One of the most difficult things for me to face each year is winter. Days grow shorter, nights colder, hillsides browner, and skies bleaker. And yet, I love autumn! I am amazed with the changing colors of my world- the leaves, grasses, sky and sunsets. I love to hear the brisk breezes rustle through piles of crisp leaves and watch as it swirls them into the air. I love to breathe in the air of the clear, cold nights and believe that the stars are closer and even brighter than they are all summer. I love to smell hot soups simmering on the stove and hay stacked in the barn. I look forward to apple picking, pear picking, and finally… grass mowing becoming non-existent.
Throughout the fall months, the animals’ coats become thicker and their colors more vibrant as the sun’s intensity dwindles and the color is no longer bleached. I usually chide myself that I haven’t shorn the sheep that final sheering in late summer when I see them seeking a shady spot rather than joining the llamas and horses basking in the fall sun.
How cruel and quickly winter can come upon us though. Sneaking in as autumn attemps to hold onto the last of the warm days and nights. It is during this time, when cold precipitation comes in the form of icy rain and temperatures hover in the low 40s, that I am the most nervous about the impending winter.
So much preparation needs to be set into place in order to face winter and all that it brings. We don’t routinely blanket the horses, but it is imperative that the blankets are clean, repaired, and easy to find in a pinch. That usually means in the dark on a blustery and frigid night with only a headlamp shining. Heaters for the water troughs need to be handy and in good working order. Hay needs to be stacked in the barn efficiently to make use of the limited space. Run-ins need to be prepped and altered for the winter winds versus the summer sun. So much to do and with each passing day there is even less daylight in which to do it!
Now, add a Wool Mill to the equation and life is suddenly extremely insane, and yet, I have never been more at ease. I have begun to enjoy life as a journey rather than hope to be satisfied with the destination. Each day brings the challenge of trying something new and doing the best you can with the resources and limitations that present themselves. I tease the sheep that even though I could’ve used more wool for increased inventory at the mill, I’d never take it from them (that late summer shearing) just when they are needing it most.
One thing I have learned though.. is that, just as winter comes sneaking in the backdoor, Spring will be peaking through the window in no time at all. “To every thing, there is a season…”
Fifteen years ago, I thought a sheep was a sheep. They all had open, black faces and white, spongy wool, apart from that “black sheep of the family” that so often figures into metaphors and allegories.
Around that time, my family and I moved to Kentucky, and, during our first Christmas here, we found ourselves chauffeuring animals to and from the local church’s nativity scene. From these first interactions with sheep, I loved the animals, and I spent several years researching them before deciding to welcome a small flock to our farm.
Our flock of five sheep includes a Tunis, a Shetland, a Shetland/Icelandic cross, and twin Tunis/Icelandic crosses. When sheering them each spring, I’m struck by the diversity of their fleeces – some have two-layered coats, some have wool with lots of crimp, some leave us covered in lanolin while others seem to have none at all – but the diversity of our flock pales in comparison to the wide array of fleeces that we’ve been processing at HeartFelt.
In the past week alone, we’ve been working on fine wool, coarse wool, and fiber from hair sheep, let alone several alpaca fleeces.
In our collective culture, we hear about the value of Merino wool or “baby alpaca” fiber, but the truth is that each wool and fiber has something distinctive to offer fiber artists. Coarse wools like Lincoln might look scratchy and unruly, but their strength is commendable. Fine wools, such as Romney and Merino, might lack strength and crimp, but their softness doesn’t go unnoticed. Short, spongy staples, like those from a baby doll sheep whose wool we’ve been processing, might be difficult to card, but they felt beautifully.
In short, the next time you see a label that just reads “100% wool,” it might be interesting to consider what sort(s) of sheep once wore that wool.
What a week! It seemed as though we had just gotten back from a very busy weekend at Falmouth’s Wool Fest when it was time to start getting the shop put back together and ready for Cynthiana’s First Annual ARToberFest. And, in the meantime, there was lots to be done: raw fleeces to receive and begin processing, emptied shelves to replenish, and a busy fall to plan.
Before this past weekend, the last festival we’d attended was the Sheep and Fiber Festival in Lexington, Kentucky. At that time, we were taking processing orders, but our mill wasn’t open yet. It was so enjoyable to attend the Wool Fest as a full-fledged mini-mill and fiber studio. We had a wonderful time talking to fiber artists and enthusiasts from all over the region.
As much as we enjoyed the Wool Fest, our favorite part of the week was definitely the ARToberFest. There’s something so special about being part of a festival in your hometown, where you can spend the night visiting with long-time friends. Several people who visited our shop in celebration last night hadn’t been through the doors since Opening Day, and they couldn’t believe how much we’d grown in the last few months. (To be honest, sometimes we can’t believe it either!) Everyone involved in the planning and executing of the ARToberFest did a wonderful job; thank you for all your hard work!
In other news, our fall class line-up is now online. If you’re interested in learning more about the world of fiber art, please be sure to check it out.
And, for a more thorough look at what’s going on at HeartFelt, please check out our October Newsletter.