Friday, February 28, 2014

The Goat Herd

The grass  is beginning to grow again, the robins are singing, and Spring kids are just around the corner!  Jersey our Nubian, Zolena our Lamancha, and Snowdrop our little white Nigerian Dwarf are all pregnant and due to kid in 2-3 weeks.  I milked up until the first of January and since then the goats and I have taken a nice break.  We sure do miss the fresh milk though, and will be happy to start milking again in several weeks.  We have an all girl herd now since we sold our buck Cowboy back in January.  He went to be a herdsire at another farm with some nice Nigerian Dwarf does.  We also sold Joon last Summer to a nice family who were just getting into goats for their family milk supply.   The two young cute little Nigerian Dwarf does are from Snowdrop and Cowboy last year, their names are Destiny on the front right and Dahlia behind her.   

Making a Rabbit Fur Hat

My first attempt at making a rabbit fur hat turned out pretty good, but there was a lot of trial and error that went into making it.  We raise American Chinchilla rabbits and last year I was excited to learn how to tan the exquisite furs. I used two furs to make the hat above, and I learned a few things along the way that will help me revise the next hat and make it better.  Finding a good pattern online was difficult as there's not much out there with clear cut directions, patterns and pictures.  There are several different patterns that seem to work just fine depending on what kind of hat you want to make.  I wanted a Russian Ushanka type hat with ear flaps that could be pulled down when it's real cold and tied on top when not too cold.  I'm planning to test out a couple of different patterns to see what I like best.   This is the pattern I used below, I found it on a you tube video I watched and this is the basic design they used.  Taking head measurements of circumference and height is important to get the fit just right, along with seam allowance of a quarter inch.

You need to cut out two of the head pieces and four of the ear flap side pieces, 2 of each side, plus two of the front pieces.  On my next hat it will have longer ear flaps than this pattern.  My first attempt to make a hat was made out of an old wool sweater that was accidentally shrunk in the wash, after cutting out the pattern and sewing it all up, the pieces worked and the hat fit.  I also used the same wool sweater and cut a strip about the same size as the ear flap strip and sewed it inside the lining of the hat as a head band, it helps hold the shape of the hat and is comfortable on the head,  you can also use any kind of batting for the head band. 

When I'm working on a project it usually comes up in conversation with friends, one friend while talking with my husband heard I was working on rabbit fur hats and said he and his wife had bought an old Bonis fur machine several years back and had yet to use it.  We went and picked it up and luckily there was an owners manual to study.  After many hours of cleaning, oiling, reading instructions, and breaking several needles we mostly got it figured out.  It is amazing how it works and the furs are sewn together with a very small seam.  The hardest part of the machine was the thread that it requires to use kept breaking (it may be as old as the machine and is brittle) if we put in regular thread it bent the needle.  It works perfect for several minutes and then the thread breaks, we are in the process of ordering more thread and needles from the company.   I spent many hours working on piecing together the fur and figuring out my lining.  In the end I pulled out my good old Bernina sewing machine to stitch everything together, and am still in the process of the final hand stitching.  The front head piece had to be sewn on by hand, and I'm still looking for some nice dark thin leather strap material for my ear flap tie ups.  On my second hat I'm working on I sewed the leather strap right into the ear flap while assembling.
In the basic pattern for the head piece above I will shorten the height just a little for my next hat, there was a little extra head room, and the ear flaps below need to be longer for the next one. Make sure you give yourself a quarter inch seam allowance if using a sewing machine.  Fur is an amazing medium to work with, each piece you cut out needs to be looked at on the fur side to make sure it's running the right direction so it will look good. The middle of the fur is the most durable with the edges being more delicate which is problematic when sewing because it will tear easily.  The furs should be prime, meaning the rabbit was around 6 months old (I have found 4 1/2 -5 months old is still good), and then I like to harvest in cold weather so the fur is extra plush.  Raising kits to 6 months old is a real stretch for me and my hutch space, usually they go into a movable grow out rabbit tractor.

The lining is what finishes the inside of the hat and hides all the seams, it also makes wearing the hat comfortable.  The liner is made with the same pattern for the top head piece.  For the liner I used a piece of nice quality nylon that would last a long time and not absorb moisture.  I thought about the liner and different fabrics I could use, on another hat I'm making I plan to use a nice soft cotton corduroy, you'll want to think about matching the color to the hat, for mine I went with black.  Using pins to pin everything together before you sew is the best way to make sure it all works.  Although fur as a lining against the head would be comfortable it might be too bulky, you will feel the fur around the face and the warmth of the fur is still there. 

In the photo below you can see the muskrat fur I'm working on for my next hat, it's a gorgeous warm golden color which looks better on my husband than the cooler colors of silver in the American chinchilla fur. This leads me to my next post about the rabbits we raise in our rabbitry.  We are now also raising Cinnamon rabbits so we have some warm tones in our beautiful furs.    

Monday, February 10, 2014

Winter Update ~ We're Still Here Farming and Gardening!

You have no idea how much I've missed writing here to all of you readers and friends, a big thank you to those of you who checked back in regularly and sent nice comments, that means a lot to me.  I did take time off writing, but all the same farming and gardening rhythms of each season have continued.  I have so many stories and pictures to share over the next few weeks as I bring this blog up to date.  I took pictures along the way as we went through a fruitful Summer, a harvesting Fall and now a mild Winter.  I'm ready to write and feel inspired, because... The biggest news lately is... We now have high speed Internet!!!  Yes, that's right after months of waiting the happy day arrived a couple weeks ago!

Throughout the Fall workers dug the ditch up our long hill, then layed the cable down and buried it, 2 months later and many phone calls we finally got it all set up.  A year ago we never thought we'd even get high speed Internet unless we had a satellite installed.  We just made do with dial up like so many others that live in the country.  Over the last 2 weeks I've spent time each day playing on the computer, catching up on blogs that I hadn't read in ages, discovering pod casts, you tube, and all the other things I can now do.  With dial up we could never watch a you tube video, much less upload one onto my blog.  So, get ready I now have all the technology to go forward with this blog, were planning to create some you tube video's to share right here.

I hope everyone of you is well and having fun this Winter, if you're like me you're ready for Spring. We have three goats that are pregnant, Zolena, Jersey, and Snowdrop, they're all growing by the day with kids due in mid March.  The rabbitry has been a big area of focus this winter with the addition of a new breed, new hutches are being built and a fenced area surrounding the hutches to run and play is in the planning stages. More to come with articles about the goats, rabbits, chickens, gardens, honeybees, the orchard, the Goldens and what's been happening around the Farm.