December 2, 2008

Introducing .... La Petite Margot!

Here are two pictures of my little black ewe lamb, Margot.
She has just turned 8 months old & measures 38 cm at the shoulders.

I think that she's as cute as a button!
Ever so sweet!
And who knows, she just might have a lamb this coming spring.
The ram has been chasing her about ....

December 1, 2008

Rainy Winter Accommodations!

Winter in Normandy is .... well ..... dark, rainy, cold, rainy, windy, ... and did I mention rainy? LOL! You get the picture. Rain, Mud, Cold, Dark. Time for me to sit by the fireplace spinning and knitting. But what about the flock!
I know that some people supply no shelter for their sheep, some bring them in for the winter, and some do a little bit of both.
I essentially have an "open door policy". The sheep have open access to a shelter and can graze at will : they basically come and go as they please! This seems to work quite well. Generally speaking they are out grazing or ruminating under an apple tree. When it "really" starts raining (as opposed to just sprinkling!) they will head off to their shelter. They do use their shelter quite a bit & it would seem that they are very happy that they do have access to some protection from the nasty weather.

But that still leaves the problem of feeding hay! With all the rain that we get in Normandy, feeding hay becomes really problematic : wet hay is wasted hay. Here's a picture of the hay feeder that I just built. It's sitting on bricks. The hay stays dry. The feeder was designed with ouessant sheep in mind : It's quite short (less than 1 metre) and close to the ground. Also the "Spinning Shepherd" (that's me!), who isn't too keen on getting vegetable matter in the fleece, designed the feeder so that the sheep can easily access the feeder & the hay without pulling it all down into their fleeces! So far, so good.

RhumRaisin & TitBijou in their coats
In front of the hay feeder with their shelter in the background.

Nothing like lots of nice clean, dry hay, a bit of green grass, and a small handful of sheep nuts everyday!

November 25, 2008

Update : Coated Fleece Experiment

As's an update on my coating experiment!
In the previous post you saw a picture of RhumRaisin in her dirty coat ....
Although the outside of the coat is quite soiled, under the coat, the fleece is in pristine condition!

Rhum Raisin : Coated Fleece -- 24 November 2008

And here's a picture of 'Tit Bijou's fleece :

'TitBijou : Coated Fleece -- 24 November 2008
note : this fleece is JET BLACK ... sorry the photo doesn't show how black it is!

These pictures really don't do justice to the beauty of the wool. It really is a handspinner's dream! They say that the wool grows faster and longer when coated. I always thought that this couldn't be true. But I'm wondering if it isn't the case! The wool of both fleeces measures over 12 cm long (ie. approx 5 inches!). And this is only November!

Fiber samples from coated fleece : 24 November 2008

So far I'm very pleased with the results! I'm so looking forward to spinning this fiber next summer! It really is beautiful. The sheep don't seem to mind the coats at all. The only downside has been that the smallest size coats available are still too big for my sheep ; so I have to alter each coat to fit the sheep. I wish I didn't have to do this, but so far I think that it is well worth the effort! Time will tell : shearing day will be the real test!

November 16, 2008

Mark your calandars!!!

Can you believe it!!
This is a picture of RhumRaisin in her little “white” coat!

What a mess! And only yesterday is was clean! Now look at it!
Seems to me like someone has been jumping up on her!
And I bet I know who that someone is!

He sure does look innocent, doesn’t he ? (note : photo taken in June!)

So I’ve marked my calendar : 16 April 2009.
Looks quite possible that this could be the due date for a lamb!
In the next few days I'll do an update with photos on the coating experiment.
Just to let you know ... I'm really looking forward to spinning some coated fleece next year!!

November 14, 2008

How green is your grass?

Recently someone mentioned that I was quite lucky to have such nice green grass. It is true that one of the advantages of living in Normandy is the abundance of grass. For example, it’s not unusual for me to have to mow the lawn in November ... and then again in February! Of course, the grass grows slower during the winter .... but it does continue to grow ... and it is green! With all this grass, it’s not at all surprising that Normandy is so well known for dairy production. Just think of cows as being very, very large sheep! Remember, they are both ruminants!

But even if Normandy is blessed with beautiful pasture land ... occasionally one does have to do some re-seeding. This is generally achieved with little effort : scattering handfuls of seed in the early spring or fall. That said, I have had one big problem with this method! Earlier this spring I tried to do some re-seeding .... unfortunately the birds ate the seed before it could germinate!

After a bit of research, I decided to germinate the seed before sowing.
I bought 3 KG of ray grass seed. Mixed it with 5 KG of potting soil. Put the mixture in a heavy weight black plastic bag. Added some water (not too much). Kept the bag in a warm place ... I left mine on the south-facing patio. Once a day I rolled the bag about. Within 5-6 days I had a bag full of sprouted seed. After raking some of the “bare spots” in the orchard, I scattered the germinated seed. And left nature to the rest!

This is what the germinated seed looks like :

Germinated Ray Grass Seed

I was quite pleased with this method. So far, I’ve gotten a really good stand of grass!
Here’s a small patch of grass ... approximately 2 weeks after scattering the germinated seed.

It might not look like much right now .... but by March - April .... it will supply my little ones with some beautiful, high-quality pasture!

October 21, 2008

Just because they're soooo cute!!!

Praline & Nougatine in the orchard!

Here they are ... for your viewing pleasure, just because they're soooo cute!

Praline & Nougatine, my little brown ewes, are currently awaiting their rendez-vous with a little brown ram in a few weeks! Everyone's excited about this, even me!!!

I just love watching these little girls in the orchard. Praline is just 39 cm tall ; Nougatine 43cm.

I'll be posting more soon ...

September 13, 2008

Magical Maze Mosaic Socks

Well, I ended up frogging the checked socks : the gage was a bit off, so I decided to bite the bullet and rip away! Oh well, better that than spending a lot of time on socks that won't fit. I will be going back to that project later .... but in the mean time I started a new pair of socks.
This pattern comes from Charlene Schurch's Sensational Knitted Socks (Martingale & Company, 2005). I love mosaic knitting patterns : it's a technique that creates 2 color knitting patterns using slipped stitches and only using 1 color at a time.
For this pair of socks I'm using 2 ply yarn (15 wpi) ; gage 7.5 stitches per inch. Natural black ouessant and white ouessant yarn space-dyed to create a multi-colored yarn. Also, note that I'm knitting 2 socks at one time on one circular needle. I love this technique. For more information check out Melissa Morgan-Oakes book, 2-at-a-time Socks (Storey Publishing, 2007).

Magical Maze Socks with Ouessant yarn!
So what do you think?
I'll post additional photos as I progress!

September 11, 2008

Finally finished ....

Whew!!! I can hardly believe it! I've finally finished the fencing at Lonlay.
I started this project in June ... and here it is September! You know how it goes, some projects just take a lot longer than you think!
I just moved my little breeding group over today. The grass was getting pretty thin and overgrazed at La Petite Lieudière .... but au Grand Pré there's grass and clover enough for everyone!

Au Grand Pré : Shoulder deep in a green pasture!

So now they are all "heads down", munching away!

Heads Down : Munching Away!!

As for Praline and Nougatine, my little brown ewes, they will be staying with me here at La Petite Lieudière, awaiting their rendez-vous with a lovely little brown ram later this fall. I have to admit that I'm ever so excited about the thought of having some brown lambs next spring!
In the mean time, I'll be working on dividing, reseeding, and cleaning up the pasture here!
Whew!!! Pasture management! Lot's to learn .... but I think that I'm making some progress!

August 3, 2008

Gingham Socks

I've been thinking about knitting socks for some time now and I finally found a pattern that inspired me to get out the knitting needles. Here they are : a whimsical pair of gingham checked socks designed by Lucy Neatby at Tradewind Knitwear Designs.

Photo courtesy of Lucy Neatby, Tradewind Knitwear Designs
Gingham Socks

There is just something that I really love about these socks. I also thought that they would look great knit up in black, brown and white ouessant yarn. I'm just getting started, but here's what I've come up with so far!

Ouessant Gingham Socks
Just getting started!

They look even better than they do in the photo ....
... so far, so good! I'll keep you updated.
Knit on!!

August 2, 2008

So just how do you measure handspun yarn!

I love spinning! But one of the problems with spinning is gage. How do you know if you're spinning too thick or too thin? You don't want to have to spin up 100 grams or more, then ply, then measure and weigh... And what do you do when you want to spin yarn for a particular project ... how do you spin for that project which calls for a commercially spun yarn?
I use two different "tools" : WPI and the McMorran Balance. WPI stands for "wraps per inch" and simply enough you see how many times you can wrap your yarn around a ruler in one inch. For example, many socks require a yarn from 15 to 18 wpi. So that's pretty easy... particularly if you are looking at a pattern that mentions wpi.
But for many handspinners, we really want to know how many meters (or yards) we will have in 100 grams (or one pound) of yarn. H. McMorran, a lecteur in textile testing in Scotland came up with a clever scale that tells you just that!
Measuring yarn with a McMorran Balance and WPI

I just love this scale. In the above samples that I'm spinning for socks I'm getting 15 wpi and 230 meters of 2 ply yarn in a 100 gram skein! Isn't that cool!! I just love fiber toys!

July 25, 2008

I can hardly believe it!!!

Yes! The vet just left. Everyone got their blue tongue shots. Hopefully it will be better organized next year.
I also had blood samples taken for scrappie genotyping on a few ewes & my beautiful little ram.
Outside of that I'm keeping busy with spinning and gardening. But my favorite moment of the day is the evening when I can sit on the patio and watch my little group munch about under the apple trees.

July 19, 2008

Great day for dyeing!

Beautiful out today, so decided to dye another batch of Harry’s wool. Dyed a pot full of gently variegated periwinkle blues, lavenders, and purples.

I just love these colors!! Don't know, but I'm thinking about a pair of socks!

July 18, 2008

Playing Favorites!

I know I shouldn’t, but I have to admit that I do have a few favorite sheep.
Take ‘Tit Bijou for example! I just love this little ewe.
Barely 40 cm at the shoulders. Square. Solid. And personality plus!

'Tit Bijou

Here she is at 10 months old and 33 cm! What an adorable little haystack!
Well, she may be cute, but the velcro thing that she’s got going on is NOT a spinner’s dream! And NO, I didn’t dump hay on her ...

'Tit Bijou in her new coat!

So here is the little princesses herself, in her own customized cover. Now, let’s take a look under that cover . . .

'TitBijou : Jet black coated fleece

Et voilà! There you have it! Gorgeous jet black fleece. What more need I say?

July 17, 2008

Rhum Raisin : Sheep in a Jacket!

Here’s a picture of Rhum Raisin in her coat. She’s an oddly colored white ouessant ewe with dark brown head & legs. She also has dark ticking on her back.

Rhum Raisin in coat!

Here’s a picture of RhumRaisin’s fleece as of today :

Rhum Raisin : three months growth.

She has been covered since the day she was shorn. Note that you can almost see the dark ticking in the white fleece. The fleece is pristine. Pure white. Conditioned. Just beautiful. Unfortunately the photo doesn’t do justice to the fleece itself! So far I’m loving the covers. Too bad that I have to alter the coats for them to fit ouessants. But do think that it’s worth it!

July 16, 2008

Knit One, Purl One

Spinning is coming along quite nicely. I’ve been dreaming up all sorts of knitting projects. I think that I will be starting with a pair of socks. Will need to think of the design. Perhaps ‘Simplicity’, one of the socks in Janel Laidman’s book, The Eclectic Sole. It’s a simple K2 P2 rib with a clever eyelet twist! I’m thinking that it would look quite nice in brown ouessant. I’ve also ordered a few sock patterns from Lucy Neatby at Tradewind Knitwear Designs.

As I was spinning and thinking about knitting, it occurred to me how things change over the years. My grandmother taught me how to knit when I was 8 years old. I remember as a teenager how I couldn’t find needles big enough or yarn thick enough! As I’ve gotten older I’ve grown fonder of smaller needles and finer yarn. I think that this is due to many things ... but perhaps more than anything else, it’s because speed is not the object anymore : I no longer try to finish a project as quickly as possible ; now I enjoy the process of knitting. I love every stitch. Smaller needles and finer yarn only means more stitches to enjoy! Also, at a gage of 7 to 8 stitches per inch, 500 grams of ouessant fleece can go a long way!

July 13, 2008

The Big Experiment!

Wool production is one of the reasons that I’m keeping ouessant sheep. Of course, there are other reasons too! But being able to produce a beautiful fleece is essential for me. Needless to say, you can imagine my disappointment this spring when I sheared Cappuccino, a yearling ewe.

From all appearances, she had a beautiful fleece : black wool with brown tips.

Cappuccino this spring with her ewe lamb, Expresso.

But when I sheared her, I found “layers” of vegetable matter deep inside her fleece. I’m not sure how this happened. I bought her in January, so I’m guessing that this was already there when I bought her. Certainly none of my other sheep had this amount of vegetable matter. Unfortunately, this fleece ended up in the compost bin.
Cappuccino : Layers of vegetable matter in fleece.

After such a sad experience, I decided to look at the possibilities of putting covers on my sheep in order to produce premium quality fleeces to spin. I did a fair amount of research and discovered that a lot of people cover their sheep. Studies of large commercial flock have been made which demonstrate the value of covering sheep : everything from increased wool quantity and quality to surprising health benefits, including significant reduction of fly-strike. I also learned that not all sheep covers are created equal. It is important to use a nylon cover that is waterproof, tear-proof, and breathable. Cotton canvas covers are to be avoided as they cause all sorts of problems. Additionally, the covers must fit correctly.
After speaking with a number of breeders in the States who cover their sheep, I decided that I wanted to try covering my ouessant sheep. The majority of breeders agreed that Matilda Sheep Covers were the very best covers available. So I ordered some of their smallest covers for my flock. Unfortunately, even the smallest covers are too big for ouessant sheep. So I’ve had to alter the covers a bit. Here’s a picture taken earlier this year. Three sheep in covers and one lamb without a cover.
Cappuccino, Rhum Raisin and 'TitBijou in their Mitilda Sheep Covers!

There are a couple of things to note in this photo. First, you can see how I’ve used elasticators to cinch in the coats. I’ve now resorted to sewing a seam to shorten the coats. This photo was taken right after I sheared and coated Cappuccino. Note how much cleaner and whiter her coat is than the other coats!! This shows you just how dirty the fleeces can get. And we’re not even talking about vegetable matter either!
Cappuccino : A peek at the clean black fleece under the cover!

This picture was taken just a few days ago.
Beautiful jet black, pristine, and no vegetable matter!
The first few weeks the sheep were covered, I would keep looking under the covers to make sure that everything was going as it should. When it rained, they stayed dry. The fleece was beautifully “conditioned” : not only do the tips not bleach, they don’t dry out and wear. The fleece is “moisturized” and “conditioned” by the lanolin. I am so looking forward to spinning these fleeces next year!
Additionally, the sheep don’t seem to mind the covers at all.
So this is the ongoing experiment. So far, so good! I’m very encouraged with what I’m seeing. Of course, it does require a bit of extra work .... but I think the end results (beautiful, pristine fleeces!) will be more than worth the effort!
***more updates and photos to come***

July 12, 2008

Introducing . . . .

. . . . my two new girls : Praline and Nougatine!

Praline & Nougatine : Oh dear!! Aren't we hungry!

Both of these little brown (noisette) ewes are 16 months old & were shorn in May so the fleeces are still quite short.

Praline & Nougatine : Side by side ... and still eating!

Praline, the smaller of the two, is 40 cm at the shoulders. She has a wonderful light taupe/brown fleece that sparkles with silver. We're thinking that she might just carry modified colors which lightens the "normal" color of a fleece. Here's a close-up of her fleece. Note that even though she was recently shorn her fleece is already quite sun-bleached.

Praline's Fleece : Hard to tell from photo but it really does sparkle with silver!

Nougatine is a bit bigger than Praline, measuring in at 43 cm at the shoulders. Her fleece is a darker, "flater" color. Here's a close-up of her fleece.

Nougatine's fleece : "flat" medium/dark brown

These photos really don't show the difference in their fleeces very well, but they are notably different : even my husband could see it!
I just love them!!
They are so beautiful to watch!
And I can't wait to spin these fleeces next year!

July 10, 2008

Modified Colors in Ouessant Sheep!

Our local spinning group met today. So I thought that I’d work on some of Harry’s fleece at the meeting. Harry and Tammy are 2 ouessant sheep owned by Susan and Michael. I sheared them earlier this year and in return had the opportunity of keeping the fleeces.

Harry & Tammy. Photo courtesy of Susan & Michael

I skirted and sorted Harry’s fleece and then decided to wash it. I keep aside a fair amount of clean white fleece .... and the rest went into the dye pot!!
Here’s a glimpse of what I’ve come up with so far!

Harry's Make-Over!
White washed fleece unspun.
Yellow & orange yarn on bobbins.
Ball of pink yarn.

Now how's that for modified colors in ouessant sheep!!

This spins up wonderfully! It’s quite long ... almost 15 cm!
And I get a lovely long draw.
Two color knitting, here we come!!

Spinning day was quite wonderful, even if my friend Maylin played the role of enabler today : tempting me, a fiber junkie, with beautiful alpaca fleece. Of course I had to get some : 1.5 kg of gorgeous white alpaca and 2 kg of brown. I’m so excited!
Yet more fiber to spin!! This is just what I need!

July 9, 2008

Just can't help myself!

Okay .... after doing a skein of Ciska’s wool, I decided to spin some of Squeek’s fleece. This is from a yearling ewe : black with brown tips. Length approximately 8 cm.

Squeek : Staple length approx. 8 cm

Again, I spun this in the grease, to gage. The result was a tweedy black with bits of brown. After having spun a skein I decided to be a bit daring! I kept thinking that I would love to have a skein of “pure black” wool. So the next bobbin full of yarn was spun in like fashion, but I snipped off the brown ends with a pair of scissors before spinning! And the result was quite lovely. Actually, it’s every interesting to put the three balls of yarn together.

Three Balls of Yarn! From left to right : Ciska (brown),
Squeek (black with brown tips), Squeek (black no brown tips).

What can I say? I think they are all quite lovely! ...hum... am I seeing a pair of socks or possibly a jumper .... must keep spinning though ... the knitting will be for later!

July 8, 2008

Where do I begin? ... with the spinning, of course!

I have a number of ouessant fleeces : some are from my flock, a few have come from the flocks of other ouessant breeders. I was lucky enough to receive Ciska’s fleece. Ciska is a one year old brown (noisette) ouessant ewe. This is just a beautiful fleece. It’s a medium brown with light sun-bleached tips and overall length is approximately 12 cm.

Ciska : Staple length approx. 12 cm

Generally speaking I try to spin to gage so that all my yarns can be mixed and matched. I prefer spinning a fine yarn which knits up at 8 stitches per inch on 2mm needles. Looking at the quality of Ciska’s fleece, I decided to try spinning in the grease. Just perfect! All I had to do was gently pull apart the fleece and spin! What could be easier! The color is just beautiful. The sun-bleached tips add a subtle brown “tweed” effect. Just lovely!

Ciska : Raw fleece and spun yarn

It will take me some time to finish spinning her fleece ... but in the meantime I will be making plans for all those skeins of beautiful brown yarn.

July 7, 2008

‘Tis the season!

Ahhhh! July is here!
Time for a little vacation!
For me July represents the end of the season!
Lambs have been born.
Sheep have been shorn.
Fences have been mended.
And now it’s time to sit down and relax on the terrace with a cool drink while I watch my little flock graze happily under the apple trees. It’s also a time of reflection, a time to take stock of the past year. But it’s not just the end of one year ... it’s the beginning of a new year. The shepherd in me is already thinking about next year’s lambs! The spinner in me is just now starting to look at my woolly harvest : oiling up the spinning wheel and dreaming up knitting projects for the months to come. I’m really excited about the possibilities! I’m thinking about socks and sweaters in lovely natural colors and brightly dyed wool. Can’t wait to get started!

Thank you for visiting the Spinning Shepherd!