Monday, February 25, 2013

just before daybreak

There was a lot of this in the dim light of dawn today... 

Lots of balancing, lots of clinging...

Lots of magic.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Must be Spring...somewhere.

WARNING: truly terrible photo alert!  

I've tried for three mornings in a row to get decent pictures to illustrate this post, and these are the best so far.  I'm very sorry.

This is a picture of a black goat.  (Trust me.  It is.)

Specifically, the part of a goat where the neck meets the shoulder.
I put a collar on the goat to help you envision this. Also, so you would believe that I am not just taking close-up pictures of bearskin rugs or something.

Now let's look a bit closer.  Watch out for the horns.

See that wisp of fluff peeking out from the black hair?

This is a sight to gladden the heart.

This is what it's all about!

This is cashmere.

Cashmere is the seasonal undercoat cashmere-producing goats grow to protect themselves from winter cold. They shed it in the warmer weather (which is not here yet, black goat!!) and the fiber is traditionally harvested - very laboriously - by combing the goats by hand when they are shedding.

Some of the outer coat is unavoidably combed out as well, and these coarser hairs must all be removed from the very soft cashmere fiber before the yarn can be spun.

Wow! More close-ups, now with arrows!!

Even though it is always exciting to see the first loose wisp of fiber that signals the start of harvest time, my reaction is mixed right now.

Actually, my first reaction three days ago was:


The weather has been variable, with the occasional "warm" day in the high-30s (F), but there have also been many days and many more nights of single-digit cold.

And snow. And ice.

This week has been one of bitterly cold wind, blowing for hours and hours.  For entire days and nights.

In my opinion, this is no time to be removing one's winter underwear.

Are you listening, black goat?

"Do I look like I'm listening?"

I've heard that some people now shear cashmere goats.  I haven't seen it done, so I don't have an informed opinion about it.  It certainly would be a incredible time-saver, but it would also mean the entire topcoat is being harvested, all of which would then have to be removed from the fiber as part of the processing.  And my (uninformed) gut feeling is that shearing a goat would leave a very sensitive animal in a very unnatural state.  But if anyone has first-hand experience with shearing cashmere goats, I would LOVE to learn about it, so please post a comment!

The black goat is shedding the cashmere from her neck first (tremendously slimming, don't you know!) so very little hair came with it.  When I start combing her body, there will be a lot more hair mixed in with the cashmere.

In this picture you can see the individual black hairs mixed in with the cashmere fiber:

You can also see how I came up with the name
Cloud Harvest Cashmere

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

HayMan and the Watchdog

HayMan came yesterday.  

It was the first time he has ever chosen not to attempt the plowed driveway, but to park at the first slope and carry three bales all the way up the driveway, past the house, into my barn.  

One bale per trip.  Back and forth.

Because Piper is such a phenomenal watchdog, she stood at the parlor window watching HayMan do this, and never uttered a peep.  My first indication that there was a human on the property was the loud knock on the back door which just about made me jump out of my skin.

Nice work, Piper.
"Sorry. Can't discuss this now. I am on Guard Duty."

If there had been a squirrel in sight during any of this?  
She would have barked the roof off.

For those who were interested in the structure of snow crystals the other day, here are some ice crystals on the edge of the goats' water bucket.

And for scale, here are my boots again.  The snow is packed down around the bucket, so you are seeing the cuffs of my Filson chaps.  

I love my Filsons, but this is the first time I have ever worn them "just" for snow.  They are wonderful for working in brush (especially thorny brush) but after my my first bootfuls of melting snow on Saturday, I retrieved the Filsons from their nail in the workshop and have been wearing them for chores, over my jeans and muck boots.

WHAT a difference.

I am intrepid.

I am invincible.

I am wearing dry jeans.

Because I think someone may ask, I bought my chaps and lots of my other fieldwork equipment years ago from an outfit called Forestry Suppliers.  These folks have always been a pleasure to do business with.  One of the most fun shopping experiences I've ever had was when I was replacing my snowshoes and had a lengthy phone conversation with two of the Forestry Supplier people regarding the angle of rise on the toes of two different snowshoe styles.  When I called them, I had not realized the company is located in Mississippi; a State which may be generally called "a snowshoe-free zone."  But those folks sure went out of their way to get an answer to my question!

My chaps (getting back to the subject) were made by an old US company, as was my orange timber-cruising vest.  In the interest of providing accurate information here, I just googled the company website.  Sadly, so very often, even products that have been made in the US for ages have been farmed out (usually to China) in the past 20 years or so.

I am SO glad I googled Filson!  Because, guess what:

Filson makes 276 products in the US.

Not everyone needs chaps (or a timber-cruising vest), but for those of us who appreciate well-made outdoor clothing, or even just rugged and practical gear (they have luggage! and laptop bags!) there are a lot of items on this website that may be welcome news indeed.  It is hard to find good, strong, functional stuff.  Stuff that looks like it will be working for as long as we will be working, and then perhaps be handed on to someone else who will be very pleased to have it.  I am not much of a shopper, but several Filson items made it to my wishlist today.

(I probably don't need to say this, but just in case: I have nothing to gain, personally, from recommending either Filson or Forestry Suppliers.  Neither company would know me if I walked through their door.  Well, there are a couple of employees from Mississippi who might remember me if I walked through their door and started talking about snowshoe toes, but that's about it.) 


And that's enough about snow for a while, isn't it?

Maybe it's time to make something nice to eat.  It's been soups and quiches lately...lovely comfort food that takes almost no effort and tastes like, well, comfort.

Here's hoping you have a lovely, comfort-filled day!

"Wait, did somebody say 'quiche'?  I'm pretty sure I  LOVE quiche."


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Real Snow

We got it.

Wore my tallest muck boots, the ones that touch my kneecaps, for chores this morning, but the snow laughed at my boots.  Then filled them up.  Then melted, saturated my jeans and froze them to my legs. Hahaha! said the snow.

On a brighter note...
aren't my goats lucky to have such nice hay to eat?
All my goats love HayMan.
HayMan is my goats' favorite person in the Whole Entire Universe.

I tried an experiment this morning.  It's something I've been planning to do the next time we had deep snow.  Instead of delivering hay via a straight line between goat shelters in the little paddock, I made a deliberately meandering path.  Here's why:

In snow that is even a few inches deep, my goats prefer to stick exclusively to MY path through the snow, walking along in single-file.  If new snow is more than a few inches deep they will actually linger in their shelter in the morning, waiting for me to break trail for them.

The big babies!

In a typical winter, that means there will eventually be a single, narrow, ice-and-poop-encrusted trail that the goats follow all winter.  They ignore the rest of the paddock that I spent so much time and effort fencing for them.

The fencing is also for me, I suppose.  There is a possibility that at least one of my goats, the big black doe, would prefer to move right into the house.  There she could relax in the parlor, alternately working on her memoir and amusing herself by staring Piper into a state of befuddled frenzy.

So, back to the path.  I would like the goats to use and fertilize more of the paddock throughout the winter.

According to my plan, then - a plan made before there was thigh-deep snow - the first thing I did when I went out to feed this morning was trudge a meandering route through the little paddock.  Took 10 minutes and I'll tell you what: I'm glad I did it first thing, because that is the LAST unnecessary expenditure of energy there will be around here today!

After that little flight of whimsy, what would normally be 20 minutes of bare-minimum chores took an hour and a half, and I came in soaked to the skin with either melted snow or sweat, depending on geography. (Yes, who's the big baby now, eh?  And I used to work in the woods, in the winter, all day long, and loved it.  Shocking!  Or sad.  Or shockingly sad!)

The goats did follow one of the loopy paths down to their hay, and to be fair, even within the paths the snow is still at least a foot deep.  I wish I had gotten pictures of one of the youngsters, thrilled to find himself at the front of the line and leaping like a fish to get through the snow to be First At The Hay!

But it was not a great morning for pictures.  It was still snowing and blowing and dim.  After nearly dropping the camera twice while trying to stay on my feet in the wind, it seemed like that was about enough fun with photography for the moment.  Fun with the shovel called to me.

 I did get this one of Piper's first leap from the porch.  
Piper embraces life, with or without snow.
But even Piper chose to follow my path.

(The big baby!)


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Hollywood snow

We've had a few dustings since the last real snow.

In fact, just yesterday we had a fresh inch or so, but it was very peculiar.  It looked like something created in a Special Effects studio, by someone who had never seen actual snow.

This didn't look like snow at all; more like some type of very lightweight plastic material, blown out of a giant machine to turn a film set into
"New England Landscape." 

It wasn't flakes.  

It was fluffy, yet sort of clumpy, bits.

It was bits of clumpyfluff.
I don't know if these picture can convey
 how totally un-snowlike this snow really was.

Maybe a close-up will help?  You can also click any of these pictures
to embiggen.

The weatherpeople say we are likely to receive quite a skyload of snow in the next couple of days.  If it turns out to be more of this fluffy, odd-looking material, I will let you know.  And I won't be complaining.  Two feet of this stuff would certainly be a lot lighter than two feet of real snow.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

when life hands you lemons

Well, here's a funny thing.

The moment I added that crazy "Pink Lemonade" to the dyepot, it was apparent: at maximum saturation it was exactly the soft color I was looking for!  

But...I only had one packet, not the four that would probably be necessary.  The last thing I had expected was that I would want to use a full-tilt Kool-Aid color for a pale pink dye. (Seriously.  At full saturation, Kool-Aid tends to be either primary color or neon.)  I had the requisite four packets of several other flavors on hand, but only one Pink Lemonade.  So a loop of yarn floating near the top of the dyepot soaked up all the dye in a heartbeat, and the rest of the yarn was...white.

White, white, white.

Scrambling for more pink dye, I hastily mixed up a packet of "Cherry" flavor in a separate measuring cup, to see if it might work.  As one might expect from something called "cherry," it was red.

Vampire Novel Book-Jacket Red.  Ugh.

It seemed that the only thing to do was to admit defeat, let the yarn dry, and dye it again when more Pink Lemonade was available.  And hope that the overdyed yarn would not be blotchy.  Which it almost certainly would be, darn it.

Then I spotted the box of food coloring which has been gathering dust on the shelf over my stove for about a decade.  Don't ask me why.  Absolutely no idea. 

(To clarify: I know why dust has been gathering, I just don't know why the food coloring was purchased in the first place.)

What's to lose?  I scooped two cups of hot water out of the pot, added one drop of red food coloring, then returned it to the pot near a section of glaringly white yarn.

Not a bad blend.  Quite nice, in fact!

So I did it again, and again, and again, rolling the yarn gently to reveal white sections, until it seemed most of the yarn had been exposed to some kind of dye, and all the dye had been absorbed.

Then, because I had no idea whether the food coloring would wash right out, I tried to wash it out:

Seemed to be sticking...

At this moment, the washed yarn is draped over a shower rod in several loops, drying.  There is a much more light/white than what I had originally envisioned, although the picture below does not capture that. Trust me: still lots of white.  My fingers are crossed that the white sections will enhance the intended project, but only time and a lot of knitting will tell.

Unplanned or semi-expected results seem to be the nature of this kind of dyeing - at least, it seems to be that way whenever I do it, but I'll be very interested to hear from others about their experiences with food dyes!

I'm sure this yarn will look different again when it is dry, but I wanted to take a quick snap to post before the light was gone.  A fun project, another learning experience, and a hank of yarn that will soon be on the needles for a special project  :)

Whew.  I came this close to vacuuming today!

almost too natural

I'm so happy to see comments on the previous post from other people who like to play with fiber-dyeing!  And of course I'm very happy to hear from fans of that most wonderful color: Brown!

But today, we're looking for pink.  And I don't have any botanical materials on hand that will yield pink, so...get out the talking pitchers, it's a Kool-Aid kind of day!

For those who do not have easy access to packets of Kool-Aid powder, here is an example of this loved/hated American beverage:

I'm intrigued by the "natural flavor with other natural flavor," but the lack of caffeine may be an unfortunate oversight.  It doesn't really matter to me how much (or how many) "natural flavors" my yarn acquires, but isn't the idea of wearing caffeinated socks...invigorating??

Please step aside there!
Dancing feet, coming through!

Well, it's a thought.

But this particular hank of yarn is not destined to become socks, so the lack of caffeine is irrelevant.

This time.

Step One:  the yarn is soaking in plain water.  The idea is that saturated yarn will be more likely to take up the dye evenly.

The next time you see this hank, it will look very different.

I hope!!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

So. Kool.

As an example of my nearly limitless ability to avoid cleaning my house, I am preparing to dye yarn.

This is an experiment.  It is always an experiment.  I enjoy experimenting with botanical dyeing, usually with Black Walnut hulls from local trees.

Black Walnuts make brown yarn.  Turns out, I really like brown yarn.  "Brown" is more exciting than it sounds.  Well, it is exciting to me, anyway.

See, here's some:

This yarn is an 80% superwash merino/20% bamboo blend.  Doesn't that color look like soft, sweet, homemade molasses taffy?

Don't you just want to hold it up to your nose and inhale deeply?

Ahhhhhhh.  Mmmmmmm.

No?  Well, okay, moving on.
Almost exactly 2 years ago, I tried dyeing with Kool-Aid for the first time. There are many, many, many online tutorials for Kool-Aid dyeing, and at least one dedicated group of enthusiasts on  The rav group is called What a Kool Way to Dye, and if you want to see projects made with some bright and cheerful home-dyed yarn, that's a very good place to look.

It's easy to see why Kool-Aid dyeing is so popular, especially for a crafty project to do with kids: it is quick, easy, safe, and fun.  The colorful results can be startling (at least to someone who is so enamored of the many subtle and delightful shades of brown) but there is also a sense of playfulness that comes with the crayola crayon hues.

This is what my first Kool-Aid experiment produced, and it is quite tame by Kool-Aid standards:

I was aiming for variegated forest greens on this 100% superwash merino.  After my first "flavor" produced a brilliant green that would knock you over backwards, some mighty fast back-pedaling with a blue "flavor" turned down the visual volume and yielded this spruce-and-snow-colored, variegated yarn.  Whew!  Nice save!

I wish I could show you the gorgeous socks that were made with this yarn!  But I did not make them.  Lucy Locket made them, and if you happen to read this and have a snap of those socks handy, Lucy, please email it along and I will add it to this post!!  I love those socks!

Update: Yay!  Lucy came through with a picture  :) 

After that first rollercoaster Kool-Aid experience, I try to be prepared to just have fun and expect the unexpected.  But this time is different.  This time, I am looking for a specific result.

Kool-Aid: the Search for a Soft Pink

I've done my research, poked through my box o' dye stuff, and found what I hope will produce a soft (Soft, please! Do you hear me Kool-Aid?) pink tone, on a hank of yarn I've been saving for Something Special.

The yarn is a squooshy fingering weight from Cherry Tree Hill, called Sockittome Select.  It's 80% superwash merino and 20% nylon.  I plan to use 1/4 to 1/2 the Kool-Aid I would expect to produce a saturated color.  My guess is that the superwash component will soak up the dye like crazy, and the nylon will absolutely not, producing a yarn that has some fairly deep pink and some almost white fibers blended together along its entire length.  (Mind you, this may be totally and completely wrong.  Yarn dyeing!  So exciting!!)

Would you like to come along for the ride?  Because I am not writing this post after the fact; I am writing in "real time."  The yarn has not yet been soaked, the dyepot has not been filled or even been dusted (see opening line on this post).  Nope, it's Saturday and the yarn will be dyed on Sunday.

At least, that's the plan...

Friday, February 1, 2013

And the winners are....

The results are in, for the very first Comptonia giveaway!

The nuts & bolts:
I assigned a number to each entry in each drawing, then used the free random number generator from to select the winners.

Drumroll, please.

The winner of the tiny embroidered purse from Mongolia is:


Congratulations, InJuneau!  Your little prize will be on its way north (way way north!) as soon as you send me your mailing info via an email or a PM on rav.
Another drumroll?
Too much suspense?
Okay, then. Without further ado:

The winner of a felted wool eyeglass case from Kyrgyzstan is:

Ronda at Mountain Delights

Congratulations, Ronda!  Please email your mailing address and tell me whether you would like the grey or the tan case, and I will send your selection ASAP.
Thanks to everyone who entered the drawing and to everyone who has visited during the first two weeks of this blog's existence. I appreciate each and every comment and email, and am grateful for all the encouragement!

It's very flattering that so many readers have chosen to "follow" Comptonia.  I am such a rookie blogger, I am still trying to understand the difference between subscribing to a blog in an RSS feed (which is what I have always done in the past) and "following" or "joining" a blog.  (Is also a there a difference between "following" and "joining"?  Oh, there is so much to learn!)

It's lovely to meet so many new bloggy-friends, thanks to Vicki's Grow Your Blog Party.  I'm still wending my way through the list of participants, and enjoying each garden, project, and cup of tea along the way  :)

There will be more posts to come soon, on this fledgling blog.  There will be crafty creative stuff (I hope), trees and plants (lots), cooking (a little), and occasional guest appearances by Piper, who now wishes me to address her as Your Bloggy Highness...but I am resisting!

And, of course, there will be goats.  Please come back and visit again  :)