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 plans 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!

A tragic loss

On December 11th, 2016, we were reminded that we share our land and our life with many creatures who have lived in this environment for many generations.  John went out to feed the sheep their breakfast and found Reyna, our beautiful 2015 ewe, lying on her back dead.  She was in the corral, gates closed, and all the rest of the sheep were untouched.  But Reyna had been killed and dragged several feet.  Apparently her killer had intended to move her to a more sheltered space to feed off her.  Perhaps the killer slipped away when John opened the door; perhaps the dog had barked when he noticed activity in the corral–at any rate, the killer was not around.  Stunned, we studied the dead sheep and the surrounding area, wondering what kind of creature could have done this.  A coyote would not have been able to drag the sheep. Any dog-like creature would have chased, and all the sheep would be showing signs of stress.  This had been a silent killer.

My sister Cathi and I studied the muddy ground nearby, and she was the first to spot the tracks.

Still shocked, I called the vet’s office.  I wanted to know if anyone had reported predators in our area, and I wanted to know if I should call anyone to report our loss.  They had not heard of any recent predator losses, but suggested I call the Department of Fish and Wildlife.  An hour later, Bud Weaver, tracker for the Department, confirmed our suspicions:  this was the work of a cougar.

The most amazing thing is, two hours later, Bud and his hounds had treed and shot the cougar.  He was not a healthy-looking animal and we do not have lovely pictures of him.  This is the first and only time I have seen a cougar in the 31 years we have lived here.

First Lambs of 2017

On Sunday the 19th, we were home all day doing farm chores, weaving and spinning.  When I went to the barn to feed the sheep their dinner, I found Raven standing near a newborn lamb, licking and calling to it.  In anticipation we had already set up a lambing pen, so it was very easy to get this experienced mother and her baby into the nearby pen.  John just picked up the wet lamb, held it under mama’s nose, and walked backward into the pen.  20 minutes later Raven took a quick break from lamb-licking to lie down and deliver its twin (a few grunts and three pushes was all it took).  Two boys, both white, 12 and 11 1/2 pounds.  A classic, easy birth and a great way to start the 2017 lambing season.  We had hoped for a natural colored ewe lamb, but we’re happy to have these healthy little guys.  The one on the right is less than 5 minutes old in this picture.


Late winter weaving

John continues to work on two projects, one at home and one at the Damascus Fiber Arts School.  The tightly packed rugs take many months to complete.  In this photo you can see how John’s architectural drafting skills contribute to his weaving.  He takes plenty of time to create the design, then prints out several copies so he can try different color schemes.  There are always adjustments to be made once the weaving it underway, but it’s essential to start with a good plan.

IMG_1247 - Copy


The challenges at the floor loom seem a bit different.  I decided to weave a “leftovers” piece, using leftover yarns from John’s tapestries for the weft and some finely spun two-ply dark brown weft yarn made from Jan and Jeff Jacqua’s Jacob fleeces.  I planned to space the warps wide–4 per inch–to give the thick Romney yarns lots of room to celebrate their color and texture.  I use a spreadsheet rather than a drawing to record all the yarns and determine the sequence of colors and treadling patterns that I will use.  With this weaving, after two inches I knew I needed to rethink my plan.  Rather than packing it firmly, I decided to lay the yarns in very gently, allowing a lot of space in both directions.  Here is what it looked like on the loom.



On the loom, this piece was sett at 42 inches wide and the warp was 3 yards long.  Off the loom, it quickly pulled in to 35 inches wide.  But once it was fulled (washed in very warm water and hung to dry), its character changed.


Now just 27 inches wide, the fabric is very thick and the twill patterns are less evident.  I was determined not to worry about “what it is.”  But looking at the fabric, I am thinking of a couple of big couch pillows with these beautiful colors.  And here they are.  I left the fringes on and rolled up an old feather pillow inside each one, then hand-stitched the bolster-type pillow.