Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Squirrely.... in the best way!

Funny things sometimes happen when you least expect them.  The other day I was walking my dog and I spotted something before she did (thank goodness!) and was able to redirect her attention so she didn't know what she missed.  Amazing that I was even able to do that, since she's a Border Collie and really doesn't miss very much.  When I researched that breed before adopted her, the best advice I found was "if you bring a Border Collie into your life, get used to being stared at all of the time" and by golly - that is absolute truth!

What I saw was this:
At some level I was well aware that baby squirrels existed, but I had never actually seen one.  Typically, I consider them vermin... but my normal reaction was overturned by this little critter.  This is not a zoom shot - the baby squirrel seemed pretty fearless - I sat down on the grass and quietly waited for a few minutes and as it got closer, I started snapping pictures.  The sound of the "click" didn't startle it, which really surprised me.  So I kept clicking away... and imagine my delight when a sibling appeared in camera range!  They crawled all over each other, not really playing, just doing the littermate thing of "whatever you have must be better, but I simply must find out what it is and take it from you if I can" that seems to be common in every litter of baby critters that I've ever encountered.  Fun to watch, and even better that the new baby didn't mind the camera either, so I got this shot too:
What big feet they have!
I didn't bring out any treats for them, since I had no idea I could get this close, so I just watched them play and wrestle.  After a few more minutes, I reached out with a finger to touch the first one on the back - carefully avoiding their faces - since I didn't want to risk a bite.  It jumped straight up into the air, evidently some kind of startle reflex, but didn't seem upset in the least, and made no attempt to strike or bite.  So I stroked their soft fur and thoroughly enjoyed watching them and spent a few more minutes sitting there on the grass with my new little friends. 

They kept wandering closer and one of them put a tiny paw up on the leg of my jeans.  Since I was wearing a long sleeve shirt, I offered my forearm, and it clambered up onto my arm, and then onto my knee.  The other baby accepted the same offer and curled up next to the first one.  They promptly fell asleep there, in a small, furry heap on my knee.  I cupped a hand around each side to keep them from tumbling off (hence no pictures of that wonderful moment - sigh!) and watched them sleep peacefully for a few more minutes.  When they awoke, I lifted them off, and set them back on the grass.

I saw them once more that day, but then I didn't see them again for a few days.  I hoped that they were all right - and then I saw one again today,  About halfway up the tree - looking serenely down at me, as though it remembered our moment together, but it is still a wild creature, and it skittered back up the tree. 

It made me happy...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival 2012

Amazing weekend!  Took some vacation time and had a wonderful time at this fiber fair.  Probably the best and largest one that is close to me.  It runs from Friday to Sunday and just finished up its eleventh annual event.

As I think back on it, this festival started as a sheep show and has grown into the amazing event that it is now.  It has a full livestock show, fleece show and auction, vendors in two large barns, a sheepdog trial that runs all three days and classes from nationally known instructors.

This year I entered the Open Handspun Skein Competition in two categories.  Experienced adult spinner class - fine yarn lot, and Drop spindle class - medium lot.  The entry for the first one was a yarn that I just finished, I called it Deep Blue Sea and my plans for it are a very large shawl called Shipwreck so I still have a lot of spinning to do!  The shawl requires 1600 yards of fine yarn.  The skein I entered will be used for part of the beaded netting that the pattern calls for out near the edge.  I may alternate the sequined rows with the regular yarn, I'll sample it and see.  Here's what the yarn looks like:

Deep Blue Sea
Deep Blue Sea - swatch
It is a three ply yarn, one ply is a varigated wool from Louet called Northern Lights in the Violets colorway.  It shades from purple to lime green through several shades of blue.  One ply is a lambswool, angora and nylon blend in purple.  The third ply is sewing thread strung with 3mm amethyst iris sequins.  As I plied the yarn, I pushed in a sequin about every 3-4 inches so they would appear about once every knitted inch.  The Shipwreck pattern calls for beads at random intervals, so I thought this would work for me since they sequins are already in the yarn.  Beads strung on yarn have a number of concerns for me.  Sliding the beads along the spun yarn abrades the yarn unless the beads are very large.  If the beads are smaller there is the problem of a thick spot in the yarn that the beads might not fit over, and that is always possible on handspun.  I also made a small swatch, the competition required it to be quite small, so the motif from the shawl pattern was much too large.  I chose a small eyelet pattern from Barbara Walker's Second Treasury.

Blue Neon 3 ply and extra black chain ply
Blue Neon - swatch
The other yarn I entered was also a three ply.  Spun on a drop spindle, this yarn was one ply of a handpainted BFL (Blue-Faced Leicester) roving from Frene Creek Farm my favorite local shepherd.  The other two plies were made from a 50/50 blend of "Dusty" a fine wool covered Corriedale fleece from a shepherd in Colorado (no longer has a web presence) and some black alpaca roving. This photo shows the extra black yarn chain plied on top of the Blue Neon skeins.  I called this one Blue Neon because of the way it worked up - the skein showed brilliant color against the black background which was the look I was after with this combination of fiber.  The swatch shows a nice, shadowy stripe of the varigation of the handpaint.  I did like the swatch at this weight the best.  This one was done on size 4 needles and had the suppleness I'd want for a sweater or vest.  I had also done a swatch for socks on size 2 needles.  It is also pleasing to me, but I think this will probably become outerwear.  Might use some as an accent on socks, but since there is no nylon in this blend, it might not wear well enough for socks.

The skein competition was interesting to watch.  The instructions were that no talking or questions would be allowed, and the judge worked in silence.  Disappointing to me, after listening to the wool judge on the prior day.  He chattered away as he judged the fleeces.  Talked about what he looked for and what he was finding as he worked his way through the many fleeces in that show.  Just a difference in the way the two judges worked.  Perhaps there is a tradition there as well... I don't know, but I did enjoy the way the talkative judge worked.  I think I learned more from that method.

The results were available after the judging and I was allowed to keep my score sheets, which I appreciated.  Sadly, there were no comments on the papers, just the numerical scores.  The nice thing was that I was permitted to speak with the judge when she was finished.  The standard calls for perfection, and appears to compare the handspun skeins to millspun yarns.  I fared pretty well, my Deep Blue Sea got 96/100 points and the Blue Neon got 100/100 points.  Both were awarded second place ribbons.  Deep Blue Sea was topped by a bamboo/silk 2 ply that was perfectly even.  Not as pretty, in my opinion, but it was perfect.  Blue Neon was beat by a beautiful heavier weight two ply, that again, was perfectly even.  That skein also won Best In Show.  I'm content, my scores were very good, and I still love my yarn.  Actually, the judge did too, as I learned in our conversation after the judging was done.  She told me that she knew how difficult it is to ply with sewing thread and that she just LOVES sequins.  So..... I think she liked my yarn - quite a lot.

Will I do another competition?  I don't know.  I learned a lot, but I also know that my yarn scores very high in such a competition.  That part was quite satisfying.  The payout isn't really enough to make me want to do very much of this.  Each of those skeins represent many hours of work, and though the booth was attended, I was uncomfortable leaving my hard work out there for the whole weekend.