Friday, July 30, 2010

Sheep Week - Adios, Los Manantiales!

It was such a pleasure to visit the farm! I really connected with the family who runs it. Someday, I would love to spend time on sabbatical at a sheep farm, just waking up every day with the sun and riding horses and learning how to be a gaucho. While not really a pipe dream, I'm sure that the rosy halo I've surrounded farm life with has it's ups and downs, just like everywhere else, and in the end I am happy to do what I do, and live where I live.

After leaving, we had a two hour drive back to the city, followed by another four hour bus trip through the night. Someday, I hope I can return to Paysandu.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sheep Week - Ponies and Pastures

Right before I left Lost Manantiales, the sheep farm, I got to see the largest herd of breeding ewes in Uruguay - 3,200 of the 6,200 sheep on this farm are breeding ewes!

I had originally thought it was a close pasture where these ewes were housed, and suggested that we ride out there. After a few minutes on a horse, though, it was pretty evident that a) the horse didn't want to do anything I wanted to do, and b) if they let me ride the horse out to the pasture, it would take a million years and I would probably be pretty sore.

So instead, they let me ride around in a few circles and then we took the car. Gotta love modern technology, huh?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sheep Week - Commenter Questions

I think I have gotten more comments in the last 24 hours than I have on any other posts ever in my year of writing this blog! Me thinks some of you are out to get prizes ;)

But it was fun reading all of your questions and I figure I could answer a few here quick before tomorrow's Sheep Week post!

What kinds of plants grow between the rocks that the sheep eat?
A: The sheep eat mostly grasses and weed plants, the Uruguayan equivalents of things like clover and buttercups.

How cold is it currently there?
A: The weather here right now is in the middle of winter, so it can range between 30 F and 55 F, sometimes it's been as warm as 60 F.

Are fleeces from rams and ewes used equally in yarn production?
A: Yes, at least, that's my impression. But there are far more ewes than rams.

Are the tips of the fleeces naturally colored darker? Or are the sheep just dirty?
A: The sheep are just dirty. They live in large herds their whole lives and here in Uruguay the weather is not cold enough for them to need a barn, so they sleep outside. They don't really roll around much, but they live very packed in together and I am sure they get each other dirty. All the baby lambs are white as snow.

Sheep Week - The Sheep

After warming up by the fire, Juan took me out to meet the sheep. They have a special system to mark all the sheep by color and micron count and size and breeding -- some of the sheep are artificially inseminated, others aren't, and that changes the mark on the back of the flank (red, or blue that washes off when they clean the fleeces) -- micron quality is designated by marks on the sheep's nose and head. Two blue marks for super fine, one blue mark for fine. The sheep with two blue marks are the best of the best.

My favorite part about meeting the sheep was how the gauchos really didn't expect me to stay in the pen with them while they wrangled the rams around. They figured, I guess, that I should be more worried about getting possibly headbutted, and that I would probably stand on the other side of the fence. But everyone else was in the pen, and I needed to see things up close, too. So when one of the rams tried to stare me down, I didn't even flinch. I'd like to imagine this was impressive, but more than likely everyone missed it.

The rams are far more interesting than the ewes, though they still pile in the furthest corner like frightened children and push so close to each other that they might risk suffocation. I guess there's no such thing as a claustrophobic sheep. The gauchos would grab the rams by the horns and pull them forward away from the herd, a stubborn, difficult task. Then, someone would rifle through their fleece and show me the best sections of the micron. Micron samples are taken like core samples - a circular disc of fiber is removed from the center of the fleece (don't worry, it doesn't even touch the animal), and used to count the microns, or waves that designate fine-ness, in the fibers. On average, the micron count near the shoulder of the sheep is lower, and the fleece near the tail and on the belly is higher. Lower is good. Very good. This farm has won a lot of awards, so the fleeces were beautifully white, in most cases, and the micron counts low. We saw one ram that was around 14, and he was already a year old. You don't usually see something like that after the first fleecing.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sheep Week - The Farm

After meeting with the cattle rancher, we got back in the little SUL (Secretariat Uruguayan Lana) Fiat and headed towards the farm. I suppose I shouldn't have been too surprised when we turned off the road entirely and began driving through fields, but I will admit to some trepidation when Marcel decided to send the Fiat through a low creek. I don't think the car's makers had this kind of activity in mind for it -- perhaps a Jeep 4x4 would be a better choice for SUL drivers!

We began the rumbling ride towards the main buildings of the farm, and I watched out the fogged windows (it was very cold outside) as the land grew wilder, little stands of eucalyptus trees, once planted by the farm's original owners, grown tall and numerous in the centers of the flat landscape. The buildings for the farm are surrounded by stone fences, hand-stacked from when the land was tilled for use many, many years ago. Ignacio told me that these fences are a mark of an old farm, and show that the people who live there know what they are doing. Often, they have been sheep farming their whole lives.

We rolled up to an old barn and Juan, the lead herder and owner of the farm, came out to greet us, a dog at his heels. He lead us down to the main house, through a path of fruit trees and stone walls, outdoor fireplaces and flowering (even in winter) plants. It was utterly gorgeous. When we got in, his mother came to greet us, ushering us in to take off our boots and have coffee or mate by the fireplace, which was roaring and warm. She talked to me quite a bit about my knitting -- she knits herself, and had even made me a scarf from some local handspun.

Tomorrow: Meeting the Sheep!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sheep Week - Paysandu

If you head over to the Malabrigo Blog you can read a companion post about how the sheep are marked for quality!
Paysandu is, honestly, the most lovely place I have been in all of Uruguay. The city itself (there is a small city, of Paysandu) is much like Montevideo -- cold, urban, messy -- but the countryside is incredibly gorgeous, rocky ground, mostly flat but with the occasionally hilly rise. The land here is particularly good for sheep because variances in food conditions influence the wool -- rockier land, with less produce, is better for the micron count because the sheep don't develop the thick, robust fiber that they would if there was an abundance of food.

My chaperone, Ignacio, and I, took a 4 hour bus ride in the middle of the night to this lovely countryside, and I spent some of the ride listening to the darkness-appropriate Phosphorescent, a band with vocals that are a little country and folksy but generally brilliant compositions of words and music into poetry. When the bus screeched to a stop in Paysandu at 5:00 am, we crawled out of our seats and shivered in the unheated air of the bus shelter, waiting for Marcel to arrive and take us to the farm, which was another two hours.

I slept during the majority of the foggy ride, and woke when we stopped to say hello to a local farmer. He was herding his cattle - the other farming industry in Uruguay. His sheepdog rushed out to greet me while I studied his clothing. The gauchos, as they're called, are a sort of herder/cowboy. They wear wide legged, short pants that can be tucked comfortably into the top of the leather boots, and allow ease and comfort for a day on horseback. They carry various braided implements, handmade knives with bone handles, and wear tam caps with short bills. It's funny to me, how culture changes in small ways from country to country. The clothing here resembles, in some small ways, what the sheep farmers in Scotland wear.

Tomorrow: My Arrival at the Farm, Meeting the Sheep!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sheep Week!

Here and on the Malabrigo Yarns blog all week, I'll be talking about my recent trip to Paysandu, where I learned all about the merino sheep suppliers here in Uruguay. Stay tuned both places and have a chance to win prizes!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Howling Winds Cowl!

The Howling Winds Cowl is now available! You can get the pattern one of two ways. If your LYS carries Malabrigo Rasta, they can request copies from their Malabrigo representative -- the pattern is free with the purchase of one skein of Rasta (which is how much yarn it takes). If you already have a skein of Rasta in your stash, or would prefer to knit it in a different Super Bulky yarn, you can find it now in my Ravelry store, or by following the 'Buy Now' link below, even if you don't have a Ravelry account.

I hope you enjoy it! The pattern uses about 90 yards of yarn (1 skein of Rasta) and is a super-fun, technique-laden, quick knit on US size 15 circular needles. The cowl pictured was knit in the Solis colorway and is modeled by the lovely Valentina Gonzalez.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Coming Soon - The Howling Winds Cowl

I've written a new pattern for Malabrigo Yarns -- they'll be distributing it to yarn stores for those who purchase a skein of Rasta, but you can also buy it on Ravelry if you've already got a skein at home. The pattern will be released this week, but I thought I'd give you a sneak peek, blog readers, because the photoshoot with Antonio's daughter, Valentina, was just so fun!

"The Zipper"

I see this building every day on the way to work. Although I've been generally advised against taking pictures, I couldn't resist, and snuck one while on the bus. It's a brick building but I love that the architect included this single, unnecessary but lovely detail - a zipper in contrasting brickwork, running up the entire side of the building, complete with pull. It's just a little bright spot in the nearly hour-long ride I take to the factory.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Defining Style

Last week, the stylist for Malabrigo Book 3, Sofia, and I, started meeting to put together outfits for Book 3's photoshoot, which will take place sometime in the next few weeks. I thought it might be fun to give you guys a sneak peek. Our model, who is gorgeous, is actually going to be wearing quite a few clothes from my wardrobe -- a fact that I find increasingly amusing, but totally adorable at the same time.

It's so much fun to put clothing together in an adorable way. Also -- a few of the knits are pictured! Sneak peek for my blog readers!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Inspiring Things -- Alan Chies

Right now I've been really inspired by some of the photographers featured on Color Collective. I found Alan Chies through their most recent entry, pictured above, but I found a lot of stuff I was crazy about on his portfolio website, too.

The pictures all have a very floaty, almost foggy-lens quality to them, at least, the ones I was really drawn to on his website. My favorite is the last one -- I particularly love the lighting. I think that I'm going to try and capture that kind of rose-colored-glasses glow somewhere in my future spaces. I can imagine it being really wonderful in an entryway.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Finding a Photoshoot

I've been 'elected' the Malabrigo Book 3 creative designer, which means, more or less, that for the pattern book in progress -- Book 3 -- I get to help make lots of decisions based on look, photographer, model, and location. On Tuesday, I went with my boss, Antonio (he is the head dye and color/yarn creator for Malabrigo) to see the location we've decided on for the book's photoshoot.

The Musee Romantico is a really gorgeous example of Montevideo's rich and diverse history. The building is in the 'Old City', the oldest part of Montevideo that used to be more like a township than the sprawling urban center the country's capital is now. The Musee Romantico belonged to someone very important, and started out life as a house. I imagine that the family who lived there were probably very wealthy, and very spanish - there is a special level of the house just for looking out at the river port. Perhaps they were merchants, or they were waiting for family members to arrive or return from trips to Spain.

The Musee has a lot of furniture, paintings, and some housewares - few linens but a good selection of curtains and glassware. Many of the rooms were very dark, and we were not allowed to take flash photos, so my favorite parts of the house were the balcony and interior courtyard areas. The architecture isn't flashy, just elegant, and I think it will make a perfect location for the photoshoot -- Antonio, luckily, agreed.

Something to Pass the Time

I love knitting. You all know that I love knitting, and wool, and talking about knitting and wool -- but there are so many other things I love too, and being here in Uruguay has deprived me of a few of my favorites. I haven't been able to work on that gorgeous quilt I started before I came, for instance -- I can't spin for Tour de Fleece, either, and I can't watch movies or tv shows on Netflix Instant like I normally would at home while I work. While the trip has taught me how to focus on a single task, a skill that I lost a long time ago (I'm big on multi-tasking), occasionally the abundance of even your favorite things can wear you down.

So last weekend, I made the trek to Mosca, one of the chain stores here that sells books, toys, and art supplies, and picked up a set of gouache paints, some surprisingly inexpensive Arches watercolor paper, and a few primary colors in Rembrandt watercolors. Add a few brushes and a palette, a pretty day, and I felt inspired to try my hand at painting in an unfamiliar media all weekend. This weekend I hope to do more actual painting and less experimenting.

I'm saving the painting only for the weekends so that I don't get tired of it, but also so I can convince myself to take the weekends off. I've developed a rather disturbing habit of working every day, all day, from waking to sleeping, and it's not healthy not to take some time off once in awhile, no matter how good your 'work ethic' is.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Perfect Project

During my stay in Uruguay, I've been totally exhausting my desire to knit. On the way here, I knitted on the plane. Since I've been here, I've worked on a vast variety of knitting projects -- some secret, some not-so-secret, some simply to test out a yarn for the company and see if it knits up well. Not many of these projects have been incredibly simple, mindless knitting -- and some of them you'll get to see in a few days.

But after spending a full month here, in the 'depths of winter', which really, for someone who lives in Iowa, are rather shallow and mild (being around 40 or 50 degrees most of the time), I've begun to wish that perhaps I'd brought some warmer, comfier sweaters and cardigans for lounging around in. Because I do a lot of computer work, and luckily, a good portion of that allows me to lounge. Sometimes in pajamas, as soon as 7 pm.

Thus, the need for a simple, bottom-up-in-the-round sweater, on circular needles, thick aran yarn (for warmth, of course!) and a gorgeous color. At the factory, we recently had a mistake order come in of Malabrigo Twist. Twist is comprised of eight different weight singles, all regular wool. The spinning mill mixed up one of the singles and replaced it with a superwash single. For anyone who dyes wool, you know that superwash wool takes dye very differently than standard merino. When we dyed up the batches of Twist in regular Twist colorways, they suddenly appeared to have stripes, and were rendered unsellable.

When I arrived, we had a huge box of these, all labeled 'Lana Contaminado', or, 'Contaminated Wool'. There's nothing really wrong with it -- it will just be harder to knit up into an evenly-toned garment. And that doesn't really bother me so much, since, after all, it's going to be a lounge sweater anyway. So I dug through and found 6 skeins of Teal Feather. I'm planning on something simple on size 8 needles.