Monday, February 22, 2010


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?

Anyway, socks:

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!

Making my winding way back North

Hello all! Greetings from Nelson, where I am comfortably ensconced back at Betty's, the llama lady I stayed with way back in October and November. We've just wound down from an all-felting, all-the-time weekend up in a little place called Teapot Valley, and I finally found the chance to talk about my trip from the bottom of the South Island to the top, and then my time at my latest farm, a wonderful place called Fleecewood. So here we go!

I decided this time that, since I'd already traveled the East Coast of the South Island, it would be good to head up the West Coast to get back to Nelson. This is the least populated and most forested area of New Zealand, and so the twenty-two plus hours I spent on buses (spread over three days, thank goodness) was mostly shrouded in lush, tall greenery, with occasional glimpses like this:

and stops to see things like this:

Which, for the life of me, I can't remember the name of. I don't know if you've noticed so far, but I'm a pretty bad tourist. I tend to wander off the beaten path, both literally and figuratively, and instead of dutifully reading the info sign about the waterfall or trying to capture its enormity on camera with everyone else, I end up crouched in the bushes on a deer path, getting bitten ferociously by mosquitoes and taking pictures of random bits of river that had an interesting play on color and shadow and light.

So I'll be absolutely no help when you try and plan your own trip to New Zealand ("You need to go see that thing! In the place! With the other thing!"), but darnit if I don't have good adventures along the way.

One of the other places we stopped was the Pancake Rocks, about a kilometer of unusual rock formations on the coast.

One of the other cool things about this area was that the entire pathway around the Pancake Rocks is surrounded by harakeke, or New Zealand native flax.

I've so far been too intimidated by the native bush conservation efforts to filch a leaf off of this to process for spinning, but I might work up the courage soon. Harakeke is used a lot in Maori weaving, but it's used in strips about an inch wide, whereas I want to see if it will strip down and ret into linen. Stay tuned!

Okay, this is getting rather long, so I'd better split this into two blog posts. Stick around for what happened when I finally got off the bus and made it to Fleecewood, the next stop on my WWOOFing tour!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Tally Hoooooo!

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the love of my life.

Mr. Peel is fully seventy-five, crotchety, and already married, but he also runs the woolcarding machine at Tally Ho Woolcarding, the next stop on my fibery tour. In this picture he's scraping one of the drums of the machine, pulling off about two years' worth of short fibers, vegetable matter, and dirt. This is one of forty drums on the machine. And you thought your drumcarder was bad-ass.

Tally Ho was absolutely top of my list when I was looking at places to work and stay in New Zealand, and it definitely hasn't disappointed. Besides the obvious draw of the wool (oooooh, the wool!), the people and animals at Tally Ho made it, almost instantly, my New Zealand home. I knew it was the perfect place for me when, whilst in the middle of a playful argument with her husband Stuart (Mr. Peel's son and the current owner of the farm), Barb (one of my favorite people in the world) took out her teeth and threw them at him. How can you not love someone who isn't afraid to use her dentures as a way to prove a point?

I settled into a quick routine at Tally Ho: mornings and afternoons were devoted to Wings-n-Things, otherwise known as the two flocks of baby ducks, one flock of adult ducks, one flock of baby chicks, and one flock of adult chickens. The first week or so of my stay, the first order of the day was to transport the smallest flock of ducks from their inside cage (as they were too little and it was still too cold for them to stay outside overnight) to their outside cage. How does one accomplish this? Through the simple use of a laundry basket, of course! Laundry basket goes inside the inside cage, you grab each duckling (frantically squirming and waving their little stubby wings the while) and deposit them inside, then take the entire wriggling basket out the door to their outside cage and repeat the process. Rinse and repeat in the afternoon. Soon, though, they were deemed big enough to switch over to the cage down by the pond (previous occupied by flock of baby ducks #2, who were now out roaming with adult duck flock #1), where they grew fat and fluffy and too cute for words.
Once these guys were all set, the adult ducks came running to the genteel call of "duck-duck-duck-duck-duck-duck-duck!" (and repeat!), and got their morning feed. The baby chicks were next, and, after scooping up any escape artists and depositing them back in the pen, they got down to eating pretty quick:
The routine was the same in the evening, but you also got to add the adult chickens to the mix, who got handfuls of grain in various places in order to distract them enough for me to collect the eggs:

Oh, by the way, the view up the hill from the chicken coop?

Besides this routine, I spent most of my time bugging Mr. Peel in the woolshed and helping him on the carding machine. Batts, roving, merino, alpaca, mohair, romney, even possum (!)--I was having the time of my life. And, well, I suppose this baby is the true love of my life (sorry, Mr. Peel):

Hubba hubba.

Oh! And ever wondered how they got roving into bumps? (No, Bristol, it would just be you who's that nerdy.)
Once the fiber comes off the machine and through a series of pulleys (if the wool is behaving) or through my hands (if it wasn't), it gets fed into this fantastic contraption, which winds it like a horizontal ballwinder. How cool is that?! I want one!

Regardless of my lust for all things fibery-mechanical, this place truly became home for the short time I was there. Barb, Stuart, and Mr. Peel, not to mention Victoria, the other, long-long-long-term WWOOFer (she's at about four months, with another eleven planned!), were so completely wonderful, welcoming, and funny that it seemed right when they talked about me "coming back home" in mid-March. So I'll be back boarding with them from mid-March while I work on the apple season, and then working on the winter rush in the woolshed with Barb when Mr. Peel heads back to Britain for six months. It's so funny how things pan out sometimes; my notebook where I first made comments on which farms I'd like to stay at has the note, "VERY YES! At least a month" next to these guys, and I couldn't agree more with that. I can't wait to go back!

As an added bonus, Lucy, the donkey on the left here?
Totally due to pop with a baby donkey any time now. Baby donkey! How does life get better? Oh yeah, Pip the farm dog is pregnant, too, and should be giving birth about a week before I get back. Yep, life is good.