February 24, 2010

Fiber Fun Wednesday -- Spinning in Place

We have a new addition here on the farm. An absolutely gorgeous Ashford spinning wheel. We've had it a few weeks, but it took some time before I was actually able to use it.

Well, let's just say this wheel and I have a complicated relationship.

After patiently waiting while Jim stained the wheel and put it together, I sat down to use it with some wool roving that had come with it as a freebie. I'm sure I looked funny sitting in my rocker with every spinning book I own spread out before me. I even had my laptop on the couch with a couple of YouTube videos I had saved.

I had a pretty good idea how it was supposed to go and after using the drop spindles figured it was going to be about the same.


I followed every direction, but after 3 hours of getting nowhere I was ready to send the wheel off to the burn pile (wheel, if you are reading this I didn't mean it). I was cursing and throwing things and wondering how in the world anyone got anything spun on these things.

Turns out, that wool roving was to blame. After looking at it closely I realized it was awful. No matter how carefully I predrafted it, it still pulled apart every 5 inches or so. It's now sitting in the black hole I call my office. Maybe some day I'll card it and blend it with something else to make it usable.

The next day I bravely started off with an alpaca roving I had purchased on Etsy. It spun exactly how I thought it should and in no time I had 50 yards of yarn!! It only took a little time to fill up my bobbin.

It's not perfect, but I think if I hadn't had all that practice on the drop spindles it would have been much worse.

My next yarn is turning out so amazing. I am spinning a superwash Merino I purchased and it's becoming a really nice sock yarn. I'm completely impatient to start knitting up a pair of socks with it and I haven't even finished spinning it yet.

Needless to say, I am now having a great time spinning, but I'm not sure my wheel has forgiven me yet for my early hatred. I guess I'll keep lovin' it and giving it many wonderful things to spin up until I'm forgiven.

February 22, 2010

Recipe of the week -- Balsamic Mushroom Chicken

I've been making a new cookbook recently. My old one finally died. It's years of use have made it hard to read in places and no amount of duct tape can hold it together any longer. The problem is, I have to retype every recipe because I lost the old file between computer upgrades. :(

While doing this I found an old favorite that I had forgotten about. It's a simple recipe, but like Mary Poppins, it's practically perfect in every way. It makes a deliciously moist and tender chicken with an amazing gravy made up of lots of mushrooms. YUM!

Balsamic Mushroom Chicken

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast
2 tbls. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. oil
8 oz. assorted or white mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup finely diced red onion
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 sliced cloves garlic
1 tbls. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 tbls. butter

For even cooking, pound chicken breasts to an even thickness. I find a meat mallet works great for this. Mix flour and salt in a plastic food resealable bag. Add chicken and shake to coat.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken. Cook, turning once, 6 minutes or until golden and meat is no longer pink in center. Remove to a plate.

Add mushrooms, onion and garlic to skillet and saute 4 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to a bowl.

Put broth, vinegar and thyme in skillet. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 4 minutes to thicken slightly and blend flavors. Add mushroom mixture. Stir in butter until melted.

Return chicken and any juices to skillet. Spoon mushrooms with sauce over chicken.

I had this for lunch and my mouth is watering just thinking about it again. It was soooo good. It tastes like an extra special dish without a lot of extra effort. You could even pick up already sliced mushrooms at the store if you wanted to make it even easier.

I think I need to go raid the leftovers in the fridge. Happy cooking!

Greener Shades Dyes....What are they?

Many of you have expressed interest in the Greener Shades dyes that we are now carrying in our online store, but had questions about them. This post is to hopefully answer some of those questions. These FAQ's are taken directly from the Still River Mill website, home of Greener Shades dyes.

Are these dyes organic?

We are unable to call or label these dyes as "Organic" as they are an intermediate step to a finished product. These dyes do comply with the Organic Trade Association's criteria for organic processing. This means that if you would like to get your yarn certified and call it organic, you can now dye the yarn and still create a product that will comply to organic standards and label it as such.

Are these dyes Environmentally Friendly and/or Low Impact?

Yes they are! There are several benefits from using these dyes. To start with, the effluent or wastewater from the manufacturing process is heavy metal free and not classified as hazardous waste! When dyeing, you will not be putting heavy metals into your ground water. You will not be wearing garments with heavy metals in them. And lastly when the garment eventually ends up in a landfill, there are no heavy metals going back into the ground.

Are these dyes safer than other acid dyes?

Yes they are! Because they are tested to comply with the Organic Trade Associations criteria for organic fiber processing, you can be assured that there are no heavy metals in the dyes. It is possible for heavy metals to be introduced into the dye in the manufacturing process even though the recipe for the dye does not call for any.

Are all acid dyes heavy metal free?

No, not all acid dyes are heavy metal free. Blues and Greens especially are not heavy metal free. Heavy metals normally found in dyes include chromium, copper, iron, maganese, and nickel.

How are these dyes different from other manufacturers dyes?

These dyes are not classified as a leveling or as a milling dye. They are formulated to have the characteristics of both, ie. excellent washfastness, excellent lightfastness, and very bright colors. They are also formulated to have balanced sulfonation between each color so that they perform well when mixed. They are formulated specifically to require no heavy metals in the manufacture of them.

How do these dyes perform compared to other manufacturers dyes?

Greeener Shades Dyes perform differently from other manufactures dyes as they are sulfonically balanced so they perform equally well when mixed together. We use these dyes exclusively in our fiber mill as they exhaust better, mix better, level better, give brighter colors (less dye needed to get desired shade) and generally have better washfastness and lightfastness compared to other acid dyes that we have used in the past.

How much fiber is 1/2 ounce of dye able to color?

Each 1/2 ounce jar of dye is able to dye 3 lbs of fiber at 1% Depth of Shade. This produces quite a bright shade of color. We generally recommend using a .75% Depth of Shade to start with when just starting out with the dyes.

What leveling agent is recommended to use with the dyes?

Generally we find that a leveling agent is not necessary when using these dyes. If the fiber is clean (no soap residue or dirt residue) the dye attaches very uniformly throughout the fiber. If you find that you need a leveling agent, we have used Albegal SET leveling agent in the past. We can also source a leveling agent from our dye manufacturer that works quite well, too.

I would like to wash my dyed fiber. What should I use?

All acid dyes are designed to attach to the fiber in an acidic environment. GreenerShades is about PH of 4.5. It is possible to break the bond with the fiber by introducing alkalinity to the fiber. PH above 7 can start to break the bond with the fiber and bleeding will occur. If the fiber was not clean enough or not set long enough, the bleeding will occur more quickly. Sometimes acid dyes will attach to the fiber weakly and not really be bonded. When introduced to a more alkaline solution, this "extra" dye can break off and bleed into your rinse water. This is called "cracking" and should not change the color of the yarn. We recommend a very gentle, neutral PH, soap to wash your fiber. Many laundry detergents and dishwashing liquids are quite harsh. Shampoo as you would use on your hair generally has more information available to make a decision. There are also many fine Fiber Wash products available as well. Or you can always contact us for the gentle scouring agent we use at Still River Mill to wash your fleeces and yarn.

February 21, 2010

The Painting Diaries

I love color! .....as if you didn't already know that. My new fiber studio is no exception. It is on it's way to becoming a brilliant purple color.

The thing is....I can't paint. I'm sure at this moment my oldest Andrew is laughing his head off at the thought of me painting anything.

In my defense, I'm getting better. I just have a tendency to paint things that ought not to be painted. Usually I have help, but today I decided to tackle my new studio all by myself. This is how it went...

I put down plastic in hopes that it would catch any spills and drips and then opened the can. So far so good. The first wall got painted with no complications. On to the next.

Hmmm...I really am not good at doing corners or up near the ceiling. In fact if I look close I believe I've painted that nice white ceiling purple in a few places. Drat.

What to do?? Off to Lowe's. I'm going to put ceiling trim up. That'll save me the hassle of trying to make nice neat edges.

Home again and back to painting. First MAJOR problem. While pouring the paint into the tray I slipped on the plastic and spilled the paint....onto the carpet.

Leave the paint and clean the carpet. Now cleaning up stuff I do well and this went really well I think. Can you see where I spilled?

Next wall was fine. No catastrophes.

Halfway down the next wall I see something that doesn't belong. It seems some of the paint I spilled that did land on the plastic had accidentally wiped off on the carpet in a new spot. AHHHH!!!!!

Time to clean the carpet again.

Finally finished with no more incidents, but I'm wearing about as much paint as the wall.

Look I have purple chicken pox! Somehow I ended up painting my butt too. Must have happened when I bent down to get the bottom of the wall. Thank goodness for painting clothes.

February 17, 2010

Fiber Fun Wednesday -- Crayola Fantasies

I have found my fiber passion!!

I love my alpacas and playing with the fiber they have lovingly donated is great, but what fun a little dye can give.

Our farm is now officially a reseller of Greener Shades dyes. These are environmentally friendly, organic and very colorfast. I got my first shipment this past Friday and the box was HUGE!! 120 little bottles of dye in multiple colors. I guess I went a little crazy, but hey, I had to stock the online store.

Of course I had to play with some of them myself. I was hesitant at first, but once I got going I had a blast. It's all about the chemistry, but this is really, really fun chemistry. Do I hear a school lesson? Oh, the kids just ran the other direction.

When dyeing, the color just kind of floats around in the pot until the temperature and PH are just were they need to be. Once they are, the color bonding is almost instantaneous. One minute colored water, the next colored fiber and clear water. Very awesome!!

So of course, I'm now like a kid with my first box of crayons. There are so many pictures I want to create and so many colors I want to try. I'm glad I have so much fiber to play with because I have to make every color I can think of. I've gone completely color crazy!

I even dream fiber colors now. I have to keep a sketch book close by to capture the pictures I'm getting in my head. I draw the colors and how I want to card them up.

Who would have thought all those years of art classes would come in handy. If only my art teacher could see me now.

If you want to experience the fun of dyeing fiber please visit our online store for Greener Shades dyes.

February 10, 2010

Fiber Fun Wednesday -- Drop Spindles in History Class

For those of you who don't already know, we are a homeschooling family. We belong to a great homeschooling group that meets every Tuesday for an assortment of classes. It's a lot of fun and the kids can spend time with other kids learning something new or fun from someone other than Mom.

While the kids are taking their classes, I spend time teaching a couple classes of my own. One of those is a History class for tween girls. Imagine a room full of girls ages 8-12 learning history through the American Girl books. Serious chaos at times, but really fun.

The last few weeks we have been talking about the civil war era and slavery. As a craft to go along with this time in history, I choose to teach them how to spin yarn on a drop spindle. Now, I wasn't making it easy on them. They had to make their own drop spindles as well.

We made them out of wooden dowels and CD's. There was the quick explanation that CD's did not exist in the 1800's, but they got the fact that we were using stuff found around the house.

There was also another brief talk on why alpaca was not used back then either because of course we were spinning with alpaca! I told them just to pretend it was wool.

I have to give a big giant THANK YOU to Karen Cubic of Cubic's Country Alpacas who donated all the fiber we used in class. We were really blessed to have her send a HUGE box of rovings for these girls. Thank you Karen from all of us!

Last week we gave it a "whirl". Ha Ha. Some of the girls took to it right away while others needed a little more individual help, but by yesterday's lesson they all at least understood what they were doing.

Obviously not all were loving the drop spindle, but I think the girls enjoyed themselves. And who knows, maybe I've created a few budding fiber artists. :o)

February 09, 2010

Will it snow?

All weekend long we've been hearing threats of winter snow coming. Snow, snow and more snow. Up to 14" they say. Well, today is the day and I'm feeling oddly disappointed.

With thoughts of the last blizzard on the east coast and the predictions of the weatherman, I spent the weekend making sure we were ready for whatever Mother Nature sent our way. We filled the basement with wood, made sure the fireplace had propane and checked that we had plenty of projects to keep us busy if the power decided to leave us.

I awoke today to discover about an inch of new snow on the ground, but not much more falling. Hmmm....where is it?

The morning has gone by without much more snow, but the wind has picked up. Our drive into town and back was uneventful.

I really enjoy at least one good snow-in during the winter because then I don't feel so guilty about sitting around and just doing nothing. I like watching the snow fall while catching up on TV shows I've missed.

It just doesn't seem like this storm will do it. I hope I'm wrong, but there's just not a lot of snow falling yet.

Is it weird that I want to be snowed in? Even if we lose power, it'll still be fun. On the farm we're prepared for power outages so it's never a big deal.

I guess I'm just looking for a good excuse to catch up on some long neglected projects instead of working or cleaning. Snow or no snow I suppose I can pretend and plant myself in the chair anyway.

Hey...in the time it took to write this it's started snowing!! I can barely see across the street. There may be hope for a snow day after all!

February 07, 2010

Recipe of the week -- Hot Dog and Bean Soup

I'm not sure hot dogs and beans is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of soup, but as strange as the combo might sound, it is seriously good and super easy. This soup is a huge hit with the kids and they request it quite often.

I love recipes that you can change and customize depending on your mood and the contents of your cupboard. You can use whatever baked beans you have on hand and whatever hot dogs are lurking in your freezer. I have even once used some polish sausage grillers I had leftover from something.

From start to finish I can have this on the table in 20 minutes. That includes the chopping time for the veggies.

I would have loved to post a picture of this, but I just couldn't seem to get a good one. When done, the soup kind of just looks brown in the bowl. Really tasty, but visually boring. Dress it up with a nice salad on the side or some breadsticks.

Hot Dog and Bean Soup

1 small onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
4 hot dogs, sliced
1 can (28 oz.) baked beans
1 can (14 oz.) chicken broth

In a medium pot, heat 1 tbls. oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot and celery; cook until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add hot dogs; cook until lightly browned. Add baked beans and broth. Bring to a boil. Over medium-low heat, cook until vegetables are tender, 5-7 minutes.

That's it. That is how easy it is. I love making this on a chilly day as a light lunch.

We prefer Bush's Original baked beans, but you can use any flavor you like.


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