Archive | April, 2013

EU Takes Additional Steps to Protect Bees

From the BBC:

“Neonicotinoid chemicals in pesticides are believed to harm bees and the European Commission says they should be restricted to crops not attractive to bees and other pollinators.”

For the full article, please go to

Unfortunately, the EPA is not protecting bees, and is now being sued by environmental and beekeeping groups. 


Aran Crochet Sweater Details and Pattern

One of Meduseld’s most frequently viewed blog posts is the Aran Crocheted Men’s Sweater.  The sweater is described, including the Romney wool used, but no patterns were included.

Aran Crocheted Sweater

The sweater was actually not difficult, and can be adapted to any size or neck line.  What I’d like to do is provide the patterns for the components that make up the sweater, leaving the final design and size up to individual adaptation.  There are only three different stitch patterns in this sweater, making it easy and versatile.

aran sweater closeup

Starting the swatch, we’ll begin with the cuff portion or hem.  In knitting this would be done with a knit, purl, knit, purl or even knit 2 purl 2.  In crochet there is an excellent way to simulate this but the direction of the construction is turned, so it is created in short rows up and down instead of across.

For the  “ribbing” chain 13 stitches.  Skip the first stitch and sc in the next 12 stitches.  Turn.  Chain one (counts as first stitch), and sc in the back loop of the next 11 stitches. Turn and repeat for the width of cuff or of the sweater section. 

For the swatch, I created 24 rows.  Turn the section so that the side edge is up.  The next section will be crocheted along this edge.  Chain one (counts as first stitch) and sc in the next 23 row ends, so that you have 24 stitches.  Turn.

aran crochet ribbing and cable

Now we are going to start the cable pattern.  It is straightforward and all the “cables’ occur on front side rows, making this very easy.

FRONT SIDE – Chain 3 (this counts as first stitch)  DC in the next three sc.  Skip two sc, tr in next two sc, tr around front post of both skipped stitches.   *dc in next four sc, skip two sc, tr in next 2 sc, tr around front post of both skipped sc.  Repeat from * to end of row.  Turn.

BACK SIDE – Chain 3 (counts as first stitch) and dc in all spaces (24 stitches)

If you repeat this several rows you will see the cable pattern developing.

To start the cable chain pattern, start on the back side.  On the swatch we are making this means working in the back of a cable. 

ROW 1 – BACK SIDE –  Chain 3 (counts as frist stitch) dc in next tr.  skip 2 tr.  tr in next 2 dc.  tr around back post of two skipped tr.   Skip 2 tr.  tr in next two tr.  tr around front post of 2 skipped dc.  *Skip 2 tr.  tr in next two dc.  tr around back post of skipped tr.  Skip 2 dc.  tr in next 2 tr.  tr around front post of 2 skipped dc.  repeat from * to end of row, dc in last two stitches.  Turn.

ROW 2 – FRONT SIDE – Chain 3, dc in next dc.  tr front post of next 2 tr.  *dc in next 4 tr.  Skip 2 tr.  tr around front post of  next 2 tr.  tr around front post of 2 skipped tr.  Repeat from *  Turn.

ROW 3 – BACK SIDE – Chain 3, dc in next 3 dc.  *Back post dc in next 4 tr. dc in next 4 dc. Repeat from * Turn.

ROW 4 – FRONT SIDE – Chain 3, dc in next dc.  tr front post of next 2 tr.  *dc in next 4 tr.  Skip 2 tr.  tr around front post of  next 2 tr.  tr around front post of 2 skipped tr.  Repeat from *  Turn.

ROW 5 – BACK SIDE – Chain 3, dc in next dc.  Skip 2 dc.  tr in back post of next 2 tr.  tr around front post of 2 skipped tr.  *Skip 2 tr.  tr in next 2 dc.  tr around back post of 2 skipped tr.  Skip 2 dc.  tr around back post of next 2 tr.  tr around front post of 2 skipped dc.  Repeat from * dc in last 2 dc. Turn.

ROW 6 – FRONT SIDE – Chain 3. dc in the next three dc.  Skip two tr, tr in next two tr, tr around front post of both skipped stitches.   *dc in next four tr, skip two tr, tr in next 2 tr, tr around front post of both skipped tr.  Repeat from * to end of row.  Turn.

Repeat Rows 1- 6 for the length you require.

Because the right side is the edge, the cable is going to travel straight up, which is what you see in the swatch below.

aran swatch chain

Additional tips

  • For the sweater made in my example, I made it with a button front V-neck.  I had to pay close attention to making the two fronts mirror  each other, so watch for this. 
  • I used 6 rows of single crochet for the band around the front and neck, and placed the button holes in the third row of this band by skipping 3 sc, chain 3, and resume sc.  That will depend, of course, on the size of your buttons.
  • I also wound the cables up along the V-neck, so I reduced stitches four stitches in instead of at the edge. 

I will provide stitch diagrams when I can create the symbols on desktop publishing.  More soon. 

 If you have any questions, please email me and I will do my best to answer.




New Yarn and Prize Give-away! Read Below!

Meduseld is delighted to release a new yarn.  This is a two-ply worsted weight yarn of our Friesian and Dorset Down sheep.

Dorset Down Wool

We have profiled both of these breeds in a past blog article.  The Dorset Downs, in particular, are known and bred for their very soft wool – wool soft enough to be used in apparel against the skin.  These skeins won’t disappoint, as they have all the characteristic softness of these breeds.  This yarn is springy, and feels like it had cotton blended with it.

 Dorset/Friesian Closeup

We have a limited supply of these skeins.  We are selling these 3.2-3.3 oz skeins very affordably for only $13.50 each.  The color is natural white, and they would be excellent for dying. 

We will be holding a give-away of one approximately 3 oz. skein on May 15, 2013 through our Ravelry group, Meduseld.   Post on the forum’s give-away thread that you would like to enter the give-away, and let us know what you’d like to do with the yarn if you win it.  Second runner-up will receive a 1 3/4 oz skein of Lana Gatto’s Alpaca in a dark natural grey.   We will pick both winners at random on May 15. 

Lana Gatto Alpaca

 Make sure to join the Give-Away!


Sheep are often private when they give birth.  This ewe, however, was bottle raised and did not mind a little company, and a little help.

At lunch yesterday I found Agatha, a Jacob X Friesian ewe, just beginning to give birth.  When I approached her the lamb’s front feet and nose were just emerging.

At this point she seemed to be having some difficulty passing the head, so I had to assist by pulling gently to get the head cleared.  From that point, delivery proceeds quickly.  It is important to slide the chest out quickly so that the lamb can take its first breath.


The lamb, another ewe, has been delivered, and is placed next to her mother, who starts to clean her.  The two are beginning to bond.


Within minutes, the lamb is alert and soon it will attempt to stand. 


Hand Dying Yarn with Food Coloring

This weekend we had another fun visit from my skilled knitter friend, Kate.  She had a couple gorgeous WIPs with her, and I hope to convince her to let me take pictures of them.  She was making stunning knitted lace with some silk lace yarn she had acquired at last year’s Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival, and I can’t want to see what they look like when she’s finished.

While she was here, we thought it would be fun to dye some yarn.  We took some skeins of  romney worsted weight yarn and proceeded to the kitchen.

Using standard kitchen food colors, Kate decided to make her yarns in shades of blues and greens.  I selected autumn colors.   In order to begin, the yarn has to be soaked in water with white vinegar.  We used about 6 cups water with two tablespoons white vinegar.  The acid is what makes the colors bind to the natural wool fibers.  Some dyers also use citric acid to achieve the same result.  We allowed the yarn to soak in this solution for over 30 minutes. 

While this was soaking, we started to prepare our dying solutions and the work area.  To make the dyes, we used small dishes with 1/4 cup water.  To these we added between 5- 12 drops of food coloring, depending on the intensity that we wanted with each color.  This is fun to experiment with. 

To protect the counter we placed clear plastic wrap in a large hollow rectangle on the counter.  The rectangle has to be large enough to accommodate the dimensions of the yarn skein.  It is hollow so that it can be wrapped up around the skein once it is dyed.

Here Kate is almost done applying the colors to her skeins.  She has two skeins side by side so that each will have the same colorway.  She has been applying the dyes with a small syringe.  Please also note her gloves…this can be pretty messy business.

painting yarn

When finishes applying the dyes, Kate starts rolling the plastic around the skein from the outside it.  You want to enclose the skein so that one side does not touch the other and have color leaking into other parts.  You end up with a large hollow doughnut shape.  Kate placed this in a Pyrex dish, and put it in the oven at 300 degrees for 30 minutes.  The heat is necessary to “fix” the dyes.  (You can also microwave the yarn in two minute increments until it is steaming hot and the dye it set.)   After checking it, we decided another ten would help fix the colors.

 baking yarn

After removing the yarn and allowing it to cool, Kate has washed the yarn in warm water and a mild soap.  Wash until the water runs clear and be gentle so that the yarn does not felt.  Here she is showing the completed, yet still wet, product.

wet yarn

The two skeins turned out beautifully!  Some of the blue dyes separated and created spots of purple that add interest to the yarn. 

finished yarn


Kate has already swatched it.

kate yarn swatched

Here are the two skeins made in the autumn shades.  These two are available in our store.

 autumn romney



One definition frequently given of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result.  We have a fine example of that in the genetical engineering corporations, who push their GMO seeds and products on farmers worldwide.  These farmers are given the promise of better yields and higher profits.  The reality is that these products increase the use of herbicides and pesticides.  It has caused such significant problems in India that there is a crisis of cotton farmers committing suicide, and that is worth an article of its own.  Additionally, Vandana Shiva states in a BBC Interview that a “billion people go hungry because of GMO farming.”

But the problems with GMO crops are not just with the agricultural and toxin issues, it also has to do with what these feeds do in human and animal bodies.  I have already attached videos from Dr. Don Huber who is an expert on glyphosate (commonly known as “Roundup”) who has written and testified frequently on the grevious problems caused by glyphosate ready crops.  I have also provided links to a GreenMedInfo article showing the cancerous tumors that developed in rats fed GMO corn. 

The latest in the craziness is now emerging.  Researchers have now altered the genetic structure of wheat so that it “silences” how the wheat handles carbohydrates.  My guess is that someone is trying to produce a lower carb wheat to satisfy the trend for lower carb diets.  However, there is reason to believe that this gene alteration can be absorbed by human bodies, silencing how the body can handle and store carbohydrates.  Here is a video provided on GreenMedInfo’s website called GMO molecules May Silence Hundreds of Human Genes.  It is only 4 minutes long and certainly worth the time to understand the ramifications of dabbling in GMOs.

Please share this blog with as many people as possible since the GMO issue has been obscured by special interests.  This article provides many helpful links in one place that cover the madness.

Permaculture at Work

The last month has been rather hectic, not affording much time for working in the hoop houses, certainly not as much as I have in the past.  Yesterday, being one of the first really gloriously beautiful days of the spring, I went out to work in the poor neglected hoop houses and take stock of the situation.

My oh my oh my.

Hoophouse Chard


Here the chard is doing tolerably, but I have allowed the weeds on each side to go to seed.

 The stunted kale is starting to bolt from the heat, and it is also surrounded by weeds that have developed seed heads.  On its right, you can see bolted lettuces.   I also found aphids on the carrot top greens.

So here is the  option I am faced with – weeding this entire thirty foot hoophouse, and distribute lots of seed heads as I do it.  But I really don’t want to do that.  The seeds I leave will sprout, and in pulling the weeds, it will take a great deal of the valuable dirt we have built up.  Aha!  The next option – chickens! 

I went directly to the computer and pulled up McMurray Hatchery’s website, a large-scale chicken hatchery that operates out of Iowa.  They ship day-old chicks all over the continental United States and these adorable little peeps come straight to the post office.  I was very fortunate yesterday – when I went to the broiler chick page, it stated that the April 22 shipment date had a very limited quantity available.  The next ship date would not be until June!  Too long for the hoophouse to wait.  I picked up the phone and got a representative who took my order for 25 chicks for the April 22 date.  I clicked refresh on my computer – and the April 22 date disappeared from their options.  I had gotten their last 25 chicks for that day.

So for the next several days we will eat out the chard and other edibles in the hoop house, and by the time the chicks arrive everything left will be for their consumption, including the aphids on the carrots.  So this is the beauty of permaculture.  It is literally labor-saving, as the chicks will do my work of removing delectable weed seed heads.  The chickens will consume the slugs and other insects, and will feast on luscious bolting greens.  These chicks won’t be contained in a small space – they will literally have 408 square feet of greens-filled space .  This, in addition to their organic diet from Countryside, will provide a well-rounded diet and create nutritious birds not raised on soy and GMOs.  Even this is a win-win situation, since I will be able to coordinate with Eva of Ironwood Farm on the Countryside delivery, and we can save some gas (it’s my turn).  Eva is currently raising some chicks and you can read about her adventure here.

And 6-8 weeks from now, I’ll have a perfectly clean hoop house.  By mid-June  that hoop house will again be available for planting with cucumbers, melons, tomatoes and other plants that can withstand the heat and actually thrive in it.   And I won’t have done any of it :)  Permaculture.


Dangers of Commerical Fish “Farms”

In this article, Dr. Joseph Mercola discusses a documentary that reveals the problems with commerical fish operations.  It confirms what he was warned consumers about for years – that these operations are not good for either the fish or humans, that they destroy the environment, and that government agencies charged with protecting the public are actually complicit in covering up the damage.  Please take a moment to go to Dr. Mercola’s article with embedded video here.

Consider What You Wear – Thread

Clothing is a highly personal thing.  What we wear reflects a great deal about us, and to an extent even our religious beliefs.  But few people consider that our decisions regarding clothing can affect sustainable economic outcomes and in a large way, the amount of toxins that are spread globally.

If you have been reading this blog, you know that the view promoted here is not of earth worship or global warming.  Regardless of political views, scientific opinion, etc, it still just makes common sense to care about our surroundings and each other.  God made us stewards of the earth.  Promoting industries that make materials out of toxins that won’t break down in a landfill for several hundred years just isn’t logical.   Cancer rates keep rising, and no industry will accept responsibility.  Let’s stop making guinea pigs of ourselves and go back to what worked.

This interesting documentary, Thread, calls our attention to the massive amount of pesticides and toxins that are used in making clothing, especially in parts of the world where the standard of living is abysmal.  It shows the role of the fashion industry in creating much of this problem.   The  link is for the documentary trailer.  It is only about three minutes long.  One staggering statistic is that it takes 700 gallons of water to make one T-shirt.   When the documentary is released, this blog will report it.

Thread documentary trailer

I have seen the fashion industry make superficial attempts at making organic or sustainably produced clothing.  However, these same industries set a standard of changing what is fashionable so often that people who follow fashion are compelled to buy a new wardrobe every few years.  Just look at shoes.  A standard  pair of high healed pumps from a few years ago would “date” your outfit now that the industry has come out with these ankle-twisting stacked platform heals.   I will know that the fashion industry takes the environment seriously when I see that the fashion periodicals stop ridiculing “outdated” looks.  They want you to recycle everything but your clothing.

Personally, I like the vintage look, and I still have some clothes from the 80’s and 90’s, and some fur coats that are much older than that.  Fur coats are one of the best examples of recycling and it amazes me to see them so thoroughly condemned.  I wish organizations like PETA would rethink their position.  For example, I have two fur coats from my grandmother.  One is probably from the 40’s and the other from the 70’s.  My sweet grandmother wore those coats for decades.  How many synthetic polyester coats would still be around for 70 years, to still be worn and appreciated decades later by her granddaughter?  Oh, wait – they are still around, but unwearable –  filling landfills…. PETA insists on manmade materials in lieu of leather and furs – so how many animals were killed in the Exxon Valdez disaster?  How many in the BP oil disaster?  Wouldn’t it be better to raise cows humanely for the leather shoes than to supports a system that creates ecological disasters? 

As we have discussed, we raise sheep for their wool as a sustainable alternative to synthetic fibres that are so prevalent in chain retails stores.  Please, we encourage you to seek out sources of natural items – not only are they more breathable for your skin, but they don’t have a deleterious effect on the world. 


Shearing Day 2013

Happy Easter!

Thursday we had our sheep shorn, an annual event.  Our front porch is covered with labeled bags of wool, each containing the name of the sheep that provided  it.  This year, we were able to have Rachel Summers of the Crowfoot Farm come out and shear and I have never been as happy before with the professionalism of the shearer! 

Romney Fleece

Romney Fleece

Rachel and her husband, Kevin, run Crowfoot Farm, and I encourage you to go to the link.  They raise quality GMO-free broiler chickens and free-range heritage turkeys.  We had the privilege of being able to visit their farm and we were totally impressed with the way that they raise the animals.  They raise several breeds of endangered heritage breeds and their blog is filled with information on their farm.  The turkeys truly were free-range, and the chickens are in moveable pens so that they are in fresh forage areas.  In addition, Rachel and Kevin go to great lengths to make certain that the feed is GMO-free.  If you are in the area, its worth a trip in order to stock up your freezer.

Rachel learned her shearing skills from a great shearer, and since she is also a spinner, she understands the importance of ending up with a nice fleece.  She left us with no second cuttings.  Second cuttings come from where the shearer passes over the same area twice, and this leaves short pieces of wool that cannot be spun and that tend to leave little nubs or bumps if inadvertently spun into the yarn.  The second cuttings have to be meticulously removed from the fleece, but in this case there are virtually none. 

As a true professional, she cut the fleeces away from each sheep and it fell away in one large fleece.  This makes for easy  “skirting,” a process where we lay the fleece out and remove sections of the wool that are dirty, or that do not yield nice yarn, such as the legs and neck.  By the time a fleece is skirted, only the best parts of it are ready for processing, whether it be for roving, yarn, batts, etc.  The portions that are removed can be used for mulching garden beds or just thrown away.  I have read that these pieces used to be used for insulation, but I seriously doubt that would pass building code these days.

Jacob Sheep

Jacob Sheep


As each fleece peels away from the sheep I judge it for the type of yarn that it will make.  Factors that influence this decision include crimp, fiber length, sheen, and fineness.  I have sheep whose fleeces I always designate for the same type of yarn, especially if I have found good results in the past.  Royal, for example, is the source of those shiny skeins of Romney fingerling, and Clarabelle is the source of the buttery soft wool that I blend with Alpaca to make the brown bulky yarn that I can’t keep in stock. 

Clarabelle and her Fleece

Clarabelle and her Fleece

In the last twenty-four hours we have had more baby lambs, including from our largest ewe, Henrietta.  Here is a picture of one of our dorset down ewes with twins she had.  This photo was taken just after she had them and they have still not been completely cleaned off by their mother.

Dorset Down Ewe and Lambs

Dorset Down Ewe and Lambs

 I have also finished another shawl for our store, this time made out of Meduseld’s Romney Fingerling weight yarn.  It is a reversible shawl with a beaded crocheted fringe.  You can find it in our store here.


Romney Yarn Shawl

Romney Yarn Shawl