So after three days of all these exciting stops and lots and lots of windy mountain road through the bush, I was more than ready to settle down in one place for a while. I had met Anne, the proprietor of Fleecewood Farm, back in October at a Rural Women's Institute Natural Fiber Expo, where both she and Betty were vendors. I have to admit, my interest definitely rose from seeing her beautiful colored fleeces, most in a breed she's developed herself, called Fleecewood Leicester. It's a cross between an English Leicester and an NZ Halfbred, which is, in turn, a longwool/merino cross (like a Corriedale). This, in turn, leads to a crimpy, soft, and still lustrous fleece in some of the most gorgeous shades of brown and grey. The fleece I ended up with (because, c'mon, let's be serious here, of course I bought a fleece) is this light mocha-grey-brown color that first caught my eye at the Expo and that I've never really seen before. So I was more than happy to go explore the farm and flock!
One of the coolest things about Anne is that she's basically run this farm single-handedly for twenty years, doing all the maintenance and construction herself. Therefore, she didn't blink an eye at assigning me the really physical jobs that other WWOOF farms tend to save for male WWOOFers. So the first couple weeks of my stay, I worked in the paddocks, rebuilding the cold weather sheep shelters, whose original purpose were to contain car parts as they were shipped to New Zealand.
These shelters had first gone up twenty years previous, and hadn't had anything done since then. It was interesting, to say the least! Often, I got to play MacGyver while attempting to cobble together a structure that didn't put weight on the rusted-out bits, or avoided the predominant wind (which changed direction with every paddock), or didn't crowd the manuka tea trees. It was very hot, dirty, sweaty, and frustrating work at times, but you also couldn't beat the sense of accomplishment when all twenty shelters were finally back up and I knew I had done all of it with my own hands. And sure, they weren't the most level or plumb of structures, but I was really proud when I put my tools away for the final time.
Since I was in the paddocks the entire time I was working on these, the sheep on the farm also got used to me, and, in my last couple days there, I often went up to the paddocks in my spare time and just sat down in the grass and chilled out with them. Part of me knows that these sheep were conditioned to associate Human with Bringer of Food, but most of me knows it was also one of the coolest feelings ever to stand in the center of a paddock, the breeze taking away the bite of the sun's heat and drying the sweat on my skin, as about eighty ewes start moseying my way.
I also really love it when sheep are comfortable enough with you that they can turn their back on you:
I also went to visit the lambs to take pictures of my latest pair of knit socks, and had these two lovely helpers:
Don't they just look like they're going to get into some serious trouble?
Noro Silk Garden Sock, two different colorways, four row stripes, my regular sock pattern. Can I just say how much I love Noro, even though the yarn itself is rather crap? These were knit in about a week, since I just wanted to keep seeing how the color would change next!
The final project I worked on at Fleecewood was washing fleeces for processing into batts, and then playing with lichen and onion skins in my first attempt at natural dyeing. What a hard life I lead, eh?
It was a grey, rainy day while I was dyeing these, and it was absolutely wonderful to sit comfortably in the garage, tucking my toes close to the gas rings to keep warm and occasionally stirring these incredibly aromatic pots of wool. After about an hour of simmering, we had:
The peachy-brown was dyed with lichen, with alum and cream of tartar mordant. The acid yellow was onion skins, mordanted with alum, cream of tartar, and ferrous sulfate. Anne and I split these, and I blended my lot together to get this heathery, old gold color that is screaming to be cabled mittens.
I just need to keep spinning it!
So from the sheep shelters, to the sheep themselves, to the fleeces and dyeing, I had a wonderful time at Fleecewood. Seeing Anne, a strong, single woman, doing this on her own, has made my little, farfetched dream of someday owning my own farm seem not that farfetched anymore. I feel like the possibilities are limitless, and I can't wait to keep exploring!
To say goodbye, I give you a quizzical Tweety the sheep and a sullen and rained-on Boy the goat, both of whom I got to know pretty well at Fleecewood. Both had leg injuries in the first week I was there, and so were confined to the race down by the shed so that Anne could keep an eye on them and treat them as needed. I would break branches off the tree lucerne for them whenever I would walk by, and Boy would often come nibble on my ear when I was trying to saw wood for the sheep shelter cross-braces. They always made my day!