Monday, December 31, 2007


This is Dash. He's seven months old, just weaning age, and he went into kidney failure last week. We rushed him to the vet when we noticed him laying down, listless and acting too friendly for an alpaca. Blood tests showed that he had a pretty severe infection--what and where we don't really know--and that his kidneys were shutting down. How can this happen so fast? The day before, Dash was running around the pen with the rest of the herd and eating and drinking.

Happily, Dash is recovering nicely and his body seems to have healed from the infection, thanks to a brilliant vet, some stout antibiotics, 500 units of I.V. fluids a day, and very dedicated intensive care nurse--me.

He's got some ground to make up with putting some weight back on, but he's been out of his warm little sick room and out with the herd in the barn. It's pounding snow outside, so the barn doors will be closed to keep him inside. It's amazing to me how quickly an animal will perk up when he sees his herd. Dash was barely moving around, scooting from place to place because he was too weak to get up on his own, wetting himself for the same reason, and when I took him outside with me while I fed the animals in the barn, he saw his mama and started wobbling around on his feet. Now, three days later, he's getting around so well that I can't catch him, he's eating everything he can get to, and pushing to get to the water. He's not 100% yet, but very nearly. The turning point was getting him back out with his herd mates.

So, 10 days after the initial crisis, Dash is up and seems to be healthy, albeit more than a bit thin for the experience. He hates me now. I think he keeps waiting for me to grab him and poke him with needle or force something down his throat, just like I have for the last 10 days. I'm sure he thinks I caused it all, and who's to say I didn't? I'm responsible for the well being of my herd and if I dropped the ball, I guess he has every right to hate me. He'll be my reminder to remain vigilant and on guard for parasites, infections, and disease. It's my job after all and I'm so thankful that Dash has come through it alive and well. Tragedy averted.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Craftsman, artisan, or hobbyist?

Hooray! The last knitting for money ended today! I feel a little like I'm selling my soul or something when I say it that way, but I'll have a couple of weeks now for my own knitting. I got a last minute order for another pair of mohair slippers and had to spin up two bobbins of mohair to make it work. I read accounts of people who spin as an art form and for the relaxation of it, but that's a pipe dream for me. It seems to me that I spin mostly out of necessity--in short, I need the yarn!

How wonderful to sit and enjoy the colors playing against each other and feel the texture of the fiber as it slips between my fingers. NOT! Lately, when I spin, it's because I have an order for yarn or a project that needs a certain fiber. When the yarn is for felting, I don't even bother to ply or finish the yarn. I just knit it straight off the bobbin and slog on. I'd like to be creative and all that, but business is business, even when it frustrates the creative spirit. My mother once told me that if necessity is the mother of invention, frustration must be the father of progress! Amen to that, sister!

It's wicked cold here. I slept in until 8:00 this morning and it was -3 degrees Fahrenheit when I got up. It only got up to a whopping high of 12 degrees at around 2:00 this afternoon. Wasn't it in the 70's only a few weeks ago when we were trying to sell sweaters and mittens at the show?

I was called crafty at the library a few days ago. I've been called that before and it sets my teeth just slightly on edge. Visions of lunch buckets made out of bleach bottles with crocheted drawstring tops and rugs made out of plastic grocery sacks float before my eyes and I feel a little nauseous. The lady at the library said that she was certainly NOT crafty, but described herself as intellectually creative. I smiled benignly and moved on.

I think I know what she was trying to say, but it made me think about what the term "crafty" really means. To me the word "crafty" conjures images of school children making log cabins out of pop sickle sticks and glue. I think back to making reindeer out of empty thread spools at Christmas time and turkeys out of pine cones and colored paper. Perhaps I need to think differently.

So I looked up the word "craft". My old dictionary from the 70's says that a craft is a "skill or ability in something, especially in handwork or the arts; proficiency; expertise. " I like that. A craftsman is "an artist as considered with regard to technique." I like that, too, but I like the word artisan better for some reason, although the definition is quite the same as all the others. It seems to speak of creating beauty and purpose at the same time, rather than favoring one over the other. It also seems to suggest something greater than a hobbyist mindset.

The biggest problem I have with the word "crafty" is that there's an awful lot of hard work that I have to do before I actually get to be creative. I don't think people realize that when they use a word like "crafty". Daily chores, cleaning pens, hauling hay, shearing, skirting and sorting fiber, running it all through the picker, carding, combing and a host of other tasks take up a lot of time and really make the word craft seem silly and meaningless. If you ask me, it's really more a lifestyle than a craft. It never ends. It's not a hobby and I don't just pop down to the local Hobby Lobby and pick up something to knit with.

OK, so I don't see myself as an artist and I sometimes think that people who elevate their activities to the level of art are a little stuffy and fussy. I don't want to be like that. I guess I just want others to realize that what we do is not just a flash in the pan or a pastime. We're serious about what we do. Maybe too serious. Maybe that's the problem I have with the word "crafty". I probably need to take my own advice, so liberally handed out to my children---"Get over yourself!"

Snowy Days, Books, and General Rambling

I've added music since the last time I posted. I just love bluegrass, (it's kind of who I am, I think) but it's annoying to some people. Please don't leave if you think it's obnoxious. Just go to the bottom and pause it and come on back.

The snow and cold finally arrived. It's been a nice slow gathering, rather than the usual blow in and blow out type of storm that we usually get. The trees were frosted over this morning and the snow has only just stopped after two days.

Lots of time to knit and knit, and oh, did I say knit? We're nearly done with all of our Christmas orders. The list seems small when I look at it, but the time taken for each item was considerable. Four pairs of gloves, three pairs of felted mohair boots, one lace hat with flowers, three sherpas, four pairs of socks, and one sweater--all since the middle of October. Only one pair of felted boots remain and then I can work on my own Christmas list. Yahoo! And it's only the 11th of December!! I've already got two after-Christmas items to work on, but they will have to wait until my own list is finished.

We blocked lace shawls today. My sister made them and neither was blocked when they arrived and didn't get blocked in time to sell. They're both made of our own alpaca and as I'm taking the pictures, I can see places where the circles aren't true and the points are mushy. I'll have to fix that right away.

While those are drying, I'm weaving in the ends of the last pair of gloves (fingerless) and starting on the the felted boots. I sound like I'm so very efficient as I write this, but the truth is, I spend an awful lot of time dreaming about the next project or the next yarn, rather than actually putting feet to my dreams.

I love books, don't you? I could look at pictures of patterns and colors all day long and never really do anything of substance. I really like a good fiction read as well, especially a mystery, but I'm addicted to eye candy. I found a book on snowflakes in the bookstore the other day and stood fascinated for nearly 30 minutes thumbing through the pictures. I looked the Planet Earth book as well and couldn't bear to put it down until I saw the price tag--eegads! That changed my mind right away about how necessary those pictures were.

Is it any wonder that I return to pattern books and magazines over and over in search of the "perfect" look? I can easily spend an entire day in a bookstore searching through knitting books and doing more daydreaming.

I get awfully tired of pattern books that show the same old cell phone covers, wrist warmers (what are they for anyway---to warm your...wrists?) scarves and and ipod cases. There's a lot of them out there, and good for the authors if they can sell books like that, but I'm always on the hunt for something new and different. (Let's not even talk about the unhealthy looking models with bad hair and nasty looks on their faces. That's another whole rant!) I particularly like Nicky Epstein's books because she challenges me to do something different and "out there", even though I continually fall back to Elizabeth Zimmerman and Mary Thomas for the tried and true.

I've ripped out whole projects because I didn't like the results and I've ripped out half finished projects because it wasn't what I envisioned. The thought of wasting huge amounts of yarn on an ugly item is horrific to me. I'd rather start over and get it right, at least in my own estimation, than finish and hate what I made. I guess I consider the old ways my foundation, but I love a challenge, even if it means frustration and failure.

So, we're fully into the cold months of winter now with no outside work to do until the snow goes away. It's a perfect time to make lists and plan the knitting for the year (and to ramble aimlessly on a blog). I'll never stick to the list--I never do--but it's loads of fun to pretend that I will, and pour over the books and pictures and plans. If I can mix in some spinning time and other productive work, all will be well. Maybe the snow will stick around for a while. March? April?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Prairie Beauty

Pink clouds hung over the east fields just at sunset this evening and only for a few minutes, turning everything pink. Even the air turned pink. My goodness, after I said it was sometimes hard to find beauty on the prairie, there is this!

Now, how can I create this in yarn and fibers? That's always the question, isn't it?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Well, it's been a while since my last installment and I want to start with my youngest daughter's picture of a prairie sunset. Sometimes I envy those who live near green forests and lush meadows, but the prairie has it's own beauty, although it's sometimes a challenge to find the beauty in a raging windy day or dry brown fields in the winter. Wild wide open space, clear blue skies and fresh air is what we do best. This is where I live and work and I adore the life I lead. Have I said that before?

Our best show of the year was a bust. The weather was so warm that people were coming in their shorts and tank tops----and we sell hand knits? A problem. Here are some pictures of our booth. They changed the booth size to 10x8, rather than the 10x10 that we planned for, so some last minute shuffling followed.

We got the last hand painted yarns done the week prior and because of the lack of interest in wool at the show, my trunks are full of gorgeous yarns just waiting to be snatched up and used. (...and the problem with that is...?) My sister took some home to Peru with her, but not nearly enough. She does the most amazing crochet I've ever seen and crochet done in hand painted yarn makes you weep!

I learned some lessons, though. Several, in fact. I learned that I've despised the areas where my strengths lie--gloves, socks, mittens, etc.--and tried to pursue what I consider more artful fiber arts with limited success. I learned that gloves, socks, and mittens can be infused with beauty and can carry an artistic flair nearly as well as the amazing works my sister produces. I learned that I still compare myself to my sister and always come up lacking, at least in my own mind. (When, oh when, will I ever truly grow up?) I learned that people really do want the things that I make well and that less can be more. It takes both craftsmen and artists to make the world go round. Finally, I learned that following your first love is usually the path that brings the greatest satisfaction. (...she says as she looks wise and wonderful...) Will these lessons carry over to life in general? Oh, yeah, there is that. it any surprise that the things that people are ordering for Christmas are socks, gloves, mittens, and hats? I'm nearly done with most of the custom Christmas orders and I'm so pleased with the results. Keeping in mind the lessons above, I put my own sense of taste and design into them, for what it's worth, and I'm really pleased with how it's all turning out. The great part is that I'll only get better! It's just a matter of experimentation and taking risks balanced with doing the old things well day after day. Simple, eh? (...she says doubtfully...) Thank goodness there's nothing new under the sun and I don't really have to reinvent the wheel!