Happy 2019!!! Can you believe its already the end January?
It seems the best way to go into the New Year is to review a bit about 2018 at the Mill and the goals I have set forth coming into the new year.
2018 was the first full year for the Mill, and what a year it was. We officially opened the Mill and shop at the end of March 2017. We are fast approaching the two year mark, and I will be very honest with you, there have been several tears along the way, a lot of questioning my decision to do this, and a balancing act for work, home and life. Thank goodness I LOVE what I do. There are certainly hard days, not just at making, but financially as well. For the days that I doubt, there are so many more that I am so grateful for the chance to have the Mill and for all the people I've met so far along the way.
Some of my biggest and hardest lessons were:
1. Learning to make yarn.
2. Learning to say No.
3. Balancing work/farm/house/life
So first, learning to make yarn! Phew, who would have thought it could be so hard? This is definitely the most difficult part of milling and has the largest learning curve. I am still learning lessons, taking notes and trying to learn from each batch of yarn I make. Why is it so hard you ask? First off, because all fibers are different. Even within the same breed of animal you will have different microns, staple lengths and cleanliness issues to figure out. Next was learning to actually speak nicely to my spinning machine and then listen to what she is trying to tell me. If it's too hot, get her an air conditioner. If tension clips are flying off that should be staying on, perhaps lower your twist or adjust the clip size. If large slubs, fiber tornadoes, or breaks are happening, check your draft zone first, is it too close or too far apart given the staple length. The list goes on and on, and this doesn't even include actually designing and then correctly spinning a yarn to the desired weight and/or loft. In the past couple months I feel like I have really turned a corner. I have a list of tools and tricks and a decent order in which to run thru them before too much waste wool piles up on the floor and my stress level goes off the charts. Wahoo! I still have days, but generally I can figure out the problem and move forward without losing too much time. I'm so intensely proud of every batch of yarn I make, whether for Ewethful or for a customer. To see what a bag of wool can turn into is still astounding.
Saying "no." This is not my strong suit, I think it is something we all struggle with. When I first opened the Mill I started a waiting list. I thought it was reasonable as I entered names in my calendar, leaving what I thought was enough time to keep up. I have heard many stories of mills having a years worth of fiber sitting waiting to be processed. Just the idea of this gives me anxiety. I love wool, I love washing wool, processing wool, turning it into a more organized fiber that will become something else in someone else's life. That said, the idea of walking into the Mill and seeing months worth of work ahead of me seems the easiest way to make this go from a love to a burden. It's amazing how quickly that list came to haunt me. I stressed about how long people were waiting, if the product I was putting out was going to make them happy, if I could take on more of what seemed like endless emails, calls and in-person requests for more processing. And you know what was missing?... me being at home. Suddenly I was at the Mill until 7, 8, even 9pm. The exact thing I didn't want in this business. To help alleviate the stress I finally had to cut the waiting list. Which means saying "no." I'm not going to say I like it, in fact I wish I could help everyone who wants fiber processed. The reality is I will never be able to help everyone who asks for my processing services and I've had to learn to let go of the guilt that this brings with it.
So I'm sure you can see this is now coming full circle to #3 in the above list. Balancing work, home, farm, life. This is something I promised myself to be super aware of going into my second business. I've done 70 hours a week, and will not do it again. I learned long ago that your business exists to give you a life, not be your life. Also I've gotten a bit older and let's face it, a bit more tired. In addition, there are a lot of responsibilities for me outstide the Mill. Our household (which becomes quite a load during harvest), our animals, our marriage and of course my health - continuing to exercise and eat at least a moderately healthy diet. The reality is, I love my husband and love being at home, and as much as I love milling, its good to leave at the end of the day.
So for 2019 I've set some new fairly achievable goals. Only work at the Mill 5 days per week max, approximately 10am-4pm each day. Less shop hours (we are open Fridays and Saturdays only now) which allows me to focus and produce more when I'm in the back milling. Continue to exercise regularly, spend time with our dogs, scoop the alpaca pasture, and relax in the evening with my husband because soon enough it will be harvest again and I want to enjoy every extra minute I have with him.
There is a very quick review of some of the lessons I've learned and my goals moving forward into this new year. So, what did you learn in 2018 and what are your goals for this year?!
With all the rain we've been getting I know it's hard to think back to those drier times this year, but for Oregon we've had some unusual weather. A drier than normal spring and late fall rains that didn't start until November have had a significant impact on grass seed farming and shepherding here in the Willamette Valley.
In the last post I filled you all in on a bit more about the grass seed industry. What we grow, why we grow it and what its used for. Now on to how this years weather (we'll save the issue of tariffs for a whole other day and some cocktails) has impacted grass. Let me be clear, I am not a grass seed farmer, my husband is, his family is, and we are surrounded by them. I am new to the agriculrture world, a part of the team and I know just enough about grass seed growing to be dangerous, but I have consulted my experts. Here is what I can tell you from my perspetive, my pasture never grew. This is the one of the two times of year we flourish in fresh grass. The pasture that usually turns brown during the summer, turns a luscious green once the fall rains start. The grass grows again and the pastures generally have several inches going into the winter. This is the time of year that I would generally only have to hay the sheep and alpacas as a treat vs. for sustenance. So even with my small flock we have been effected and are having to put more money out to keep the animals fed.
Now multiply that exponentially for commercial shepherds (and other livestock growers). The grass didn't grow which means there is not the same amount of feed for the sheep. In turn this means there are less sheep because having to feed large flocks of sheep hay thru the entire winter is a huge financial burden. For those that keep breeding ewes and their lambs, there is a scramble to find fresh grass to put them on, for this is the time of year that grass seed farmers make their fields available for grazing sheep. But as you may now be able to figure out, the grass seed fields didn't not grow as they normally should, so they are not readily available for sheep.
So now to the grass seed farms. After summer harvest, annual fields are turned and replanted for next years harvest. Grass needs rain, sun and mild temperatures to grow. Generally in Oregon the rain starts in September and voila, grass starts to grow. But not this year. We waited, and waited, and while we all personally enjoyed the sunny mild weather, those freshly planted grass seeds were less than thrilled.
Luckily the rains did came, but there were also some freezing temperatures mingled into the mix. So what that means is that while grass sprouts finally started to come up with the rains, the freezing temperatures slowed growth way down. It's just like when you walk outside into that unexpected cold and then stop and shiver, then trudge on. The grass is growing, but at a significantly slower pace. Luckily we have had a lot of mild temperatures which has allowed for some extra growth time.
So what happens if the grass doesn't grow tall enough? A single planted grass seed sprouts out of the ground into a single blade. This single blade then starts to tiller as it grows, meaning other blades start to grow out of that one blade. In a dry year such as this, the grass was growing at a much slower rate and in turn tillering at a much slower rate. A single blade becomes much more susceptible to damage from birds and insects. A great example is slugs. If the grass does not grow at a steady pace it allows slugs to climb up those short blades and chomp. If they chomp enough, no more grass blade which of course means no growth and no seed. The longer the blades and the more tillering, the hardier the grass is and the less damage that can be caused.
The moral of the story is, we need rain in Oregon and ideally the farmers of this region need it to come at its normal times. So next time we all complain about the rain, just think, "well hey, at least the crops are growing!!!"
Well that's enough about grass seed farming for today! Be back soon and Happy New Year!!!
Fridays at the Mill are "Fiber Fridays" which means fiber folks wander in and out with their projects to sit and socialize. If you walk in on a Friday ready to sit, I'll join you!
This past Friday I was talking about what the lack of rain/late rains mean to the farmers and shepherds around here. As you can imagine, a lack of rain in a farming community has ripple effects. Those in the shop thought it was really interesting and that I should address it in the blog. Then I realized that a lot of people don't really understand what is grown in this part of the state or why. So I thought I'd start there.
Grass seed is the main crop farmed here in Linn County and became an established commodity in this area in the 1950s. In fact if you drive Interstate 5 you will see signs proclaiming this is the Grass Seed Capital of the World. There's a lot of grass around here! The number one reason we grow grass for seed here is rain. Good old fashioned Pacific Northwest rain. You need a lot of rain to grow grass. In addition, the climate is also ideal for grass growth given our mild winters, a smidge of freezing temperatures and nice termperate wet springs.
So what happens to the grass seed? Many of the grasses grow to heights of 4-5 feet, depending on the variety making May one of the most beautiful times to visit this area. The grass is generally cut in late June and left to lie on the ground and dry out in the early weeks of the summer sun. Harvest truly begins in July as the seed is collected off the ground. It is then sent for cleaning and generally goes one of two routes. Some of it is indeed the seed that we buy to plant our lawns, for golf courses and even sports fields. The majority of the seed serves an even larger purpose which is to seed for pastures and to grow feed for livestock. Think of all the cattle, sheep and other livestock. What are they eating? A lot of grass! And the grass has to keep growing all over the world to keep these critters fed.
So there you have it. A short and sweet lesson on farming grass seed! I'll be back soon to let you know about what happens in a year such as this when not only the spring was drier than normal, but our fall rains came about 2 months late. In the meantime, enjoy some photos of some of the most amazing green fields you will ever see.
The title of this post is exactly what our blog host asked when I logged in! And holy cow, I didn't realize it had been since December 28th of last year. Wow! Well truth be told I've been thinking the last two months about how much I miss blogging. Then Mitch (my husband and best supportive enabler) had been working on some of our web stuff and mentioned that the blog gets a lot of hits. That was the little push I needed to jump back in. So here I sit just after just finishing up a custom client yarn order and closing up the shop for the day.
So where have I been? So much happened last year that hadn't been planned, isn't that life. And I'll be honest a lot of it threw us for a loop. We lost my stepmom (I hate that word btw), Sharon, mid-year 2017 to a car accident. You of course don't know how a loss like that effects your whole life until it happens and she is in my thoughts every single day. Losing Sharon was a loss not only to her family and friends but to her "work family" and many whom she met around the world. As you can tell, we are all still working thru this and likely will be for a long time.
Another big change that happened early this year was we decided it was time to settle down in our own home so with the help of Mitch's parents we purchased a project restoration home and property and that's where you lost me! There was no more time to breathe. I honestly couldn't even imagine a move of this magnitude, much less into a place that needed so much work. We lived in a trailer for a couple months on the new property while Mitch worked tirelessly along with much help from our family to get us in and make the house "livable" before harvest. We managed to get the dogs, cats, sheep, alpaca, and chickens all moved, barely. And then came harvest...
So here we are, post harvest and in a livable home with another 10 years of projects. But we love it so much and the animals have all settled into their new pastures, yards, beds... depending on the animal!
So for this post a few pictures of our project and hopefully forever home. I'll be back very soon, I promise!
Holy moly, it's been a whole month since I've blogged. Does it count that I said at least 15 times, I need to sit down and blog? Probably not, but here I am!
I have so many things I could bring up here, but I'm going to stick to one topic....
What is it about us makers (or crafters as the old school would call us) that keeps us wanting to challenge our skills constantly? Example, about 6 months ago I decided I wanted to try knitting continental. I've always been a thrower and didn't even realize that was a thing until I was sitting at my local yarn shop, Stash, on a knit night and two of the women around me were both continental knitters and discussing the merits of it. As many of us do, I worry about keeping my hands and joints healthy so thought learning continental would give me more options for relaxing my hands.
So I watched a youtube video and awkwardly went for it. For a couple nights. Then got super annoyed by not being able to hold the yarn well, basically a tension issue and dropped it. About a month later I had another go at it. It was just as awkward and this time I added purling to the mix. Again, a couple nights and I was out. My throwing had served me quite well anyway.
A couple of months passed and I decided I was going to give it another go. This time with a full project in mind. Nothing too crazy, a beanie for my husband, knit 2 purl 2. Oddly enough I sat down and this time it seemed to flow a little better. My brain had had a couple times to process, then stop, process, then stop. Apparently something had sunk in. And I managed to finish not 1 but 2 hats for him. The picture above is Mitch awkwardly modeling his Christmas hat which I handspun from our very own Shetland, Taraji!
Then as if that wasn't enough challenge for December, my next project I decide is going to be a foray into colorwork which I have never tried. The Baa-able hat has finally called me in. So here I go, sitting down for another project and challenge. What is that??? As it turns out, teaching myself to continental knit has come in very handy for colorwork! Oh and yes, I am addicted, don't want to sleep anymore, just want to know what the next row will bring.
Please feel free to share your thoughts on making and always wanting to learn more, make more, challenge more!!!
Thanks for reading and Happy New Year to come!!!!
I meant to post on Sunday, but then realized, wait, I'm not supposed to be working Sundays! Ha! I always manage to sneak a little work in. I was recently watching American Pickers, probably while knitting, and one of the old farmer collectors was asked when he was going to retire. His response was that when you love what you do, why would you retire?! Aaaah, yes!!! Agreed. Sometimes it is really hard to keep myself away from the mill, but then I remember... on a Sunday afternoon, when I tuck into the house with Mitch and we both settle in to do our hobbies, a day off is good!
But back to the topic at hand, farm chores! They are an everyday occurence and how I start every morning. The below explains why I can never seem to get anywhere before 10am.
So this is what an average morning looks like,...
We have some of our animals down the road at a local farmer's barn so my days usually start down there, after having fed the dogs that is! I run down the road to let the newest hens out for the day, collect eggs and deliver a couple scratches and maybe some treats to the ram lambs. Always doing a head count to ensure everyone is up and moving around as they should be. These hens are determined layers. We have 7 and the lowest egg count we've had since we brought them home is 4. Generally we are up to 5-6 a day. Wow!!!
Next up I head back home, grab Elsiemae and Norman and we head out back to check in on the animals around the house. First up are the chickens here. These are a mix of older hens and younger, but all have decided that they are molting and taking the winter off from laying. I fill their feeder, check waters and throw out whatever treats I may have for them, sometimes food scraps from the house, sometimes dehydrated worms. Yum. I always take a peak in their boxes to see if anyone worked yet, usually not these months.
Heading to the barn is up next. Elsiemae and Norman's favorite part! They tear into the barn to see what sort of animals have moved around in there overnight. It's a big job, but someone has to do it. Between the barn cats and the myriad of animals (a skunk for sure) that wander thru the barn in the night, they stay busy for a few minutes while I get the alpaca pellets ready. The alpaca get their pellets each morning, and they wait anxiously. They actually start waiting about an hour earlier when I let the dogs out to potty in the morning. The alpaca see this as the trigger for breakfast so head to the top pasture and wait. And of course the sheep in the next pasture head up too because well, you never know!
The sheep are next to be fed. During the winter months there isn't really much feeding to be done as they have plenty of pasture to keep them fed. But who doesn't like a treat? So a couple times a week I take them some hay or alfalfa pellets which they literally come run far and wide for. A sight to see!
And that is my morning routine. Sundays are generally a bit more work as it is the day of the week I tend to do more extensive cleaning. Chicken coops get cleaned every two weeks or so depending on the weather, the alpaca pasture gets scooped at least once per week, and then filling mineral bowls and giving extra scratches to those who will take them. Laborious work, but gratifying once its done. And realistically, all these farm chores are still less work than our dogs!!!
So if you show up to the shop one day at 10:03am and I'm just pulling up, don't be too surprised!
During the harvest season (grass seed harvesting) around here, August is the longest month. It's dry, its hot, dirt is everywhere and the long long days have been going for too long and it feels like it will never end. I can't tell you all how many times Mitch and I said to each other, "seriously, is it still August?!"
Well we made it thru August and now we keep saying to each other in disbelief, oh my gosh, how is it October, November... Time is flying by now! The reason I bring this all up is because, what the heck? I haven't blogged in several weeks. I apologize and promise I am back and much calmer and more centered. The only festival left this year is a fun craft fair at Peoria Road Farm Market this Saturday. So I feel like I can relax a little bit!
All of that said, where do I start? Vogue Knitting Seattle has come and gone. As has the 3 days we had to hole away and rest afterward. We had an eye opening experience really getting a chance to see the inside world of knitting and fashion. It was so fun to be a part of and we are so glad we went. We met some really great people who loved what Ewethful is about! We also made some good connections and most importantly, sold yarn and fiber to the world. In addition the experience helped me to realize the path I would like to go not only with the business, but with the yarn and fiber we create. I think I always had a good idea of where I wanted to go, but the week away helped me gain some clarity. The reality is I think smaller fiber festivals are more our market, at this point anyway. I feel more at home amongst the smaller festivals and I think a smaller sense of community fits what we are doing at Ewethful. So now I am faced with starting to calendar out next years events. Anyone have any suggestions of events that you love and I should look into vending at???!
While we were gone I should make mention of the yarn shop we visited while away. Now I know, I was at a yarn event for 3 days, but I'll admit I held off on buying yarn so that I could be focused for this shop trip. We went to Tolt Yarn and Wool in Carnation, WA. If you are ever out that way it is definitely worth the stop in. There is an amazingly large selection of yarn, lots of it naturals and earthy colors. And a lot lot lot of it made in the United States or just really cool yarns that you don't see in a lot of shops. My haul was very focused. I have shifted for obvious reasons to locally grown, specific project yarn, and/or something different. I found all 3 at Tolt. I ended up with Snoqualamie Farms natural dyed yarn, Jamieson Shetland which will become a Ba'able hat, and some really amazing lopi yarn that is so different that it has me excited. What a great haul!
I'm happily back at the mill now. Picking up the pieces of being gone, and also of being so focused on making yarn for the past 2 months. I am doing some custom processing for clients which consists of a lot of Shetland right now! Works for me! I will also be gearing up to start the next batch of yarn and get some of it out to our various dyers. In general, I'm breathing, planning and making.
I've of course attached a couple of my favorite pictures from the past couple weeks, because what is a blog post without pictures?
Enjoy and I'll be back soon. Happy making until then! And if you need any Ewethful yarn, please go to our online shop!
Well a lot more lessons have been learned over the last week or so and more beautiful yarn has been created! Today I pulled the first plyed skein of BFL off the spinner. This is 100% BFL from a local breeder just a bit up the road from me. I plyed a beautiful gray with white. The picture doesn't do justice to the feel. Oh my! A limited quantity of this small batch yarn will go up on the site Friday evening.
Along the way I of course made mistakes and learned. Two big lessons that will hopefully stick with me. One, keep the machine clean. Don't get me wrong, I do a lot of cleaning, but sometimes the smallest little area with a build up of oil and dirt on the spinner can cause all sorts of problems. Second, really double check my twist and go with what my gut and hands are liking. If the machine is not responding the way you want, run thru a series of questions first about if the machine is as clean and set up as it should be (if not, that is all my fault!). Do that twice, and then if all looks good start making adjustments to twist and draft.
In addition to this new yarn, I also received a picture of the yarn being dyed by Kristin of Blue Savannah. You all get a sneak peak here. It is the same yarn as the denim blue and natural light gray. I am in love!!!
A couple quick comments about the farm. Our new ISA chickens are busting out big eggs everyday. They are small hens with a docile personality. I'm really liking them!
The other, the ram lambs are loving their new space and got there just in the knick of time as one of them has started rutting. Basically this means he is ready to make some sheep love with some pretty ewes. His behavior has changed with him being much more stand-offish to me and much more dominant with his brother. And for the first time I even saw some air-humping (sorry for that rather distasteful phrase, lol)! He makes all sorts of crazy faces and as soon as I walk up he instigates head butting with his brother. Oh boys I wasn't planning on breeding them this early so I guess they will have to just tough it out this round.
Thanks for following and fiber on!....
A lot has been going on in the mill which is why not a lot has been going on here. So now I'll catch you up...
First, merino on the spinner. I decided to make this a personal challenge and see if I could get to a 3-ply fingering weight. This is more challenging because each single yarn must be spun thinner and with the right twist, too tight the yarn will feel less luscious and too loose the yarn will break. True to form merino, a very fine wool, added its own challenge to the mix. Getting the lead from the bobbin to attach to the roving proved a challenge. As you can see by the pictures, the floor by the spinner got more full of discarded wool as the day went on. Remember I am very much learning as I go and this was no exception. So after several times of the yarn breaking once I would get the bobbin going, my handspinner brain finally clicked...aaah, you aren't putting enough twist in the yarn so it is breaking. Why it sometimes takes so long to figure this out, I'm not sure? And I certainly hope that as I progress at this my brain will go thru a checklist of possibilities. I'm sure it will as it already does a million times more than when I first started spinning. At any rate, once I figured it out we were rolling and I managed to do what I had hoped but have yet been able to do...just let the spinner run! 800 yards of 6 single strand yarns smooth as butter. I did have 2 breaks, the machine stops spinning when it senses that, no big deal on this day. I was able to reattach the yarns without a big kerfluffle. Wahoo!!! They plyed up like a dream and I am thrilled with the outcome. They are soft and beautiful with plenty of life left in them.
In addition our new yarn tags came in this week. A picture of them is posted. Love!!!
And finally today on the farm we moved the ram lambs. They are down the road at the beautiful old original homestead that our street is named after. They are next to the new chickens that also came home to the farm this week. ISA (breed) chickens that are laying very large eggs like champions. The hens here at the house are mid-molting (shedding all their feathers and taking a break from laying to regenerate) so it is nice to still be getting some eggs from the new ladies. The plus side is that fresh from the chicken eggs are good for about 6 months, so we tend to backstock for the winter as best we can. Farm fresh eggs are the best!!!
I'll be putting yarn up on the website for sale this Saturday, but for you all, it will likely be up Friday night and Saturday morning before I announce the shop update, so get it while you can!
Thanks for reading!
We've returned from my brother's wedding in Virginia. It was a wonderful time being with family and what great weather we had! And I got some good knitting time in during our travels!
Prior to leaving, I finished up another batch of romney/alpaca/silk yarn in a very light gray. I sent some of it out to be dyed by Kristin of Blue Savannah and while I was away Kathy of Despondent Dyes (she has her dye studio in the back of the mill) dyed up some of it. I've included pics. This batch gave me more of a headache on the spinner. I think it new I had a deadline! I had a fair amount of cockling which basically is when the yarn is spun into what looks like slubs. In reality that part of the yarn can be pulled out by hand and it appears as normal yarn again, but by hand doesn't quite work in this situation. The romney wool was a pretty long staple length which meant I had a bit of a learning curve. So I ended up getting lots of learning in about how much control this fiber did or didn't want on the spinner. In addition I also had yarn fly off the side of the skeinwinder, get caught up on the conewinder, wind up in the pin-drafter, etc.... It was one of those weeks and while I kept telling myself "you are learning a lot of valuable lessons," what I was feeling was like, if I had superhuman strength I would have picked up each machine and thrown it out into the street. Lol!!! Instead I would stomp my feet, take a few deep breaths and realized it was definitely time for a vacation!
Given all of the week's frustrations I was more than ready to be back at the mill! I've been prepping the next batch of yarn which is a beautiful stark white merino grown out in Eastern Oregon. It's been carded, pin-drafted and is sitting on the spinner waiting to become yarn tomorrow. I'll get some pics of it up this weekend. Fingers crossed I have less of a headache!
All on the farm is well in the meantime. The ram lambs moved into their temporary pasture as they were starting to sniff out the alpaca ladies a little too much the last couple weeks. We will likely sterilize one of the boys, but have been waiting to see which one was going to have better horns, fiber and personality for the job. I think we've decided on our darker boy, but we'll give it a couple more weeks. He definitely is starting to look less like a lamb and more like a ram as his horns come in bigger and thicker and his nose is starting to block out a bit. Hopefully they will move into their permanent pasture next week. It's a very nice space although I will have a little separation anxiety as it is down the road about half a mile. Hahaha!
My posts should become more frequent again now that I am back on a schedule and focused on vending at Vogue Knitting Live in Seattle which is only 3 weeks away. Aaaahhh! If you are in the area, check out the website, there are some pretty impressive teachers and vendors alike. I hope I'm not too far out of my element. I'm not going to lie, I'm pretty intimidated by this event.
Thanks for reading and fiber happy!
I am Kim Biegler, the owner and operator of Ewethful Fiber Farm & Mill, along with my husband Mitch - my steadfast supporter, enabler, grass seed farmer, maintenance guy and all around love of my life! Visit the Mill's website for more about us and well, to shop for fiber of course! ewethfulfiberfarm.com