Sunday, March 29, 2015

Work, Work, Work, and Some More Work

100% Wool Batts from hand dyed and hand carded local wool

75% wool, 25% bamboo hand carded, hand dyed batt
And in between trying to tend to Dad and keep enough stuff on eBay to pay the bills, I've been taking care of the animals and trying to set the shop up for spring. It looks like late April for opening up right now. Looking forward to the festival in Bedford, Olde Liberty Fibre Faire, on April 18 and hope to have lots of wonderful stuff to offer.

What I'm spinning: Just finished spinning up the periwinkle wool yarn for Kathleen's sweater
What I'm knitting: Not much of anything; have a washcloth on the needles for when I have "free" time.
What I'm crocheting: Secret project for a friend.
What I'm reading: The Unfortunate Traveller by Thomas Nashe
Current sounds & sights for spinning along:  Midsomer Murders

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Pricing Yarn, Business Moves, and Knitting!

Hand dyed bulky wool yarn
People have been asking about price of the yarn and other items lately. Fair pricing is an issue that most artisans find complicated. As hard working people with limited income, we can understand that the cost of an item is often the first consideration when people are looking at our merchandise and considering a purchase. But at the same time we can't stay in business and produce those special items if we don't get enough money for our products to pay our bills and cover our materials. Artisans have a lot of competition in cheap foreign goods, but also we have to deal with people at craft fairs and shops that don't take their work seriously enough to price it realistically to cover costs and the value of hand made.

As an example, I estimate that I put in eight hours of work for every skein of yarn that I produce. In the yarn industry, however, there are standards of pricing that I choose to use as guidelines for my artisan yarns. This means that no matter how long it takes me to produce a yarn, there is a price limit as far as what I can charge for it, based on the industry standard. I represent about twelve spinners in my area and we all use a basis of pricing that keeps our hand spun creations in line with good commercial yarns. If I priced the yarn based on the cheaper acrylic yarns available, I wouldn't stay in business. I have to hope that my buyers understand that they are getting a high quality product that will last them for years and make their hand knit crocheted item completely unique. No, we're not as cheap as Red Heart but you're getting a wonderful yarn that will last you forever and be a pleasure to work with. You will also be supporting local farmers and artisans who care about your community.

Artisan yarns at Jerry and Connie's House of Collectibles
In other news, I recently agreed to work an extra day at the antique shop where I help out part-time. Jerry and Connie's House of Collectibles is located in Meadows of Dan next to our post office and bank on the main highway. I will be working for him on Wednesdays and Fridays, so my Greenberry House shop hours, beginning in late April, will be Saturday through Tuesday, 10 AM to 5 PM. Putting yarn in at Jerry's will give me a yarn shop presence in Meadows of Dan all year, however, so I think it will be a good move. I may be able to have someone run the shop on Fridays sometimes; we'll see how that works out. So I hope folks will visit me in both locations!

Knitting with Thrums
I'm working on a pair of mittens for me lined with fleece in a technique called thrumming. It's much easier than it looks and a lot of fun, although I think I'll use alpaca or angora for the next pair. I want to work out a pattern that I can knit for sale. I hear that these are popular. This pair is made with some hand dyed CVM wool yarn and lined with a soft fleece that I bought at some point and didn't label. 

What I'm spinning: Almost finished the Shetland/merino periwinkle yarn for Kathleen's sweater
What I'm knitting: Experimenting with thrums for mittens
What I'm crocheting: Everything is hibernating
What I'm reading: Reading? I used to do that.
Current sounds & sights for spinning along: Midsomer Murders on Netflix, listening to Factory Man by Beth Macy
How the diet is going: Staying steady with this cold weather.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

February Snow

Snowy woods
We've had some very cold days this year but yesterday we finally got more than a couple of inches of snow. Not nearly as much as forecast but six inches of lovely fluff is plenty for the dogs to enjoy and for me to troop through to take care of the chickens. The hens refuse to deal with the stuff and stay snug in their coop.
Snow Dog
I spent the morning putting vintage photographs up on the web site for sale. Now I'm getting ready to spin the afternoon away, looking out over the snow in the yard and watching the shadows shift through the rest of the day. 

What I'm spinning: Shetland and merino singles dyed periwinkle for a special order
What I'm knitting: Odds and ends as spinning is taking a priority. Dishcloths, mostly.
What I'm crocheting: Everything is hibernating.
What I'm readingEuphues: The Anatomy of Wit by John Lyly
Current sounds & sights for spinning along: Watching Foyle's War and listening to Factory Man by Beth Macy
How the diet is going: I've lost 20 pounds since November, mostly because of walking to take Dad his three meals a day and keeping the dogs happy with their exercise. Could stand to lose more and with the spring will be walking even more, I imagine.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

In the Coop

Our young hens

I've always loved chickens. My grandmother had chickens when I was small, although I don't really remember much about them. She got one especially pretty flock when a box of chicks came into the post office and the person that ordered them didn't come to pick them up. Apparently the cheeping was driving the postmaster mad because he gave the box to my grandfather to take home to my grandmother. She raised them up and she said they were such beautiful hens, white with a bit of black feathering. She didn't know what kind they were. They allowed the chickens to run free on the farm and rarely had trouble with predators. Occasionally a mink would kill a chicken in the hen house at night. But Grandma gave up raising chickens when a neighbor's dog killed many of the birds in her little flock. Times had changed and keeping hens had become more of a luxury than a necessity with the ready availability of food in local stores.

Free ranging chickens

The tar paper covered chicken house sat for years at the edge of the woods, though, as a reminder of the flock of hens that provided necessary food and meat during those years that subsistence farming provided for  most of the needs of the family. Along with a huge garden and milk from a sweet-faced cow, my grandparents kept their family fed and supplemented my grandfather's salary from his public job. I remember churning butter at the enamel topped metal kitchen table when I was quite small. I could never make the butter come but Grandma could.

I grew up and moved away but never lost my mountain roots. Eventually I moved back home and one of the first things I did was put together a flock of chickens. I experimented with several different breeds in those years and especially enjoyed the bantam varieties. But times changed, I moved and wound up working harder and longer hours and then taking care of my grandfather so the chickens gradually dwindled away. I had one rooster that lived nearly ten years alone on the farm after his hen was killed and owls captured all his progeny. He was a tough old game bird and nearly wild. Eventually he disappeared after a stray dog came through.

Kathleen feeding the hens

A couple of years ago a friend suggested setting up a chicken co-op. She and some others would provide funding if I provided space and did the work. My old chicken house was still standing, just about, filled with junk. Kathleen and I spent the winter clearing it out and I hauled over 500 pounds of metal to the recycling center. The weight of the metal had caused the floor to collapse and good friends came over and jacked it back up for us. The roof was never put on right so we replaced it with a metal version. The contractor says the roof will outlast the chicken house. After all that we drove down into North Carolina to pick up 18 hens and one rooster from a friend that has a farm. The little birds were Buff Orpingtons, a breed I had wanted to try and heard good things about. They are supposed to be gentle, cold hardy and good layers of brown eggs.

Busy hens

And they grew and they grew. And they started laying eggs enough for the co-op and for me to sell some to supplement the cost of having the hens. I will tell you, keeping chickens is not cheap. They have to be fed, the hen house needs to be cleaned out twice a year, which requires purchase of several straw bales, they need grit and calcium and the occasional medical treatment. Although well-fed chickens that can free range for part of their food stay pretty healthy.

Around the beginning of their third year chickens molt and stop laying. They will start laying again after the molt, but that's decision making time about what to do with the birds and whether to continue keeping hens for eggs or not. The co-op voted to disband and so we processed the birds belonging to half the group. Process means kill 'em, pluck 'em, clean 'em and eat 'em. It's not a terrible thing to do, just a bit unpleasant until the feathers are gone. Then the bird doesn't look at all like that pretty Buff Orpington so the rest of the processing isn't such a big deal.

I opted to keep my share of the birds and the rooster up and walking around. The hens are laying again and I'm getting enough eggs to start selling them again. For me it's still pleasant to walk up to the farm every day, twice a day, and let the chickens out of the coop and then shut them safely back up in the evening. I take one of the dogs along for the exercise. They both have good manners around the chickens and just sit and wait for me to finish the chores.

Rufus and his girls

I kept one scraggly little hen because I felt sorry for her. She was still ragged from the molt, small and darted away from the others because they would peck her. But she was the first to start laying again and she has filled out and gained weight. Her feather are shining and healthy. I suppose with the smaller flock she doesn't have to compete so hard for food. There may be a lesson in that, somewhere.

What I'm spinning: Shetland and merino singles dyed periwinkle for a special order
What I'm knitting: Odds and ends as spinning is taking a priority. Dishcloths, mostly.
What I'm crocheting: Everything is hibernating.
What I'm reading: Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit by John Lyly
Current sounds & sights for spinning along: Watching Foyle's War and listening to Factory Man by Beth Macy
How the diet is going: I've lost 20 pounds since November, mostly because of walking to take Dad his three meals a day and keeping the dogs happy with their exercise. Could stand to lose more and with the spring will be walking even more, I imagine.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Another Long Silence

Greenberry House
These long silences on the blog embarrass me. I have no excuse; except that it seems that regularly my life gets turned upside down while I'm not looking and I get blindsided. It takes me a long time to adjust to new routines and it seems that the things I enjoy the most are the first to be given up when I am faced with lack of time and financial challenges.

Handspun Shetland and merino wool from hand dyed roving and batts
The new complication in my life that is taking up so much time involves caring for my 80 year old father. I spent over five years taking care of his father, both part-time and full-time while also trying to hold down a job and support myself, so I already know how much time and energy this venture is going to take. My brother helps when he can but he's a traveling musician and away from home much of the time. Still, after four months I'm working into the process and, while it isn't any easier, really, I'm adjusting to juggling trying to keep bills paid and Dad fed, laundered and medicated.

Martha and Rose
And somehow, not exactly sure when that happened (remember the blindsided thing?), I wound up with four pregnant goats. I completely adore them but adding the care of a little herd of dairy goats to my daily routine has also added some interest to life. Babies will be coming soon and I'll love having them but I don't think I'm going to try adding milking to my daily schedule right now!

My little flock

A month or so ago the chicken co-op decided to disband and, as agreed, we split the birds and I helped to process half of them. I opted to keep my share for awhile longer until I can buy some replacement chicks this spring. The girls are laying again and the dogs and I get plenty of exercise walking up to the farm to take care of them.

Knightley and Emma
And the dogs are still here and still taking care of me. Knightley learns more about helping me with my deafness every day. Recently he caught on to letting me know if I leave the water running in the sink. I can't hear it and he comes to get me if I go away from the sink and leave the faucet turned on. I can't count the number of times he has gotten me out of the way of cars along the road. Emma remains the most loving of creatures and the best foot warmer at night you would ever want. Her favorite evening is stitching group; she adores seeing everyone!

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Heading to Bedford, Virginia, for the Olde Liberty Fibre Faire

Sebastian, Hand dyed clouds of carded Tunis wool
I am in hopes, after such a long winter, that spring is finally coming to Squirrel Spur Road. Things have been busy; with one thing and another I have mostly been working for the past month. A fiber festival in Bedford, Virginia, is coming up this Saturday and it has been a frantic time getting new fiber and yarns ready to sell. Then I made yet another move with the business, to 12134 Squirrel Spur Road, and that entailed work that I hadn't really anticipated fitting into my schedule. I opened the shop this past weekend, and hours will be from 10 AM to 5 PM Friday, Saturday and Sunday the rest of this month, then 10 AM to 5 PM Thursday through Monday from May on. I will be sharing the building with another business, Mountain Meadow Farm and Craft Market. The location is very good; the space a good bit smaller and I'm really juggling to get everything looking good in my spots. This is just a few feet away from the last location and my old house on Squirrel Spur Road.

Knightley learning about horses on our walk
Daffodils are blooming, forsythia is starting to blossom and I'm seeing a haze of red and green buds on the trees as we walk every morning and evening. The chickens are laying well and the coop needs cleaning. Hoping to do that tomorrow after carding a lot of fiber that needs to be finished for the festival. After this week I hope things settle down a bit into our regular schedule. I've missed a few walks with the dogs and that's never good!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Springing Forward

Spinning Retreat at Hawks Nest State Park, West Virginia 
 The cycle of the year is continuing with days filled with lots of work, sunshine, walking dogs and tending chickens. We took a wonderful break from winter chores to attend the Fibernet spinning retreat at Hawks Nest at the end of last month and truly enjoyed every minute.

Another snowy morning 
After we came home we were hit with another snow but it wasn't as much as the storm before. When I looked out that morning a half dozen bright red cardinals were decorating the scene. Now the snow is gone and a killdeer is seeking out a place for nesting in the field above the shop. Robins have been sorting out their territories for awhile and I'm waiting to see the first red-winged blackbirds near the creek on the farm.

Keeping busy on a cold day 
Each of the dogs gets at least one walk a day on leash and when there is time we try to fit more walks into the routine. I have a wonderful friend who goes with me sometimes and then both dogs can have individual attention while we walk and talk. During the summer last year I took both for the morning walk but I can't quite manage it if the weather is slick or snowy. Since Knightley is older and discipline is very important with him, I may continue the walks alone with each of them. Emma enjoys having me to herself during her walk, I think. She gets to sleep with me and enjoys cuddle time along with Knightley but she also likes having the walk with me to share her little adventure. The dogs spent a lot of time playing with each other and their toys while I'm working. It seems that they are content as long as I'm nearby.

Thoughts of spring with ideas for planting and decorating mean a shift from the winter chores of hauling in wood and working on the computer. I've been spinning like mad, realizing that it will soon be time to open the shop and I need to have things ready. A lot of new things will be going into the shop, including some nice spinning related jewelry and a few good tools. Getting excited about opening and seeing people again after a long hard winter despite all the work involved in getting ready. Hope to see you there!

What I'm spinning: Plying hand dyed turquoise Tunis wool singles
What I'm knitting: Ojo de Dios Shawl
What I'm crocheting: Hibernating
What I'm reading: Easy mysteries and light novels
Current sounds & sights for spinning along: Old albums from my teenage years found on Spotify
How the diet is going: Working too hard to pay attention!