Cabbages and Kings, Eggplants and Irises

In the previous post I showed how I dyed fiber this summer on the fire pit.  I have done that a couple of times now.  I have also dyed fiber inside, in a crock pot, in a roaster/cooker and on the stove top, one pot at a time.  So all of this dyeing has resulted in lots of colors that just beg for combining and blending. 

The fiber that I am using most right now is alpaca.  There is a farm about 1/4 mile from my house that raises alpacas.  They have between 20 and 30 animals.  They shear them every year (spring) and sell the fiber.  I happened to ask about the fiber when they had a large back stock and were selling last year’s fiber at a deep discount.  So I have probably purchased too much for me to work up quickly, but it was such a good deal that I could not pass this up. 

I am trying to focus on buying locally grown produce, milk and eggs whenever I can, and to be able to include spinning fiber in this locavore movement is just another way to conserve fuel and to send my money right back into my own community.  Actually, my own neighborhood.  If I had a neighbor that was raising sheep or llamas, then I suppose that would be what I was spinning and dyeing.  It is just so nice that my neighbors are a herd of alpacas.

I really like it that I know the people who are raising these animals.  All of my money spent goes to directly to the people creating the product.  There is no money spent on transportation from lets say Peru (Peru to Maine = a lot of fuel).  There is no money being paid to a warehouse to store this product.  There is no money being paid to advertise or label this product.  So, I got a great deal on fiber (my entertainment for the winter) and my neighbors got  some cash to do whatever with–buy grain or pay a vet or fuel for their tractor that harvests hay.  That just feels good.

I have been carding some of the dyed fiber into batts.  These batts can be spun or felted.  The combining of colors and fibers at the drum carder is a ton of fun.  I have started to spin some of these batts, and as I am finishing with them, I will post photos of the yarn.



Blueberries and Cream





These photos of the Eggplant just don’t do it justice.  This was the best combination of a deep dark eggplant-y purple and an olive green.  This was my favorite of the bunch.

Cabbages and Kings




These are two views of the same batt–Irises.  Inside and outside.  This one was a lot of fun to do.  The blues were all so different with a little bit of brown and purple and just the slightest hint of orange and yellow.

These batts are so much fun to make.  And to spin.  But the making is a lot of fun.  This is why I like to dye lots and lots of batches of colors, then work on the drum carder.  When you have all of the colors spread out, it’s like painting.  A bit of this, some of that, a lot of that….just fun to do. 

I tried selling some of this at the farmer’s market in Farmington this summer.  I will talk about that in a later post. 

So after Christmas is over, I will have a whole winter’s worth of spinning from the dyeing I did this Summer.  I’m not spinning right now, as the month before Christmas is NOT the time for spinning.  This is the time for baking and knitting and making.  Not leisurely spinning!










Kettle Dyeing Fiber

It’s snowing now.  Our first real snow of the year.  We have had a couple of dustings, but they don’t really count as they weren’t really trying to be snow.  This is real snow.  It’s been snowing since sometime after 3 am (that was the last time I looked). It is now 10:30 am and we have 2.5 inches already.  And it’s snowing those teeny tiny little flakes that indicate that it has no intention of wearing itself out right away with big showy flakes.  No, these flakes are in it for the duration today.

I thought this would be a good time to post some pictures from this summer.  We had a couple of what we were calling “Fiber Dyeing Sundays”.  This invloved a fire in the fire pit (an old cast iron tub that was in the middle of the lawn when I bought this house), dragging all of the fiber and pots and dyes outside. 

I was about to write about how much fun I had doing this, because that is the way that I remember it.  But if I gush about how much fun it was, I’m pretty sure that Fire Master Ug would leave a comment below reminding me that it was not all fun and games and pictures.  So, with regards to truth in reporting, it was kind of fun after I stopped grumping about the persistent light mist rain that was falling, which only started about 5 minutes after I dragged everything outside.  From the perspective of having a fire, it was perfect weather–damp and not windy, but from the perspective of trying to have fun and do this artsy project outside in the summer sunshine, not so much. 

I also had to keep reminding Fire Master Ug that we only needed enough fire to simmer water in the pots, not a fire that could be considered a fire pit fire. 

Some of the fiber waiting to be dyed. This has been washed and dried with the vegetable matter picked out.

It is good to have a friend nearby to take notes while you are dyeing.

Firepit and kettles ready to go.  Garden hose in background for safety’s sake.


Yarn and fiber in the dye pot.

Some of the fiber dyed that day.

You can see that it started out a nice sunny day.  Around about Teddy in his assistant’s chair it was still sunny.  After that, it quickly changed.  But I do think this was a good way to do a lot of dyeing in just a few hours.  With three kettles going, it would be  a big mess in the kitchen. 

In a later post I will show what I have done with some of these fibers.

The Homemakers Extension Group

I belong to a group called the Homemakers Extension.  This group is affiliated with the Cooperative Extension at the University of Maine.  Throughout Maine there are several Extension groups.  Every few towns support one.  I don’t know if other states have Extension, but I would imagine they do. 

Extension is an old group, started at least 60 years ago, if not longer.  This is group is called the “Homemakers Extension”, because this was the original intent of the group.  Teaching women how to be homemakers.  It started as the counterpart to the men’s Extension group.  The men were learning different farming methods and practices, while the women were learning about things like preserving food, sewing, home care, etc. 

I would like to spend some time talking with some of the long time members to find out how Extension has changed over the years, and to get some history of the group itself, as well as our own group.

Our group meets the third Thursday of every month, with some exceptions for holidays.  Each month we have a different topic for the group activity.  At the September meeting every year we decide the agenda for the year’s meetings.  Each meeting is different.  Sometimes we are doing something for the community, sometimes we are learning something from one of the members of the group.  So far this year we made Easter cards for veterans, we learned about container gardening, and I gave a demonstration about spinning yarn.  We made small pillows for cancer patients which were donated to the Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington.  Last month we made decorations for a Christmas tree that is raffled off as a fund-raiser by the Rotary Group in Farmington.  Each month a different member is responsible for organizing the activity. 

This month’s meeting was to be about nature crafts.  I was “volunteered” to organize this one.  The options for gathering materials to make nature crafts start to dwindle here in Maine in November.  With the holidays coming, I thought something of a table centerpiece or arrangement could easily be done with boughs and berries.  Throughout the summer I have been collecting Christmas mugs.  These are easily found at the thrift store in the summer and fall–often for free.  No one wants them then!  They have to give them away to get rid of them when it’s not December.  So I had several of these to use up.  Last Sunday we went “tipping”, which means cutting tips off evergreen trees.  You only take a few from each tree, so the tree is not harmed.  We have several varieties of fir trees here–balsam, cedar, spruce.  We also have lots of red berries that grow alongside the road in the wet boggy ditches.  All of the necessary items were found on just one stretch of road.

Boughs and berries


Mugs with floral foam cut to sizeFinished arrangements

 This was a fun project to do.  It was fairly easy to assemble, and each person got to bring something home.  The entire project cost $8 for 8 people.  The mugs were free, the candles were 50 cents each and the floral foam was $2 per block.  We only used about 1 1/4 block for 8 mugs.  The boughs were fun to collect too.  As long as the water is checked periodically, these arrangements should last until Christmas.  Given the low cost, these would make great gifts for friends and neighbors around the holidays.  The floral foam is most easily found at a florist.  Sounds obvious, but since we don’t have big box craft stores up here in the sticks, a florist is the way to go. 

I have really enjoyed the time I spend at Extension.  I am by far the youngest person in the group.  All of the other ladies are at least over 60.  This long history of Extension may not last for many more years though.  At the county meeting in May, I noticed that of about 100 or more women who attended, including myself  there were not more than 5 of them who were under 60.  If we do not find more young people to join and carry on this tradition of meeting, learning and sharing of information and skills, the Extension may just fade away.  It would be a shame to let this happen.  Some of these women have been a part of an Extension group since they were young wives.  They have learned and shared skills that have made their families lives easier and they have made friends that they have had for decades.  In these tough economic times, I would think we would want a surge in membership in the Extension groups, not a decline.  I sure do have fun when I go.