The doubleweave blanket is finished

In March I posted that I was getting ready to weave my third handspun, doubleweave blanket.  I added a photo of the warp yarns, looking as if they were ready to hop onto the loom.  But in reality, I did not complete the warp until the end of May, when we were getting ready to take our entire family of 11 to Sydney, Australia to join John’s extended family for his mother’s 100th birthday.  Yes, really–and Ina Harrison stood before us all and gave a brilliant speech in which she responded to the two essential questions of the centenarian:  What does it feel like to be 100?  And – What advice do you have for the rest of us?  It was a great party with entertainment provided by the families of each of Ina’s children.  For the Harrisons from Oregon, the entertainment involved wearing fake beards made of Romney locks needle felted onto food service beard nets and the wearing of a ‘wig’ made from natural colored Romney locks attached to a knitted stocking cap.  

So that is why I did not start weaving until late in June.  The weaving, even on a big project like this, goes quickly.  In 3 weeks the blanket came off the loom.

Here it is, still folded in half lengthwise as it was woven.

Late in the design process I decided to try using a fibonacci sequence for my two main colors–turquoise and light brown or tan.  This required lots of internet research and graph paper as I tried to figure out how the sequence could be applied to a warp with nearly 700 threads, only half of which would be visible to me during the weaving process.  

 I hand-washed the blanket (in the bathtub), spun the water out in the washing machine, and dried it on a delicate setting for about 20 minutes.  Then it was hung over a thick curtain rod overnight.  I steamed it using an iron and damp cotton cloth, and after each section was steamed, I brushed the surface to create a soft, fulled effect without losing more size.  It was challenging to estimate how much the blanket would shrink and therefore where to place the black stripes that were supposed to define the edge of the bed.  The warp was measured at 136″ long, and the width in the reed was 46″ x 2 or 92″.  The woven length (after loom waste and normal contraction) was 112″ long and 90″ wide.  After fulling and steaming, it is 97″ long and 87″ wide.   Below are two photos to show how it turned out. 

Follow-up to April post about Exhibition 

In April, we sent off photos and descriptions of one weaving each to the Multnomah Arts Center in Portland.  They were planning an exhibition on Fiber Artistry for the month of June.  Soon we heard back that our pieces had been accepted.  We were given more instructions–how to label our work, when to deliver it, etc.  Fortunately the delivery date and the opening reception were both scheduled for the week before we planned to depart for Australia.

I was very flattered when the postcards announcing the exhibition came out with my Ruana, along with two other pieces, as the ‘cover’ art.  Here is a photo of the postcard:

  • We enjoyed the opening reception.  There were many excellent weavings and it was delightful to talk with the artists about their work.  We met Peg Silloway, the main organizer of the exhibition.  There was also an interesting woman named Barbara who asked wonderful questions and made positive comments about everyone’s work.  On her nametag it said “Juror,” but we didn’t know what that meant.  We were thinking it was almost time to go when Peg called for everyone’s attention.  She introduced Barbara Pickett, who was at the exhibition representing the Handweaver’s Guild of America.  So Barbara, Associate Professor Emeritus of the Art Department at the University of Oregon, was here on official business–to judge our work!  She spoke very positively of the quality of the weaving she saw in the exhibit.  Then she spoke at some length about the piece that she felt stood out as deserving the HGA’s excellence award.  This piece respected tradition as well as adding new ideas to it, seemed to tell a story, and the color choices were, in her view, ‘spiritual.’  She noted that it was woven of hand-spun wool and acknowledged the challenges involved in that as well. Who was the weaver?   Our own John Harrison!  He says, “You could have knocked me over with a feather!”  Needless to say, the weavers at the Damascus Fiber Arts school are very proud of John and excited for him.  They said, “No more claiming you are a novice!”    Here is a photo of John with his ribbon and certificate.  His weaving will appear early next year in the magazine of the Handweaver’s Guild of America.  It really is a beautiful weaving.

The Wool is Off!

We started preparing the sheep for shearing several days in advance.  This being the second wettest year on record, we knew it was essential to make sure the sheep and their wool were dry before shearing.  And we knew that the shearing would not be easy because the fleeces are huge and there was mud and other unappealing stuff in the wool, especially at the back end.  So we decided to trim hooves and administer dewormer before shearing rather than during the process, and we undertook to clean up the backsides by clipping the area with hand shears. Definitely no one’s idea of a fun activity, but wet poopy wool gums up the electric clippers Beth uses and makes the whole process much more laborious.

This year we decided to pen the sheep overnight to keep them dry (yes, it rained after a sunny day) and to withhold food from them.  We thought they would complain loudly about this–missing both dinner and breakfast–but instead they all relaxed, laid down inside the stall, and chewed their cud all night.  It was a peaceful scene until they saw us and began clamoring for food.

Here they are, ready for shearing.   If space allows, sheep will run when we approach to handle them, and that creates stress for all of us. Hence the portable gates that pull everyone together into a snug bunch.  The shearing area will be set up in the far corner of the stall.

Beth is getting ready to remove over 10 pounds of wool from this ewe.  Our daughter Susan  (who is also the designer of our website) has come out to help.  She grew up on our farm, raised 4-H and FFA lambs, and has a way with animals.  It takes two people to bring an unwilling sheep away from her flock-mates to the shearing ‘floor’ (in our case, a piece of plywood).  So, two shepherds (John and Susan), one shearer (Beth), and one wool-packer (Marilyn)–I label plastic bags with the sheep’s name and year, grab the obviously undesirable parts of the fleece as they come off and throw them away, then fold up the fleece and stuff it into the bag.

In the next photo, Beth has shorn the belly, neck, and head.  She is about half done.  Next she will roll the sheep over to take the wool off her other side in long smooth strokes.  Shearing is not for those with weak backs!  Note how lovely the wool looks from the inside.

We do not rush the shearing.  Between sheep, we discuss the flock and our plans for it, assess the health of each individual, and allow ourselves to rest.  After about 3 hours, we have 11 fleeces bagged up and the sheep are ready to go out to the pasture.  The lambs and mothers have located each other (sometimes a challenge due to the change in mom’s appearance), and I imagine it feels good to have all that heavy wool off.

Soon they are out on the pasture, doing what they do best–munching.  Now the real fun begins for the fiber artists:  sorting, skirting, soaking, and washing the wool.

Exhibition at the Multnomah Arts Center

At the urging of fellow weaver Phoebe, John and I both submitted entries to the Portland Handweavers Guild for an exhibition that will be set up in June at the Multnomah Arts Center.  This was our first time to photograph our work, write a couple of paragraphs about it, and submit various paperwork to the guild.  If accepted, our pieces will be on display along with the work of lots of other weavers.  John submitted his latest, “After the Klagetoh”.  John always plans his weaving carefully, thanks to his career as an architect.  He intends to include the drawing of this rug as well.  After he draws and colors half of the design, he can make a color copy and tape the two together to see how the whole rug will look.

















I submitted the ruana I wove in 2016.  The warp yarns were dyed with indigo and lichen known as usnea.  I had just two skeins of the indigo, so I concentrated the blue toward the middle of the ruana.  I made a spreadsheet to inventory my yarns, calculate lengths needed, and to plan the pattern.  A useful tool for a floor loom weaver, but not a part of the work of art like John’s architectural drawings.  I found the shawl pin at a fiber arts supply store on line–it’s perfect with this shawl.




“After the Klagetoh” is finished!

Ring the bell!  John has finished a new piece.  It was inspired by weavings of the Klagetoh people on the Navajo reservation.  The piece is 24 inches wide and 54 inches long.

Someone asked “how long did it take you to weave it?”  It’s a difficult question to answer.  First, the sheep have to grow the wool.  Then we need to shear the sheep and wash the wool.     John draws up many possibilities before settling on the final design.  Once that is determined I can proceed to spin the yarn he needs.  Then he dyes the yarn according to his design.

In this case, he began actually weaving in late November, and removed the finished rug on April 1st.  He thought this piece went very quickly because of the narrower width.

Handweaver’s Guild Retreat

For the first time, I went to the Portland Handweavers Guild retreat.  About 16 people gathered at the Cedar Ridge Center in Vernonia, which is a basketball camp for kids.  It suited us perfectly–lots and lots of bunk rooms, a huge dining hall with plenty of space for us to spread out all our stuff, good food and a beautiful setting.  It was amazing to see what people brought.  Looms of all sizes and types, a sock machine, some amazing antique spinning wheels, sewing machines, and lots and lots of projects.  I took my table loom and a spinning wheel.  I was determined to get a small project on the loom and tossed a bag of yarn into the car with absolutely no plan.  It was wonderful getting to know the people, getting help and ideas from such creative, experienced and knowledgeable folks.

Sleeping areas at the top of the hill next to the camera; the dining hall is the low red building far below.

I established myself in this corner next to the window.

Right next to the fireplace, I had room for all my loot.

Here is the long view of the dining hall–you can see it is cavernous!  The hosts provided extra lights which we directed up to the ceiling.  Several people brought their own task lighting as well.


With help from Stephanie I decided on a red and white warp.  Now, what to weave as weft?  That was a big challenge.  I decided to use multi-colored yarn I had made several years ago.  But when I began weaving, it looked awful.  Red on red and white, no sense of pattern.  So I un-wove the three inches I had done and started over.  This time I created color bands.  Much better!

I’m calling this my “tablecloth scarf”.


Getting ready to weave the blanket

I know there are weavers out there who warp a loom and weave a project in a day or two.  I have to sneak up on it slowly.  Because I use all hand-spun yarns, there are many weeks of spinning to build the inventory for a large project.  I make a spreadsheet to determine how much yarn will be needed for warp and weft.  The design goes through many phases of development too.  For this blanket, the warp will have three colors and the weft will be all natural gray.   For the dyed wool, I used Reyna’s fleece.  It was a lamb’s fleece and lovely to spin.  For the gray, I used Rufus’s 2016 fleece blended with some lighter gray from a Merino Cross fleece that I purchased at the Black Sheep Gathering and split with friend Catherine Crooker.  It made the yarn softer in feel and lighter in color.  For the black, I used the Black Welsh Mountain roving I bought from Judy Sleavin, a new member of the Aurora Guild who attended this year’s winter retreat.  The Welsh wool is more primitive, and had been prepared by Columbia Scouring so that I could spin it from the inch-thick roving ‘rope’ Columbia had created.  Dyeing 12 skeins one color is a challenge.  You fill a big pot, calculate how much dye powder to mix in, soak the yarn to get it wet, then try to submerge it all at once and circulate the dye throughout without agitating too much or losing all your labels in the soup.

Once the turquoise and brown yarns were dyed, I could lay out the colors and see how it all looks together.  I’ve saved out small amounts to weave a sample on the table loom before taking the plunge on the big loom.  What do you think?  Will the gray weft take too much away from the lovely turquoise, or will it make a lovely blanket?  We will soon find out.

New Ladies Join the Flock

We recently learned that Harriet and Tom Beck were going to be leaving their farm due to medical issues, and needed to find a new home for their last four ewes.  Turns out they were mostly Romneys.  So naturally, I felt we should consider taking them on.  The loss of Reyna last fall left us with only three breeding Romney ewes, one of them a yearling, and Willow– who is a Blue-Faced Leicester and not a Romney.  So after much contemplation and many emails back and forth with the Becks, we took the plunge.  We ended up with the four lovely ladies, each 6-7 years old, and the loading ramp that was quite helpful in getting them onto the truck.

It was a shock for them to be moved at this stage in life.  We put them in with “the boys”–Ralph the ram, three young wethers due to go to ‘freezer camp’ soon, and Rufus, our natural colored wether.  Ralph was very welcoming, and joined the four newcomers as soon as we opened the gates and allowed the sheep to mingle.  He slept near them for several nights and grazed with them on the hill.  The other boys have essentially ignored the ladies.

Here they are, shortly after arrival.

They had names, but we chose to assign new ones to most of them.  They don’t mind.  Clockwise from the left front, they are Ruby, Sally, Rose, and Lucy.  Lucy is a cross-bred ewe who seems to be mostly Border Leicester, though Harriet was not sure about that since her wool is not much like a Border Leicester, and the only notes they had called her a Montadale cross.  The three Romneys definitely need a good forehead trim!

From a Border

For much of 2016, John worked on this rug, titled “From a Border”  on his loom at home.  The design was inspired by a Pueblo embroidery border motif.   It came off the loom in the fall of 2016.  Here he is getting ready to take it off the loom.


Voila!  Here it is, before finishing touches and fringe.


The blanket 2017

At last, I have finished spinning the five pounds of yarn I will need for my next blanket project! This time, it will be plenty long, because I measured the bed and allowed for shrinkage and tucking in.  It will be woven double-width, so the width of the loom limits the width of the blanket to about 82 inches after washing/fulling.  Good thing we have a double bed.

I’ll be using some black yarn from Judy’s Black Welsh Mountain sheep, some gray yarn from our Rufus blended with a purchased merino cross light gray fleece, and some white yarns that will be dyed with acid dyes.  Yesterday, I gathered up my courage and dyed the yarns.  There were 12 skeins to be dyed turquoise (Aussie Landscapes dye called “Ice”) and 7 to be dyed a light tan (Judith Mackenzie’s “worker brown”.  I even tested the dyes on small skeins I’ll use to weave a sample on the table loom.   Things went ok, except that the brown was a bit dark and I was not sure why.  I decided to make the dye bath about 1/4 strength to keep the final dye light.  But the math wasn’t easy, and things did not look right.  I was getting nervous, wondering if I have forgotten how to do basic arithmetic.  Finally I understood the problem:  one set of dyes work on a 10% basis, meaning dye powder is weighed out at 10% of the fiber weight. The other set are weighed at 1%.  So yes, I had missed a decimal point, but it was because the dyes are different.

Here are the results:

Willow becomes a mother–big time!

Willow went into the lambing pen on the evening of March 5th, because she was clearly uncomfortable with contractions, stretching, and pawing the ground.  I checked her hourly until midnight, then at 4 am, and John checked around 7:30, and there was no evident progress.  Here she is in her “confinement’.

I spent time with her during the snowy morning, and she was very agitated, pawing the ground and circling the pen, but never lying down to push a lamb out.  I went inside around 10:30.  John checked on her a few minutes later and came back to say, “she’s really into it, you better not get on your exercise bike just yet.”  Turns out she was lying down, pushing with all her might.   I got in the pen but just observed several big contractions.  Then I noticed a foot.  Just one foot and no nose.  So I put gloves on and began to help.  Pushed the leg back in, gently, to try to find its mate.  Watched for a nose–oh my gosh, it is big.  Got hold of both front feet and pulled gently with a contraction.  Stretched the opening to allow the head to slide through.  Aah, there it is.  Seconds later, about 11:00, a very big female lamb was lying at her mother’s nose.  She weighed in at 14 lbs.


After the birth, Willow rested for half an hour and allowed her new baby to feed.  She did well with licking and calling to her lamb.  With encouragement, she got up, but then began pawing the ground again, circling the stall.  This went on for hours.  There was a thin white cord hanging from her vulva, which did not look like an umbilical cord to me.  Here is a little video of Willow’s pawing.

Finally, it was almost 3:00 and we needed to have some lunch, so I went into the house.  45 minutes later, I headed for the barn.  John made the pointed comment that I was going “to see if the afterbirth has come.”  He did not believe there could be a second lamb with such a big first one.  But a quick glance showed me there was another lamb in the pen.  I went back to the house and said to John, “that is the biggest afterbirth I have ever seen, and it is walking around.  You better come and see.”

Though he weighs 10 1/2 pounds, he looks scrawny next to his big sister.  He has more of the Blue-Faced Leicester look, with gray ears, a narrow head, and those big eyes.  Willow got busy licking him, but soon she was pawing the ground again!  We thought maybe this time it would be the afterbirth.  There were cords, veins, and other tissues hanging from her vulva.  But soon she laid down and began pushing.  A bulge emerged, but I could find no feet, no nose.  The third lamb was coming breech.  And when it was finally expelled, we could see that it was not viable.  So the little 7 1/2 pound stillborn lamb was buried.  How amazing that Willow, a first-time mother, was carrying over 30 pounds of lambs.  In a way, the loss of the triplet is a good thing.  It is much easier for a ewe to feed and care for two lambs, given that she has just two teats.

The week-long birth

Here is the story of Clarissa’s last week of pregnancy.  Clarissa is 7 years old, quite chubby, has bad feet (hooves that just don’t look right and occasional lameness), and has beautiful shiny white wool that we really like.

Tuesday Feb 21:  I notice a pink protrusion that doesn’t resemble a birth sac when Clarissa stands up.  Oh no, I have seen this before–the start of a prolapse.  Not surprising, as Clarissa is enormously wide with lambs.  Just a month ago when we trimmed wool and checked udders for signs of pregnancy, she had no udder to speak of and I wondered if she was pregnant.  Now there is little doubt.  I call the vet and Dr. Steve discusses options for home treatment.  Get her off the hill, reduce her feed (to free up abdominal space), and push the protrusion back in if it doesn’t go itself.  I push the darn thing in hourly all day  (always bathing it with an antiseptic solution and wearing a glove) until 4 pm, when it magically seems to stay put all the way till the next morning.

Wednesday – Monday:  Same thing.  We put her in a lambing pen and gave her the south end of the corral as her own space.  We confined Willow with her for a few days so she would not be lonely. Gave her small amounts of alfalfa and grain a few times a day.  Sometimes the prolapse stays in for several hours, sometimes it is out every time we check.  Allowed her on pasture one day and the next morning she was in agony with the largest protrusion yet.

Monday Feb 27:  I call the Vet again and arrange for a farm visit on Wednesday.  The plan is for Dr. Megan to help us determine whether to induce the birth with medications or to manually remove the lambs or to keep waiting.  Monday night, Clarissa seems to be in heavy labor at the bedtime check.  So I get all the birth-assisting supplies and climb in to the pen only to find the prolapse.  I don one of those shoulder-length vet gloves and use my whole forearm to replace the tissues.  This is not fun for either of us, but I don’t feel it is right to leave her with her innards on the outside.

Tuesday Feb 28:  Having introduced I don’t know how many germs into her body, I call the vet again.  I ask if we can move the visit to today, but the schedule is too tight.  I ask for advice.  Dr. Steve and Dr. Megan confer, and Dr. Megan calls me back.  She says that the best option is to hang on until the visit tomorrow, to continue what we are doing and hope that the birth happens soon.   I watch Clarissa closely all morning, noting her activities.  She is somewhat perky–for her.  She waddles out to the pasture and stands next to the fence to commune with the rest of the flock.  She stops every 20 feet or so, experiences a contraction of some sort, then keeps going.  She rubs her head on the fences, takes big drinks at the water trough, and mostly stays on her feet.  When she lies down, she immediately has big contractions–but when I check her, there is nothing protruding.  About 1:30 I begin to realize that this is labor.  She is licking her lips, sniffing the ground where she last laid down and some fluids escaped, and when she lies down there are big pushing contractions.  I get my gloves on and look.  No prolapse.  I decide to gently push my fingers into the opening to see what I feel.  I feel a big NOSE, right there, just inside the opening!  Oh my gosh!  Where are the feet–lambs are supposed to emerge in diving position, nose resting on front legs.  I feel around the nose and discover one foot, two feet.  Clarissa is panting and pushing.  I grab the feet and the lamb pulls one of them back.  I lose my grip and Clarissa TAKES OFF, out of the pen.  Of course I should have tied the gates closed before I started this, but I just wasn’t expecting to find a lamb right there at the door, so to speak.  I race behind Clarissa, holding on to the feet, and ultimately the legs extend outward.  Back in the pen, I am trying to gently pull downward, but everything seems so STUCK, and I am thinking this lamb will DIE if I don’t get it out of here soon because for sure the cord will be crimped.   Clarissa is straining, I am holding on to those legs and trying to ease the vagina open around the nose, and head.  At last, the forehead pops through.  In seconds, the lamb is lying in the straw.  I wipe fluids from the lamb’s nose and drag the HUGE lamb up near his mother so she can smell and lick him.  She knows exactly what to do, and industriously licks him for the next half hour.

When I get the chance, I weigh him:  13 1/2 pounds, a gigantic lamb!  I dip his navel in iodine to prevent infection.  Finally, I show him where his mama’s teat is, even while she is lying down.  He clamps on immediately.  Here is a video of this lamb’s very first feeding.  Turn your volume on–you will not believe how vigorous he is.

This little boy is so big I can’t imagine she would have another.  The spent umbilical cord is hanging out of her, indicating that the placenta will be birthed next.  So I take a break–clean up, replace all the lambing supplies where they belong, make myself a cup of coffee.  John arrives home just as I am returning to check on the mom and baby.  It’s 3:30.  I tell him all about the birth, and as we stand there watching, Clarissa lies down and begins straining.  At first I think it is the afterbirth she is trying to deliver.  But the straining goes on, BIG contractions. A “water balloon” emerges, indicating that another lamb is on the way.  Clarissa strains mightily, then gets up for a few minutes.  Repeats this  several times.  I can see a nose, then part of a forehead, inside the water balloon.  Again, where are the feet?  It seems these lambs are so big that their feet can’t come through along with their noses.  I put on a glove and climb in to the pen to see if I can help.  Sure enough, the feet are tucked in under the lamb’s chin.  A couple of quick tugs on slippery legs, and the whole head comes through.  The rest of the body slides gently out.  This lamb is covered with the mysterious yellow dye that one twin often displays.  It is a girl, and weighs the same as her brother, 13 1/2 pounds.  Clarissa is exhausted.  She licks for a few seconds, then seems to doze off.  I give her another ounce of propylene glycol, just small amounts at a time so she doesn’t cough or choke.  She perks up.  Within minutes the little yellow ewe is scrambling to her feet and demanding something to eat.  In this picture you can see the pink umbilical cord.  The lamb seems to have landed in some alfalfa, which is decorating her right side.  She is not yet 5 minutes old.

In the evening when I check on them, all three are on their feet.  Mama turns to one lamb and sniffs, then starts to lick.  A few seconds later she sees the other lamb, and starts to lick that one.  This is repeated over and over, and is the reason we pen mothers up with their lambs for a couple of days.  I help the little girl find the teat and she latches on fiercely!

At bedtime check, Clarissa is resting comfortably with both lambs curled up against her.  The second afterbirth (yes, there were two!) has been delivered, removed and buried.

What a day.  I am so relieved for Clarissa.  And for us.  So thankful for healthy lambs and good mothers.

Wednesday, March 1:  Dr. Megan came at 2 pm, expecting to deal with a prolapsing pregnant ewe.  I had called the vet’s office to let her know that the lambs had arrived and to ask that the appointment be kept so that she could check Clarissa for any after-effects.  It was delightful to show her these beautiful lambs.  She examined Clarissa carefully and concluded that all is well, no evidence of infection or illness.

Friday, March 3:  Clarissa and her lambs were released from their pen this morning.  They went to the front pasture for an hour, then returned to the barn for a rest.  When I went to check on them, I found the boy sprawled flat on the ground, sound asleep from the exertion of his trip to the pasture, and the little girl perched comfortably on top of her mother.  Clarissa clearly feels so much better with her lambs out!