Tuesday, November 14, 2006

steam valley fiber farm

in my post about sheep and wool fest, i promised to tell more about my apprenticeship at steam valley, the farm owned and run by the amazing spinner, dyer, weaver, shepherd, mother, chef and musician, phylleri ball. well, it was summer 2003 when i spent three glorious weeks camping in a tent in the woods behind the farm, deep in the middle of pennsylvania. we woke every morning at 5:30 so we could be milking the nubian goats by 6. milking is fun if you can keep the goats from stepping in the milk or kicking over the bucket...

this goat on the left is a nubian. i think her name is blueberry but i have to admit my memory is a little cloudy! phylleri raises nubians for milk. above right and below are angora goats. they are raised for their long, fuzzy fiber known as mohair.

this is known as a 'goat parade'. for some reason, even though they spend all day roaming about the pasture as a herd, when they leave the barn in the morning and return in the evening, they walk single file to get where they're going.

here's phylleri 'plucking' one of her angora bunnies. that's what they call it, but it's a misleading word; the fiber is not actually being 'plucked' out by the roots at all. it's more like combing a long-haired cat. the fur is being shed naturally; we are just combing it out and collecting it. angora is one of my favorite fibers, so soft and reportedly one of the warmest. but it is usually best mixed with wool to give it strength, body and elasticity.

my favorite time was the 3-day 'fiber study' weekend, when we put aside all but the essential farm chores and focused on learning to spin and dye fiber. the domed tent was our classroom, but much of our learning was done right outside in the yard, next to the jacob ram lambs. we used giant kettles, heated on a turkey fryer, to dye the wool.

we also spent time at two different county fairs. phylleri and her son star are active in 4-H; here is star saying goodbye to his two goat kids that were sold at auction at the fair. he was sad to see them go, but that is the ultimate goal of a 4-H project, so he was prepared. phylleri's spinning guild participates in sheep-to-shawl competitions and at both of the ones i witnessed, her team took first place!

she also convinced me to enter my first skein of handspun into the fiber judging competition, in the category 'novice spinner' (i had only been spinning for less than 2 weeks at that point!) and i was extremely proud to receive my second place red ribbon, out of three entries!

if you still want more, you can read my original review of my apprenticeship here (scroll down to where it says 'cal's review'...)

1 comment:

kayte said...

that sounds like so much fun!
i am inspired to learn how to spin.

it was nice seeing you yesterday! adam and i just joined the csa so i'm sure we'll be running into each other on saturday mornings!