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~~*  Black Sheep Newsletter............Issue 105............Fall 2000  *~~


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THE HOMESTEAD: A Spinners Memories


The spinning wheel is an old Ashford and I've had it for more than twenty years. It's nestled here in the tiny living room amongst a few dozen "bags" of wool and mohair. "Nestled" is a verb I've chosen because it rings better than "hidden" or "obliterated" by a few dozen bags of wool and mohair. A writer oft has the convenience of leading readers on a path that may actually deviate a bit from the truth, but in this case I have been straight forward with my readers. Finding the wheel in this morass of wool is sometimes the hardest aspect of any spinning project. Once I have located the wheel, the project unfolds readily.splash dot!


I've made a convenient "pathway" from the living room to the kitchen so that we can eat meals and such unimportant non-essentials. For me, spinning and weaving mohair, alongside the joys of shepherding of our little band of angora goats in all colors of the "natural color" spectrum, might well be the most important part of my life.splash dot!


The breeding and shepherding venture came close on the heels of my learning to spin yarn on the Ashford wheel. The days that I learned to spin wool while sitting across from the Ashford wheel in that small living room in Colorado's Rocky Mountains, were days of failed attempts to master an old craft. Though the ancient knowledge of making ones own yarn intrigued me to no end, it was not an easy process for me to learn. Mostly self-taught, a book at my side (and a kind friend who was a handspinner, but whose time was mostly involved with caring for two tiny babies), I sat next to that wheel, fumbling with all the technical difficulties that a new spinner encounters. I knew that I must make the wheel continue in its treadmill spin clockwise with an agile ankle and foot movement upon the treadle device. Why, oh why, then, did that wheel insist on flying into a backwards whirl at a moment least expected by me – causing all ten of my thumbs to lose their hold on the nubby yarns I grasped. Yes, there were a few times I firmly decided that spinning was not for me. Let the ancients keep their art form!splash dot!


Then there was the tendency of wanting to push the wool into the whorl instead of allowing it to glide out naturally, toward me, a firm twist in the fiber causing it to hold upon itself miraculously and magically. And finally, there was the overspin. As is the tendency of many novice handspinners, I wouldn't let go of the yarn until it was one giant mass of overspun spaghetti strands looping everywhere when skeined.splash dot!


A final crescendo during that first week of attempting to spin yarn occurred the day that I finally conquered the motion of the wheel. The wheel was now spinning in a clockwise motion without boldly screeching to an abrupt standstill, only to smirk and then begin its menacing revolutions in a counter clockwise direction. Indeed, my little Ashford was behaving itself! The wheel was turning in one direction alone – clockwise – and I proudly drew wool (reaching with glee at times nearly over my head as a continuous yarn began to form from the shank of wool in hand). Faster and faster I treadled while the wheel spun with smooth equilibrium round and round. I was not prepared, though, for the little metal hook that sleys the yarn; (it had been hanging conveniently somewhere on the wheel.) While the wheel turned, the sley hook caught onto the wheel and ZOOMED like a miniature arrow, its pointed "hook" somehow penetrating the second finger on my right hand. Stan cut the rounded hook from its end while I looked on miserably. We pulled the metal from my trembling flesh, and I received a good dose of tetanus antitoxin in the local township. The doctor smiled and warned me to "be a little more wary the next time you sit at your spinning wheel." In the face of all odds, though, I persevered.splash dot!


Shepherding a Flock

Since those early days, the spinning wheel and then a loom have become major components of my life. Little did I know in those early Colorado days, when the spinning wheel was a "new" accessory, that my journey would culminate in a passionate affair with fiber and everything to do with fiber – including shepherding of the animals that grow it.splash dot!


The journey was slow at first, and we were unsuspecting. While living in Colorado we did not have the "room" to keep animals, so all fiber was purchased in Denver, Colorado. It was not until after our move to twenty acres of beautiful Montana back woods land in 1981that we began to look in earnest at the thought of keeping fiber animals. Even that evolved slowly.splash dot!


kerosene lantern

The old days off the grid

One kerosene lamp lit evening when Montana's stars were shining brightly in a wide sky, I found myself looking longingly at the maple loom shoved into a corner of that 16 x 32 square foot "cabin" Stan had built. I had not used the loom at all since moving "onto the land." Indeeed, the 40" maple loom had never even been warped by me. Up until that time I had woven on a table loom, and I soon learned that buying yarns for my weaving projects was often "spendy." Since I had a love of vivid color – most of my projects were woven from bright silk and cotton machined yarns. I had not yet attempted weaving with handspun yarn. There was another fiber that intrigued me: mohair. But, who could afford to weave with mohair? I put the thought out of my head…splash dot!


An idea was born that evening and I offered it haltingly to my husband, whose total life was consumed in building a log home. I mused aloud that it would be very nice to weave mohair – how about an angora goat wether, maybe two? He countered that he thought it was a great idea, which surprised me. The more we talked, the more it seemed entirely feasible since there on the homestead existed a small goat run and barn already. The wethers would join our two dairy goats and the lone buck. Smiling, I walked past the lonesome loom to the table, gently turned down the mantle, and blew out the lamplight.splash dot!


That week I found the ad. An hour's jaunt from our home a herd of angora goats were being offered for sale. The breeder, "selling out," said she could no longer handle the work load, especially the shearing of the goats, by herself. Not only were her goats for sale, but she was selling her college-age daughter's childhood horse, the family flock of chickens, and - because her husband refused to help with the "shearing" – for a time there I truly believe she was ready to put a price tag on his head, too!splash dot!


Stan and I exited the blue Toyota pick up's confines with, you truly must understand, intentions of toting home one or two sweetly tendriled wethers. That would surely supply me with enough mohair for all my dreamed of projects.splash dot!


Best Laid Plans…

The friendly woman greeted us and we warmed our hands inside of her country home by the woodstove. She then took us outside. We crossed sodden ground, for it was springtime in Montana and the snows were now melting. She talked animatedly to us while we trekked to the corrals and barn enclosures where the angora goats made their habitat.splash dot!


They were away at the time – in a far field. Picturesque in one of her husband's woolen shirts, she shook a grain can high in the air and called with a sweet yodel to the goats. I saw in the distance what seemed to be a whole group of white "haystacks" on a run. As they approached and were readily in view, I was smitten. Inescapably, irrevocably, I was captured immediately by the whole lot of them.splash dot!


They ran in a single file line. "General", the only registered goat among them, a big, white teddy bear of a goat, led the procession. It was like watching a ballet performance. With fine execution and precise movement, two of the goats leaped into the air, pirhouetted (their heads thrown back in unison, as though in choreographed dance) and landed on all fours. Stan and I looked at one another and laughed.splash dot!


General, the lead goat, was a big polled fellow, "king" of the tendriled band, a bottle fed kid who never acquired the "meanness" that most bucks who were bottle fed eventually have. A gentle giant of a goat who looked more like a stuffed animal than a real one, with mohair skirting the ground all around him, slowly walked up to us. He wanted a good scratch behind a pink and freckled ear. Behind him was his entourage of five wethered kids, the ballet dancers, who were a bit more stand-offish. Finally, inspecting us with just as much deliberation as we were inspecting them, came the kids and does. The whole lot of them were hauled home with us that evening.splash dot!


Mohair – The Diamond Fiber

It's been nearly twenty years and I still do not tire of spinning and weaving the exotic fiber. Since that first herd we have made some changes in our lives. In time we sold that Montana homestead and consequently sold that herd of goats. We transplanted ourselves to the green rainsforests of the southern Cascade Mountain Range of Oregon. But, we never, not even for a moment, gave up the desire to raise angora goats, harvest their mohair, spin it, weave it, market it.splash dot!


Today we have another herd, many purchased from some of the most well-known breeder names in the angora goat business, colored or registered white. Now that natural colored angora goats have appeared on the scene we are more fascinated than ever with the prospect of breeding these intriguing animals.splash dot!


My spinning wheel is the same one that aimed a well-placed tiny hooked arrow into an unsuspecting finger more than twenty years ago. The loom is the sturdy, gleaming maple one that shone golden and warpless that night by the light of kerosene in a solitary cabin locked in the back woods of Montana, while an early spring snow lightly fell with the kind of large and fluffy flakes that make you naturally tilt your head upwards and open your mouth wide…splash dot!


The herd is different – more colorful – with softer fleeces. Stan and I are older. But, for us, mohair still remains "The Diamond Fiber" – the durable, lustrous fiber three times warmer than wool, with a loft and sheen that sets it apart from other natural fibers. Beware, beginning handspinners! Beware of that strange "urge" to acquire a wether or two…splash dot!


See our farm on the WWW!> splash dot!


my sweetie in Montana

Alexandra - Montana, Spring 1982

goats butting heads



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Alexandra Scribe
Homestead Home


Stanley & Alexandra Petrowski
34620 Tiller Trail Hwy.
Tiller, Oregon 97484