In The Studio

Through the remainder of August and into September we’ll be featuring some local artisans in the studio. If you’d like to get a jump on some holiday gift purchasing and want to support some local artisans, this may be your chance. The studio will be open Wednesday through Sunday, 9-5.
Our friend Sett Balise (brambledragon.com) is an accomplished potter from Liberty, Maine. Sett has a beautiful and functional selection of pottery available ( we eat oatmeal out of some of his bowls all winter!), come check it out!
My friend Sally Savage, photographer and mixed media artist, left a small collection of her polymer clay ‘beach stone’ necklaces for purchase. Sally will also be teaching a class this Fall at Fiber College if you’d like to join the fun and make some stones on your own.
And of course, there will be yarn for sale….handspun, hand-dyed yarn from our own flock of Blue-Face Leicester sheep! It’s never too early to increase your winter yarn stash!
Come check out the studio, wander the gardens, and find out what’s happening these days here at Fernwood!

Into The Fields

We just moved the sheep onto their summer pasture. The grazing will improve as the days get warmer, but the beginnings of green grass are a welcome sight for our wooly ewes. They will continue to be fed hay and grain until the fields can really sustain them, another 3 weeks or so. Tomorrow is shearing day! Off come their winter coats, their hoofs will be trimmed, and each sheep will get a dose of wormer. Always a big day here at the farm, another task that signifies the coming of spring! If you are a hand spinner looking for a luscious Blueface Leicester fleece to spin, give us a call! I am determined not to keep them all!

The nursery is shaping up….the rows are cleaned and filled with plants for the upcoming season. Some great new additions that we’re really excited about! We open on May 3rd and we are looking forward to seeing customers and talking about gardening!

We hope everyone is enjoying the arrival of warm weather and the promises of a new gardening season. Happy Day to you all!

March On!

picture-3943Have we had a few days of really, really cold temperatures lately? Brrr and yes, but the sun is high and strong and the very near future promises much warmer weather. Yeeha! So, we’ll march on through the month readying ourselves for what’s to come…..sowing seeds, turning over soil, boiling sap into maple syrup goodness.picture-4029I’m not going to squander a minute of March. Before long we’ll be doing that “sun up til sun down” thing we do every year. I’m using these last days of winter (yes, soon to be spring) to finish all the wool spinning and dyeing, all the knitting and felting, all the rummaging through boxes of family papers, all the reading (thank you Rick H. for the package of books you sent!!) I can muster before it’s too late. picture-4008This past weekend both Liberty Tool Company and Liberty Graphics opened their doors for another season. This is great for all those who travel to Maine looking for something special to bring home…like a smoothing plane, or a mortising chisel, or a really nice locally printed tee-shirt. For us locals, we wait all winter for the village to show signs of life again. After a winter of staying close to home, gathering at Liberty Graphics for a cup of coffee and a good chat is a sure sign of revitalization.
Even our chickens seem to have a pep in their step, grooming the landscape for spring morsels. Deep snow and cold temperatures keep them close to the coop until the bare ground starts appearing. Then the door is flung open and out they come, busy the rest of the day rototilling through the gardens and the woods.
Enjoy your days, peek out into the gardens, tip your face to the sun….spring’s a comin!picture-4032picture-3948

Winter Knitting, Anyone?

picture-2104We are just about to begin our yearly 3-month yarn CSA ( community supported agriculture). If there are any knitters who are short on yarn stash or simply want to knit something using some delicious Blue Face Leicester yarn from our flock…here’s your chance. picture-735It’s soft and lustrous, hand dyed and all from our sheep here at Fernwood Nursery. And, you actually get a little more than yarn…right to your mailbox!! Please email us at fernwoodnursery@fairpoint.net with any orders or inquiries. I’ll respond pronto! And the sheep here… well, they say “thank ewe”!picture-3926picture-3923

A Storm Brewing

picture-3880A snowstorm in the forecast, although the predicted snow accumulation seems to dwindle as the day moves along. Dang! Now, we may see some freezing rain instead! I’d much prefer snow. Snow is good for banking the house, helping to insulate the plants outdoors, and can certainly help with the water table come spring. I was really hoping for a lofty blanket of snow to welcome in the New Year. Wouldn’t it be nice to take a long cross country ski to reflect on the places we’ve been and the road ahead? I can still hope. After all, hope is and will be a necessary endeavor as we enter 2017.picture-3882
Now that the Christmas holiday is behind us, I will start the New Year with a clean slate. First on the agenda is straightening up the studio. All the Christmas Merry-making caused a bit of a stir out there. There is still lots of wool to spin and dye for upcoming events, some felting projects that need completing, and an elf or two in the making. Organizing my workspace will probably help with the progress of these things…. it’s hard for me to be creative amongst the clutter.
Here’s wishing you the very best in the upcoming year….Peace, happiness, and love. Happy New Year!picture-3874picture-3877

Knitting Brown Sweaters

picture-3707I’ve knit several brown sweaters over the years. Yes, one was for my love and he continues to wear it when winter’s at its coldest, an insulated woolen armor just right for those very bitter -20 below days of January. Another was knit for a little boy, who will very soon be turning the ripe old age of 21. He quite often pesters me (his devoted mum) for another one. I’ll try and get to that this winter. Right now, I have a multi-colored brownish sweater in the makings…for me, can that be? Really? Something for me?!!! But the brown sweater that still stands out in my mind was the one being made by my young friend Sandy many years ago. She had just finished her degree in marine biology at the University Of Maine. After graduating she worked with me in the bakery and was not quite sure where her feet were going to land that summer, so she came to live with us. When she wasn’t rolling out pie dough or playing her guitar, she was working on a brown sweater intended for a boy she couldn’t get her mind off of. I’m not sure that the feelings of devotion and passion were reciprocated, but I do remember with fondness the brown sweater, Sandy’s tender heart, and her intention to win him over with skeins of soft brown wool. After a long day of turning butter and sugar into scrumptious pastries, Sandy would come home, turn on some music, open a beer, and pick up her needles. Between sporadic dates with that boy, she kept her needles clicking with hope. That boy didn’t take the bait…his loss. Sandy went on to further her education, land an important job in the field of environmental policy, and make her way in the world. She always was and she is, quite a gal. Sweater or no sweater, she’s a catch. I hope Sandy is still playing her guitar. I like to picture her playing one of her great tunes wearing a too big handknit sweater. Maybe singing a sassy song about lost love, freshly baked scones, and a summer spent with a mom and her two kids. So, in memory of brown sweaters knit with love, a poem by Kate Barnes… for Sandy.

The Brown Sweater

Knitting a sweater for your unrequiting love,
You knit hair into it twice so that whichever
way he turns, some will lie by his heart.
Black hair, fine and small, Irish hair,
hair that has its instructions, that has been programmed
to get itself wound tightly around his affections
and lead them to you like horses brought up from pasture.

I touch the sweater made of undyed wool
from brown sheep in Iceland. The soft stuff feels
as resilient as moss. I look at you busily wishing.
Your face is not screwed up with concentration;
it only deepens with the same sudden deepening
produced by the sight of a train passing under a bridge
or a falling star, each good in your mind for one wish.

In the evening you read French cookbooks
looking for something
to delight him. In the morning you tell me your dreams
about him. Every night you dream about him!
Every day – all day -you are listening for his truck.
And this has gone on for a year! How can I say:

God’s will be done, or: that man alone is happy
who makes the best of what Fates send him?
I can’t.

In the face of your longing, in the face of
your suffering need
consolation of any kind would be
an injury. You hug the sweater and stare
across the top at me with the look of the doe
I once saw plunge in the lake leaving a pack
of stray dogs yelping behind her in our hayfield.

It was still summer, though late, the water not
too cold, the dogs not too determined. She swam

bravely away, growing smaller and smaller, until
she reached the opposite shore and disappeared,
safe in the thicket.

Give me magic, give me hope!
Give me the powers of bone-deep wishes, the lucky
Omens, the white horse, the first star of the night,
the doe ten miles by land from her howling griefs,
the blue-black hair, springing from a head of dreams,
twining into a strand of brown yarn and bringing
love and luck to the wearer – without his knowledge.

Kate Barnes

Our Days Now

Picture 2392Our days now are spent tending to both the needs of winter and the needs of spring. We’re still hauling in firewood, and feeling the need to warm ourselves with hot tea and homemade broth. Somedays we are still putting a layer of long underwear on beneath our work clothes. The water buckets for the sheep and chickens are often still frozen in the morning. We are, however, for the most part without snow. Plants like winter aconite have pushed through the thawing ground and have blooms ready to open. Small, bright yellow flowers, just what we need to bring warmth to the landscape! Already the chickweed (Stellaria media) is starting to come up and spread along the ground in the greenhouse. This is great because I will pick it for salads, tea, and make a tincture with some – (More on this later).

Xanthoria parietina

Xanthoria parietina

I recently collected some lichen for wool dyeing. A jar of Xanthoria parietina sits soaking in a mixture of ammonia and water, fermenting nicely.Picture 2405 In about three months or so, I will have the makings of a nice dye bath. I’ll keep you posted as the process moves along. Whether I am making tinctures, salves, or a concoction to be used for dyeing wool, I love this chance to be a ‘kitchen chemist’. A very basic ‘kitchen chemist’ that is, but with wonderful results that improve our health, nutrition, and can bring wonderful color to a skein of yarn. Speaking of yarn, the last package for our winter yarn CSA will go out this month. It’s been fun putting together the skeins of yarn, choosing patterns, and including a snapshot of one of our lovely sheep. We’ll surely be offering this again.
A warm weekend coming up, a few new lambing pens need to be built and another wall boarded in the studio. Maybe one of the giant brush piles can be burned. What sorts of things are people doing to ready themselves for spring? Any new gardening projects on the ‘to do’ list? We’d love to hear.

Yarn From Some Happy Sheep In Maine

Picture 735The sheep (and their shepherd) here at Fernwood would like folks to know that we have a winter yarn CSA available ( CSA- Community Supported Agriculture). Purchase a 3-month membership and we will send you a skein and a ‘one-skein’ knitting pattern each month. Beautiful, hand dyed, soft and lustrous skeins of yarn from our flock of Blue Face Leicester sheep. Though it hasn’t been one of our coldest winters on record, and perhaps there has been less need to bundle up in woolens, we do hope you’re still finding an opportunity( and reason!) to knit. If you are interested in Fernwood’s Yarn CSA and would like more information, email us please and I will promptly send along all the details. Thank you and stay warm!Picture 2104

St. Distaff’s Day

Picture 2171In times past, January 7th, the first free day after the twelve of Christmas was known as St. Distaff’s Day. It had no connection whatsoever with any saint but its place in the folk calendar gives an indicator of the importance of spinning at a time when this was the only means of turning the raw wool, cotton or flax into thread capable of being woven into cloth. The day, which was also know as Rock Day (referring to another name for either the distaff or the spindle) indicated that this was the end of the Christmas festivities and the return to the normality of spinning whenever there was a spare moment. As Anthony Fitzherbert, wrote in his ‘Boke of Husbandrie’ (1523) ‘it stoppeth a gap…it saveth a woman from being idle, and the product was needful’.

Before the invention of the Spinning Wheel, spinning on what is known as the Drop Spindle (a pin or stick weighted by a whorl) was a slow and tedious task. The spinning of one pound of woollen yarn could take about one week and one pound of heavy cotton yarn several weeks to spin. The method had not changed since the earliest times. There are images from as far back as time of the Ancient Egyptians showing how the distaff was used to hang the flax or tow and the spindle to effect the twisting. The distaff was carried under the arm, and the spindle left dangling and turning in the fingers below, and forming an axis round which to wind parcels of the thread as soon as it was made.

Women of all classes would spin. Everyone from the Lady to the peasant was expected to spend time on the task, though the wealthier may have elaborate spindles. In the evening, after the chores of the day were done, there would be spinning, and the spindle would be taken to visit friends as the task could be undertaken at the same time as a conversation.

The woollen industry became in the Middle Ages, the major industry in the land with huge areas gaining there main income from sheep. It is said that many of the elaborate churches in East Anglia, such as those at Long Melford and Lavenham, were financed from the woollen industry. In the 14th century, Edward III commanded that the Lord Chancellor should sit on a sack of wool – a reminder of the importance of the trade, for not only had home consumption increase but there was now a thriving export market.

It was at about this time the spinning-wheels first started to appear, to replace the drop spindle. There are several depictions of women from this time using the spinning wheel – all show the woman standing at her work, moving the wheel with her right hand, while with her left she twirls the spindle. The introduction of this method speeded up the production of spun wool and the addition of the foot driven mechanism in the 1500s made even more of a difference.

Land use was also greatly affected by the wool trade. Many of the deserted villages that have left their mark on the English landscape, particularly in Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire occurred as a result of whole communities being moved to make space for the grazing of sheep between the fourteenth and the seventeenth centuries. Spinning the wool became more important than ever and Distaff Day a crucial date in the calendar

But whereas women would recommence spinning on Distaff Day, the men did not return to the plough until after Plough Monday when their ploughs had been blessed. Robert Herrick in the seventeenth century collection of poems ‘Hesperides’ describes young people maids and ploughboys messing around at this time with the lads setting fire to the flax and in return, the maids soaking the men from the water-pails…

Partly work and partly play
You must on St. Distaffs Day:
From the plough soon free your team;
Then cane home and fother them:
If the maids a-spinning go,
Burn the flax and fire the tow.
Bring in pails of water then,
Let the maids bewash the men.
Give St. Distaff’ all the right:
Then bid Christmas sport good night,
And next morrow every one
To his own vocation.’

Battenkill Fiber Mill

For years …as long as I have raised sheep, over twenty five years now, I have been searching for the perfect woolen mill to process some of our fleeces. We always keep a bundle of the newly shorn fleeces here to process ourselves, the rest will often get sent off to be cleaned and carded. This means bags of beautifully cleaned roving returns, ready to spin. The last two years I’ve even sent off several fleeces to have them cleaned, carded, and spun into yarn. So I have both available……skeins of our Blue Face Leicester spun right here with me at the wheel or yarn from our sheep that has been sent over to the Battenkill. Even with any mill spun yarn, I still do all the dyeing of each skein. With a flock of sheep’s fleeces piling up (I can only spin so fast and there is always so much else to do…surprise, surprise, huh?) I decided two years ago to send some of the fleeces off. This allowed me to have more inventory to sell to our yarn customers. Finding the right woolen mill has always been a challenge. For years we’ve had a local mill who did a great job, but they no longer clean fleeces, and because ‘cleaning’ the fleeces is the job that is most helpful, I began looking elsewhere. It’s not easy to find a mill you trust. Being a handspinner and working hard to maintain the quality of our sheep and their fleeces, I don’t want to risk sending them just anywhere. I had one mill years ago lose all of my 1st year lamb fleeces. Not happy, I can only say. Blue Face Leicester tends to have a fairly long staple length (length of the locks), it is quite crimpy, and often contains a fair bit of lanolin. This can gunk up a machine, so carefully washing is important. Some cottage mills are not able (or talented enough) to handle fleeces that are considered extra fine , like Merino or Rambouillet, or they are not able to slow the machines to handle a long stabled fleece…like Blue Face Leicester. Owning and operating a woolen mill is a craft. They need to understand the different wool breeds, they need to be able to assess the fleeces when they come in, and they need to be able to process each order to the customer’s request. There is a lot to pay attention to. So, this is why I am promoting the Battenkill Fiber Mill. They are, by far, the best mill I’ve come across. One of the great things about them is that they strive for accuracy. I get my own fleeces back and the weight of the finished product is always on the high end. They are great communicators, I often send my fleeces with a ( fairly) long list of instructions and thoughts…. the folks at the Battenkill know that they are working with producers that care about their sheep and the end quality of their fleeces, and so they listen. Quality is first and foremost at the Battenkill. I have been so happy to find a mill, one that is not across the country, that I can trust with my fleeces. They really are an excellent mill.
Recently, I received an email from Mary Jeanne who owns and operates the Battenkill Fiber Mill. She sends out a yearly update of things happening at the mill, along with this great video which explains how the mill operates. The best part of the video is learning a little bit about the happy folks who work there. If happy and contented people are doing the job of processing your fleeces, it makes sense that they come back to you reflecting the happy hands that handled them.
Check out the Battenkill’s website, the video is there to click onto……join in with supporting a great little business!