Friday, February 27, 2015

From the Source Friday: SB Farms

The fourth Friday of every month is From the Source Friday! Show your appreciation to these dedicated fiber farmers as they teach you all about where your yarn comes from. Today's featured fiber is bison. Originating from prairies and grasslands, bison produce a fiber that is warm, fluffy, and strong. Shirley and Bill of SB Farms raise bison for all kinds of purposes, including fiber. Here's what they had to say about day to day life with these impressive animals.

Life on the farm...
Daily routines vary based on the season of the year.

Winter – Generally by mid-December the bison have exhausted the available pasture grass and are then moved off the pasture grazing rotations and into winter feeding lots. Here they are fed grass hay, a small amount of supplement and trace minerals. Bison eat about 2% of their body weight per day so we have to check on their hay supply daily and replenish it when necessary. We use large round bales of hay that are stored inside and are moved from the building to the feeding areas one at a time, sometimes needing 4 or 5 at a time. This can take about an hour and a half and is done regardless of rain, snow, wind, or cold. Each day we also check the water supply to be sure it is not frozen and they have access to it, and that is always has trace mineral present. All of this takes about 2 hours. 

Spring and Summer – By late March or early April the pastures have been fertilized and the grasses are beginning to grow. When the grasses reach a height of at least 6 inches we move the bison out of the winter feeding lots and into the pastures. We have 8 pastures and the herd is rotated through them based on the grass height. Each day the herd is visited to check on their well-being, check the water supply, pick up any hair that has shed, check on the trace mineral supply and monitor the grass availability. Calving season begins in late April and lasts until about mid-June. Part of the daily routine then is observing which cow had a calf, assuring the calf is OK and that the calf is nursing. This info is then recorded in our production records. In early June we begin our fly control program by mixing a fly growth inhibitor in the trace mineral and by using insects known as “fly predators”. We receive 20,000 of them per month and they are spread around the pastures and water stations. This daily routine takes about 1 hour and is performed regardless of the weather. In mid to late April we mow, rake and bale our own grass hay to be used for feeding the bison during extended summer droughts and during the winter. We try to have about 450 round bales of hay stored inside for each year’s hay feeding cycle. Once the grass reaches the optimum age and height it is mowed, raked and baled. Because the grass has to dry before it can be baled, there are usually 4 to 5 days between mowing and baling depending on the weather. Once baling is finished the bales are moved from the field to the storage building and stacked. The complete process takes from 6 to 8 days depending on the weather. The bison are rotated to different pastures based on grass height all through the spring, summer, and fall period. Moving the bison takes about 30 minutes each time.

Fall – By October we will have planted our grass for the next year’s hay crop. This takes about 2 days of work.  Near the end of the month the cows and calves are brought into our bison handling facility and we give each one a deworming shot and put ear tags on the calves. This takes about 6 hours of work with 4 people. The cows and calves are then let go back to pasture and during our daily pasture visits we observe which calf nurses which cow and is recorded by tag number. That information is then recorded in our production records. This usually takes about 30 minutes extra per day until all cow calf pairs are identified. Near the end of November we bring the cows and calves back into our handling facility and separate them. All of the calves are put into a group and all of the cows are put into a group and put back onto separate pastures. This takes about 3 hours to complete.

Bison Stories
Abandoned Calf 
Bison cows calve in the spring and generally have one calf. Sometimes 2 or 3 cows calve the same day and in order to record the birth date and the cow’s tag number we have to stay in the pasture with binoculars until we see the calves nurse a cow. One year during about the 3rd week of calving we had a cow herd in each of 2 adjacent pastures. Both herds had 4 or 5 calves with them. The pastures are about 1000 feet from our homestead. One morning I happened to look out the back of the house and there was a calf all by itself. I thought, wow! How did that calf get all the way up here by itself? With the help of my wife we caught the calf and headed down to the pastures where the cows were. Now normally when a calf gets separated from its mother the cow is extremely upset and will be in a frenzy until the calf is reunited. When we got to the pastures none of the cows appeared to have lost the calf. Well, what to do? We took the calf into the first pasture and got as close to the cows as possible and turned it loose. It ran right to the cows but no cow claimed it. We waited, the calf visited several cows and finally seemed to claim one but the cow wouldn’t let it nurse. We waited for about an hour but the calf didn’t nurse.

The next morning during our daily herd check we found the calf had gone through the fence and was with the cow herd in the adjacent pasture. We waited and watched. None of the cows claimed it and none would let it nurse. This was serious because by now the calf had not nursed for at least 24 hours. So there were only two choices: leave it on its own (which would surely result in death) or bottle feed it. So bottle feeding won. We have a neighbor who loves all animals and had quite a few on their farm: horses, pigs, cows, goats, sheep, chickens, etc. We called her and explained the dilemma and asked if she would take the orphan. “No! I can’t do it”. You have to or it will die. “I’ll call you back shortly” she says. In a few minutes she calls and says her cousin is on the way to get the calf. Great! We went back to the pasture and after about 30 minutes were able to catch the calf again and bring it up to the barn.

The cousin and his two young daughters arrived in a crew cab pick-up. The girls loved the calf. We got it to feed from a bottle, they scooped it up, put it in the back seat and away they went. The last report is he is doing well and is quite a pet.

The Great Escape 

Part of the process of raising livestock is weaning the calves from their mothers. With bison this is during late fall or early winter. One particular year we had weaned all of the calves and had put them in the same small winter feeding pasture as the breeding bulls. This is a common practice for us as the calves are with their daddies and it eases the weaning process. The weaning had been completed for several months and all of the calves had been well settled. A normal practice for us is to feed the calves a supplement several times per week after weaning. The calf feeding area is partitioned off from the pasture so the bulls can’t get to the feed but the calves can easily enter and exit. We had been using 2 five gallon buckets to fill the calf feeding bunks and the bulls always tried to get to the feed before we could get it into the calf feeding area. 

One particular day I filled the 2 buckets and walked over to the pasture gate and saw that both bulls were all the way across the pasture. I figured I could open the gate, slip in, dump the feed and get out again before the bulls knew what was happening. I opened the gate stepped in and pushed the gate shut. The wind was blowing against the gate and I figured it wouldn’t swing open so I didn’t latch it. By the time I made it to the calf feeding bunks one of the bulls came running toward me at full speed. I jumped inside with the feeding bunks and emptied the buckets. Now I was ready to leave but the bull was no more than 2 feet from me and I wasn’t about to chance coming out and trying to get by him and back to the gate. I waited, he waited. I waited some more, he waited some more. Well the only other way to get out was to climb over a seven foot wall and exit a different way – so that is what I did. I then went about finishing my chores and other necessary work.

As it happened, the weather forecast was for a snow storm coming in that night. And sure enough it started snowing and blowing about 9 PM. At about 1 AM the next morning my wife went to the bathroom and happened to look out the window. Holy cow! It was still snowing and what is that? A bison looking back at her – not 10 feet from the house? She woke me and said “the bison are out”. What?? “The bison are out” What?? How do you know? “I can see them right outside my bathroom window”. 

Oh no! Well, I’m not about to go out in this snow storm and try to get them rounded up and back where they belong I told her. So I spent most of the rest of the night listening to them roaming around the lawn and snorting and got very little sleep. At the first light of dawn I was up and saw the snow had stopped. I formulated a plan to try to get the bison rounded up and returned to their correct location. As soon as I got outside I could see bison tracks everywhere, but no bison around the house. I walked towards the pasture where I though they belonged and low and behold there they all were, in the pasture with the gate wide open. I walked over and closed and LATCHED the gate.

Here is how they got out. When I climbed over the wall to get away from the bull the previous day I didn’t go back by the gate. I forgot that I had just pushed it shut. During the night when the snow storm hit the wind changed direction and was blowing in the opposite direction. The wind blew the gate open and, being the naturally curious animals that they are, the bison decided to do some exploring.

Have a look!

Bison (American Buffalo) down is an extremely soft, comfortable product much like cashmere. It is strong, soft and very insulating and therefore warm – warmer than wool. Any item you choose to make out of this yarn will not pill – an added feature. Bison yarn needs no dying – we create the yarn using its rich, natural, chocolate brown color.

Man, I sure got a kick out of that second story, didn't you? Raising bison sounds like an adventure. If you're interested in bison yarn, SB Farms has some for sale on their website. Thank very much for all of the detailed information, Shirley and Bill!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Look at Yarn Textures

There are every so many different yarn textures. Subtle differences in texture are often due to the ply and fiber composition of the yarn. A yarn with a high silk or nylon content will be smooth. A 100% acrylic yarn might be a bit stiff and scratchy. A single ply yarn will have a loose, fluffy texture.

There are also wilder yarns whose textures are bold and different. Yarns with bold textures like boucle, fun fur, eyelash yarn, and terry cloth can bring a completely different look and feel to your projects. Today I'd like to share a plethora of yarn textures that I found while perusing my local craft store. Note their similarities and differences. Think about how they might best be used, what hook sizes would be best, etc. The goal is to expand our horizons and use texture as an inspiration.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Build-A-Bed Blanket Request

Don't you just love the feeling of climbing into your own bed each night? So cozy, so warm, so comforting. Perhaps you even have a special crochet blanket on your bed that was made with love by you or someone who cares about you. Now consider this: In eastern Kentucky there are children who spend their nights without such comforts. Either they have no bed at all or they have to share a bed with other family members. Build-A-Bed, run by Morehead State University, seeks to provide needy children with beds of their very own (along with special bedtime items) so that they can get a great night's sleep. Red Heart has picked up the cause and is calling for help. To make each bed even more special and inviting they are seeking to gift a handmade blanket along with each bed. That's where we come in! Crocheters are needed to donate blankets for the beds. You can read more information about Build-A-Bed on Red Heart's blog.

Are you ready to help? Blankets must reach Red Heart by April 1st to be included.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Reach Out Friday: Snuggles Project

The third Friday of every month is Reach Out Friday! Learn about ways that you can use crochet to help others through special charities and groups. Today we'll take a look at Snuggles Project!

When homeless animals arrive in shelters they are often very frightened. It's hard enough being a little critter alone in a big world, and now there are so many new noises, smells, animals, and people to be worried about. That's where Snuggles Project comes in. They seek to provide shelter animals with "snuggles", or small blankets/mats for them to use as a comfort item. The animal can cuddle up to their snuggle and feel just a bit safer. Great cause, right? Nobody wants to think about all those sweet little animals being so frightened when they don't have to be.

Mission Statement
"The Snuggles Project is well-known as a multi-beneficial project. The first, and most important, benefit is to the animals. After being given a Snuggle, a frightened and/or difficult to handle animal is able to become calm. This calming effect gives the animal and the caregiver time to learn how to handle the situation. We believe that this calming effect has saved the lives of many newly-sheltered animals.

The next benefit is to the shelter. The Snuggles provide a more homey environment for shelter visitors and staff. Most animal shelters have an industrial feel to them. This does not present a comfortable atmosphere for shelter visitors to stay very long. By softening the edges and adding color, visitors stay longer and can take more time to find someone to adopt. It also helps shelter staff to feel more at home and increases the amount of time that they want to spend with the animals.

Another benefit is the good feeling that the Snuggle maker (aka Snuggler) receives when they create something using a skill that they know and love for someone who really needs their gift. This personal benefit also reaches beyond the individual when they talk about the project with their friends and associates, when they teach someone else a new handcraft skill, when they find that they still have value to give something of themselves to the world.

Please join us and partake of the benefits yourself in the Snuggles Project."

Special Considerations
My recommendations for crocheting for cats are particularly relevant here and are useful to know for dogs as well. Also, Snuggles Project requests that you fill out a form to submit along with your snuggle. 

Reach Out!
Are you ready to snuggle some critters? Visit the Snuggles Project website and they will hook you up with all of the information you'll need. If you'd like you can also make a monetary donation. As a final note, a big thank you goes out to all of you who have adopted a shelter animal, enriching both their life and yours. If you've never adopted a shelter animal and you're looking for a new pet, I highly recommend doing so. Just look at how it's turned out for me...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Welcome Baby Hunter!

My good friend Angela recently gave birth to a sweet baby boy named Hunter. Congratulations to Angela and her husband on their new addition!

Although I had to miss out on her baby shower due to illness (what a bummer!), I did make Hunter a nice baby blanket. It's sweet and simple and based on my Colors! Baby Set. I just love the texture of bobbles for baby blankets.

What are some of your favorite stitches for baby blankets?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Special Olympics Alaska Needs Your Help!

Calling all crocheters! Special Olympics Alaska is looking to give each of their participants a red and black scarf during their 2015 Winter Games which takes place on March 6. That's coming up fast! Ten days ago they were still in need of 200 scarves, so I thought I would pass along the message to you lovely readers. Scarves are a quick project and a great way to try out a new stitch. Surely fiber folks can come together and whip up some cozy scarves to help Special Olympics Alaska meet their goal. Here's the info from their Facebook page.

Just imagine how appreciative the athlete who receives your scarf will be and the smile it will bring to their face. There's still time to crochet for this great cause.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Indie Dye Friday: Toil and Trouble

The second Friday of every month is Indie-Dye Friday! Feast your eyes on lovely yarn in gorgeous colorways developed by talented independent yarn dyers. Today we'll be hearing from Ana of Toil and Trouble. Her colorways pop with outstanding vibrancy and are beautifully blended. I'm so happy she's taking the time to share a bit about herself and her yarn, especially since she's been tied up in the snow storm that has blanketed the eastern US!

A bit about Ana
I was born in Brazil and lived in several different countries before settling down in the US. I now live in Salem, Massachusetts with my husband and our three rescue cats. Dyeing yarn, knitting, and obsessing over what to knit next take up most of my time, but I also love curling up with a good book, painting, and going bouldering. Also, pie. There's always time for pecan pie.

How long have you been dyeing fiber? How did you get started?
I dyed my very first skein of yarn in December 2010. I have a background in oil painting, so once I realized it's possible to paint yarn, it was instant love. Dyeing yarn is a way for me to bring together my passion for art and knitting. 

Where do you get the inspiration for your colorways?
I spent my formative years traveling and moving. I got to experience so many different cultures and stories, which has influenced all of my work. My love of books, folklore, and mythology is a predominant theme and source of inspiration for my colorways.

What fibers and dyes do you love to work with?
I love merino wool and cashmere (who doesn't?). I've discovered I enjoy working with fiber blends more than pure fibers because the combinations can complement each other in interesting ways. A hint of cashmere really increases the lusciousness of merino wool, and the merino wool gives the cashmere more sturdiness. Silk brings a beautiful sheen to wool, and the wool gives silk more stability and structure. For dyeing, I use professional grade acid dyes. 

Behind the scenes...

A few colorways...
Continuum Transfunctioner - This colorway was the most recent colorway I did for my yarn club. We've had an awful lot of snow days here in the last month, and I found myself indulging some guilty pleasures, such as watching a lot of terrible movies. As we learn from Dude Where's My Car, the Continuum Transfunctioner is a powerful device, and its power is only exceeded by its mystery. 

Fairy Queen Jubilee - This colorway was inspired by the Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee. There was so much publicity around it, and one day I found myself wondering - why wouldn't a fairy queen also have a jubilee? And wouldn't it be wonderfully colorful?

Sun Also Rises  - This was one of my earliest colorways and is still a favorite. It is named after The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. 

How much do I love those colorway names? So much! Ana's yarns are so lovely (and fabulous pictures, too). I'm in danger of breaking my fiber diet! If you're as smitten as I am you can find Toil and Trouble on her website, on Etsy, and on Twitter and Instagram as @toiltrouble.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How to Fasten Off Your Crochet

The scenario: You've finished crocheting the most awesome scarf ever for your bestie. She's going to love it! However, you have one problem... How do you detach the end of your working yarn from your scarf without the scarf unraveling? By fastening off, that's how! Here's how to fasten off at the end of a crochet piece.

Here I am at the end of my final row and ready to fasten off. 

I cut the yarn, separating the leftover yarn from my work, making sure to leave a six to eight inch tail.

I make a chain stitch, just as if I were starting a new row.

However, instead of turning and crocheting I remove the hook and continue to pull up on the yarn loop created by the chain stitch. I pull until the tail comes all of the way through.

Finally, I pull tightly on the tail to create a tight nub. Now I'm ready to weave in my end.

That's all there is to it! Now that you know how to fasten off you can rest easy and trust that your crochet will not unravel.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Helpful Crochet Hints

Have you ever read Heloise's Helpful Hints in the newspaper? I just love them. I sometimes ask myself how I never knew such simple things that could have been making my life easier all along. In an effort to pay it forward I'm going to share with you (in no particular order) a few helpful crochet tips that could potentially make your life a bit easier. 

- When making a garment in a washable yarn, make sure to wash a small swatch in the yarn you're using. That way you'll know if there's going to be any shrinkage and you can crochet the right sized garment accordingly. 

- Use a magnet to keep track of your metal findings (thanks, Brenda!). 

- Don't wind your yarn skeins until you're ready to use them. Winding them too early and letting them sit in cakes isn't good for the elasticity of the yarn and may warp it a bit.

- Did you accidentally work up too many chain stitches for your base chain? No need to redo your chain and first row. Carefully untie your slip knot, pull out the extra chain stitches, and very securely weave in the end.

- When learning a new stitch or technique, try to use a yarn that is lighter in color so you can see your stitches better. 

- Did you run out of the yarn you're using and can't find more at the store? Look up the yarn and colorway on Ravelry and see if anyone has some listed in their stash. They may be willing to sell it to you. 

- If you need to work in spiral rounds and you don't have a stitch marker, good stitch marker substitutes include a piece of yarn in a contrasting color, an earring, a clasp, or a twist tie.

Have any more tips of your own to share?

Friday, February 6, 2015

Fiber Arts Friday: Embroidery with Melissa Griffiths

The first Friday of every month is Fiber Arts Friday! Join me as we expand our horizons beyond crochet to focus on other interesting fiber and needle arts. Enjoy the beautiful projects and learn something new along the way. Last month we looked at a specific type of embroidery called cross-stitch. Today we're going to take a look at some freehand embroidery. "Embroidery is the handicraft of decorating fabric or other materials with needle and thread or yarn. Embroidery may also incorporate other materials such as metal strips, pearls, beads, quills, and sequins."

My friend Melissa is intelligent, vivacious, and multi-talented. She is a journalist, and she recently won a GLAAD Media Award! She's here today to chat with us about her unique embroidery projects.

About Melissa
I've lived on the west coast my whole life, with a northward trend — Juneau, Alaska, has been home for the past 7 1/2 years and for the foreseeable future. 

I'm a journalist with a penchant for feature stories (I've written at least four feel-good stories about dogs in the last year, maybe more) and sharing personal tidbits (I wrote about my elopement and fielded congratulations from relative strangers for at least a month or so after). 

Also, I'm married — we eloped, as I mentioned — and I have a small dog named Beau. 
My interests, at least of late, include decorating our apartment in offensively bright colors, game nights, drawing and, of course, embroidery. 

How long have you been embroidering? How did you get started?
My first embroidery project was a square for a quilt for newly married friends. I wasn't ready to relive the sorority days and use puffy paint (Sara and I were in a sorority together at our alma mater Willamette University), so I decided I would embroider. I practiced very little before diving into the final project and looking back it's pretty amateurish, but it got me into the craft, so I won't look on it with too critical an eye.

For me, embroidery is painting with thread. I don't follow any patterns and I alternate between brightly colored, flat, stylized renderings and painterly portraits. I hand draw on the fabric with pencil and refine the drawing when I stitch (backstitch) the outline. Then, using different stitches (satin, long-short, mostly) I fill in the outline with color and create textures.

What advice do you have for folks who are interested in embroidery?
For those interested in taking up embroidery, I recommend it! It's a really inexpensive hobby (here in Juneau, embroidery floss costs less than 50¢ a skein, or you can buy the economy packs like I have, which inspired the bright, unnatural colors) and it keeps your hands busy while you drink mimosas with friends at craft brunches — you have craft brunches, right? There are tons of free patterns for people who prefer a structured approach, but each piece of fabric in the hoop is a blank canvas to create an amazing work of art for the free spirits of the craft world.

Here is some of Melissa's work... 

You can keep up with my illustrations and embroideries at or that plus a bunch of other stuff by following my instagram (@melissaleeanne). I take commissions as I have time. Email at Stitch on, babes.

If you'd like more information about embroidery, take a look at the website for The Embroiderer's Guild of America. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful art with us today, Melissa! To all of you DGs out there... LITB ;)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Rise of Digital Crochet Magazines

Crochet magazines have long been an important part of the subculture. With patterns, articles, and more they bring connection and enrichment to crocheters worldwide. Some of my favorite crochet magazines are Crochet!, Crochet World, and Interweave Crochet.

Since I am part of Generation Y / the Millennial Generation I have never really known a world without computers or the internet. The rise of technology has brought new avenues for distribution of crochet media. Crochet blogs, websites, videos, podcasts, and more have exploded all over the internet. Recently a new craze has been added to that list: Digital crochet magazines. The rise of digital crochet magazines makes a lot of sense in a lot of ways, especially given the popularity of tablets like iPad. Most of the large traditional publishers have followed suit by providing their own digital versions of their normal print magazines. However, today I'd like to provide you with a short list of some exclusively digital crochet magazines. These magazines do not come in print versions and are only available digitally. Hopefully I have a few to show you that you haven't seen before. Check them out and see which ones you like best!

What are you favorite crochet magazines, both digital and print?