Sheep near Annascaul Lake, County Kerry, Ireland, by CB
How I Got Here
Some time ago I added, “Maker” to my list of me.
I didn’t really see it coming. First, I started learning to knit with real wool. I met sheep and felt their wooly lanolin coats. Wool has been used for centuries not only for clothing but for insulation, bedding and more. I started felting wool, both wet and needle process, dying wool and chasing sheep to my delight anywhere I could find them. I loved working the magic to see wool turn into fabric and other items.
Then I purchased a sewing machine. Oh, My Stars! Fabric. The colors, the themes, the quality. I was taken. This now meant I had to sew because I loved the fabrics. And so it goes. Out came quilts, fancy pillowcases, totes… Then came natural dying of silk and cotton fibers. Ah, this brought me out to the garden, the fields and forests. I learned to use the sun’s heat to make solar dyes. I started playing with what I could do with one dye on top of another and how to create a design in the fabric. I was gone…or I arrived…into the rabbit hole and out to being a crazy, color driven, organic alchemist ready to try and experiment with all sorts of natural stuff: leaves, acorns, walnuts, chestnuts, marigolds, madder root, avocado peels, rust, flowers and other growing stuff. Stay tuned as I continue my adventure.
Peace & Grace,
Learn more about what we do
My dyes are all from nature and mostly processed by me by hand. For example: marigold, bee balm, rosemary, goldenrod, certain leaves, flowers, walnuts, avocado, acorns and more are harvested and turned into a dye with no dangerous chemicals. Sometimes I use vinegar or baking soda to adjust the Ph. Sometimes I may purchase ground root, such as madder. My dye baths may be cold, heated or solar. If you go by my house in the heat of summer you are likely to see a variety of canning jars in the sun stuffed with fabric or yarn.
I often use an ancient Japanese dyeing technique called shibori, which uses a shape-resist technique. This technique uses either folds in the fabric or objects (like wood spheres) to obtain an unusual pattern.
Indigo -- Most natural indigo pigment comes from the leaves of Indigofera Tinctoria plant and a few other related plants. Historically they have been grown on different parts of the earth that suit their particular needs (sun, moisture, soil, etc). These plants are not hardy in the Northeast, but may reseed to some extent. Natural indigo is not soluble in water. For the indigo to transfer and adhere with the cloth, we must create what is called a Vat and involves a fermenting process. It is also possible, with somewhat different color results, to use fresh indigo leaves macerated by hand or put though a blender with ice and/or salt. All of my indigo is 100 % natural from the fresh plant, a concentrated powder or paste.
Not only is wool unusually cozy and durable, but its creators (the sheep) can help regenerate the world’s drying, fire-prone landscapes. The good news: a wool revival seems to be underway. - From the Hidden Powers of Sheep, by Judith D. Schwartz, The Craftsmanship Magazine, 2018
Wool has come in and out of popularity over the centuries. Although sheep farming was at its heyday in the 1800s in the US. (especially in Vermont), it lost footing for a variety of reasons.
There’s a comeback of wool and sheep farming in many locations. We know wool is one of the most efficient products on earth. As a hiker and wilderness backpacker, I learned years ago the value of wool to keep me dry, warm non-stinky (like a lot of synthetic fibers). But wool is also fire resistant, renewable biodegradable and you don’t have to kill sheep to get. In fact, compassionate wool harvesting is like a haircut for the sheep.
I have written about my love of sheep in my first blog ( here ), which has led me down many interesting paths. One has been to visit many times with Tammy White owner of Wing and a Prayer Farm, in Shaftsbury, Vermont.
Tammy is a shepherdess and fiber farmer. She has been running this loving farm for fiber animals and working to preserve heritage breeds since 2001. Her farm is home to Vermont’s first pure blood Valais Blacknose Sheep and some of the first Valais Blacknose Sheep in North America.
Known as “Farmer Tam”, she says:
Animal fiber is a sustainable, natural resource for replacing synthetics in a world that needs our love and care. When you recognize that animal-grown fiber is a renewable and harmless way to return carbon to the earth, cleaning the atmosphere and improving the soil, you can appreciate the importance of these animals.
In addition to running a working fiber farm and selling eggs, honey and pies to local restaurants, White is also a fiber artist who specializes in natural artisan yarn dyeing. She produces, dyes and sells about 6,000 skeins of yarn a year and each is labeled with the names of the animal the yarn came from.
Asked why farming motivates her, White said:
"It's a vocation and it's spiritual. When you are working with your hands, heart and head, it involves all your senses. It's a way to live a truth about the love I feel for the earth. I am passionate about that. The animals are part of my own work force and each one is important. It is not just for one season or two and going to the table. I name them all and minister to them. Their fiber is my harvest and a gift."