Sarah Jane Humke

The life of a traveling, reading, writing, spining and knitting shepherdess.

Yesterday I unexpectedly received a box from the UK.  It was from my friend Veronica who lives in the Northern part of England.  In it were a number of goodies…

First off, there was a lovely book all about Shetland Sheep.  It’s a lovely book and I would strongly suggest it to folks looking to learn more about the breed.

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My friend had gotten it signed by the authors for me and there was even a little cartoon!

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She also sent a PERFECT birthday card for me!

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On the inside is says, “Ewe are shear perfection. Happy Birthday!”  So perfect for me!!!

There was also a tea towel from Shetland Wool Week 2018.  I had been unable to get one of these so it was wonderful to get one.  I loved the design with the shepherdess and the super happy sheep on it.  It won’t get used for tea, or any other kitchen messes for that matter!

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There were buttons and brooches and soap.  The sheep brooch is felted wool.

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And keeping this all safe and cozy in it’s box were two batches of wool both dyed with indigo. The lighter of the two is a mix of Kent Romney and Shetland and the darker is White Faced Woodland.

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My birthday isn’t until the end of January, so it was a bit of a surprise to get such a lovely present so soon.  Thank you Veronica!

My miniature dachshund, Weezy, is almost 14.  She’s not elderly by dachshund standards, but she’s definitely getting up there.  Like many older beings, she often needs to potty in the middle of the night.  It’s not every night, but a couple of nights each week, she wakes me up in order to go outside at about 1:45 in the morning.

My bedroom is on the second floor, so I usually carry her down the stairs (stairs aren’t good for dachshunds backs) and let her do her business outside.  Weezy isn’t the fastest wee in the west, so it usually takes a little bit for her to let me know that she needs to be let back in.  Now, I know that looking at my phone in the middle of the night disrupts my circadian cycle with the blue light intrusion into my sleeping time.  Awake me is well aware of the issues surrounding phone usage in the middle of the night.  However, this logic doesn’t extend to middle of the night me and I grab for my phone like a junkie needing a hit. My logical brain knows that this is a bad idea but the less evolved part of it whispers, “what if there’s an emergency?” and at 2am, this logic is unassailable .

I’m telling you all of this to set the scene as to why I was standing in the kitchen, on my phone, at 2 in the morning. For some reason, I ended up on Amazon.  And for some other reason, I bought this:

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This is me, at work, feeling like a pretty, pretty princess.

No, a tiara is possibly not the most logical purchase that I have ever made, but I guess 2 am Sarah really wanted one.  And who am I to argue?

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I had another small package in the mail, this one not from Amazon.  It was from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. in Missouri.  I have longed to order seeds from the company for some time as I ADORE their catalog.  However, I’ve never actually pulled the trigger on ordering them as I just couldn’t justify it to myself.  However, my friend Tini in Germany seems to have read my mind (or perhaps we are just of similar minds) and gotten me some seeds from them for my Christmas/Birthday present.

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This is not all that she sent me as last week I received these amazing socks in the mail from her:

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I have had some excellent mail as of late!

 

So this happened today…

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For those that do not know, I was working on my master’s degree up to 2014.  However, once I finished my classwork, I simply wasn’t able to muster the enthusiasm required to do my research and thesis.  Since time is running out (as there is an expiration on the credits that I have already taken) I have decided to get this degree done.  Even at this point I may need to retake or take a couple of classes to get through, but that’s not the end of the world as the many of the graduate college classes are online or evenings.

I have wanted to get back to school to finish this for a while now, but as they say, life got in the way.  There were always reasons why to not start doing it.  As the clock ticked down, I kept justifying my inaction by saying that I was “too busy”.  Perhaps I will end-up masochistically busy, but I won’t be bored!

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions.  Quite honestly, it’s such a nasty time of the year weather-wise here in my little patch of heaven, that it just seems a tad masochistic to try to suddenly “get in shape” or “lose ten pounds” or “declutter entire life”.  I feel like these types of goals are best set at some other time of the year, perhaps the summer solstice when the daylight feels never-ending.

However, I do like to get my planner in order at the beginning of January.  This year I made a few changes in that area.  First, I bought a larger planner.

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I think that this is going to be a very busy year for me thus the increase in planning space.  In addition to my usual duties as the Instruction Coordinator (I just made that title up) for the Iowa Sheep and Wool Festival, I’m also now the Vice Chairperson for the Iowa Sheep Industry Association (that title is legit).

I have plans in place to ramp-up my little woolly business.  I’m not breeding this year, so no fun photos of newborn lambs this spring I’m afraid.  But I am planning on a few new products to sell and, as always, lots of raw fleeces.

I’m going to be traveling a fair amount this year.  There are going to be a lot of weekend trips and at least one long and involved one.  I’m not going into details now, but lets just say June is going to be hectic and October is going to be exciting:-)

I have done some things that I haven’t shared on here.  One was that I made new feeder for the sheep.  It divides the pen into two so I can have the lambs on one side (where I can keep an eye on them a little better) and the adults on the other.  This also ensures that the little ones aren’t getting pushed out of the food by their larger mamas and older siblings.  It’s not perfect, but it works okay for what I need.

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I also did some knitting….

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The hat is from some mystery yarn that I purchased at Heartland Fiber Co. at their Halloween party and the mitts are from that mystery wool yarn and a green mystery wool yarn from the deepest stash.  The hat pattern is Barley by Tin Can Knits and the mitts are loosely based on this pattern.  Yes the mitts are a bit… off.  Personally I feel that this adds to their charm.  Also, I used up both the yarns leftovers making these.  I lost a little at yarn chicken and as a result the thumb of one hand is a tad smaller than the other.  However, they get daily wear and, quite frankly, it’s not like they are going to be walking the catwalk in Paris or anything like that.  It’s far more likely that they will get pooped-on by a chicken!

Currently I am working on an infinity scarf for my oldest niece.  I let her pick out the yarn.  We made an evening out of it.  I took her to Hobby Lobby, JoAnn’s, and Micheal’s in order to pick out the one that she wanted.  We also went to Chick-Fil-A for supper and hit up Culver’s afterwards for dessert.  She had gotten to wear a scarf that I made her mommy last year for Christmas and really wanted one of her own.  This one is going to be a smidge more washable than her mama’s.

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Yeah, she’s definitely my niece!

 

 

When I finished reading this book today, I experienced a range of emotions.  First I was excited that someone had done such a fantastic job writing about the modern wool industry.  Much of what is written is supremely pessimistic as it is only looking at statistics and the history of the wool industry (which, admittedly, is fairly depressing). Stephany  Wilkes takes a very clear-sighted look at what is happening right now in the industry and the people in it.

Then I was little sad that the book was done.  It’s a very recent release, so it’s written about events into 2017, so it’s not like she stopped writing about her life randomly.  However, I wanted more of the story!

Finally there was an emotion that I had trouble naming for a little bit but then it hit me, I was jealous.  This is the book that I would love to write.   Raw Material: Working Wool in the West is an extraordinarily well-written book about what it’s like to actually get your hands dirty working with sheep. Stephany details what exactly it takes for wool to get from the back of a sheep into your socks.  Her descriptions of shearing school were so spot-on I was laughing with relief that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.  Her writing of the fear and trepidation that you have holding the shears for the first time made my stomach clench a little remembering my own experience.  The whole “why the hell am I doing this?” range of emotions that first night after you have sheared and are utterly exhausted in a way that you have seldom been in your entire life.  The burning and aching of muscles that personal trainers have never worked, let alone left shaking and jellied, like shearing the first time does.  She looks at the obstacles to modern, local, wool production with a very clear lens.   Even shepherding, which she doesn’t do, is looked at honestly without excessively romanticizing it.

Stephany does have a few detours in the book.  One is a chapter on natural dyes and their production.  I don’t begrudge this chapter in the least because chemical dyes are really toxic and it was fascinating to learn what work is being done to re-start production of natural dyes on a macro scale again.

Another detour was about carbon mitigation using sheep.  She explained what is really a fairly complex scientific system in easy-to-understand language without dumbing it down.  A lot of folks in certain “animal welfare” and environmental circles like to point the finger at livestock production as a major source of the worlds ills.  Anyone who has actually looked into it has seen that it’s primarily our dependence on fossil fuels (which make a lot of the “vegan friendly” fabrics that some groups like to promote) that are the issue and not sheep farts.

I would like every single person who does anything with wool to read this book.  I don’t care if you are a knitter, spinner, or outdoors-person who wears wool base layers.  Read. This. Book.  I don’t care if you buy it or request it from your local library, go get it and read it.  Stephany Wilkes has done for wool what Michael Pollan has done for food and that is she has exposed the human side of it.

 

I’m particular.

Clothing, cars, spinning wheels, skin care products, chocolate, jewelry and computers.  All of these things (and more) I have been accused of being “picky” about.  I have an extremely love/hate thing going with shopping.  If it’s for yarn or wool I can spend all day doing it without a care.  But if it’s for pretty much anything else , I start getting really crabby, really quickly.  Clothes shopping is the worst for me.  Between understanding what fast fashion is doing to the environment and also to the people around the world who make it, honestly disliking wearing things that don’t fit properly or are shoddily made (no matter how trendy), and just the overall experience of trying-on clothes to try to find things that are well-made and fit me, I start to get really stabby.

Because of all of this, I have had a number of things on my wishlist for a while now in the clothing department and chief among them is a wool vest.  I didn’t want just any wool vest (of course), I wanted one that was similarly cut to the fleece vests that I wear all winter long.  I have been searching for this for about two years now, and mostly what I had found were hyper expensive “performance vests” for skiers and winter athletes that cost more than a car payment and usually didn’t come in a size for me.

I had shared a post on Facebook about calling out people for trying to say that plastic-based fibers are better for people to wear than wool or leather and in the comments friends were commiserating and also admitting to wearing fleece vests.  Another friend on Facebook commented that I needed to check out Stormy Kromer for wool vests made in the USA.  I ordered a vest a few hours later.

When it arrived, I brought it into work to get photographs.

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I’ve worn it a few times now.  It fits exactly the way that I wanted.  I’m not wearing it as daily wear however, as I get really quite dirty at my job on a pretty regular basis and I need to be able to easily wash my vest.  So for now, I’m sticking with my Patagonia Better Sweater vest that I scored for a whole dollar at my favorite thrift store.  I don’t feel too guilty about wearing it as Patagonia has excellent environmental responsibility, makes durable clothing, and I saved it from the landfill by buying it from a locally-run thrift store that directly benefits the community.

So do check out Stormy Kromer for American-made, wool products.  They don’t just make vests!!!

One of the things that I wondered about (but didn’t have time to check on prior to my last post on the subject) was if the Capricorn would fit in a standard sized bag for taking on flights.  My travel backpack is the eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible Junior (I know, it’s a mouth-full of a name).  I chose to purchase this particular bag prior to my last trip all over Europe because it’s compliant with all of the airlines that I went on as a carry-on.  Since the list of airlines that I traveled on is rather extensive and esoteric, and many were very, very small, the fact that I could take this bag on all of them is pretty impressive.  Mind, I couldn’t have it at it’s maximum size (it unzips to add more space) but it fit never the less.  So putting the Capricorn in this bag is, to me, the ultimate test of it’s portability.

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This owl is gonna fly.

There was plenty of space for the wheel and I could easily pack clothes around it to keep it cushioned.  The bobbins fit just fine in the front pocket of the bag.

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There’s still plenty of room for pj’s, a change of undies and socks, and all the assorted other items that I typically pack in my carry-on when I travel.

Have wheel, will travel!

I had a number of people inquire about Rita and how she’s doing.  So I figured that I would show you.  Please note, there’s a lot of blurring in the photos as it’s very difficult to photograph something that is almost perpetually in motion!

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The love affair with Simon the Siamese cat is still going strong.  Often I have both Rita and Simon accompany me doing chores.  He will try to sprint after her in a futile effort to be with her more…

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Rita often gets the zoomies now and loves to play.  Though her favorite game is run away from me really fast and then run back really fast.IMG_0817

She is settling into farm life well and seems extemely happy.

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So I added another wheel to the flock.  Oh, I forgot to mention that I have a “flock” of wheels now did I?  Well, I guess if two can be called a flock then I did.  I will tell you about the other wheel when it’s more appropriate as it needs a little TLC and that’s part of my wintertime project list.

The wheel that I added this week is a travel wheel.  It’s the Capricorn wheel from Athena Spinning.  This wheel first came onto my radar at the 2018 Iowa Sheep and Wool Festival.  The Athena Spinning folks had a booth there and I briefly tried one between my myriad duties.  I’ve wanted a travel wheel for some time now as most of the classes that I want to take these days seem to be spinning or spinning related and hauling an Ashford Traveler around (which ironically, doesn’t travel so well) isn’t ideal, especially in situations where a plane ride is required.  I have spent more time trying to devise strategies to transport that wheel than I care to think about at the moment.  My personal favorite was the wheel balanced on a cookie sheet on the back of a wheeled luggage carrier/handcart with about a dozen bungee cords restraining it.  I schlepped that contraption up and down the stairs of multiple train stations, tube stations, and into a cab.  The cookie sheet would rattle loudly as I pulled my wheel behind me, announcing my arrival to everyone around me.  You wanna get some looks?  Try pulling a full-sized spinning wheel behind you in the busy London tube system.

For some time I had been eyeing The Device by Questionable Origin.  A couple of things kept me from pulling the trigger though.  An electric spinner isn’t always the most practical thing, even with battery packs.   I’ve been in many a spinning class where the person with the e-spinner had to sit off from the rest of the group due to a lack of power outlets near the spinning circle.  Also, the price tag made me pause. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that The Device is overpriced for what it is.  Not. At. All.  I just wasn’t completely sure that it was the wheel for me and paying that kind of money to find out made me really hesitate.

Since I am on the topic, there are going to be people who think spending any money on a spinning wheel is a waste.  Well, I think jet skis are a waste of money but I’m not going to get all judgemental on your ass.  I enjoy spinning and I think that if the hours of pleasure that you get from a well made wheel (and mind you, there are wheels that are two hundred years old that are still perfectly functional) versus the cost, I think that the wheels would come out on top for hours of pleasure per dollar spent.  It’s the same with any specialty tool, you pay for quality.  A great many different kinds of spinning wheels are running well over a grand at this point in time, both electric and treadle, travel and stationary.

I did know what I wanted in a wheel.  I wanted it to be packable, to be relatively light, not require an outlet, easy to set-up and take down, easy to use, attractive to look at, have bobbins that are interchangeable, parts that are not custom made,  and have the ability to spin a variety of different speeds.  Also, preferably, under a grand.  So, you know, just your basics:-)

The Capricorn (amazingly) touched on pretty much all of those for me.  It’s easy enough to pack flat.  Here’s a photo of it in a Thirty-One bag that was a Christmas gift a few years ago.

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Here’s a photo in the bag.

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It comes apart in several pieces.

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Putting it together is super simple. First you attach the upright part to the treadles.  It’s one screw.

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Then you click the treadles into the the holes on the wheel.  They literally just pop in.

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Then you slide the spinning apparatus in.

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This is actually the trickiest bit as you need to line up those two little holes for the pin that holds it in place.

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This pin is also a hex key that is used to adjust the ratio that the wheel spins at.  The wheel can adjust from a 5:1 ratio to a 13:1 ratio and is completely adjustable in between to suit your taste.

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Then you put on a bobbin and the flyer (both just slide on), set the scotch tension, and you are ready to go!

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The bobbins are a generous six ounces, but I can use my standard Ashford bobbins as well.  This is the view from the driver’s seat.  Note that there isn’t an “orifice” so to speak so no orifice hook to lose.  Another advantage is that it has ball bearings so nothing to grease, no oil can to carry around.  Since this is a friction wheel, there’s also no drive band to break and to have to reset upon each set-up.IMG_3549

My first impressions of this wheel are of quality.  The wood is all well sanded and protected with a satin finish.  It feels substantial without being heavy.  Some travel wheels that I have tested in the past I could feel move away from me as I treadled because they were so light weight.  This wheel also has rubber/plastic feet on the bottom to keep it from sliding around on slick surfaces.  It’s treadling depth is shallower than that of my Traveler, so I am adjusting to that.  However, the treadles are smooth, no jerking at all.  Spinning on the Capricorn is whisper quiet.  Honestly the noisiest thing in the room while I was spinning on it were my jeans rustling.  I started at the slowest setting (which was too slow for me) and worked my way up.  Draw-up was smooth and easy and honestly spinning on it was a joy.

Buying a wheel from a new company concerned me a little bit, however, after talking to the creators at IS&WF, my fears were addressed.  First, most of the moving parts are available through normal parts channels (like hardware stores).  The friction bands are simply polyurethane (if I am remembering correctly) o-rings that can be purchased easily on the internet.  The hex key could be easily (though not as prettily) replaced with another hex key of the same size.

I’m happy that I purchased this wheel as I think that it will work well for my traveling purposes.  I feel that this wheel could be an excellent beginner wheel as well given it’s easily adjustable ratios and ease of set-up.  If the folks from Athena Spinning are at a fiber festival near you, I would strongly suggest that you check it out and give it a test spin like I did.