the singing falls waterfall scribe logo capella, the goat shepherd's constellation
The Quill
Of the
Is Art
For The Mind
And Heart




~~*  Black Sheep Newsletter............Issue 110............Winter 2002  *~~


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THE HOMESTEAD: The art of spinning yarn with only two fingers


This column of ON THE HOMESTEAD will not be shorter than usual though one of my typing hands is not as dexterous as it once was, and for good reason. You see, fellow shepherds, spinners and weavers, I have been slightly hampered by the fact that one of my very best fingers, indeed the middle finger of my GOOD right hand, has found lodging within a very large and cumbersome blanket of bandages and one good sized finger cast. That, of course, makes it difficult to type the long and wordy sentences of which I am so fond. And anyway I keep hitting the wrong keys on this word processor because of this unwieldy bandage and all kinds of little computer read-outs and boxes keep popping up all over my screen, which is basically driving me nuts. I will persevere nonethelesssplash dot!


singing falls winter

Winter at Singing Falls

It was the day before Thanksgiving that I nearly took off the digit. Now I can look back on it smiling and content, not only because I am still taking prescription pain killers for the finger I near lopped off with a carving knife, but because the doctor has said emphatically, his stethoscope dangling menacingly from his neck, that the 16 or so stitches did the trick. He said my finger will actually stay put and someday even look a lot like it did before the accident, or nearly the same. That last pronouncement I did not for even a moment believe – for I gazed upon its sad state right after the accident had occurred. However, with optimism being one key ingredient of my personality, I received his report, refrained as much as possible from looking downward at the appendage quite held together like a pigskin football by its criss-cross laces, and held my bandaged finger as motionless as possible, wincing with pain and also the embarrassment of how I had gotten it in this state in the first placesplash dot!


Though we here are goat farmers, the reason for my injury was not an angora goat run amok or even a badly done castration with a sharp implement that missed its mark. Indeed, I was victim to a simple but frightfully dangerous fruit juicer – a whirling bladed contraption which I was pushing apple chunks into while not thinking. When the machine began to shift a bit I forgot about the fact that there was no protective screen under it (we were not actually juicing, after all, but rather "pulping" apples for the cider press.) I tried to right the machine and somehow—splash dot!


Well, I recoiled too late. Ouch is right.splash dot!


The accident now a thing of the past, I am still encumbered, but will continue this column for the sake of angora goat lovers everywhere.splash dot!


singing falls winter

Vintage 1920 era cookstove and the Ashford wheel

A huge order arrives

Life being the exacting and ill-timed task master it often can be, right before the fruit juicing accident I received two very large mohair weaving orders. The first person wanted a very large mohair rug. She told us that there was "no rush" and that I should take my time. I don't foresee a problem explaining to her that the rug may be late in coming. She might expect to see it mid-January.splash dot!


It was the other order that concerned me - the one from the woman in the state of Maine. She ordered a rather large mohair blanket, a wide one I would have to weave with a "double width weave" treadling sequence on the loom, certainly not one of my favorites. My 40 inch loom and accompanying reeds would never handle the width of the blanket she was requesting.splash dot!


"It will be a gift for my sweetheart," her melodic voice sweetly trilled on the other end of the phone line. Apparently, according to her, the old and tattered mohair blanket her spouse had once inherited was now in bad repair. She wanted desperately to give him a new one to take its place. (Perhaps it was a Linus blanket that he could barely fathom ridding himself of – which, if the case, will never have a replacement in his heart for all the newness of mohair another blanket will afford – but I did not tell her that.) Instead I told her I would gladly take the task. We made all our verbal agreements by phone before I hurt the finger.splash dot!


When the accident occurred on the heels of the order it crossed my mind to tell my customer I could never spin the mohair for her blanket and then weave it because I was missing a very important aspect of my spinning hand – the middle finger thereof. It seemed to me that the excuse was a good one (though I was not looking for excuses per se.) In actuality I really did not think I could go forward with this rather immense project without a whole appendage to interface with the other four on the same hand. I was about to send her money back to her while asking that she think of us around Valentine's Day, for surely by then I foresaw that I would be able to work as readily as before.splash dot!


Then, human nature being victorious so often because of its purely tenacious hope that "things will be better tomorrow" kicked in. I made the decision to weave her blanket. The only thing I begged of her was one additional week for the project. She seemed to understand my dilemma completely and hoped that "your finger gets better."splash dot!


It was then that I put my hand to the plow, or rather the wheel, in earnest – not looking back. I sorted through my fleeces carefully – all with my left hand (which in most cases has been good for nothing my entire life but suddenly became a great help during my recuperation.) I finally selected a yearling fleece that had belonged to Scion, our registered white angora buck, a most gorgeous white fleece with extra long locks of mohair softer than a fluffy cloud. Like his father before him, Coon Hollow's Alexander, his fleece was ultra fine.splash dot!


Now, to spin it all up, of course. I waited the requisite week before putting my right hand to the test, a finger brace made of styrofoam guarding the hurt digit from all harm and well wrapped until it felt to weigh a half pound. The clean fleece was first "picked" with my trusty Paula's Triple-Picker until there was a pile of mohair froth lying all over the oak floor of this cramped living room that houses all my spinning and weaving accessories. It was now Stan's turn.splash dot!


Carding Mohair into Batts

Stan's job comes next. After I pick the clean mohair, Stan cards it. NOTE: Do NOT try to pick or card dirty mohair or even mohair that still holds a soapy residue in it. You will end up tearing the fibers. Short and torn fibers will appear as "nubs" on your carder. Some people actually incorporate "nubs" into their carded fiber as an artistic accentuation for novelty yarns. These nubs have their place, to be sure. We prefer smoothly spun yarn, however. This means that we like the batts to roll from the drums "nubless," I have said it more than once: a perfectly carded mohair batt (or roving) is the secret of a perfect yarn. Careful carding is the secret to good spinning.splash dot!


So, after Stan has thoroughly treated the picked mohair with a carding oil (prepared with olive oil, liquid lecithin and some water) he begins the task of running the fiber through the circa 1920 drum carder stationed in the "laundry room." The whole house soon reverberates as though a train were passing by not far away as the carder's mechanical gears turn in even cadence. It is a soothing sound, however, to fiber artists like ourselves – especially soothing if all the gears are well oiled and the belts are staying in place and not flopping onto the floor as they sometimes have a habit of doing.splash dot!


What is best, admittedly (to me) are the wondrous batts of mohair that he brings to me as I sit by the spinning wheel. With this latest project there was quite a pile of batts accumulating there beside me and I wondered at the immensity of the task ahead of me.splash dot!


Though my right hand faltered and the nerves in that finger were trying to regain their previous stature (which meant occasional shooting pain in the sore digit), I found stirring within me an earnest desire to spin. I could get carried away with the romance of it all, but suffice it to say that though I could still feel the ache in that middle finger, I began to spin four pounds of mohair in earnest. Treadling the old Ashford wheel and holding the batt in my right hand, the bobbin turned and accumulated its thread of mohair as I drew the yarn towards me. It was a bit awkward at first with the styrofoam brace and an unbending finger, but soon I was spinning with ease. Four pounds of two-ply medium/fine yarn was finally spun, skeined and ready for the loom.splash dot!


I sleyed the warp at 16 epi (using an 8 epi reed and sleying two yarns per dent since I was weaving with a double width weave pattern). Only a weaver who has worked with mohair warp would know how afraid I was at the point that the final and 400th warp yarn was in its place that the loom's sheds would not even open – the mohair making sure of its hairy clinging to the warp yarns adjacent and keeping the harnesses immobile. Afraid to look at first as I treadled the loom, I was greatly relieved to find that I did indeed have sheds for my shuttle. And the project went along fairly smoothly all the way to its completion – a mohair blanket 4 x 6 feet in length of lustrous mohair, a simple plaid done in browns and taupes on a creamy white background, and beautiful to behold. (I did promise myself never to sley mohair warp that closely again, however, and was glad when the weaving was off the loom.)splash dot!


mohair warp

Warp threads spun and ready to be sleyed into the reed

Fences: Testing of Metal

Our friend, Diane (Coon Hollow Angoras) was a recent and welcome guest here, bringing our way the new buck we had been awaiting with anticipation. He is a gem to be sure. All black, Barak is well covered with such a fine fleece. And, yes, he is loaded with curls of mohair from head down to prancing hooves. Diane's animals win blue ribbons and championships in the shows so often, and when I look at this goat I have to admit that it's not difficult to understand why.splash dot!


Only six months of age, Barak has not allowed his small stature or youth to delay his masculine energies. He has been eager to accommodate the does he's been fenced in with as they, one by one, come into heat, in spite of the snorting bravado of the bigger bucks on the other side of the fence. The young buck is surrounded on all sides by bucks more than twice his size and five times his age, bucks that have been increasingly irritated by the fact that this younger caprine has the audacity (not the word I wanted to use) to service THEIR does. And yes, our fences are again being put to the test.splash dot!


On the other side of one fence line is Scion, a registered white buck now six years of age. We decided not to use him for breeding this year except with a couple of nondescript Texas grade does that we have never had the heart to cull. In the yard with him (and the two never fight, which is amazing) is the small but strong in constitution Dakota. Dakota sired a lot of last year's kids, and though small shows promise in other ways (almost every goat he fathered was born walnut brown or black as a lump of coal.) Stan is not ready to let him go just yet.splash dot!


Nothing is more unnerving to me, perhaps, than to venture forth in the wee morning hours to the window facing the goat yard only to find to my dismay a fight of immense proportions in the making. My cup of hot green tea in hand, steaming wispily and unfurling its fragrance, is then set down quickly—for then one of us must do something to stop the demolition crew from further destroying an already weakened fence that stands between them. The scene rarely varies: one vast and curled horn set will be ramming itself indelicately against another. Sparks are flying as though flint on flint and the two bucks, testosterone raging, take no notice that the fence that stands erect between them is slowly disintegrating.splash dot!


A once aligned succession of T posts will be swaying back and forth as though in seismic convulsion and fence clips will be catapulting intermittently into the air, all of which makes for a very bad morning to the astute shepherd who would rather the scene outside the window remain idyllic. To top it off, a smiling doe parades back and forth nearby, taunting and flirtatious. She waits for the victorious suitor to win her hand—or in this case, her hoof.splash dot!


Goat fences just don't last. Stan is currently working on sure fire enclosures for the bucks, individual stalls comprised of moveable log struts whose tapered ends will fit snugly into the notches he has preformed in cement pillars. These buck stalls will be a welcome addition to the farm next breeding season.splash dot!


The Rains Have Returned

the back door

Warmth and comfort inside

The sun is streaming through the gingham curtains and casts its yellow light on the "new" loom, which is actually an old one, a 45 inch counterbalance loom made some time in the early 50's. It has been put together sturdily of golden maple and has a nice fold up feature. It will be perfect in the future for weaving these mohair throws that I have made my woven specialty. Up until now the throws were never woven as widely as I would have liked since I mine was a 40" loom. These additional inches are fantastic.splash dot!


The rains have returned in profusion to water parched Oregon land and we find ourselves reveling in their bounty as though we were ducks. After a long drought that smote our good land we Oregonians find we no longer cast a wary eye if the skies are dismal and dark with foreboding. The cloudbursts are more than welcome!splash dot!


The sight and sounds of water falling from the skies, the mountainsides and pastures once more verdant, and the wet mud under our boots that would pull them right off our feet with its oozing insistence does our hearts good.splash dot!


Winter is not such a bad season after all. I think I will go out front and pick a bundle of fiery red orange jewel-like rose hips that continue to cling to that old bush and hang them upside down to dry. They will make a great backdrop of color for a cheerful wreath – or just a happy bouquet in the old white enamelware pitcher.splash dot!


Oh, and if I have not said it already -- happy winter to you all—and watch those precious fingers, please!splash dot!


goats butting heads



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Alexandra Scribe
Homestead Home


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