Freida update- she joins the herd

This is another behind-the-times post; Freida has been living with the sheep herd for about two months now. After Eli joined the family, she bonded closely to him and they both began to explore the outside world.

At first they both slept in a tent in the back yard and ran around with the big sheep through the day. After a few weeks we began to leave the gate to their tent open at night so they could choose where to sleep. Now they live full time with the herd.

We still lock Freida and Eli up for the morning feed as the other sheep can be very pushy and will chase them off. This way we know they will get at least one good feed in the day.

Freida has become a very smart and calm sheep, which is something of a relief; we thought she may have trouble learning to be a sheep after the start she had.

She is still as loved as ever, but now she is able to fullfil her biological needs without getting in trouble (at least not much trouble).

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Make a tote bag from hand woven fabric

I am busily using up scrap yarn from my overflowing stash. As part of that I wove a piece of fabric that is frankly…um…mixed up; I used all sorts of fancy yarns in the weft, eyelash yarn, boucle yarn and a little bit of ladder yarn. All that in no particular order, colour or pattern, just throwing in a little bit here and there.

What to do with this fabric? I decided to make a tote bag.

First I cut it off the loom and overlocked the edges.

I gave it a wash too, to test for shrinkage.

Next I cut a lining the same size and some handle material.

Then it was time to sew up both the bag and the lining into basic bag shapes. Leaving a small hole in the bottom of the lining to turn the whole thing inside out.

Sewing across the bottom corners gives the bag a nice square bottom. I didn’t forget to measure the same distance down the corner seam on each piece. I sewed the lining corners the same way.

The corners were folded so that the bottom seam and the side seam lay on top of each other; the seam you can see in the photo below is the side seam, it is laying on top of the bottom seam. This makes a sort of cross seam at the base of the bag.

Finally I sewed the top of the outer bag to the inner lining. The handles can be pinned between these layers. I went over the handle joins more than once when sewing this part; handle joins are subject to a lot of strain. The handles need to be looped downwards with the ends facing up towards the top of the bag, when sewing the top seam (I learned that the hard way).

Yes…the handle is the wrong way around. I had to unpick and re-sew the whole thing with the handles the right way around.

I turned it all inside out (or right side out) then sewed up the hole.

There’s the bag done. Not too bad for a scrap yarn project.

Now on to spinning more yarn to make more fabric to sew more things.

Meet Eli- new family member

Eli and Freida at breakfast

In all the rush and confusion around the start of the year I forgot to introduce our newest family member; Eli. We adopted him as a friend for Frieda, and our way of encouraging her to realise she is a sheep, not some kind of mish mash of human, dog and rabbit.

The full story;

Just before the end of the year (I can’t be precise here, I didn’t write down the date), I was walking past a group of Mums at school (the regular afternoon chat session, which I love to join, time permitting) when one of the lovely Mums called out to ask me if I wanted another sheep. I , of course, said yes (automatic response I’m afraid) then thought I should ask some pertinent questions. The back story was; a friend of this Mum had raised a lamb in the house (the same as Freida), he was a wether and had been a pet for her two year old son. She wanted to re-home him as he was being aggressive to the little boy. Sheep can become very pushy with those they see as below them in the social order. I thought twice about getting an aggressive sheep as they can be a big problem, but decided in the end to give him a go as we were desperate to find a friend for Freida since our old ewe Ma had sadly died from pneumonia. In order to get Freida to join the sheep herd, she first had to come to terms with the fact that she is a sheep.

I picked him up one day after work when the original Mum bought him to school in the back of her car. he was ensconced in a pile of hay in the back part of her four wheel drive with a collar and lead on. We woman handled him into the back of my car, a job which went very smoothly as he was eager to do whatever we wanted. His name was Eli and he was some kind of wool bearing sheep (i.e. not a shedding sheep or a hair sheep like the rest of my herd). He rode home in happy silence and jumped out of the car to meet Freida when she came barreling out of the humpy to see what was going on. They sniffed each other and got down to the business of finding grass to eat, they have been inseparable ever since. The house he came from was a very animal friendly one and it showed in his general nature.

Look at that happy face.

Eli is polite and calm, he is as trusting as it is possible for a sheep to be and allows us to do anything with him (obviously having never been hurt). He has shown no aggressive tendencies here (probably because we have no two year old humans in the herd) and has bonded to Freida well.

He enjoys sitting in the sun, eating (anything really) and having his ears scratched. He has developed a real love of corn flakes (we give him a handful as a treat sometimes) and chaff.

Eli getting a good ear scratch

Eli is a Dorset/merino cross, which means he has wool in some inconvenient places (like his belly and legs). He has been tail docked when he was a lamb, this procedure is essential in wool breed sheep as the underside of their tails are wool covered and, after a week or two, very poop covered. We will be getting him crutched (where the belly, legs and bottom bits are shorn on a roughly six monthly basis) as soon as we can get the shearer out here.

He has given us a huge amount of freedom as he has become Freida’s company and he will give me some beautiful fleece to spin as well. He has also given us the privilege of getting to know him.

Home Biogas system – a BIG step forward (part one)

We have been trying very hard to move away from using gas to sustain our daily life. We have historically used gas for running the fridge and for cooking and heating water on the gas stove. Recently we have upgraded our gas fridge to an electric fridge (solar powered) and now we are adding a biogas unit to the mix. This means that we will no longer have to buy gas bottles (yay!!), this is the final step away from using bottled gas.

Bottled gas or LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) is produced during oil refining and given the temporary nature of our supply of oil on this planet, we need to be looking at ways to move away from our reliance on it (not to mention the huge environmental cost of using it). LPG contains propane in Australia, in other countries LPG can be a mix of propane and butane.

Biogas captures methane and carbon dioxide (methane mostly) as a result of decomposition of organic matter. That is why the discovery of methane on Mars was such an exciting thing; where there are dead things there were once live things (usually, although not always and probably not in this case). I became interested in biogas many years ago (after watching an episode of The Good Life) and decided to work towards setting it up in our humpy. The idea that we could use our waste (of all descriptions) to generate some of our energy needs was very exciting.

The idea has been sitting on a dusty shelf at the back of my mind for years. Other, more attainable, goals have been on the work table of my mind. Six months ago (approximately) I stumbled upon a post advertising a biogas system designed for home use and the idea suddenly moved to the front of my mind again.

We eventually decided to go with a Home Biogas unit from Quality Solar and Plumbing

They are the only company selling these units in Australia and they are relatively close to us (only about three hours drive way). We saved up (in tiny increments) and finally, with a windfall of back pay, we ordered the unit. We also managed to add a toilet unit to the order. As soon as this unit is set up we can start to generate our own cooking gas (although the Year three student who lives in my head can’t help making jokes about cooking with farts).

As soon as the order was placed we realised we needed a site for the future toilet/gas generation unit. Then we need a shed or some kind of building to house the toilet and a pad for the gas unit to sit on.

A gratuitous ocean shot from our long journey to Mullumbimby to pick up our biogas system.

The first part of our biogas adventure was picking it up and touring a working unit while we were there. The very helpful Brian at Quality Solar and Plumbing gave us a tour of the biogas unit he has set up at his house.

This is the working unit. It was really exciting to see one working.
You put the food scraps or animal manure into the black pipe at this end…
and gas and fertiliser come out this end. How amazing is that?
This is the stove unit that comes with the kit. There is no smell at all to the gas and this burner obviously gets a lot of use.

We have our unit home. It is sitting in it’s two little boxes, waiting for us to make it a home and set up the toilet. I can’t wait to get it going.

The two boxes in the car constitute the entire kit. I was amazed at the small size of the whole thing and how light it was to haul around. It will be much heavier once the bottom of the digester is full of water.

The kit is supposed to include everything we need to put it all together. We will see…

Washing fleece with soap nuts

I have been using soap nuts to wash our clothes for a while now. I am really happy with the results; it cleans the clothes, takes out the sweat smells without adding any other scent and removes most of the stains. I also don’t have to rinse, therefore saving 50% of the washing time and water. I wanted to transfer those benefits to washing/scouring fleece for spinning, so I went googling of course (when did ‘googling’ become a verb?). There was only one reference to using soap nuts to wash fleece (that I could find anyway); Sheep Cabana blog. The post says to use them in place of the usual squirt of detergent. Another adventure begins.

I have MANY bags of fleece to spin. I always seem to collect more than I can comfortably spin in a year, even though I promise myself I won’t get any more until I spin what I have. Recently I looked at Eli (Freida’s companion, and best friend now) and saw that he has a good long fleece, all ready for a spring shearing. He is a Merino/Dorset cross, which means his fleece is fairly strong with a good crimp, but it should be soft enough for socks and gloves.

My go-to book when learning about new fibre types.
Eli will, hopefully, have wool that is slightly on the fine/soft side of this scale, thanks to his Merino ancestry.

Spring is only three months away, and with the spring comes usable fleeces from my sheep. I am setting myself a challenge; to clear some of the fleece piled in my craft room to make room for them. Usually, I wash, card and spin small, manageable lots. This time I’m trying my hand at bulk processing; I will wash a lot of fleece, then card or comb a lot of fleece, and finally spin, ply and wash a lot of yarn.

First, the washing;

This is the brand of soap nuts I buy. I hope to grow my own one day though.
I put a cup full of soap nuts into a saucepan with about two litres of water and bring it to the boil.
The resulting liquid; after I strain off the soap nuts. I use about half a cup of this liquid to wash clothes in but I think I will use a full cup for washing wool.
This is the pile of fleece to be washed; about a kilo in total.

Scouring fleece is a matter of simply making a fairly hot bath with detergent of some kind (in this case; soap nuts) and soaking the fleece in it. I use lingerie washing bags to hold my fleece because it makes fishing the soaked fleece out so much easier and I can just hang the whole bag on the line to dry. The trick is to avoid felting the fleece; I don’t agitate it at all, just push it under the water and I try not to change the temperature of the water quickly. This fleece took two soaks in the soap nut solution to come clean (it was a very greasy fleece), but it did come clean. After it is soaked, I throw the bags into the spinner of the washing machine and spin out the excess water. The bags are then hung on the line to dry.

A close up of the dirt and lanolin in the fleece.
A close up of the fleece after washing and drying.
There is now just over a kilo of fleece sitting in my ‘to-do’ basket waiting to be carded for spinning.

The soap nut/fleece scouring experiment is a success. I can now wash piles of fleece using soap nuts and not have to feel guilty about releasing all that detergent into my environment. I would definitely recommend using soap nuts for washing clothes and/or fleece.

Making a canopied mosquito net for a bed.

After sleeping on the same bed for 34 years (different mattresses of course) we finally bought ourselves another one. For a long time now, my partner and I have been sleeping on a Queen size water bed converted to hold a mattress. I went into labour with both my daughters in this bed (while it was still a water bed; don’t get me started on getting out of a water bed to a phone in full labour…it’s a story with many rude words and gestures). The old girl has been through a lot and is still functional, but we wanted something we could hang mosquito nets from. We have tried hanging those tent-like nets over the bed (many times), but the bother of climbing in from the bottom of the bed (because they only have one entrance) and getting tangled in netting through the night has always been painful. So mostly we just put up with bugs and geckos (sometimes frogs) on the bed in the middle of the night.

I did some thinking and researching of ways to hang a mosquito net over the bed in a more comfortable way. I came up with a few ideas, but they all had drawbacks and some were expensive. Until one day my partner said “Why don’t we just buy a four poster bed?”.

Traditionally the four poster bed was used to keep people warm at night, it is sort of like sleeping in a tent inside your bedroom as the curtains help keep body heat in and a smaller space to heat makes it warmer for the sleeper. They also gave some protection from rats and cockroaches as the curtains could be tightly closed. So a four poster bed with a Winter curtain and a Summer curtain is what we settled on.

We considered buying a new four poster bed…too expensive and feels like a cop out.

We considered building a four poster bed…too expensive and time consuming and my partner wasn’t keen.

We considered buying one second hand…the best option by far, but they don’t come up for sale often.

Recently I saw a four poster bed listed on Facebook in a local town. I messaged the current owner and negotiated a price and a pick up date. Because the car is broken down (again…) we have to wait for 2 weeks to pick up the new bed, then it will need some work as it has a little damage to the joins in two places. While I wait for all this, I’m going to sew us a canopy.

This is the photo from the ad. She’s a Queen size and doesn’t come with a mattress.

First I need the measurements of the canopy part…a message to the owner is all it took to secure those.

Then I need to sketch up a rough design; we wanted a four poster that is functional not decorative. We want to be able to block out bugs in Summer and cold in Winter. That means I will need two canopies; one for blocking cold and one for blocking bugs but not breeze. Armed with these design criteria, I set off on a design adventure.

By the time I got around to actually doing anything on this project we had picked up the bed and my partner put it together while I sewed the curtains; perfect timing.

I said they were preliminary.
My partner putting the bed together.
The new toy he had to buy to do it.
Together, made and waiting for curtains.

The old mosquito nets I had saved to make the curtains all had too many holes in them to be useful. I fell back on one of my favourite fabrics; muslin. Muslin always makes me feel so delicate and diaphanous, it floats, it’s see through, it lets air blow through it, perfect for a summer curtain for the bed.

A spare Queen sized sheet in a light, cotton material will be the top or roof of the curtain..

Now I just need to pin the curtains to the top, making sure to overlap them at the openings so there won’t be a gap. Sewing it all together (which took AGES) and trying it on the bed to make sure it fits.

Sewing the curtains together.
One of the many fitting sessions during construction. I decided to sew up the corner seams so there is no gaps in coverage.
I even added some fairy lights in the hope of attracting fairies.

The curtain works really well. We could hear beetles and insects zooming around outside the curtain during the night, but none got in. This was a really satisfying project to make and fairly easy once I got past the feeling that I was sitting in a sea of fabric while I sewed every seam.

The Winter curtain will be made in the same way, except with heavier materials. I am thinking of weaving a piece of woolen blanketing to make the top and some flannelette sheets as the curtains. I have wanted to make blankets for some time, maybe this is the time to do it.

My foray into free form overshot weaving

I was wandering around the internet one morning and I found this scarf;

The mermaid scarf from Lisa Raynor

A little digging (well…clicking) produced a blog post, an Etsy shop and a whole new interest level. The technique is free form overshot; where some weft strands (the bits that go from side to side, not up and down) are doubled with a thicker yarn. Basically, the weft weave is plain while you add a thicker yarn every second pick (one pass through the warp is called a pick), while going over some warp strands out of order to make a pattern.

I decided to give it a go…on some plain, throw away yarn that I wouldn’t miss too much. The technique looked complicated and mistake prone, so I didn’t want to tempt fate by using a good silk yarn or some of my hand spun Icelandic wool.

I warped up with a grey cotton yarn I had left over from making tea towels and chose a pink woolen yarn that should puff up nicely when washed.

I tried to weave it in the advised way; by alternating both wefts right across the warp. That was a disaster. Too much pink showed through and I could not see the pattern, and I kept messing up the warp count.

Next attempt; I kept the alternating threads idea, but only used the pink on the pattern area (sort of like tapestry weaving). This worked really well but I needed to use about five separate thread ends to make it work. I eventually got the pattern done, after a fashion, it is not as smooth looking as I had hoped, but I think it will fluff up in the fulling process..

The star in the centre became hard to see and eventually became a cross.

On the way to finishing the scarf I found another Youtube clip by Pipyr Dooley about making inclusions in weaving. Suddenly this scarf became a project for a friend (don’t ask me why the design just popped into my head, I just work here).

The triangles are inclusions al la Pipyr Dooley.

A sex change for Sid

Sid when he first joined us.

A few months ago, around Midsummer, we had a medical emergency among the sheep. I haven’t blogged about much from that period of time until now because of a series of hard-to-deal-with events. First my father was diagnosed with late stage pancreatic cancer and died shortly afterwards (not the best start to the year), then I had to have some abdominal surgery which slowed me down considerably. Our old dog Spot had to be put to sleep during this period too. To top that all off, we had to evacuate our humpy because of a bushfire threat to the area and we lost two of our sheep to an unknown predator in the bush.

During the week after I came out of hospital (on strict orders to stay in bed), Sid; our wether (and companion to Shaun in the past) began to act as if he had colic. I rang the vet and was advised to keep him walking and get him to drink water. So despite having a very painful stomach and being depressed I spent many hours following the poor boy and keeping him moving and drinking for two days (my partner and daughter took many shifts also). On the second day I drove over to a nearby town to get some pain killer for him (against doctors orders, but we do what we have to), I injected him, but it seemed to have little effect. On the third morning we decided to take him to the vet, so my daughter and partner got my little car ready to cart a full grown sheep (tarp on the floor and bedding towels) then we all spent an hour catching Sid and moving him into the car. We had to lift him in, which did not make my stomach happy at all, and he had no fight in him at all once he was in the car.

Sid now. All grown up.

My daughter and I drove to the vet surgery, a trip of two hours, and unloaded poor Sid into their yards. He was in so much pain he didn’t seem to care what happened to him. After a few hours and many examinations, the wonderful vet discovered that he had a bladder stone and had not urinated for two days (I felt so bad about trying to make him drink). She gave us the option of putting him down as the operation to fix this is very dangerous and the recovery is long and involves a lot of nursing (oh and expensive). I just couldn’t imagine life at the humpy without Sid; his single minded attention to getting his food, his demands for a chin scratch and his afternoon greetings to my partner when he came home from work (to the tune of pleas for more food). We decided to give him a chance at surviving and said go ahead.

We went home then and left him to be operated on. The vet rang much later that day to say he had survived the operation but she had been forced to put in a stint to drain urine. Sid had to stay in hospital for a further two weeks, before coming home to be nursed by my daughter and I.

This is where the sex change comes in; the stint bypasses the urethra and penis altogether and exits the body in roughly the same place as it does in female sheep. Sid now pees like a cat; the urine squirts out in a stream behind him. We try not to stand behind him in good clothes these days.

Sid’s bottom now. He had to be shaved for the operation.

Sheep and goats of the male persuasion seem to be prone to bladder stones if they have a high grain diet. We did not know this previously and had fed poor Sid many grain based meals in the past. He has been confined to hay and chaff since the operation though. Apparently he is very likely to suffer from this again so we keep a close eye on him to be sure he is peeing.

His post operative care consisted of bathing the operation wound twice a day to remove built up urine dribble, putting paw paw ointment on the existing rain scald and spraying pink stuff around (but not on) the wound to discourage flies. In the middle of his recovery we had to evacuate the animals to my Mum’s place because of a bush fire. This set back his recovery a lot because of the stress of moving and because he and his friends escaped their pen and decided to walk home. They made it to my uncles house and had to be collected from there. Eventually the scabs dropped off and the wound healed, and now we only inspect and wash the site about once a week. We still watch him closely to be sure he is peeing though.

This is the actual site of the operation. I didn’t get photos of it when it was healing, but it was messy.

The vet seems to think he will last another two years, we hope he does, we love our Sid. Our main concern now is making sure he has a good life in the time he has left. He is living with the rest of the sheep herd (sheep are very social and need constant companionship), and seems to be enjoying life again.

A new fridge

The time has come to bite the bullet and get a new fridge. At the moment we have an aged gas fridge gifted to us by my partner’s uncle. It is at least 30 years old and doesn’t really keep anything cool any more. It is capricious about keeping things frozen and seems to find amusement in allowing greens to turn to slime overnight.

The decision

We need to do something about the fridge; which leaves us with two options. We can buy a new gas fridge at the cost of around $2000 plus ongoing gas costs…or we can spend around $15000 on an upgraded solar system and get an electric fridge. Our current solar system can not produce enough power to run a fridge.

The gas stove seems to be the cheaper option, but the solar system upgrade also has other advantages. We have needed new storage batteries for a very long time as the old batteries are over 15 years of age and like to give the fridge a run for it’s money in the capriciousness grand finals. The extra electricity can be used to run our various pumps and filters on the ever increasing fish tank collection and means we can literally turn on the fan whenever we want to…without checking the battery charge levels first (an almost mythical luxury here).

We decided, eventually, after much argument and discussion (in which fan use figured heavily), to go for the solar upgrade option. This involves getting a personal loan (something we have been trying to avoid) and many hours of work putting the new system in place.

The project

After securing a personal loan (groan) and shopping around for the best deal, we picked up our new solar system.

The solar panels, batteries and other associated bits have been stored in the shed waiting for time to put them together. Several jobs need to be completed before the new fridge can be installed.

First; the generator needs to be moved closer to the shed so the batteries can be attached to it for charging when there is no sun (they will need to be charged on the generator until the solar panels are connected too).

Not pretty, but the tires and gravel keep the generator up above water level

Second; the batteries need to be arranged in their box in the shed and wired to the regulator and other bits of technology that keep them balanced and operational.

The magical battery box in the shed.
Inside the battery box. I don’t know what it means but it works.
The regulator and other unknowable bits that get the electricity from the panels to the batteries.

Third; the solar panels need to be connected to each other and then to the batteries (via the regulator).

The front row of panels is on the shed roof. That part gets more sun in the winter.

Fourth; the fridge can be put in the kitchen and turned on. This step involves putting down a cement pad to make sure the fridge is level (our kitchen floor is NOT level).

You can just see the cement pad under the fridge.

My partner has done the majority of the work on this project, between working and fixing things I break. He has done a great job getting it all going and is now able to enjoy turning on the fan any time he likes…just in time for winter. Having a fridge that seems to enjoy keeping things cool and having a LOT more freezer space has allowed us to cut our shopping down considerably and we no longer have much food waste. The chooks don’t like this turn of events, but there is a downside to everything.

Making a Viking scarf for a friend

I have been learning how to get along with my four shaft counterbalance loom (who I call Wanda), she is an old lady who likes her own way. Recently I decided to make a scarf for a friend, my planning for the project went like this; I wanted to use Wanda to make a project, so I needed a four shaft, counterbalance friendly pattern (one that lifts two frames at a time, because counterbalance looms don’t open a big shed when only lifting one frame at a time). My friend reminds me of a Viking Shield Maiden (fierce and determined) so I went looking for Viking weaving patterns. I found one meant for tea towels (ie. much finer fabric than I needed), I decided to give it a go with soft wool rather than cotton as an experiment. Clutching the simple weaving draft, I went looking for wool in my stash to do the job. My friend loves red and black, so that’s what I looked for. I ended up with some black wool/acrylic blend warp and red/purple wool/acrylic blend weft (which means she doesn’t have to hand wash the scarf).

The Viking tea towel draft
A stray ball of yarn, I don’t have too many red yarns as it turns out.

After threading up the warp using the draft… a new skill I am very proud of… I began to weave.

The weaving part of the project took two weeks of after work and evening weaving to complete. The finished scarf is lovely to look at and has a nice texture. I will have to soak it in hair conditioner as it feels slightly course (which often happens with woven yarn). Then it is off to the post office to send it on it’s way to New Zealand.

Finished scarf, now for the fringe
The finished scarf.

Every scarf needs a fringe of some kind, so I went looking for something nice to finish the ends. I found a tutorial on making twisted fringes on Youtube (where else?) and gave it a go. I think it came out really well.

The twisted fringe component
Various tea towel patterns from the same warp

By the way; I eventually finished the tea towel warp and ended up with 8 tea towels total from that warp (my calculations were out). I used as many treadle patterns as I could think of and a variety of cotton yarns I found in my stash as weft.