Thursday, July 19, 2012

Adventures on the Farm

One Sunday in mid-May, my choir friend Peggy approached me after church. She told me that they had started shearing their alpacas - a necessity for the hot summer months ahead. She had a pile of "seconds" (shorter fleece from the neck, belly, legs, etc.), she said, just piled up out in the yard where they had been shearing. And, since there was still so much cleanup and rebuilding work to be done, she wasn't going to have time to deal with any of it.

"Do you want it? Come get it."

I jumped at the chance. I've been working with needle felting, making earrings to sell at craft shows and a small animal or two (scroll down to my "I've never felted this way before" post from 12/27/11 for an example).  The very next day I grabbed a box of black trash bags, jumped in the minivan, and headed north across the river.

The little town on the way to the farm looked like a totally different place - there were still blue tarps on roofs everywhere, but the snarls of debris were gone, buildings had been razed and removed, and telephone poles and electrical wires were back in place. When I got to the farm, the changes were impressive. No more huge piles of debris and brush, and there was even a logging truck onsite to log out some of the huge trees that had fallen. Peggy, Ben, and next-door-neighbor and choir friend Trish had been busy, indeed.

Peggy was out behind the farmhouse, with a lovely little brown alpaca tied to the fence for shearing. (The shearing room had been in one of the barns that had been hit by the tornado.)

I was duly introduced to Braillie, who has cataracts and can't see. And who didn't particularly want to be tied to that fence. While Peg and I were talking, she pulled her lead rope free and started to do the equivalent of an alpaca tip-toe away from us. Peg followed her, talked to her, and tried to lead her back to the fence.


Braillie did not... want... to go...

so... down she went!

(Still close enough to be tied, haHAA!)

Once Braillie was secured, Peg took me on a quick meet-and-greet.

miss Lacy

Waiting on deck for shearing: miss Lacy.
She was making a soft little humming noise in her throat. :)

Paca Butt! *snrk*


This is Jester, one of the farm's "guard llamas". The little alpaca aren't able to protect themselves from predators, but the big bad llamas can take care of coyote and such.


Got a great look going, there - sortof alpaca-mullet-poodle   ;)

Another guard llama. The llamas are much bigger, and they don't have the fluffy "bangs" on their foreheads like the alpaca do. Their fleece is nice - softer than wool - but not as soft as alpaca.
"Dudes - check it out!  We got PEOPLE lookin at us!"

Once the herd saw us, it didn't take long for them to come investigate. Soon, we were surrounded by gentle, curious, newly-shorn (and silly-looking!) little faces.
Beethoven and Auftershock

Texas T

(I still giggle when I look at this picture of Benny. Every. Single. Time.)

Little Black Dress
LBD, again

Baby! So young, he doesn't have a name yet. <3
I have a separate bag of fluff from this gorgeous little caramel-colored baby. Young animals' fleece is extra, extra soft. :)

The Pile.

 Once we'd done the meet-and-greet, it was onward for the Business of the Day... the fleece pile!

We started stuffing it into bags, trying to roughly separate it by color.

Going home with me.

Bags of the stuff... and we barely made a dent in the pile!

(I did go back, one more time, after they had finished shearing all of the alpaca. Filled another bag with cream-color, a small bag of gray, and a huge bag of "grab it and stuff it in".)

So now... it's time to cogitate a bit, consider the workings of the world, and figure out what the next step might be. Hint: it might involve mesh lingerie bags, lots of hot water, Dawn dish soap, and a timer.

Oh yeah. I've got myself a project, here.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

It started with a big, ugly wind...

Tornado at Borden, IN. Photo by Josh Abelove.

On March 2nd 2012, a series of tornadoes ripped through the countryside of Southern Indiana and Northern Kentucky. The toll was was heartbreaking, and among those affected were some church-choir friends of mine and my husband's. Their farm was hit - thankfully, neither they nor their family were injured. Their homes were battered but still standing, but their barns were destroyed, fences and trees downed, and their herd of alpaca and llamas were scattered.

The following Saturday, my husband and I went with a church group to help with some cleanup. We found their small town almost leveled, with a snarl of debris piled high to either side of the road leading through town. Blue tarps were draped over almost every remaining roof, heavy equipment was everywhere, and on several street corners stood canvas pavilions stocked with water, food, and cleanup supplies. It looked like a war zone.

As we drove slowly through the heavy, carefully-moving traffic, I saw that the Tide "Loads of Hope" laundry station was in full swing, and trucks were pulled up to one of the local churches to unload case after case of apple juice, water, and other supplies. The smell of smoke hung faintly in the air, from burn piles on surrounding farms. Chaos reigned - but a closer look showed that Order was slowly beginning to make headway against it.

At the farm, the herd had been rounded up into some temporary pasturage. One llama had been lost to the storm; miraculously, all the other animals had survived and gathered at the fence to watch us as we walked to our work stations. My husband was on a crew to start (safely) dismantling a barn, and I found my way to the back hay field, to take my place in a line of volunteers who were combing every inch of the field for debris. If  a llama shouldn't be eating it, we did our best to find it and pick it up. Any photographs or other important-looking items were to be set aside, so that maybe they could be returned to whoever lost them.

The barn where my husband went to help.

 It was a long, exhausting day - but we knew that we could go back to our warm, dry homes and go on with our normal lives at the end of it. Our friends, however, had a long, long road ahead of them to get back to anything remotely resembling normal.

A total of 80 volunteers showed up at the farm, the day we were there. Earlier that week, a surprise busload of 50 - complete strangers from a national ministry - had just appeared to help.

Members of our church brought food and served lunch for everyone, and the Little Caesar's Pizza shop in town showed up with stacks of fresh, hot pizza. When we hit the hayfield again after lunch, a lady and her two children stepped over the back fence to bring us water, Gatorade, and granola bars.

It's a day I won't be forgetting any time soon.

And what in the world does this disaster have to do with creativity? If you and I have already "met" online or in Real Life, you already know the answer.

 If not... To Be Continued. :-)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

God Breezes

Well, well... it would seem that I'm way behind again in posting here! In my defense, I've had so much going on, creatively! Working with The Artist's Way (AW) has helped more than I had ever hoped. I had to lay it down last fall for craft show season, and haven't picked it back up again, but I'm back up and rolling. 

In the midst of working through the AW, I woke up one morning with a particular thought running through my head:

God says: "Use what you have. I will supply the rest".

So I did. So He has. And you know what? Gifts from the Spirit are usually not what you ever expect. ;)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

A fresh year, a blank page, a snowy white canvas.

And a few realizations that hit me this morning, in an abbreviated "morning pages" session...

Most of 2011 was simply a  frustrating year, creatively. Even so... I worked and studied, and pushed against the block that had been there for several years. Re-found The Artist's Way, and learned a little more about what exactly my block was made of.

2010 was a totally "fallow" year. Nothing happening, nada. Stone wall in my path, ouch. 2011 was a "set up" year. Prep. Background. Foundation. In the latter days of 2011, the block started falling away, I started hearing new ideas again, started following where they led. I made some new stuff. I watched some dear friends as they discovered new ideas and crafts. Inspiration doesn't stop with one person - it flows around, in, out, under, and through every crack in the armor it can find... it broadcasts...

So, here's shiny new 2012. 2011 has gotten it all set up and ready. And my mission, should I choose to accept it, is simply to reach out and gather the year in... then broadcast what it brings. Stay tuned. ;)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I've never felted this way before... ;)

So, a new type of craft has reached out and grabbed hold of me - felting. Mainly needle-felting, but I've been known to dip a little fiber in some hot soapy water, too! Add that to the fact that I have friends who have a llama and alpaca farm, and I've been having a blast.

First, felted finger-puppets. Haven't finished those yet.

Next, needle-felted spheres (I try not to refer to them as "llama balls") to dangle from hoops as earrings. They sold really well at craft shows this fall!

Then, felted bath soap. Washcloth and soap all in one, hooray!

In the meantime, a much more adventurous friend of mine has been doing larger-scale projects: nuno felted scarves (Felting alpaca and merino wool onto a silk chiffon base), alpaca-fiber berets, as well as soaps and lovely little angels, and lord knows what else. Just seeing her work has been an unbelievable inspiration!

So, full of this inspiration, I was looking for my own direction to take it. I've always been fascinated with "small"... things in miniature. So, with a stack of how-to books by my side, I started playing with some black alpaca fiber and a felting needle.

Oh, and pipe cleaners.

Take a little black alpaca wool... (mmmm SOFT!)

Wrap it around the frame, needle-felt gently to keep it in place... bend the back legs into shape...

(whoops, skipped a step or two)....

Wind more fiber around the body, needle-felting it in place. Careful not to stab the pipe-cleaner wires too hard, since the felting needle is so thin. Once the body is taking shape, add some fiber for a neck and felt it into an oval cylinder.

Made a pear shape for the head, attached it to the neck,
and made needle-felted indentations for eyes and jawline.
(Uh oh... might have added TOO much of a neck.  It's not supposed to be a short-legged horse. )

Also added oval/teardrop shaped pads of fiber for the muscles in the shoulders, haunches and rear.

Shaped the neck a little more by needle-felting it down into the shoulders some. Added a little circle of fiber for a nose, made a couple of ears with gray centers, a tail, and some soft paws to needle-felt onto the ends of the feet. Sewed two black seed beads in place for his eyes.

 Can you tell what he's supposed to be, yet?

Just for fun, I needle-felted a scarf for him ...then wet-felted it because it didn't seem smooth enough. Needled around the edges again, and added a tiny green button and a buttonhole, so it can come off.

And here he is... "Jag", a black German Shepherd Dog.

The only thing I could possibly do with him was to send him to meet his namesake, who lives with a nuno-felting friend far away!

Merry Christmas, Jag. and Jag. and Jag.   ;-)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Lavender Bath Salts

By request of some online friends - Here ya go!

     Very easy, and greatly appreciated by stressed-out friends and family.  You can use other essential oils as well – try peppermint or a blend of citrus scents, for example.
     A few words on essential oils:  Be sure to use only “essential oil”, and avoid anything labeled “fragrance oil” – those tend to have synthetic ingredients, and are not for bath and body use. Aura Cacia is a very good brand, and is widely available at herb shops and health/natural food stores.

    Exercise caution when using essential oils – they are very, very concentrated and some can damage surfaces or even skin in their undiluted form! Please research the properties of any given oil before working with it. If you experience any allergic symptoms while making your salts, stop immediately! (For example… I’m sensitive to Rose Geranium oil – it has made my lips swell up like a balloon in the past… this is a dangerous reaction, so I don’t use that oil at all.)  For cleanup, alcohol is a good solvent. I use either (cheap) vodka, or pure-grain alcohol.

     That said, Lavender tends to be one of the milder oils, and can usually be applied directly to the skin. Please test a little on the inside of your arm before using, to make sure you don’t react badly to it. If any redness, swelling, or other symptoms occur within 24 hours, this isn’t the oil for you. (If you test other oils, be sure to dilute before applying to your skin. One or two drops in a teaspoon of olive oil works well for this.)

And finally… the recipe!

From Jules

  • 1 cup sea salt (coarse or fine)
  •  2 Tbsp. Epsom Salts
  •  15 drops Lavender essential oil
Tools needed:
It's best to have "dedicated" bowls & spoons for essential oil work, and not use them for food. (Goodwill!)
  •  Stainless steel, glass, or ceramic bowl  (Do not use plastic or aluminum, which will react with the oil)
  • Eyedropper or pipette, unless your essential oil has its own dropper top attached
  • Stainless steel spoon
Drip about half of the lavender oil into the sea salt, then stir well.  Repeat with the rest of the oil, stir again, then add the Epsom salts and stir once more.  Keep in a clean, airtight jar, in moderate temperatures.  Will keep for a long time, but the scent is best if used within a month or two.  To use, pour about ½ cup of bath salts into warm bath water.  Swish to dissolve, especially if using coarse sea salt.  Step in and enjoy!   

To make in bulk:
  • 5 lbs. sea salt
  • 10 Tbsp. Epsom salts
  • 1 tsp lavender essential oil
The bulk recipe will make enough bath salt to fill 5 pint-sized Mason jars, or 10 jelly jars. When making in bulk, I usually don’t add the Epsom salts to the mix. Instead, I mix just the salt and the oil, fill the jars with the salt mix, then add the Epsom salt to each jar, screw the lids on, and shake them up. This makes sure it’s evenly distributed. And shaking coarse sea salt in a Mason jar is a great stress reliever. ;)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

And another thing...

There's a 15 1/2 pound bag of lavender sitting in my studio at the moment. Fifteen and a half POUNDS. It's the size of a small body pillow, and was a steal at a little over a hundred bucks.
And so, I'd best get busy turning it into something to earn that hundred bucks back. ;)