Whimsical and Homespun Art Creations with a Little Rural Living Thrown In

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Sheep Shearing Time

It is sheep shearing time.  Marlena  is peeking through the feed bin, watching the sheep shearer at work.  Her coat is one of the most beautiful variegated brown fleeces that I have ever seen.  While she was waiting her turn, we had Luke (the llama) outside the barn.  He was absolutely beside himself with worry.  I tried to keep him distracted in the beginning, but he could hear the rams bellowing from inside the barn.  

Our little ram Max trotted out like a big puppy but did not like the sound of the clippers.  He eventually came through it unscathed and a whole lot lighter. :)  The photo lacks clarity due to the fact that I didn't use a flash.  I thought it might frighten Max.

Isn't he handsome?  He absolutely loves to be petted and stands up on the rungs of his stall for attention.  He was one of the few that looked better for having his locks sheared.   He soaked up all the attention he could after his date with the clippers! ;)  It is hard to tell from this angle, but his horns are black and white.  They remind me of Cruella DeVille:)

Well, I have 9 fleeces that need to be skirted and scoured.  It will be exciting to have a few new color mixes to add to the collection.  The drum carder is currently hard at work creating roving out of last year's haul.  I will be listing some of the excess in my Etsy shop for those that might be interested.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Time to Create Roving with my Manual Baby Brother Drum Carder

With an impending sheep shearing session planned and countless YouTube views on drum carding wool under my belt, it was high time for me to get out the Baby Brother Drum Carder and give it a whirl.  I hope that I never stop experiencing new things!  The first pass went so smooth.  The process of carding is such a relaxing experience.  Maybe it would drive some people crazy picking out bits of dry vegetation, but I really do enjoy it... Makes me think about the sheep outside in the summer grasses.  :) 
Here is a look at my maiden pass.  I was working on Lego's fur.  She has beautiful gray fur with single black strands mixed in.  The black is a wonderful addition and makes me wonder how nature could create such a wonderful fleece.  She does have some more solid black sections to her fleece, and I will card those in their own slivers. 

This angle shows the slicker wheel that carries it to the main drum.  It catches the some of the short unusable wool.  But if I put too much wool through at once or pull back on the hair, it will get caught in this wheel as well.  If that happens, it can be cleaned off and reused.


Once the large drum gets filled, I turn it until I arrive to the metal plate that connects the beginning and end of the pinned fabric.  A pick or doffer is used to gently pull the wool apart.  Then, I hold onto one end of the carded wool as I run the wheel backwards to remove the sliver...

And viola, straight beautiful wool roving is created!  I am sure that the first pass could be used to needle felt or spin, but each of my bundles received two passes through the carder.  The second carding was just another chance to pull out any dry vegetable fiber that got passed over the first time. 

I cannot wait to try a few of the other wool fleeces.  Lego's fur is very soft and slick.  Brick's fur, on the other hand, is a wonderful bronze color and more catchy feeling.  It will be interesting to see the challenge that awaits with his.  Farmerboy also brought me Luke's pure black llama fur.  It is so long and soft.  I have some ideas involving needle felting to try some of the roving out on.  :)

As I mentioned at the beginning of my post, the sheep had a hair appointment.  Since my photos were taken, we have had the flock sheered.  I will share pics of them in the next few days.  It was quite the experience for last years lambs. LOL    Everyone made it through unscathed;  though, Luke the llama was quite distressed to be separated from his family while they got their trims.  ;) 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Pioneer Girl ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder

Look what the FedEx guy dropped off outside my door!  The annotated autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Pioneer Girl".  I ordered this November 27, 2014 on Amazon, and they finally got a shipment to fulfill some orders.  This was such a wonderful surprise to a long day.  Yippeeeee!   The Little House Books were such a major part of my childhood and a strong part of my adult years as well.  I look forward to a better insight into the writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I am extremely happy with the few pages that I have read so far....  :) 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

For the last few weeks, my cabin fever has had me "going green" around here. ;)  Great décor for the arrival of St. Patrick's Day!  I am so excited this year to greet the holiday.  (Hopefully, we will be able to order some corned beef and cabbage at work, since Mr. Hollow did not want it in the house for supper. LOL)   My last plant shipment contained a dormant little shamrock plant.  The first that I have ever owned.  He seems to be perking up just in time for his special day...
Happy St. Patrick's Day! 

Monday, March 2, 2015

How to Propagate Christmas Cactus Cuttings WIP ~ EBay Business Review

This past week, I have been reminiscing about "Muppet's Treasure Island".  The Muppets are on a pirates ship, and there is one scene that keeps playing in my head.  Gonzo, Rizzo the Rat and the gang are singing along with the song "Cabin Fever". LOL  Although they were lamenting about being stuck on a pirate ship,  mine seems to be brought on by the latest February driven artic blast.  It snuck up on me, and before I knew it... I was gone!
How do you battle Cabin Fever?  First, take down the red and white Valentine decorations.  The colors are too reminiscent of Christmas.  Then, put up the cheery green St Patrick's Day decorations.  Aaaah blessed green.  Finally, have a wonderful customer walk into your place of employment and donate a plant that needs saving.  What??  Yep, a plant that needed saving.  Funny enough, it was a Christmas Cactus but do not let the name throw you... This is a lovely green plant... reminiscent of the coming of Spring!! :)
The plant was dry and not complaining at the moment.  It looked to have seen too much water in its past, which is never good for a Christmas Cactus.  The over watering caused it to lose the bulk of the plant.  The plant needed some company in the big pot, and the previous owner wanted some cuttings... so, I was given a much needed project. 
It's been a while since I worked with cuttings.  Here is a photo showing the cuttings from the plant that is at work.  I twisted lengths at the joint that were 3 to 4 segments long.  I put some potting soil in a cup and buried 3/4 of the first joint on some and the first joint on others... I am doing a little experimenting. ;)   Then, I moistened the soil.   The success of this experiment should be revealed here in the next 2 to 3 weeks.
I have been taking care NOT to overwater the little cuttings, since they rot easily.  I have my trusty Dollar Store spray bottle filled with water and spray the soil to add moisture. :)   It has been over a week, and they seem to still be happy...
**Note**  These are the cuttings from the aged plant at work.  As you can see, the soil that I had on hand was a fine potting soil.  There were two large Cactus arms in the pot that we received at work... one with very pointy segments and one with miner points.  This would indicate that the plants are a Thanksgiving Cactus or "Schlumberga Truncata".  (They flower around the holiday that they were named after.)  It will be interesting to see what color they flower, since this type of variety has a larger range of colors.  Oh.. and all stores sell it as a Christmas Cactus.  I imagine Thanksgiving Cactus wasn't a real crowd grabbing name. LOL

This is 3 of 9 cups that are little starters from the adults that have been pruned back in my household.  Usually, I stick the little guys back in the pot with their parent, but those pots are currently filled.  They will make some great new plants to keep or give away by Christmas.

**Note**  My Christmas Cacti, that were originally purchased for a few bucks at  the  same garage sale a year apart,  are the true Christmas variety "Schlumberga x buckleyi". (They flower at Christmas time.)  As you can see, the cuttings have scalloped segments.  I purchased a bark filled potting soil that would provide nice drainage and be more comparable to their natural habitat.  

Here comes Cabin Fever to the extreme.  As I was floating around EBay looking to buy an Easter Cactus, I ran across colors of modern day Christmas Cacti (aka Thanksgiving Cacti)  that I do not possess.  What to do?  Since Mr. Hollow wasn't watching me close enough, I purchases 8 little plants for $28 including shipping here.  After 3 days in transit from their warm home in Florida, they arrived in Northern Illinois greeted by temps in the teens.  :(   Look at them!  They don't even know that the weather outside is frightful.

They are the most healthy little plants.  I was all ready for them, having purchased some tiny pots and potting soil for their arrival.  I worked with the wonderful soil and plants on my kitchen island in the balmy 67 degree air! LOL  Mr.  Hollow, Farmerboy and I gabbed away as they were transplanted into their new homes.

Here they are looking pretty happy (they fanned out as the day progressed).  The ceramic pots were purchased for a $1 a piece at the Dollar Store.  I am not to crazy about the polka dotted distressed look, but they were purchased solely for starter pots.  The more I look at them though,  the ceramicist in me kicked in... I am thinking about using some enamels to do some sponging on them.  It would give the pots a unique face lift and get rid of the polka dot pattern.

And just when Mr. Hollow thought the Cabin Fever was at bay, I found a yellow cactus on EBay that was my only missing color!  Instead of buying one older plant, I purchased six little guys here for $15 shipping included.  Now, Mr. Hollow is getting a little nervous. LOL  I told him that I had other homes for some of the duplicate colors... IF I can part with them! ;)

It has been really fun playing in my houseplant garden this weekend.  I look forward to seeing how the little cuttings do and will share them again in a few weeks.  Although shopping local is one of my favorite things, EBay shopping comes in handy when my traveling is at a minimum.  And just in case Mr. Hollow thinks that I have forgot, I still have a gorgeous Easter Cactus book marked! :)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Dehydrating Bananas with the Nesco Snackmaster Pro

Farmerboy wanted a dehydrator for Christmas.  I researched all the different kinds on Amazon.  The Nesco Snackmaster Pro seemed to be the best fit for his current dehydrating needs.  On Christmas morning, the new appliance was brought into our kitchen; and as soon as he could gather his seasonings, Farmerboy put the machine through a workout by mixing up some deer jerky and dehydrating it (which was extremely good).  But after the jerky craze was over,  the dehydrator sat.  Meanwhile during a family trip, I purchased some dehydrated bananas for a snack.  They tasted awful and were coated in a heavy sugar.  When we got home, we gave a couple to Davey (the pet rat), and he seemed to like them.  Unfortunately, the unhealthy amount of sugar did not make them a suitable snack  him or us.  Then I got to thinking, why not try to dehydrate my own bananas.  How hard could it be?

Now, I can answer that question.  It is not hard at all!  Dehydrating bananas is so simple.  Farmerboy's Snackmaster came with five tiers.  I purchased two extra, bringing the total to seven which seemed like a nice size.  It takes 29 bananas (fully ripe with maybe a few brown flecks) cut into 1/4 inch slices (minus the ends) to fill all of the trays.   The slices should be arranged on each tier without touching. Once arranged, a spray head screwed onto a lemon juice bottle can be used to spritz the slices from the top and bottom.  (I purchased a $1 spray bottle from the Dollar Store.  The spray nozzle fit the lemon juice bottle perfectly!)  When all the trays are filled and stacked, the lid with the motor and fan enclosed can be placed on top.  The setting should be set for Fruits and Vegetables 135 degrees.  Then, the dehydrator can be left to work its magic for 12 to 13 hours.  How uncomplicated is that? 

After allowing the slices to cool in the dehydrator, this is how they looked. They have a consistency of fruit leather, and the lemon gives them a slightly tangy yet sweet taste.  Delicious! 

Here is my jar.  Davey's sits next to his cage.  Well actually, he got a quart and a half, but the half a quart is long gone. ;)   Yep, 29 bananas yield 2 and a half quarts dehydrated.  They make such a great snack.  And the best part...  they never get brown and mushy! :)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Microwave Potato Bag ~ Gift for Under $10 & Pattern Links

For a quick lunch or a last minute side dish, the microwave potato bag makes the most moist delicious potatoes in 9 minutes or less...
Back in August, I happened upon a crafter at the Baraboo Steam and Engine show that was selling handcrafted sewn items. An assortment of bags in varying fabrics on her table caught my eye.  The vender and fellow customers told me that these bags were the best for making microwave potatoes. Right then, I new that I would have to buy one (or in my case 2!).   The table was filled with all kinds of farm themed fabrics, but the potato design was my favorite and would be the most easily recognizable in my kitchen cupboard.  ;)
How do you use one of these bags?  It is so easy.  Just wash and dry 1-4 medium potatoes.  Do not prick them!  Wrap them in a paper towel and place them in the bag.   While using a microwave with a turntable to prevent scorching or hot spots, microwave potatoes approximately 6 to 8 minutes.  If this is your first attempt, check the potatoes periodically by pressing on the bag for firmness.   (The instructions caution to never leave the potatoes unattended and do not keep reusing the same hot bag for additional batches.)  After cooking is complete, let the potatoes sit in the bag for 5 minutes. 

Viola, the perfect baked potato

They were so moist...  the skins, too.  Mr. Hollow even commented on how great they were.  THAT was a monumental moment since he is not big on spuds.  I LOVE them.  Back in my College days, I had baked potatoes with butter and a little cheddar cheese about every day for lunch.  Unfortunately, there were  many days then and since that the potato turned out dry.  This will NOT be the case anymore!  :)

Can you believe that I purchased my two bags in Baraboo for $6.00 a piece.  I mean really?  Why would I even think about going through the crafting trouble to create these for that much.  Plus, this is one sure way to buy a true quality made product and support my fellow artisans at the same time.  Talk about a great gift idea for under 10 bucks! 

Since most of my blogging friends will not be at Baraboo this August, I suggest checking your local craft shows.  If you don't get out much, pop over to the Etsy website and type in potato bag to search.  You can get your own bag for $5.95 and up, plus shipping.  Or if you have some left over fabric, create some bags of your own.  (Remember to use all cotton fabric and thread!  Polyester will cause a meltdown!)  Lyn Brown has a free pattern in her Craftsy store here.   (Her bag has an open top that folds over for easy loading.)  Or if you want to create a bag similar to mine, pop over to the Stitchin' Tree  for a free PDF here.   Whatever you choose to do, this bag will not disappoint.  I am even thinking about creating some gifts of my own... Or maybe, I will just wait and pick some up in August!! ;)