with shipping cost.  I always send an assortment of flicked locks from fleeces I am working on for you to try with every order of bobbins.

They fit all wheels excluding the Aura.  Can withstand boiling water, so they can be placed in dye baths with the wool wound on the bobbin.  

I was watching a video on one of the wheels, and they said when you get your new plastic bobbin it can have little burrs from the mold around the edges of the holes where you mount onto the drive shaft.  They suggested that if you just mount it on the drive shaft and run it back and forth a few times, that helps to smooth them out.  I also have used sandpaper to remove any tiny burrs around the edge of the holes.

So that is my data dump on Majacraft special Edition colored plastic bobbins!  I am working my way through the Majacraft learning center, and as I do I am going to post summaries of what I learned here on my blog as a reference tool.  Always something new to learn!