Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I admit. I have a problem.

I do, and I need somebody to save me from myself.  It lurks in the back of my mind, always sneaking up on me at my weakest moments.  So, deep breath, here goes......I have too many works in progress, and I can't stop myself from starting new ones.  There.  I said it out loud.  Actually, I typed it, but it still counts.  I have excuses out the wazoo for why I don't want to quit my bad habit:  "I could make that pattern, it doesn't look hard."  "I can enter it in the county fair."  "Idle hands are the devil's playground."  "I may have a lot of knitting going at once, but that means I will finish a lot at once, too!"  "What if the world comes to an end and there are no more yarn stores, and it gets really cold? I will have a head start because I have lots of warm, hand knitted things that are close to being finished!"  Ummm, I plan to be raptured out if the world comes to an end, but it is still a good excuse.  Here is how bad it is (and these are only the ones I am willing to share!)

The blue wool sweater is sitting in the time out zone in the craft room.  It is knit top down, all in one piece, which is my favorite style to knit.  Before I started, I read a couple of reviews of the pattern which said the sleeves were too tight, so add ten stitches under the arm in the body.  Now I have everything done except the sleeves.  I am halfway down the first sleeve, and it is hugemongo and needs to be ripped back because an elephant could walk through it.  I'm mad at it.   If I got busy, I could probably finish it by winter.  (That's what I said last summer, too.)

Then we come to the lavender silk summer sweater.  I got this yarn from a couple of people who were destashing on Ravelry.  The yarn is super soft, drapey and gorgeous.  The pattern is a sleeveless cowl neck sweater, perfect for summer.  And I have my fun alpaca polymer clay stitch markers from Yarn Demon Designs on each side - they make me smile every time I come to one of them.   It is a bottom up pattern, and now that I have divided the front from the back for the sleeves, I am having to knit and purl back and forth instead of knitting in the round.  Purl.  harumfff.  I hate to purl.  So I try and make myself do a few rows a day.  I really want to wear this by the end of summer.  It doesn't look like much in the picture, but trust me, it will be beautiful!

Then, I am ashamed to admit, but I actually had to search for this one.  That is really sad, because it is probably the most time consuming thing I have ever made.  It is an Elizabeth Zimmermann Adult Surpise Jacket.  It is suppose to be a knit-a-long with the FIX group on Ravelry.  Many have already finished theirs.  All of the yarn for it, well over 1000 yards, was handspun by me.  It is all garter stitch, so no purling.  Piece of cake - I can knit at lightning speed.  I planned to finish it to hang in my booth when I go to fiber shows.  I have one coming up in a month.  Don't think I will get done.  When I decided to post this on the blog, I couldn't find the project bag this sweater was stored in.  Well, after all, I did gut and clean up the wool room about a month ago, so I had "put it up" where I could find it again.  No excuses on this one.  I suppose I just lost interest.

But this:

is calling my name.  Begging to be played with.  The color...oh so rich purple!  And it is alpaca.  And I have had the pattern picked out for over two months.  And it is top down and knitted in one piece. And I am sure I could finish it by winter.  And it is too hot to play outside. 

Sooooo......maybe if I just swatch it:

And, isn't the world supposed to end in December?  I might need it!


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Whatcha Doin?

"You are a stay at home mom, huh?  What do you do all day?  Don't you get bored?  It would drive me crazy to spend every day at home!"

Ugh.  I hate hearing those statements. 

Bored?  Seriously?  All you have to do is take one look at my craft room to realize I have enough projects ahead of me to keep me busy until I go home to Jesus!  Want to know what is catching my fancy right now?  Well, here you go!

First of all, I could play with fiber all day long.  This is a gorgeous Wensleydale fleece that Mama bought me two years ago at the Arkansas Fiber Arts Extravaganza

It came from Kate at Lowder Farms.  She ALWAYS has the best fleeces.  I have to stand back when I look at them so I don't get drool on her wool.  I have over 6 pounds of this gorgeous stuff. 

 First I soaked it overnight in cold water.  Then it was washed in detergent and very hot water.  Once dry, I flicked out those curls - which is almost a shame - and combed it.  Then I pulled it into rovings to spin.
I can't wait to see the finished yarn!  I will post a picture when it is done!

My other current project is a Legare 400 Circular Sock Machine.  Hubby and I bought this before Christmas, you should have seen it - I wish I had taken pictures.  It cost a pretty penny, actually several pretty pennies, and when I opened the box, I had that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.  The kind where you feel like you are going to throw up when you realized what you have done.  It was a nasty mess.  I just knew I would never be able to use it, and wouldn't be able to sell it and get my money back.  I had messed up real bad, or so I thought.  But after becoming intimately acquainted with every crack and crevice of it, and removing more grease and grime than ought to be located in one place,  I was rewarded with this:

If you had told me all that paint and shine was under all that mess, I would have never believed you.  I really love this machine.  It cranks so softly, and now that I have everything adjusted, I am attempting to make socks.  Yesterday I spent all afternoon cranking and putting on the ribber, and following the vidoes by icandyarn on youtube.  Here is what I accomplished:

Turns out, you really do need heel forks to make a heel.  Who would have guessed?  : )  I got this far (about 4 days of knitting by hand - all in one afternoon!  Wheeeeee!!!!), and got half of the heel done, and was redneck rigging up some heel weights.  They just didn't get the job done, and I wound up with a snarled mess.  But that is okay!  I never expected to make a functional sock the first time!

I want to share more fun stuff, so stay tuned!


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Welcome! All About Me!

Welcome to my new blog.  Some of you may have been following my other blog, Sarah Kate Fibers.  However, I have recently changed my shop name to match my farm name.  Since there isn't a way to change a blog address (at least, in my limited knowledge!) I decided to start a new blog.

Here you can read about all of the goings-ons from the farm, my life, and my overflowing craft room.  I hope to be more faithful about posting.  I want readers to know my animals and about what mischief I am into. 

First of all, a little (really, a lot of) background information.  My name is Lori, and I am a crafter.  Sounds like a 12 step program doesn't it?  Well, I have no intentions of ever giving up my love of all things handmade!  I have been crafting since I was 6 years old when I sat on the couch beside my mother and cross stitched an red cardinal, which still hangs in her house to this day.  Besides cross stitch, I learned to crochet, sew, quilt, needlepoint, work with beads, and spin.  Not spin like hold your arms out and twirl till you throw up, but spin as in using a spinning wheel and turning wool into yarn.  More on that later.

I am married to the love of my life and we have three wonderful children.  I was able to stay home with them when they were babies, but had to go to work when our youngest was just 14 months old.  The job came in the nick of time.  We had lived on my husband's city police salary all of our early married life, but with three children, the credit bills were creeping steadily upwards every month.  We were very blessed, in that I was offered a job teaching at the local junior high school where we had both attended years before.  Many of my co-workers had been our teachers, or folks I had gone to school with.  It was a wonderful environment, and it was well known that family came first in our school district.  But, during my third year of teaching, I began to feel like I wasn't where I was supposed to be.  It was a niggling little voice in the back of my mind that just wouldn't go away.  By the end of the fourth year, I was miserable.  Not that the people or the students, or even the job made me miserable, but I just knew, without a doubt, that teaching was just not what the Lord had for my life.  For the next few years, we would end school every May, and my husband and I would go to figuring budgets out on paper to see if it would be possible for me to quit work and stay home.  The budgets would come up totally short, no matter how many things we gave up.  It became a running joke that I could either stay home or we could eat, but we would have to choose!  We began praying. We asked our Sunday School class for prayer.  Year after year, we would pray.  Every May I hoped against hope that I wouldn't have to walk those halls again in August.  Every year, I had to return.  Our budget just wouldn't function without my paycheck.

By my seventh year of teaching, I had lost my passion for crafting.  I was depressed, having constant migraine headaches, had developed severe TMJ disorder, and was struggling to motivate myself to get out of bed, much less go to work.  I continued to press on, but my attitude and health was taking a toll not just on me, but on my family.  I would rarely take medicine for my headaches, because it left me drained, sluggish, and I didn't want to become addicted to anything.  Lots of times I would go to bed with a headache, and it would still be there in the morning, and many times, still the next morning.  I couldn't miss work every time I had a migraine, so I would put on a "show" all day and my body and my attitude would collapse at night.   My sewing machine never got used, I didn't even know or care where a crochet hook was, and I sat and watched TV at night with an ice pack on my aching head, and nothing to keep my hands busy, which was unheard of.  All my life, I had never been able to sit still if my hands weren't busy - I was well known for all of the fun stuff I created.  Then I became severely anemic due to female problems.  Many times I would quietly cry on the drive home from work at the thought of still having the kids' homework to help with, supper to cook, laundry to fold, etc.   Every morning, I talked myself out of calling in sick.  I'm not kidding.  Most mornings, I won.  A few, I didn't.  Something had to give.  I hate, no, I loathe, going to the doctor, but I had to get better.  After tests, the cause of the anemia was found and I wound up several months later having some female surgery, and slowly started mending.  The four weeks I was off from school after the surgery helped to bring a lot of energy back, and I was able to get through the rest of the school year, just staying a little on the tired side. 

My mother took up spinning early the next school year, something which she had always wanted to do.  "What a nut" I thought to myself, and may have even said it aloud.  Looking back, I am ashamed to say I made fun of her and wondered to my husband if she would get sheep next.  At Christmas, she purchased a different spinning wheel for herself and gave me her first one.  On the way home from her house, I commented "What am I going to do with this?  Dust it?"  (Let's be clear, I don't dust, so this was said in total sarcasm!)  So it sat.  I would look at it occasionally and wonder if I could spin.  Mom gave me pretty colors of wool, which I shoved in the room that used to be a craft room, but had become a storage/junk/catch-all room.  I would stump my foot on it occasionally, and grump again about this thing I had to hang onto because I would feel guilty about getting rid of it. 

Spring Break arrived, and I decided I was going to learn how to spin wool into yarn.  Now, I am the type of person who wants to sit down and do something perfect the first time.  And if I can't?  Then I guess it just isn't worth my time to mess with it.  Rotten attitude, I know.  I messed and messed with the wool, made the awful-est mess you have ever seen.  I hauled the thing out to mom's house and had her show me again.  It made me mad that she could make pretty yarn and I couldn't.  So back home, it sat, collecting dust again.  It wasn't worth the effort.  Well, I couldn't leave it alone.  It sat there, quietly challenging me, taunting me.  When summer break arrived, I was GOING to learn how to spin - it was a mountain that had to be conquered!  For a solid week I grumped and groused, and fussed and fumed, and finally turned out some half-way decent yarn.  I had done it!  I showed my best friend, and I could see in her eyes that she was humoring me when she said "wow - that's cool."  Well, what did I expect?  I had treated mom the same way.

I bought a couple of raw sheep fleeces off of the internet that summer.  I bought some already processed fiber and some dye.  I made messes left and right, and had the time of my life!  Hubby realized real quick that he could feed sheep as cheap as I could buy wool to play with, so he went on the hunt for some affordable sheep to add to our small cattle farm.  By Christmas he had located 3 ewes about 6 hours away.  Off we went, and came home in a snow storm from Barakel Farm in Alton, Missouri with Naomi, Esther and Bernice in a cage in the back of our tarp-lined suburban.  To this day, they are still my favorite girls in the pasture.

Through the next year, my eighth year of teaching, we added a few more sheep. Some were rescues, some we found on Craigslist, some we just heard about.  We were up to about a dozen.  I was still teaching, but spinning all the time.  My mom and I eventually opened an Etsy shop, Sarah Kate Fibers (for our middle names) and I began selling a little bit here and there.  Sheep are like cookies, you can't stop at just one.  Before we knew it, we had twenty-something sheep!  We travelled to a couple of fiber shows - yes, there really is such a thing! - and saw that I had been blessed with a talent by God to play with wool.  My passion had been restored.

In August, I started teaching my ninth  year.  I came home at the end of my first week of school and told my husband that I didn't know how, and it didn't make sense, but I clearly knew I wasn't going to be teaching next year.  For the first time ever, I could not picture the students in the younger grade sitting in my classroom the next year.   By now, my husband no longer worked for the police force, but was also working for the school district as a supervisor over one of the departments.  He commented that if it was the Lord's will, it would happen.  Both of us knew the chances were slim to none that I wouldn't return for my tenth year.  It was a crazy thing to say, and I know he thought the same thing.  I didn't say much about it again, but continued to occasionally try and figure a budget on paper.  If I quit work, we would be slicing our household income in half.  Literally.  Scary stuff to even contemplate, especially when you have three kiddos and a farm full of animals to take care of.  As May approached, it was clear that, on paper, I was going to have to sign my teaching contract for the next year.  It just wasn't possible for me to quit.  Every year, on the last day of school, we pick up our May paycheck and sign our contract for the next year.  That morning, when I woke and knew I wasn't suppose to sign my contract.  I didn't tell my husband.  All day long, I thought about it.  I waffled between "You are going to look silly if you don't sign it and have to turn it in later." and "What could it hurt?  You will still have time to turn it in."   After school I stood in line with my co-workers, making small talk, all the while, still debating in my head what to do.  When it was my turn, I handed my list of room repairs, my textbook lists, and all the stuff every teacher has to hand in at the end of the year.  Our dear, sweet bookeeper handed me my check and my contract.  With shaking hands and a quivering voice I asked if it had to be signed right away.  She looked at me with a puzzeled expression and said, "No,.....but I need it in the next couple of weeks."  I left her office, shaking and wondering what I had just done.  Now I was really going to look stupid when I walked back in in a few days and handed it to her, signed.

In two weeks time, some miraculous things happened!  Our mortgage company called us out of the blue and asked if they could lower our interest rate, with no extra payments.  What????  Who does that????  Too good to be true, right?  Right?  Umm....no.  Turned out it was true!  No hidden agenda, no strings attached!  Several hundred dollars immediately became slashed from our monthly expenses.  We had a vehicle pay off unexpectedly.  Very unexpectedly.  Another few hundred dollars.  We turned off the cable and my cell phone.  Another large amount became available.  We just stood around with our mouths hanging open.  By the end of June, I waltzed in and explained to our principal that I wasn't coming back in the fall.  No shaking, no nervousnes.  Big ole' silly grin plastered on my face.  I learned to drive a big yellow school bus and applied for a bus route for the following year.  I was blessed to get a job, and continue to keep a little steady income coming in the house, with the ability to spend most all of the day at home.

That was two years ago.  And we haven't looked back!

Our sheep are growing gorgeous fleeces every year, and I have been blessed to have many repeat customers.  My craft room is now overflowing with wool and the toys used to play with it.  We have many healthy lambs each year, and many have gone to wonderful homes.  We have one of the larger herds of fiber sheep in Arkansas, and are slowly making a name for ourselves.  We sell fleece and lambs through our website, Diamond B Sheep Farm, and at fibers shows within travelling distance of our farm.  We also offer fiber through our Etsy shop.  Recently, a new shop, Yarnology and More, has opened in the close by historical town of Van Buren. Nearly every skein of my handspun yarn(which, by the way, looks like real yarn now, not a mess of tangled wool anymore!) goes to Pamela's shop, as well as some of my dyed fiber. 

Last year I was blessed, yet again, to find a wonderful group of ladies, and one gentleman, who make up the Fiber Indie eXperience Co-op. This is a group of independent fiber artists on Ravelry who have banded together to promote each other's businesses.  We give away prizes every month to lucky customers, along with other contests.  My business has grown by leaps and bounds since I have become a part of this group. 

 It continually amazes us what the Lord has done. Our income was more than cut in two when you factor in insurance. Our grocery budget for a family of five is now less than $500 a month. We still are able to find the money to feed over 100 animals a month, to send the kids to church camp, to occasionally eat out, and no one is wearing shoes with holes - unless by choice - or going hungry, but to hear my teenage son to tell it, he never gets full, so, according to him, that statement isn't true! No one does without what they need.    We are almost totally debt free.  We now have close to sixty sheep, a few beef cattle, three donkesy, and several goats, including three little girls who will grow up to be milk goats. We milk our own cow, raise our own eggs, grow our own beef, and have way too many dogs. We don't live in the dark ages. Obviously, we still have some luxuries - we watch a little TV using an old fashioned antenna, we love the internet, we have a very small pay-as-you-go cell phone that gets shared. Our lives are very rich in ways beyond our checkbook. 

Now that you know my story, I hope you will continue to stay tuned.  In the future, I hope to share pictures and stories of the animals and the farm.  The good and the bad, because farm life isn't always easy.  I also want to share what I am spinning, and all about fibers and tools I play with.   I might even have a contest or two going on here.  Maybe a little of ordinary life will creep in, too. 

And, yes, just in case you are wondering, I have apologized to my mother for making fun of her behind her back.  Many times.  Who's the crazy sheep lady now?