tamara of houndscroft farm talks to crochetlab!
living thru experimental crochet
you may take a leisurely stroll/scroll and read the whole conversation with tamara, or you can click on a question and be directed to the answer in a trice. but slow is so revolutionary...
august 3, 2005
beginnings of the farm
Im originally from Kentucky but left the state for college, got married and lived all over the place for about 10 years the best was 4 years in Europe, but thats a different story. Eventually we decided to return to KY. I always knew I wanted a farm, and my husband (whos from Chicago) was easily suckered into that fantasy (he didnt know any better).
So we found this perfect
rolling 23 acre farm and had to have it. Of course, once we got settled
in the question came up What are we actually going to farm?
In our other lives (the life that pays the mortgage) were both computer
but without something to actually farm we were
just a city boy and an optimistic dreamer with a nice plot of land.
Then one night, while innocently sipping a Starbucks Café Mocha in our local Barnes & Noble, I spotted Spin Off magazine. I thumbed through, had an epiphany, bought the mag and within a week had ordered an entire raw Romney fleece off the Internet (Skylines Farm) and ordered a drop spindle from The Woolery. The next few months were spent researching everything on the Internet I could find about sheep, wool, spinning, etc. Then came the 2004 Greencastle IN Fiber Fair and the rest is history
I did name the farm.
I spent over a year considering names. I knew I wanted something unique
and something very English. The farm is not the typical white clapboard
two story farmhouse
its actually a two story red brick house
over grown with English Ivy and Wisteria (thank you Ms. Chitwood for planting
those vines 30 years ago, theyre priceless!) So, I started looking
for English house names. The English still have a tradition of naming
their homes, so during my research I happened upon a map of the Cotswolds.
There I found a little hamlet called Houndscroft (in Amberley). I immediately
loved the name. If you go to here
and click Local Photos you can see pictures of the real town. Its
I started with a drop spindle like most. I never had a teacher, but after reading Spin Off and a few tutorials on the web I figured out enough to get a few decent yarns off the spindle. I practiced a lot! Ive always been a do-it-yourself, artsy type person so diving into a new medium wasnt really that strange Looking back its weird that that I completely avoided any type of fiber art during art classes at school! Go figure.
Another funny thing
is I didnt know anything about roving or commercially prepared fibers
so I started with a whole raw fleece! So, my first real experience was
picking hay out of wool and trying not to felt it when I washed it. By
the time I actually got to a point where I had fiber I could spin I was
It crept up on me under
the guise of researching sheep breeds. For the first few months when I
was using hand carders and my drop spindle, I was always more into the
fiber than the yarn. I bought different fleeces from everywhere, because
I was still trying to figure out what breed of sheep I was going to get
for the farm
I wasnt really that concerned about the yarn.
Then one day I realized I had about 30lbs of wool from 10 different breeds
of sheep and still hadnt picked a breed to buy
it was time
to do something. So, I bought a Lendrum wheel and a Louet
drum carder so I could spin my way through the fiber stash quicker, so
I could buy more
I like wool right off the animal. A raw fleece tells you so much about the animal. You can tell how healthy it is and how well its been cared for. Of course, I do buy some processed fiber, but mainly for high quality white wool that I want to dye.
I did finally settle on getting Shetland sheep. They just seemed to be the most versatile breed. Their wool is long, typically soft and fast growing, theyre small and easy to handle, they dont need their tails docked and they come in 11 different colors. Amazingly I found a registered breeding flock only about 5 miles from my farm. So last fall the shepherd agreed to breed her ewes especially for me. The lambs, two boys and a girl, were born the first week of May and they just arrived on our farm a few weeks ago. Since three doesn't exactly make a flock, and I had trouble finding more Shetlands I bought 7 little Icelandic lambs. They have absolutely wonderful fleeces! At two months old they already had 5"-6" of fleece! I also bought three Jacob lambs, but ended up bringing home four because the breeder had an old Jacob/Rambouillet ewe they didn't want and asked if I'd give her a home. How could I say no? There are pictures on my website of all the animals. They are so sweet.
I dont know that
my spinning will change now that I have animals. Although
I like texture, so usually
Im trying to find a new way to make a yarn interesting without just
mixing colors. I like the fiber to inspire me too. Im not real good
at looking at a 3lb bag of white merino and being able see the possibilities
would really suck as a painter, because the blank white canvas would be
my undoing! So far, I have more yarn ideas than I have time to spin, so
I write a lot of ideas down and keep them for reference. Sometimes I think
of a yarn name first and then try to imagine what a yarn would look like
with that name. I write those down too. When Im ready to spin, I
just go over both lists, pick something I want to make and go for it.
Other times I just see a pile of fiber, inspiration hits and I spin it
I hate having to wait
for wool to dry before I can spin it, so I dont particularly like
but I do it. I primarily use Jacquard dyes, but Ive
used Kool Aid and food coloring. Sometimes Ive been surprised with
results, but that was mostly in the beginning when every color was a new
experiment, now things a little more predictable. I dont make dyeing
a science, so there are no measurements and nothing is written down. I
just wing it and shoot for a color close to what Im looking for.
If it doesnt happen, then I try again and save the surprise
for something else.
When I was first learning
to spin I read a lot of different ideas about how to set the twist in
a single ply yarn, but the most common was to tie the skein in 4 or 5
places and wash it. I did this, making sure not to stretch the yarn so
it wouldnt lose its bounce just like everyone suggested. Well, after
spinning about a dozen normal yarns and following everyones instructions
I was ready to start experimenting with something else. I was also sick
of trying to untangle the skeins after they had been washed. So I decided
I wanted to wash and dry the skein on a wooden frame to see what would
happen. The result was a rope-like single that would hang straight like
a well balanced two ply and I liked it. At first I wrapped the yarn around
a wooden cutting board, but that left with little corner bends because
the board had straight edges. So I decided I needed a frame with rounded
sides. After a few trips to Home Depot, I drew up a design made out of
two pieces of 1 dowel and two bull nose trim pieces for stair treads
(looks like a 12 long piece of 1x2 with one side rounded
off). The result is a wooden frame just large enough to fit in my kitchen
sink. When I want to create a rope-like yarn I just wrap the single around
the frame, give it a good wash and let the yarn dry on the frame.
I never really thought
about it being that unusual! I used to wrap the skeins around a 1 yard
frame in order to make is easy to count the yardage. Then I decided to
tie each end with a string so it didnt tangle before I twisted it
into a skein. The ties also keep the skein neat while I played around
with the yarn trying to get a good photo (which is a pain). Then one day
I found an awesome printer online that does full color printing and so
I had two sided labels printed where I could write down the yarn details
on the back. That makes it easy to just thread string through the label
and use it to secure the two ends of the skein. Recently Ive replaced
the 1 yard frame with a 2 yard version. This makes the skeins longer so
bulky yarns are easier to tie.
I always try to think
about how a yarn will be used. Not being a weaver, I usually think about
how a yarn will look either crocheted or knitted. I want my yarns to be
user friendly and inspire someone elses creativity. I really love
the fact that I can create something wholly unique, that is able to stand
on its own as a creative work, but that ultimately it will go on
to be incorporated into someone elses vision. That is always so
exciting! My yarns are really just a raw material for another artist,
so I get to be a silent partner in every project where my yarns are used!
I dont know of any other medium outside of fiber art where an artist
gets to create something to pass to another artist to create something
else. Spinners, fiber painters and papermakers get to be so creatively
involved in another artists work and thats just so cool.
Usually the amount of
fiber I have for a particular yarn. I normally start with just a general
idea for a yarn first, and then I gather the fibers I want to use. I only
dye or blend the amount I think Ill need. I never do bulk dye lots,
and I custom blend or card the roving for each yarn in small batches.
Sometimes this process happens in reverse though, and I just start experimenting
with dye or blends and that inspires the yarn. Either way, I usually have
a finite amount of fiber for a particular yarn. For yarns that should
be a relatively consistent mix of fibers from start to finish I take the
entire pile of fiber, beads, ribbons, whatever and divide that down into
even smaller piles so that I know I wont run out of any one item
before I finish the skein.
Lots of light. I read somewhere that moth damage is actually caused by the larvae and not the moth, and that they always prefer to lay their eggs in dark locations. So as long as the wool is out in the open and well lit moth damage can be avoided. So far Ive found this to be true (and not, as my husband claims, just a ploy to leave my fiber laying all over the house!) If this theory really is true then actually I have a much higher chance of having moth damage to my own sweaters tuck away in my closet than to my fiber or yarns. So far I have neither, and I hope it stays that way! Recently I installed racks on the wall of my craft room where I can hang my yarn inventory, and that helps keep everything out in the open and within easy reach.
Both. I like to think that Im a very eclectic person who is just out here doing my own thing, but at the same time I think the Internet has proved to us all that were not alone in anything. Im not a joiner so I dont belong to any spinning groups and there are no local yarn or spinning shops to hang out in, so in a sense I am just out here all alone, but at the same time all I have to do is turn on my computer and suddenly Im surrounded by people who think having rooms full of wool and two sets of cookware (one for cooking, one for dying ) is completely normal.
It destroys the
craft not to learn it. This is an Irish proverb. I dont have
any particular connection to it, but I thought it was relevant to the
old crafts like spinning. Spinners practice a craft that has been traced
back to prehistoric times. The quote reminded me that we cant take
these old skills for granted, and that its our responsibility to
pass them on to others. A craft is in much greater danger of extinction
when it changes from being a necessary skill to a pastime, so we need
to make a conscious effort to learn and to teach. I think this is particularly
important in our current Walmart society where people are
more concerned about quantity than quality. Like Lexi of Pluckyfluff,
I think manufactured products are soulless clones. They deprive our society
of an identifiable culture. We need to support craft in all forms, either
by learning it or by supporting the artists and artisans who practice
it. (I could go on and on about this, but Ill stop now before the
Id love it if
we could find a way to spin spiders silk. I know the military is
working on a technique to create cloth armor from it, and it would just
be too awesome if we could find a way to work with it like we do bombyx
I have a Lendrum wheel. I shopped around a lot before buying, and just really liked the clean look and basic features of the Lendrum. There was a six week wait to get it, but it was definitely worth it. I cant compare it to other wheels, since this is the only one Ive ever used, but I wouldnt trade it for anything. (Theres a real nice write up on Gordon Lendrum, who designs and builds the Lendrum Wheels, in the spring 2005 issue of Spin Off.)
I still use a drop spindle.
I enjoy the more hands on feel I get when using a spindle,
but the wheel is just so much faster that I dont spend as much time
spindling as I would like. I do use a spindle exclusively for all my plying
though. It gives me a lot more control over the yarn and makes it easier
to create some of the plying effects like coils.
Ive always been
a very detail oriented person. Im not Jack Nicholson, As Good
As It Gets obsessive, but I am very unforgiving when it comes to
the details. I like to tell myself that spending hours picking hay bits
out of wool is teaching me patience, but really its just to distract
me from driving the rest of my family crazy. Luckily, in my other life
as a computer engineer its a big asset to be aware of all the little
bits and bytes. I also spend a lot of time writing technical documentation,
so describing processes in minute detail does come pretty easy for me.
My readers probably dont enjoy it much
but I cant help
it. Its a sickness.
We first discovered Renaissance Festivals when we were living in Germany, but never really got involved stateside until about 5 years ago. Then we found a copy of Renaissance magazine and were amazed to discover how many there are every year! Unfortunately for us Kentucky has more Civil War Reenactments than Renaissance events, so we usually make plans to go to the Ohio Renaissance Festival at least once or twice each year. If there are any smaller festivals in the area well go. For now we just make it a family outing, but I keep wondering why there arent any hand spinners with booths. Maybe Ill retire from my tech job, become a Ren Rat and just sell yarns from a booth! Huuummmm ..
Anyway, we do dress
for the occasion and buy all the weird gear. We own swords, armor, helmets,
the works. Im still spinning the yarn for
my husbands leather and wool tunic, and I think Ill have it
finished in time for him to wear it this year. Im keeping updates
on my site, and hopefully when its done hell model it for
a pic that I can post on the site.