Home

Home. Home to trees and fields, dirt roads, and cooler temperatures. Home to the family. Home to my friends and community.
When I arrived on Tuesday, the house was woodstove warm and welcoming. Both dogs were overjoyed that I wasn’t ( apparently) gone for good. Aah, home.
Now back to work. Winter projects on the docket. Work on the board and batting for the studio. Re-shingle the back of the house. Wool to spin and send out for the yarn CSA.
Speaking of wool, in Ireland the landscape is covered with sheep. Most are breeds suited for the conditions there, cold and wet, and most breeds are raised for meat. The market for fleece is not great and it may be difficult to find yarn made from Irish sheep. Real Irish yarn, that is. Not likely that you will find merino sheep on an Irish farm. The merino would not stand the conditions in Ireland. The breeds in Ireland tend to be a courser breed of sheep, great for rugs and weaving. The fiber in Ireland would be considered ‘carpet wool’, strong, coarse fiber truly great for weaving tapestries or rugs but often considered too scratchy for garments. But, I love wool and back in the day, even our wool here in New England was typically more scratchy than it is now. Remeber those wool snowsuits kids wore? Breed importing has improved over the last 50 years and raising sheep breeds that have soft, fine fiber, are now widely available here. Our weather in the Northeast being dryer allows us to manage with some of the finer wool breeds. Still, I personally love that old fashion course and strong wool all sweaters and socks ( and snowsuits!) were made from in year’s past. Bartlett wool and yarn from Briggs and Little are still companies that produce yarn using fleece that is a mixture of breeds, all put into a wool pool, and spun into yarn. Lots of my socks are knit with wool from Briggs and Little. I call them ‘socks that are not for the faint of heart’. They are a bit scratchy (I don’t get the heebie-jeebies from scratchy wool on my skin) and they are tough…the course wool does not pill or tear as easily after lots of use. In Ireland, I did find a shop that carried true Irish yarn ( in Donegal) and it is scratchy, but I love it. My green wool hunting pants are scratchy. My vest from Filson is a thick felted wool that is scratchy. But both are two of the warmest garments I own. The sheep we raise at Fernwood are a fairly longwool breed, soft and lustrous, beautiful wool….and warm. They are a sheep breed I find really works for all the various knitting and felting I do.They grow excellent lamb for the freezer. I’ll always buy some rough and tumble yarn for sock knitting or for that outdoor barn sweater I know will stand the test of time (and abuse). Among the other projects on the needles these days…a baby sweater, some mittens, a few scarves, there are also some hearty socks in progress, made with tough and gnarly wool, just waiting for the inevitable cold our Maine winters bring. And I know they’ll do their job!

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

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

February

Picture 534A Note From Mr. Fernwood….
It has been colder the last couple of days, colder than we have been used to this winter. We are told it won’t last too long, even though the lower temps may be a shock to some. This time of year we usually get a pretty cold period, even in a normal winter. But as one that usually works outside everyday year round, one thing that really makes a big difference to me is the increase in the length of the daylight hours and especially the strength of the sun. Even on the coldest days if I have the sun on me I can work in comfort all day long. Of course I also have the benefit of several woolen garments that Denise and her sheep have provided for me. The renewed energy of the sun not only allows for more choices as to outdoor activities, but also brings to mind all that will change, and in some cases rapidly, as the sun and longer days overcome the cold and shorter days. Soon our tasks will no longer be in tune with keeping warm and what we can accomplish while doing so, but tending to new growth in our gardens and the additions to the livestock. The ‘to do’ list tends to take on its own life and gains momentum with every new day. Longer daylight hours translate into longer work days. We enjoy and look forward to them, but by the end of the season we will look back more fondly of these colder but shorter days that allow us a little more choice in what we may or may not want to do that day.
And to add to this lovely post from Rick….a poem by Kate Barnes ( the First Maine poet laureate and a true favorite of ours)

BEAR TREES
In February
all of a sudden there’s a lot more light,
and it’s a warm light.
Snow melts off the roof,
the hens start laying, the mare comes into season.
The earliest lambs are born in the barn cellar
where they bleat to their mothers in the half darkness
like bulbs that stir in the darkness underground.
On the southern windowsill, the old geraniums
push up new stalks and hang them with brick-pink blossoms
and every day I find I wake up earlier,
my bones cracking as I sit up to stretch.
The sap has begun running
and this morning, when I drove the pung up to the woodlot,
I saw three young maple trees
deeply scored with new bear scratches.

Oh warm light,
couldn’t you have waited a little longer?
How safe we were in the dead of winter!
How gently we dreamed!
How beautiful it was to sleep under the snow!

By Kate Barnes

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.’

Finally!

Picture 2140Please don’t be upset with me. We are finally getting the long-awaited snowstorm, and it makes me so happy! A winter that doesn’t act like winter makes me uncomfortable. Winter should know its place and behave accordingly. Snow. Cold. Frozen ponds and lakes. Are you with me on this? I’m not sure the sheep are, but they’re designed for this kind of weather. Built-in winter coats? Sunny Florida is not the place for them, they belong right here where the cold will encourage them to grow long and heavy fleeces. And you know what that means, plenty of scrumptious Blue Face Leicester wool for me to spin and knit with. So……let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! I think I actually see a smile on the sheep’s faces, don’t you? Picture 2142

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!