Phinela: Part II

When we first moved to our town, we did not have any farm animals besides chickens. I did not come from a farming background, but after struggling with Chronic Lyme Disease and being rendered all but immobile, fiber became a passion. After we had lived here for only about one year, we found three angora goats on craigslist (I wouldn’t do that again!) and the rest is history.

During that year after we acquired the goats, I began thinking about sheep, as a way to use up all the mohair the goats were producing. So, we then found ourselves with two finnsheep. One day my husband came home from a run and asked if I had seen the ruins of the mill around the corner. I said no, and he began to tell me about how this mill was the first water-powered fiber mill in the country, and that it had a crazy story to go with it. So I went to check it out.

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“Beginning a mill in 1791 along Collyer Brook in what is now Gray, Maine, Samuel Mayall's operation became the first successful water-powered woolen mill in North America. Establishing the mills in Gray was not easy. Woolen interests in England had prohibited the production of goods in the colonies and worked diligently to prevent British wool-making technology from being put to use in competition with them. Realizing this, Mayall smuggled plans for his machinery out of England hidden in bales of cloth meant for trade with Indians. When British woolen guilds learned of his deception, they tried at least twice to kill him. Once they sent him a hat in which they had hidden pins laced with poison and another time a box with loaded pistols rigged to fire when the box was opened. Suspicious of both packages, Mayall managed to avoid the untimely death his enemies had planned for him.”

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“In time, the original single wooden structure grew into a sprawling mill complex, featuring two large buildings known as the lower mill and the upper mill, each powered by the water of Collyer Brook. Built in 1816 to expand Mayall’s production, the Upper Mill continued to produce woolen cloth until it was destroyed by fire in 1886. Despite the fire and decades of decay, one corner of the Upper Mill still stands.” A photograph of the Upper Mill can be found here.

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“After Samuel Mayall died in 1831, his daughters Mary and Phanela took over the milling operation and built the Lower Mill in 1834. This building continued to produce cloth in all but a few years until 1902. This photograph shows the Lower Mill and the buildings that once surrounded it. These include the original 1791 structure that was converted to a carpenter shop when the Upper Mill was built, the Picker House, where wool was picked, cleaned, and graded before being spun into yarn and the old Picker House.”

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It felt serendipitous, at the least, to discover that the area we were living in was once home to not only an incredible piece of history, but many farms that raised sheep for fiber production. This beautiful, serene location has also become our family’s favorite swimming hole. It is so far off the beaten track, and without any signage to point visitors to the spot, that we rarely see another soul. There is a lovely path that winds around the ruins of the mill and along the water’s edge, and the current is usually a great deal slower, but perfect below the mill for young children.

So there you have it. The story behind the names of our two lines of yarn; Phinela and Mary. It felt only right to honor them in some way, and what I imagine to be two smart, capable, and somewhat unusual, women. They ran a very successful business during a time when women were rarely known to do such things. I occasionally imagine them around as I am working, and wonder what they were like, if they would approve, or if running a business to them was merely a means to an end. In any case, their intrepid spirits live on in our yarn!

* All information above was found either on location, by way of informational signs, or here.

Phinela: Part I

One of the things I love most about being involved in the fiber world, is the people I get to meet. I feel like the luckiest woman in the world that I get to wake up every morning and be outside with the animals I adore, in all kinds of weather. Most days I have my hands in the dirt, and the rest of my time I get to enjoy not only the fruits of my labor in the garden, but also the fruits of working with fiber animals. Producing a fiber product from start to finish is a lot of work, but incredibly rewarding. Along the way, I work with other farmers, a shearer, veterinarians, animal supply store owners, apprentices, farm helpers, fiber mill owners and employees, vendors, knitters, artists, and pattern designers. It truly takes a village to create a farm-to-fiber product.

One incredible woman I have had the opportunity to get to know is a very talented pattern designer by the name of Beatrice Perron Dahlen (@threadandladle). She knew exactly what to do with my yarn, and created a lovely, luxurious shawl that is truly perfect for everyday use.

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Beatrice decided to call the shawl “Phinela”, after the name of our staple yarn blend, which is made with next-to-skin soft 60% finnsheep and 40% kid mohair, all from our flock/herd. Although I am partial to our own fiber, there are so many sport weight yarns out there that would be stunning as well for this pattern. And as Beatrice states, and I concur, knit with something you truly love! As the second half of a two-part post, I will be talking a bit about where the inspiration came from for the names of our two lines of fiber; Phinela and Mary.

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As many of you out there know, my background is actually photography, not fiber or farming. So, another part of my job is getting to occasionally put those skills to work. Most often I use them for my own products, but I LOVE photographing knitwear! This photoshoot was particularly fun, and Beatrice was a trooper when I asked her to go wading in the ocean to get to where the light was most beautiful.

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I am just itching to get this shawl knit up for myself in a couple of our naturally-dyed skeins. (See the previous post…I’m thinking that beautiful goldenrod…)

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If you are interested in knitting this shawl, please head over to Beatrice’s ravelry page, and snatch up the pattern. Also, while you are there, take a look at some of her other stunning work; she has also written a wonderful book!

August Dyeing

Let the dyeing marathon begin! These upcoming weeks will be devoted almost entirely to dyeing fiber in preparation for the Common Ground Fair. This is really my favorite part of the process, as creating the colors never does get old. This first batch is with some of our "Mary" yarn; a blend of 70% mohair, 30% finn, and the combination is just out of this world in terms of the luster. Because of that luster, every skein of yarn is jewel-like in its beauty. 

I am particularly fond of this gradient of blues into greens. I'm just itching for someone to purchase the lot of them and knit up something divine. My favorite of the whole dye batch is the second photo...goldenrod and weld. That color is a shade I begin to crave in the middle of winter, when I can't remember what the sun's rays feel like on my face...

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(Late) July, (Early) August

We've been so crazy busy the past few weeks that it's rare for me to have a free minute to sit down at the computer and write. There have been many beautiful, wonderful moments and family times of connection; a 60th birthday party, a visit from my brother and sister-in-law and their little boy all the way from Hawaii, a few perfect days at a lake, a new barn in the works, a bountiful and productive garden, and a quick getaway for just the two of us up North where there is nothing but silence and each other.

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July.

Tonight was one of those nights. It rained off and on for most of the day, and when it stopped, we were left with every beautiful scent of a humid July evening. The fog hung in the air like a thick blanket, wrapping itself around our bodies and filling the air with a sticky dampness that clings. There is nothing quite like the smell of damp earth and forest, but those who are lucky enough to know what I mean, well, you're lucky.

The challenge for me during this season is, as always, to slow down. I don't mean slow down and do nothing, I mean slow down and appreciate. Take notice. This can be done simply by taking an extra deep breath on a particularly fragrant evening, such as this. Or, closing my eyes and letting the sun warm my lids for a few seconds in the garden. It is difficult to remember to do those things, but they are imperative. Those few seconds of noticing have the power to change the entire day.

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Summer.

Well, I'm going to skip right over the past few months until later, because, well, I can. And it's peony season. I think if peonies and lily-of-the-valley bloomed year 'round, we would all be better people...or, at least our houses would smell like heaven.

Most of the time, my photos serve as a tool to illustrate a story, or promote something, and that's okay. But, there are times when I remember that I can photograph for pleasure too. Sometimes that's hard for me, to not necessarily have an "assignment"...creative freedom can be a tricky thing for a perfectionist. And really, how can one possibly capture the essence of such a flower in a flat image? Well, that's the challenge, I suppose. And yet, the essence of an object is a bit subjective; it means something different to everyone. I can only try to create an image that allows the viewer to see an object the way I saw it, felt it, smelled it, lived it.

 

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Of prolapses and bottle feeding.

Lambing this spring has not been without its challenges. One of our Shetland ewes, who has been a great mom and had no trouble in the past, ended up with a vaginal prolapse three weeks before  delivering. While not dangerous in itself, the prolapse means that the ewe must wear a harness until delivery, to hold everything in. The ewe can be bred in the future, but chances are, she'll always prolapse, and will have to wear a harness every year. However, when Maple went into labor, she never had contractions. The bag appeared, and 20 minutes later, another bag appeared, and that was it. She kept looking behind her and squatting like she had to go to the bathroom, but nothing else. So, we brought her into the barn and when I felt inside her, the first lamb's head and hooves were right at the entrance to the birth canal and Maple was fully dilated. So, I had to go in and pull the lambs out. They are beautiful, healthy babies, but no more breeding for Maple.

The last ewe to deliver was our smallest ewe, Ada, and it was her first time. The short of it is that she rejected one of her lambs, and he's now residing in our living room. He's a tiny thing, and now five days later, I'm still not sure he's going to make it. However, there is no shortage of love for this guy around here...

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Leading Bird.

Cora has been begging me for a shawl, and how can I say no to a hand knit item that my children are asking for? I knew I wanted to use my favorite batch of yarn...'Phinela' is our 40% mohair/ 60% Finn sheep blend, in an amazing chocolate color. So very soft, and the luster is out of this world. I've actually considered keeping all the skeins I have left because I love it so. 

I agreed to make a shawl for my sweet girl if she would agree to model it for me...not an easy thing to get from her these days. Lucky for me, she was absolutely thrilled and has been known to "wear" it to bed several times already. And I have been know to, um, steal it a few times in the recent past to do the same...

The pattern is Leading Bird by Leah B. Thibault, and can be found on Ravelry. It's a beautifully simple shawl that perfectly shows off the yarn, which has the look and feel of hand spun.

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February.

There has been the tiniest shift in the air lately. Enough to give hope, which is all I need to get me through the end of this month. Indeed, the earth certainly knows its time to wake up - sap buckets are being hung, the sun is stronger, the days are longer - but sometimes it feels as if we still have so very. Long. To. Go. 

However, tomorrow is supposed to be near 70 degrees! I was scheduled to drive to PA to pick up our new Angora Goat buck (more on that later), but how could I spend an entire ten hours stuck in a car on such an exquisite day?!? Well, it's supposed to be overcast and foggy, but even that is exquisite in my book when the temps get so high in February! We did have snow the other day, however, and we do still have March to come...but it seems manageable somehow when you are able to have just one days reprieve from cold temperatures in late winter!

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Happenings.

What a whirlwind it has been the last couple of months! Usually, there is a little bit of a lull after the holidays, and very welcomed at that, but this year was different! Between shooting stories for Taproot magazine, traveling to Tucson, teaching a knitting class, and the New England Farm to Fiber show at the Boston Public Market this past weekend, I've hardly had time to catch my breath. 

Look at these little cutie pies on the back and inside of the most recent issue of Taproot. I feel so fortunate that my children are still amenable to my photo shenanigans! 

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The Boston Farm & Fiber show was amazing. A complete and utter success. I felt so honored to be a part of its first year at the Boston Public Market, and hope to return next year as well. Not a terrible thing, but those 7 hours just about wiped out my inventory completely! Thank you Boston!!

Bitter Cold.

Maine has had record-breaking, bitter cold for the past week, and it's not letting up anytime soon! Tonight's lows are down to -20 degrees, which is truly scary. The pipes froze in our kitchen, with fires lit and the heat on too, and friends lost a young goat last night. It hurts to breathe, and being outside is actually, physically not possible for the children. We are not equipped for these temperatures, even in the northeast. At least not for a sustained period of time. I have heat lamps on in the barn, which usually only make an appearance during lambing and kidding season, and even then only when necessary.

But, the sheep are just fine. Happy, even! 

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2017.

This year, in short, has been hard. There have been so very many good things too, in regard to the farm, the fiber, connections with people, and personal growth. Looking back, it seems impossible to say that it was a "bad" year, because the difficulty and hardship feel inextricably bound to the all the good. 

I am living a life that I love. I feel blessed with the sheer number of wonderful, giving, talented, kind souls that have made their way into my life. Though difficult at times, homeschooling has become a part of this lifestyle, as opposed to it being just another commitment. I am able to use my creative inclinations almost on a daily basis...whether with photography or knitting or just in the way I choose to fold the laundry. My life has become one of deep connectedness to the natural rhythms of the earth, seasons, life and death. 

Those words, life and death, are scary for the general public, I believe. We tend to think of them only in terms of what they represent in the physical realm. Anyone that farms can tell you many stories of life's beginning and endings, as we have no choice but to face them on a daily basis. We are all quite matter of fact around here when a chicken meets its demise with a fox or fisher, and the children even more so than I when we lose a goat or a sheep. I still weep when I recall our first trip to the butcher with the lambs this fall, and I don't know for sure that it will get any easier. And I think that's okay. What helped me to get through it was being handed the still-warm skins to prepare them for drying. My tears mixed with the salt I was scattering, and as I witnessed the twitching and death of the nerve endings, I felt I was being given the opportunity to truly worship the process. I gave my thanks over and over and over, and even now, as I have the softest and most beautiful reminder of that life and death process beside me, I question it all. I question my right to take their life, I question my right to even raise them. But, as I watch so many of todays children and adults become more and more comfortable with not questioning these hard things, it feels right. How can we learn not to fear the most difficult of topics unless we understand that its all a part of a much greater picture?

This year, in other ways, has been a year in which I have had to truly question many things, as those closest to me are aware. A year that demanded major life-changing decisions and deep, heartbreaking talks with many tears. A year of hurt, of healing, of grief, of growth and ultimately, the birth and death of self

As this year approaches its end, I am ready. It has been long, and hard, and wonderful and sad, filled with sorrow and joy and excitement and frustration. I am grateful to every single person that played their part, little or big, in the story of 2017. Time to move forward.

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Common Ground Fair Recap

I grew up attending the Common Ground Fair. The annual trip was more the gateway to fall than any other significant event, day on the calendar or particular coffee flavor. As I got older, the fair changed...it got better, and bigger and more important to me as I began my own journey into homesteading, parenting and now farming. I always felt I couldn't get enough...I longed to partake in every workshop and hear every speaker. My children and I have camped for all three days of the fair for the past few years; volunteering, socializing and eating our way around the grounds.

And last year something changed. By the end of the second day, I was finished. I felt as if I had done everything, and I was ready for something different. It turns out that what I was ready for, specifically, was a change in my role at the fair. 

This year I was honored to take part in a different way, with my own booth, selling fiber from my own farm. I can't say I ever thought my future would hold this, but it felt like the perfect, natural next step. My children were able to take part (though I did not see them for four hour stretches at a time, busy as they were with friends!), and knowing that they, too, are growing up with this fair as a part of their lives gives me the greatest pleasure of all.

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Despite record breaking heat (in the 90's all three days!), it was a perfect weekend. And people still bought yarn! I guess they know that winter will come eventually, and there will be many a snowstorm to knit through...

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Aren't these flowers amazing? I have a two very dear high school friends who have just started a flower farm, and made the most beautiful bouquets I could have dreamed of for my booth. I had so many people just stop to take photos of the flowers!

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I finally got everything I have left after the fair posted to my online shop, and will also be attending a few holiday shows in the month of December, so stay tuned for more info about that! In the meantime, here are a few of my absolute favorites :)

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Can you believe this is dyed with Calendula and Coreopsis?!? So beautiful!

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This chocolate brown is probably my favorite of everything I have in stock...there is just something about it. Super soft and squishy, with an amazing luster that is magnified by the slight color variations of the mohair/finn blend. 

September.

September has been so very busy! Shearing, harvesting, photo-shooting, article-writing, homeschool-prepping, traveling (Mother Earth News Fair with Taproot magazine!), kids' sport practice transporting, fiber-dyeing, Common Ground Fair-ing...and we're only half way through the month! I am utterly exhausted, but trying to get through and remain healthy.

I'm feeling like my poor garden got the short end of the stick this summer, and I am missing it sorely. Of some things we have plenty, but many others we have none. Successive plantings did not happen, blight caught the tomatoes for the first time, the weeds took over, and plenty of insects had their way this year. 

Well, I suppose we can only do what we can do. There is always next year!

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Scotland Part I

I have a complete and total infatuation with all things Scotland. And no, not because of the Outlander series (although that did reaffirm some of my reasons for loving that great, beautiful, magical country of kilt-wearers). 

My family has strong ties there with our Scottish heritage being very directly linked to both Clan MacKenzie and Clan Hamilton. It is the only place I have every traveled to where I feel like I am home. Like I belong, and not only that, like I have belonged for hundreds of years. Like these are my people, and this place resonates so deeply within my soul that I would drop everything and move there in a heartbeat.

Scotland calls to me when I am not there, and when I am there, I cry. I weep because it is the place I feel as if I spent my entire childhood searching for. It truly feels as if every trail leads to a magical portal, every stream to a fairyland, and any moment a unicorn could come stepping through the fog. 

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