Thursday, May 26, 2016


For the past several years we've taken an annual company field trip.  To a field.  An actual field.  Ok, so it's really a barn and a pasture, but it's right next to a field

Amber and Nicki with their new friends.
But it's really not as crazy as it sounds.  Each spring we visit the farm of our employee and yarn producer Suzy the Shepherdess to visit her sheep and play with the new lambs.  The sheep are alright, but the lambs are soooooooo cute!  It's no wonder that Mary took her little lamb to school one day!  We time it for when the lambs are just a few weeks old, so they are at a very jumpy and playful stage.  Did I say they were cute?

The sheep walking out to greet their guests.

Suzy warns us to not wear our good shoes, and then we all walk down to the barn and start chasing lambs!  They run and jump and play - we've even seen some do flips in the air.  So much energy!  Meanwhile Sean takes pictures of the chaos, while being very careful not to slip and drop his camera in the, um, mess.  It is a barn, after all!
Some of the FiberWild crew!  Suzy, Nicki, Matt, Wendi, Amy, Sean, Vera, Amber, The Other Matt and Taylor.

A chick feeding the chicks - and a sneak peak at the next Sock of the Month!
After chasing the lambs around, we all go to town for pizza and adult (carbonated) beverages!

Want to see cute videos of Suzy's sheep running around?  Check out the our FiberWild! Facebook page!

Happy Knitting . . . . Scout

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Jedediah Smith and the Redwood Forest

Jedediah Smith, 1835
Are you a fan of Jedediah Smith?  Chances are you haven't heard of him.  Smith was a frontiersman and explorer who in 1828 was the first known European to explore the area around what is now the Redwoods National Park in California. 

But he wasn't the first.  Many Native American groups have historical ties to the Redwood area, with some still living in the park area today.  Archaeological evidence shows that Native Americans were in the area as far back as 3,000 years ago.  An 1852 census showed the Yurok tribe with 55 villages and an estimated population of 2,500 in the area. 

So what's the big deal about Redwood trees?  Well, they're huge.  I mean, really really huge.  They can have branches up to five feet thick in diameter and can grow up to 378 feet tall.  They grow along the Northern California coast where they thrive in the moist, humid climate, helped along by the daily ocean fog that adds moisture to the soil.  They are so huge that their roots can't supply moisture up to the very tip tops of the trees - but their needles can pull in moisture from the air, which is only possible with the deep daily fog of California's northern coast.

Big Tree, Tiny Person
But their natural range wasn't always so restricted.  In prehistoric days they were found almost world wide, and near relatives of our modern Redwoods were on earth at the same time as the dinosaurs. 

(And yes, a redwood can be planted anywhere - even in your own backyard!  But without the humid air and daily fog they won't grow to the monstrous size that makes redwoods so famous).

John Steinbeck wrote about the redwoods in Travels with Charley  "The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It's not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time."  After looking through many photos of redwoods I agree - a picture doesn't do it justice, you really just have to see them for yourself. 

Stout Grove Socks
Surely Jedediah wore hand knit socks while exploring around the Redwood forests.  And if he had the choice, I'm sure his favorite exploring socks would have been the Stout Grove Socks, the latest in our Park Your Socks theme of our Sock of the Month series.  Inspired by the majesty and serenity of the redwoods, the Stout Grove Socks capture the subtle colors and textures of the glorious redwoods.  Check them out, and Park Your Socks!

Happy Knitting . . . . Scout

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Shearing Day!

Suzy at a historic site with hand shears
Scout, our kitten, is on vacation, so today's blog is being written by me, FiberWild's sheep expert, Suzy the Shepherdess. And the topic:  Shearing Day!

Most of the time raising sheep is a rather idyllic venture - except on Shearing Day.  Shearing Day is a day of hard work filled with sweat, dirt, lanolin and blood (the blood was all mine - the sheep are fine!).

Sheep shearing is always done in the spring, and the goal is to shear them about two or three weeks before they lamb.  Crop farmers lamb in February and March so that lambing and caring for any bottle lambs will be completely done before planting begins, but since I don't do any farming I schedule my due date for April or May.

Sheep shearer using electric shears
Spring shearing is best for the comfort of the sheep.  Shepherdess' want their thick winter coats removed before the hot summer months, but underneath all that wool is pale pink skin and they can get sunburns, so they need to have enough wool grown back before the start of summer to protect them from sunburn.  Spring shearing is also better for the lambs.  Lambs are, . . .  well, . . .  not very smart.  If a ewe (the mommy sheep) is in full fleece a hungry lamb will sometimes suck on a hunk of wool instead of nursing on a teat.  When the ewe is freshly sheared the lambs have a lot less trouble looking for their lunch.

I've been to sheep shearing school and used to shear my own sheep in the early years when I had just five, but now that my flock is over 30 sheep I hire a professional sheep shearer.    

I use hand shears while demonstrating sheep shearing at historic sites, but today professional sheep shearers use electric shears.  It is amazingly fast and fascinating to watch.  My sheep shearer takes about four minutes to shear a sheep.  The current World Record is 38 seconds.  It takes me about an hour per sheep - another reason why I don't shear my own!

Laying out the pelts in the upper barn
I'm often asked if it hurts the sheep, and the truth is that is doesn't hurt any more than it hurts you when you get a haircut.  My favorite shearing quote is from Tasha Tudor in Tasha Tudor's Heirloom Crafts, "It doesn't hurt a bit, but they are bothered by the indignity."  The shearing starts with them sitting on their butt, which is an unnatural position for them and they don't like it.  But I like to say that the sheep only have one bad day each year, and wouldn't you like to say that you had only one bad day each year!

After each sheep is sheared I take the sheep from the shearer and I trim their hooves.  Like your fingernails, sheep hooves grow continuously and need to be trimmed.  It also gives me a chance to give each sheep an inspection.  Maggots, fungus and unhealed wounds can go completely unnoticed under five to six inches of thick wool.  I once had a sheep with maggots (Gross!  And let me say it again - GROSS!), but that's been about 15 years ago and I haven't found any hidden health problems since then.  But still, it's always good to check.

Suzy trimming hooves
When I'm done I release the sheep to run around in the barn.  They don't talk, but if they did they would yell "Yippee!" as they run and jump like naked toddlers.  There is no doubt that they feel great once all that wool is removed.

As each sheep is sheared the fleece is loaded into a wheel barrel and taken up to the upper part of my barn where they are laid out like sections in a giant sheep-shaped crazy quilt.  The fleeces dry ('cuz they're sweaty), and wait to be skirted, washed, carded and spun into yarn.

The sheep are naked and happy - but we are not.  We are dirty, as you would expect, but we are also covered in lanolin.  Lanolin is a natural oil the sheep produce.  It is a wonderful skin softener and conditioner, and you'll find that most of your cosmetics and lotions contain lanolin.  So while you might think it would be nice to be covered in lanolin, this is not pure lanolin but lanolin mixed with dirt and manure.  My hands are black and greasy and my clothes are a shade darker and look wet from the grease.  Fortunately lanolin washes off easily with soap and hot water.   

Can you see the "stripes" from the electric shears?
As for the blood?  This year it was all mine.  I cut a deep gash when I put my thumb in the wrong place while I was trimming hooves.  Fortunately I trim the hooves after the sheep are sheared, so none of the gorgeous wool was stained with blood!  Lanolin is naturally antiseptic, good for the sheep when they get scratches from thistle in the pasture, and also good for the shepherdess who gets an ugly gash while trimming hooves. 

Now that the shearing is done it's time for the next (and most rewarding!) part of the sheep year: lots of lambs!

Check out more photos of Suzy's sheep, and Suzy the Shepherdess yarn, patterns, and kits, including the Shepherdess Shawl pattern, Shepherd's Hat pattern and kit, Stockton Socks kit, Pennsylvania Mittens kit, and Shepherdess Wristlet kit.

Happy Shearing . . . . Suzy the Shepherdess