One of our most anticipated days of the year is shearing day and that day finally came for us during the first weekend in June! We spend all year working very hard to keep our flock happy and healthy so that the fleece we get on shearing day is long, healthy and strong. You never really know quite what you’re going to get until it is laid out before you on the skirting table.
We utilized the services of Right Choice Shearing again this year. Katie and Darian do such a wonderful job with the animals and they take great care to make sure we get the best fleece possible. If you have ever tried shearing a sheep or watched it being done, you know that it is a challenge in every regard. Those clippers are incredibly sharp, oscillating very fast and the goal is to cut the wool as close to the tender skin of a moving animal as possible without hurting them or damaging the wool. Right Choice is definitely an apt name for the service they provide.
Within the first couple of fleeces, we were very happy to see that the hard work and investment we put into making the wooden barn floors for the sheep to sleep on (instead of the sandy ground) has paid off. Last year the sand fell through the tables mesh almost like that of an hourglass. In fact, there was so much sand in our 2018 fleeces that the wool processor brought it to our attention.
The first step in getting marketable wool once it has been removed from the sheep is “skirting” the fleece. This involves laying out each individual fleece on a table and removing the parts that are felted, matted with, well, fecal matter, and the most painful of all; areas that are chock-full of vegetation (plant matter). It really is difficult to put your hands into a beautiful piece of wool and pull out large areas that you know are going to be a problem in processing.
I think our wool was in much better condition than last years, but we know that we still have some work to do. Short of keeping the sheep completely off pasture, we’re not exactly sure what can be done to drastically reduce the amount of vegetation in the wool. On a positive note, after sorting through and skirting 9 full fleeces, there was no noticeable sand build-up on the floor underneath. We did set these dirtier pieces aside so that we can experiment with them to determine if they can be used for things other than mill-processed roving and spun wool.
The next step for our mill-processed wool is to get these bags to the mill. We took out samples from each fleece for testing. My initial observation is that giving extra attention to the sheep’s mineral intake and waiting a couple extra months to get them sheared is really going to help with our staple lengths over last year’s batch (which were already pretty good). It takes many months for us to see the final result from the mill, but it is always worth the wait!
We have now begun hand-dyeing some of our wool. It feels a little nerve-racking to dump a braid of our lovely wool into these first few pots of dye not knowing exactly how it is going to turn out. Thankfully we are pleased with the initial results. There is room for improvement, but this wool takes color quite beautifully and we can’t wait to see how it looks once it is spun. It may take us some time to get these new items added to our store, but if you would like to be one of the first recipients of Whirl’d Works Dyed Wool, please contact us for details. The first two colors are a sort of Cherry-Pink and Tangerine. They look great in the photographs but even better in person!
History has always been one of those subjects that can be a challenge to teach people of just about any age. Memorizing facts and dates about people groups that are long gone and seem to have little bearing on the present is difficult, especially for children. If you can find a way to connect that history to something real and “in the present,” it makes teaching these subjects more interesting and memorable.
Take the Mycenaeans for example. This Bronze Age civilization does have an interesting history, but try convincing a six year old of that fact. Pictures of ruins and artifacts are helpful, but if you can put something physically in their hands the chance there’s a better chance for engagement. We tried this in our study this year and it was definitely helpful.
As were many thriving civilizations of the time, the Mycenaean people were a military force to be reckoned with and one of their signature pieces of armor were the unique boars tusk helmets that the soldiers wore. Naturally we could not recreate the full leather and tusk helmet in a class setting, but we could make something that resembled the helmet and engage the creative mind while teaching the facts about the people who wore them.
Attending the Texas Yarn Lovers event last month was a great experience in so many ways (you can read about that here). It was very rewarding to hear people who have been in this field for years complimenting our first batch of processed roving. We also came to the realization that while the people we met all share a common interest, this particular market is a very specialized niche and we are currently a tiny niche within that niche. If we are going to become successful at this endeavor, we are going to have to invest much more time (and money) into processing our wool even further. Here are just a few of the ways we are planning to move forward.
The spinners we have spoken with so far really do love our roving, but many of them want to spin wool that is already dyed in a rainbow of colors and patterns. There were countless examples on display at the Yarn Lovers event and we spent quite a bit of time examining these beautiful yarns and roving. The mill we had our wool processed at also had a booth at the even and it just so happened that she was doing a wool dying class. Since we had not yet colored any of our wool, she let us color one of our balls of roving in her indigo dye and it came out beautifully. There’s definitely a learning curve here, but I know we will get more interest if we put some color on our shelves.
I had seen and heard of people who do felting, but until the Yarn Lover’s event I had no idea how beautiful and versatile felting can be. One of the first things I did when we came home was dig into articles and video tutorials on both wet and needle felting. Within a few days I had already created my first piece of wet felt and we just received a needle felting kit. I’m very excited about where this could go. Now if only there were about 6 more hours in each day!
My wonderful wife who has been the inspiration for all things woolie absolutely loves to spin. But like me, there are only so many hours in a day for a busy household and farm to devote to hand spinning this beautiful Debouillet wool. She does as much as she can, but we are going to need to speed up that process if we are going to succeed at marketing our wool as yarn. Thankfully the mill that processed our wool will also machine spin it so we are planning to have a portion of this year’s wool processed into yarn. It doesn’t have quite the same look, feel, or satisfaction as hand-spun wool, but I believe this is going to be some wonderful yarn that people are going to love.
We are so very glad to have found Independence Wool and look forward to a long and happy partnership. That said, processing isn’t free and as our flock grows, so does our processing expense. We have no plans to reduce the amount of wool that we will have processed, but we are investing in our own small hoby farm equipment to process small batches of the wool here on the farm. This is yet another labor-intensive idea that also requires a not-so-small financial investment, but we think there is good reason to do some of the processing ourselves. If nothing else, the educational aspect can teach us a lot about our wool!
Further down the line is a hope to begin small weaving projects. There is so much to learn in this area that it isn’t something that either of us wants to jump in too quickly. Instead, we are going to develop the skills that we think we can master a little quicker and then slowly enter into small looms for art and craft ideas.
As you can see, the wheels of innovation are spinning wildly here on Whirl’d Works Farm! It does sound like a lot, perhaps even a bigger bite than we can chew, but then again, just three short years ago we were just moving onto the farm from our lives in the city!
We would love to hear any ideas or advice from those of you who have been involved in this “little” wool addiction for a while, so please feel free to comment on our page or send us a note on the contact page.
I realize that complaining about the weather can quickly become rather cliche’, but I happen to like a good cliche’ from time to time. It does seem almost strange to be grumbling about rain here in Central Texas considering the 5 year drought we left behind not so long ago. It is a little difficult to remember just how incredibly dry and devastating those years were for so many farmers and ranchers across Texas. Now that the rain has returned though, it seems to come in bucket after bucket. It was a sad sight to drive around the area this past winter to see so many fields still filled with wet, droopy cotton that simply could not be harvested. This season many of those same farmers have yet to be able to get cotton seed in the ground and the time for doing so has just about passed us by.
In retrospect, I think often about the farmers to our North who are dealing with an even more difficult challenge with all the flooding in the Mid-West. Thankfully, so far, the rains have only been a minor inconvenience here at Whirl’d Works Farm. When the rain is coming, we keep the sheep in the barn as it really has a tendency to mess up their beautiful wool. With shearing day quickly approaching, we are doing all we can to keep those darling sheep and their thick, fine wool fleece nice and dry. The only other issue we’ve really had to deal with was down by the creek that really flooded over during the last storm and knocked down some of our fencing. We’ve had plenty of times when the road has disappeared below the creek, but during the last downpour it was at the highest level we have ever seen it. Words alone cannot adequately describe the amount of water we witnessed draining through our property so here are a few videos to help illustrate:
On the Bright Side
As cliche’s go, with every cloud there’s a silver lining and there are some things to be thankful for. The following picture shows Texas Drought Conditions in April (On Left) and then in May (on Right). I’m not quite sure I remember seeing a map that shows the entire State of Texas being drought-free.
The amount of moisture around the farm has created the perfect environment do explore and find even more varieties of weird and fantastical fungus. I look forward to venturing into our woods sometime soon to see what new and neat varieties await our discovery, but right now it is still rather swampy back there and the mosquitoes fly in tactical squadrons! We don’t have to go far though to find new fungus as this odd, orange fungus was found growing in a flower bed near the house.
It’s just one of those funky quirks of human nature, but although right now we are all pretty much tired of all the rain, I’m pretty sure in 2-3 months we’ll be praying for it again. There’s more rain coming for now though, so if you’re in Central Texas and reading this during a downpour, here’s a few rainy day puns to brighten your day!
Rainy Day Puns
(Source: Dr. Odd)
Saturdays and Sundays
May 11 – 12 & 18 – 19, 2019
11:00 am – 6:00 pm
Stop #167 2802 Benbrook Dr. Austin, TX 78757
The Weavers and Spinners Society of Austin is happy to be joining WEST, the Austin-wide studio tour, again this year.
We will feature weaving, spinning, dyeing, and felting demonstrations, as well as exhibits of works by the Weavers & Spinners Society of Austin members including:
Sarah Monger – Handthrown pottery decorated with llama, sheep, cats. Blending boards.
Linda Yeatts – Handwoven clothing, wraps and accessories. Functional, wearable art.
Sharon Bramblett – Handspun yarns, triaxial weavings, triangle woven shawls.
Beverly Rose Studio – Functional & stylish household textiles from natural fibers.
Rachele Whalen – Debouillet merino fiber, white, very soft pencil roving.
Susan Lu – Handcrafted items from re-purposed materials. Saori style weaving.
Serena Hernandez – Unique hand dyed natural fibers from Spin and Dye in Texas.
Sidne Tiemann – Framed and unframed art work, mixed media , drawings, water colors, hand woven pot holders.
The Austin Fiber Artists – Intriguing items of fiber art: quilts, wall art, wearables, more.
WSSA is also happy to welcome guest artist John Williams, to our WEST 2019 venue
Demonstrations of weaving, eco-dyeing and dyeing, sewing, spinning textured art yarns
The Master Weavers Study Group and The Textured Art Yarns Spinning Study Group will have exhibits featuring several of the weavers we have studied, and yarns we have made.
And don’t forget Weaving and Spinning supply garage sale!
We (Whirl’d Works Farm) will not personally be attending the show due to other commitments, but our wonderful Debouillet Fine Wool Pencil Roving will be on display and available for purchase.
When my wife told me that there was a brand new fiber event coming up very near our home and that she wanted us to participate, I’ll have to admit that I was skeptical (yes, it’s a personal, life-long quirk). We have received some feedback about our freshly milled Debouillet Merino roving, but I wasn’t sure we were quite ready for “prime-time.” She did talk me into it and I can now say that I am very glad she did!
We arrived at the beautiful Blue Mule Winery in Fayetteville, Texas with about an hour to get set up. Many of the other vendors were nearly already set to go with their big tents and beautiful displays of wool, yearn and crafts. I kind of felt out of place with our little used dining fly and single table, but was also proud in what we had accomplished in just a couple short years. With full Texas pride, we set up our little shop not knowing exactly what to expect.
The crowds soon began filing into the festival and many of them walked by with a smile, which was encouraging, but not completely what was hoped for. Then, it happened…someone bought one of our balls of roving! It was a simple, small purchase, but it felt like all of that work for the past few years was actually going to mean something more even than the joy of doing it. A few minutes later, another sale, and then another. A few of the vendors strolled by around lunch time and we were getting great feedback about our wool. It encouraged me to get out from behind the counter and not only look at what others had to sell, but also to talk and share my interests in their tremendous talents, skills and creative craftsmanship.
By the end of the day we had not nearly sold out of our inventory, but we did gain a great deal of insight into many possible ways to make what he have now even better. And yes, we’ve purchased one of those nice big tents for next time!
We had big BIG plans and hopes for our gardening endeavors in 2018. We constructed a 30 foot by 50 foot perimeter fence and I set to work clearing and preparing large beds. Everything was going splendidly until the Bermuda grass decided it was time to reclaim its territory. The rest of the year was spent, mostly in futile efforts, to keep the grass at bay.
We experienced a relative degree of success, but the time we had to make it a complete success simply never seemed available. With our focus on growing our sheep flock and fine-tuning our fiber production, the gardening has taken a bit of a back seat for 2019.
Gardening is still a favorite activity here on the farm so we absolutely have not given up, just scaled back and making efforts to get the garden in a much better position for greater gardening in 2020.
We reclaimed the berry patch last weekend and the blueberry bushes we planted last year are already setting fruit and we eagerly await these plump, tasty berries which will be ready for eating in a few short months. The blackberry vines are looking great, but unlike last year, we hope to get some berries this year.
Our asparagus plants have already begun to shoot up their sprouts and we’re definitely excited to harvest and eat these tasty treats again this year. The tomato transplants are doing well considering they were recently pummeled by golf ball sized hail a couple of weeks ago.
Our peach tree also seems to have survived the hail storm relatively well. There are a number of baby peaches forming and we very much hope to be able to bite into our own fresh peaches this year!
There’s more that has gone and will soon be going into the garden this year, but the weather hasn’t been cooperating with out busy schedules so far in 2019. We do hope you too have begun your gardening adventure this year. We look forward to sharing our experiences with you as well as reading about yours!
You are invited to join us at the first annual Texas Yarn Lovers event is this coming Saturday, April 26th, from 10am to 6pm at the Blue Mule Winery in Fayettevile, Texas.
How is yarn made? How is it dyed? What are the many different ways to use yarn in crafts and creative projects
If you have a love for all things yarn (or you are even just a little bit curious about it), this is a great opportunity to come out and enjoy a great time sampling, watching, and learning all about yarn.
Most of the classes are already full, but the great many vendors are sure to welcome you to their booths and share their love for yarn and fiber arts. There will also be live music, food vendors, yarn swaps, and much much more!
For more information about this fun event, check out their webpage at: https://www.texasyarnloversevent.com
Blue Mule Winery
8127 N FM 1291
Fayetteville, TX 78940
You can definitely tell when Springtime has arrived for many homestead bloggers! As the landscape turns from brown to green, the pace of work on the farm speeds up very quickly. For many of us this means far less time is available to sit down at the computer to share our adventures.
Here at Whirl’d Works Farm this has included another successful lambing season, trying to get the garden up to speed, fencing in an additional 3 acres, installing an automatic gate opener, and so much more. Among these many activities has been one I am now excited to announce to you today!
Winter time is the time for ideas and crafting. We put these two items together this past winter and have come up with a great new gift that you can buy for yourself or someone you know. We’ve incorporated our love for both wool and woodworking together and have produced our Handmade Wooden Sheep. We hand cut the wooden shape and then adorn the cute shape with wool fleece from our very own fine-wool sheep. I think you’ll agree that the end result is a cute and charming collectible piece.
You can get yours now for our introductory price of only $14.99 (plus $3.00 shipping), but as they say on those wonderful infomercials,”Supplies are limited, so get yours today!” We’ll absolutely be making more once these little lambs sell out, but probably not again until the Springtime rush gives way to the oppressive summer doldrums.
Home to Wooly Tyme Shetlands & Kids Play Dairy Goats
Raising Rare Soay Sheep in Central Kentucky
life from the eyes of a sixteen year old chicken farmer
The evolution of an old farmhouse, an American woman, an Englishman and their dogs.
The "Good Life" on a quarter acre, frugal living
Thoughts on Home, Garden, and Yard
Everything Food, Faith, Family, and Farm
A small homestead and Debouillet sheep farm in Central Texas
Honoring God in all we do on the Homestead
High Altitude Homesteading
My adventures in homesteading with my family
Effective, affordable copywriting and content creation
Farm to Table in Austin, TX