Black Diamond Kits

Black Diamond Kits
Sage's Kits, Nine Weeks Old

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Is There Something in the Air?

That's what I've been wondering the past few days.  You see, while the number of page views on the blog isn't a whole lot higher than average, what people are viewing has shifted dramatically.  There have been fewer views of older posts and far more views on the three pages showing rabbits for sale.  Some have just been brief inquiries about whether rabbits are still for sale, and then we never hear from them again. 

And that has always been the case.  But this past two weeks there have been a whole lot more serious emails from people who, it seems, are working on building a sustainable lifestyle.  In the past about 40% of our rabbits went to spinners, another 40% to 4-H youth, 10% to homesteading type people, and 10% to people who wanted our rabbits for pets. Lately, however, the numbers have changed.  The spinners are still about 40%, 4-H youth are about 20%, and homesteading/sustainable living people are about 40%.  People looking strictly for pets have disappeared.

Maybe there's something in the air.  Maybe people don't like what's going on in our economy.  Maybe they want a slower-paced, more sustainable lifestyle, even if it's only on a postage-stamp sized lot.  I'm not quite sure. 

Is anybody else seeing this?

Monday, September 28, 2015

UNR Valley Road Field Day, 26 September 2015

Unfortunately, my camera broke Friday night.  (I am one of the few remaining people in the country without a smartphone, which is fine because doing whatever the crowd is doing or having whatever they have has never been a desire for me.  What is deeply disturbing is that now stupid phones like mine are becoming popular with celebrities because they can't be hacked.  But I digress.)  My husband said he'd come down and take pictures for us.  And he did come down.  Twice.  The first time was to take Lydia home because she came down with a stomach bug.  And the second time was at the end of the day to help us pack up, which was very thoughtful of him.  But we were still so busy with visitors that there was no thought of pictures.  So there will be no pictures from our activities at the Field Day. 

"Innovation for a Sustainable Future" (the theme of this year's Field Day) began at 9AM, but since all the parking was down at the opposite end of the field and half of the exhibits were there as well, we didn't see any traffic until about 9:45.  (Next year I will know that if I want to go see the exhibits and demonstrations--and I did--that I have to go first thing in the morning.)  From then on we had a pretty steady stream of visitors with a few small breaks. That was really nice.  We were able to give individual attention to almost everyone.  Charlotte and I could bring Fudge and Duchess out of their cages for the children to pet without having twenty little hands trying to reach them all at the same time. 

We were actually wearing two hats on Saturday.  We found out about the opportunity to participate through a lady in the Carson Sierra Spinners and Weavers Guild, of which I am a member.  So we were grouped with the other spinners who were teaching about wool and spinning on a drop spindle or a spinning wheel.  But we were also there as representatives of our 4-H club, and as such were able to share our experiences of the advantages of participating in 4-H, particularly with regard to rabbits.  We met some really nice families that we hope will be joining us. 

The Field Day was a perfect venue for the girls to share the advantages of raising French angoras with the community.  These rabbits are actually a perfect fit for sustainable living.  All in all, it was a well-organized event, the staff were extremely helpful and polite, and we look forward to participating again next year.  And next year I will take pictures.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

River Birch Cowl Knitted in Luxurious 100% Angora

This is the largest item I have knitted using 100% angora.  Because angora is so very warm--eight times warmer than sheep's wool--and because it lacks elasticity, it is often blended with other fibers.  I was a bit nervous to make a cowl. What if it was just droopy and unattractive? What if I put all the time into spinning, dyeing, and knitting, and I didn't like the result?

I finally decided that the world would not come to an end if I didn't like the result.  And it helped that Stephanie Gaustad, the fiber judge at the Nevada State Fair, said that my skein of yarn was "almost drop-dead gorgeous," and that it would make a lovely cowl. 

1.1 ounce skein of 100% angora yarn on the right
Brown is a lovely color on Fudge, but it does not look good on me, so I wanted to dye it.  I didn't think I would like a pastel color because the chocolate would come through.  After much agony, I finally settled on purple.  If I didn't like the result, I could always dye it black.

I used Dharma dye.  But I forgot to take a picture of the dyed skein.  (Fortunately, I had 0.4 ounces of yarn left over, so I made up a mini-skein for this post.)  

Selecting a pattern was a huge challenge.  For one, I always look for pretty simple patterns that I can knit while I sit next to the girls and help them with their schoolwork.  And because I spun this yarn so that it would develop a nice "halo" (basically, it's the fuzziness of angora yarn; "halo" just sounds a little more sophisticated, I guess), I didn't want a pattern that would get lost in the halo. 

I finally settled on this pattern.

 River Birch Cowl

You can find the pattern here:

It couldn't be any more basic.  It is just row after row of garter stitch that gets its lacy appearance from the large needles used to knit the fine yarn.  If you don't want to bother looking up the pattern, get some size 11 needles, cast on 40 stitches, and knit every row until it is 50-52 inches long.  Graft the two ends together.  I think it took me about four hours. 

And how much fiber did this cowl require?  I used a whopping 0.7 ounce.  Of course, how much yarn you will need depends on how finely you spin it. 

Ugh.  I should be wearing a white top.  And the picture shouldn't be blurry.  I will try again tomorrow.

4-H Presentation on French Angoras

Below is the presentation I gave earlier this evening at our monthly 4-H meeting.  You are welcome to use parts of it for your own 4-H presentation.

My presentation is on French angoras. Most people won't even consider French angoras because they think they take too much time. But that is simply not true.

French angoras are the lowest maintenance angora because they have more guard hairs than the other angora breeds. Guard hairs keep their wool from matting easily. French angoras are also larger than satin angoras or English angoras and have a mellower personality. Junior rabbits take about 3-5 minutes per week for grooming. Their baby fiber can be cottony because they haven't grown in their guard hairs. And the ends of their hairs are much finer on a baby coat and mat more easily. Senior rabbits take only 2-3 minutes per week because they have grown in their guard hairs and do not mat very easily.

The most important tools for grooming are the poodle comb and the slicker brush. The poodle comb is good for preventing mats before they begin and for combing out their fiber when they shed their coat. The slicker brush is important for taking out small mats and cleaning out hay and such from the fiber. A blower is only used by people who are showing. It allows you to keep the wool in longer.

French angoras are an ideal homesteading rabbit for several reasons. First is their fiber. Each rabbit grows an average of 16 ounces of fiber per year, and it sells for $5-10 per ounce. French angoras can also be used for meat. Senior French angoras weigh between 7.5 and 10.5 pounds. French angoras also make very sweet pets that you don't have to eat. And finally, their manure is great for gardens.

Angora fiber is eight times warmer than sheep's wool. It is also much softer—it is often used for baby clothing. It is hypoallergenic. It does not have to be washed or carded before spinning. It can even be spun right off rabbit! You can also use a drop spindle to spin it instead of a spinning wheel.

French angoras really are the best rabbits ever. Does anyone have any questions?

brush and comb
raw fiber
natural color yarn
dyed yarn
drop spindle

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Stockton Show Report

The Stockton show as held on the 19th of September.  We entered both youth shows, both open shows, and the angora specialty show.  I entered my two junior blue bucks and Phantom in the youth shows; Sage was entered in the open shows (she already has six legs), and all rabbits were entered in the angora specialty. 

Charlotte clerks for Judge Kevin as he compares Lydia's two junior fawn does.
In the first youth show, Phantom was considered to be superior and won BOB.  Fudge was DQ'd for being two ounces under weight.  The second youth show was judged by Kendal Bledsoe, who usually favors juniors, and BD312, one of the blue bucks, won BOB.  This same buck also won BOSB in the first show, and Fudge won BOSB in the second. 

Charlotte and Lydia watch Judge Kendal make his choice.
As for the angora specialty, we were up against adults who have been breeding rabbits for over thirty years.  Fudge wasn't weighed, so she didn't get DQ'd, but Phantom was weighed and was DQ'd for being eight ounces over weight.  Oops.  Yeah, I knew about that.  But I need her to earn some legs.  And she swears she will run away if I put her on a diet. 

Lydia watches Judge Allan make his decision in the angora specialty show.

Monday, September 21, 2015

UNR Field Day--September 26

 The girls and I are participating in UNR's annual Field Day.  We really have no idea what we are getting into, what is involved, what will be demonstrated.  We at least know that we are taking two rabbits, a spinning wheel, a couple drop spindles, and some fiber.  We hope it will be a great opportunity to educate the public about French angoras.  We think it will be a good fit, based on what we read in their ad for the event.  I copied and pasted most of the info down below, for the locals who would like to attend.  We hope it all goes well.  Wish us luck!

Also, attendees are supposed to pre-register.  More info at the address:

“Innovation for a sustainable Future,” is the theme for this year’s annual FIELD DAY. The event focuses on the technological advancements and efficiencies in agriculture, nutrition, natural resources and the environment. Field Day will be held on Saturday, Sept. 26th, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on UNR’s Valley Road Field Lab & Greenhouse Complex.
The event is a collaboration between University of Nevada, Reno’s College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources, Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station, and University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. The public is encouraged to come learn more about the organization’s programs with a day filled with exhibitors, great food, and fun.
Field Day is fun for all ages. Celebrating all that the these units have to offer, visitors can experience everything from Master Gardener demonstrations, farmers market, research exhibits, 4-H activities, greenhouse tours, and much more
The event will be held at NAES’s Valley Road Field Laboratory, located at 910 Valley Road, Reno. Both admission and parking are free and the event is open to the public, but registration is required. .

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Nevada State Fair

The Nevada State Fair was held July 30 through August 2 in Carson City.  (Yes, I clearly should have blogged about this a month ago.  Summer vacation and family visits and the start of school got in the way, I guess.)

I thought it would be a lot of fun and a good opportunity for the girls, so we all entered a few items.  The girls entered canned nectarines and peaches and jam, but that doesn't have a whole lot to do with raising angora rabbits.  So we'll just focus on the items that have at least a little something to do with bunnies.

Charlotte and her best in show knit bunny

Charlotte and little knit animal scene that also received best in show.

Charlotte and Lydia with their second and third place wins for their fiber.  First place for angora fiber went to the offspring of their rabbits.
Lydia's Rabbit Kit Cowl garnered first place.

Judging the handknit and handspun entries.

Lydia's knit bunny earned her a second place ribbon.

We all really enjoyed preparing our entries.  However, we just didn't have enough time!  So the girls have already started preparing for next year. We can hardly wait!

Mice... Kittens!

With having rabbits and other livestock come the unwelcome mice as well.

To rid yourself of these unwanted guests, the regular mice traps aren't going to work.  Sticky traps?  Not in a barn full of angoras!  Bunnies do sometimes escape, unfortunately.  Standard mouse traps could also hurt an escaped rabbit.  So the safest solution was actually suggested to us by one of our buyers.  Cats!  Cats will not only make sure that the mice get the message that they are not welcome, but cats are also another cute animal to add to our tiny farm.

So it was off to the Nevada Humane Society.  We were fortunate to be able to take home two adorable kittens.  They were free because they were "barn" cats (meaning they weren't friendly/cuddly enough to be "house" cats), and they are vaccinated and neutered and spayed, so it's a great deal for us. 

Their shelter names were Wombat and Apache.  We fixed that immediately. 

The tan tabby is Jake (named for Disney's The Cat from Outer Space) and the one that looks like a Russian blue is named Sasha.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Angora Cardigan for Becky

I am always on the lookout for knitting patterns that I think will work well with angora or an angora blend yarn.  And I also want those patterns to be pretty simple--most of my knitting is done as I sit next to the girls while they do their schoolwork.  I have to be able to check their work using my manual.  A complicated pattern just won't work for me in this situation.

So it was definitely a case of love at first sight when I saw the ad for the Kid Seta Cardigan in  a knitting magazine published two years earlier.


For some reason, when you go to the Cascade Yarns patterns page, this pattern doesn't appear.  But if you Google the name of the pattern, it pops up. 

I just knew it would be the perfect pattern for a lightweight angora-blend sweater.  Becky and Charlotte fell in love with the pattern, too.

I decided to use the fiber from Fudge's baby coat.  Her baby fiber was absolutely ideal for spinning--extremely little webbing (tiny, tiny tangles at the ends of the fibers), which is quite unusual for a baby coat.  I spun one ply of her chocolate angora fiber and one ply of alpaca I got from a friend.  Becky loved the natural colors of the fibers, so I didn't dye the yarn.  

The pattern called for about 1800 yards of yarn.  However, based on my previous experience, I figured I could get away with less.  I spun 1300 yards.  I thought I might need a little more, but because I wasn't dyeing the yarn, I wasn't too worried about it.

I entered one of the two skeins I spun at that time in the Nevada State Fair.  It got second place in the blended hand spun yarns class.  I was competing with much more experienced spinners, so I was pleased with that result.

I had to adjust the pattern somewhat.  I still wanted to use the size 6 needles called for, but that threw my gauge off for the number of rows by about 17%.  However, it was such a simple pattern to alter that it didn't matter much.  That drastically reduced the amount of yarn I needed, but I still had to spin another 50 yards at the end.

It looks better on a real person than on the table.

The result of using an angora-alpaca blend is a very lightweight sweater--just 7.25 ounces--that is quite warm and so very soft. 

Charlotte is modeling for me, so the sweater doesn't fit quite right.  Becky, it seems, is never home.
I have already started making the same sweater for Charlotte and me to share using Phantom's baby wool.  However, I am making a few changes to the pattern that I wanted to make the first time around, but didn't dare because I was concerned I lacked the experience to make more substantial changes to a pattern.  I want to seam as little as possible.  It's not that I dislike seaming itself.  I really don't have a problem with it.  But I do hugely dislike counting rows.  So if I make it in one piece from the bottom to the armholes, then I don't have to count the rows.  Sleeves will be knit in the round and sewn in.  They will also be about two inches shorter.   I will use a three needle bind off to join the shoulders.  And I am using size 4 needles this time, but I am still getting the same gauge as I did with size 6 needles.   Go figure.