Felting and Farm Life at Plumb Blossom Farm

 

Hello and Happy Monday!  I’m excited to tell you about my good friend and fellow creative business owner, Carole Balala of Plumb Blossom Farm.  Carole is in the fiber arts field and is as authentic as it gets, both as a person and how she runs her business.  She has her own farm in beautiful Cloverdale, which is part of the Alexander Valley wine region of Sonoma County, California.  Carole and I have been showing our work at the Humoldt Artisans Fair (in Eureka, CA)  for the last 5 years and I know her on a personal level too but, as I thought about her creative business, I realized there were many things that I didn’t know well enough.  So, I decided I would interview her and fill in the missing pieces.

Carole, tell me a little about what you do – your process, the kind of things you make, and how you sell your work. 

I take the wool grown by my sheep and turn it into usable or decorative products using a method called felting.  Felting is a process in which natural fibers are bound together by agitation. I use both needle and wet felting in my work.  For needle felting I use a barbed needle to poke the wool repeatedly. The barbs of the needle bind the scales of the wool together.  Wet felting uses water, soap and physical agitation to tighten fibers together.

I use the wet felting technique to make my felted soaps, dryer balls, scarves, purses and cat caves.  I use the needle felting technique in my wall hangings and to add detail onto the accessories I make.

Delicious Felted Shea Butter Soaps (set of 4)- Great Gift
Felted Shea Butter Soaps
Wool Dryer Balls- will last for YEARS- made with wool from family sheep
Wool Dryer Balls

I sell online on my website, http://www.plumblossomfarm.com and at my Etsy shop, etsy.com/shop/plumblossomfarm.  I also sell at fairs around Northern California.  This year pending acceptance I plan to attend :

September 7 Napa River Wine & Craft Faire

October 12 & 13 San Carlos Art & Wine Faire

October 19 & 20 Half Moon Bay Pumpkinfest

November 22, 23, 24 Gifts N Tyme, Napa

December 6, 7, 8 Humboldt Artisan’s Fair, Eureka

December 14 & 15 Occidental Holiday Crafts Faire

How is that you came to your craft?  

I have always been drawn to animals.  I wanted to have a working farm that took good care of its animals but still used traditional materials to create item of value.  I got a small flock of sheep six years ago and started slowly teaching myself how to felt.  Felting is an ancient process that is incorporated still in many developing countries.

What does a day in the life of Carole look like?

Routine is a large part of my life.  The animals must get fed and cared for twice a day and that includes the sheep but also a flock of chickens and ducks.  Every morning, after my coffee, I head down the hill to let the sheep out of the barn and feed them a breakfast of hay.  I then fill water buckets and clean out the barn, laying a fresh layer of straw down for the day.  This time of year the grass is green and the ground is dry enough so the sheep get out to graze during the day.  My chores reverse in the evening as I feed the sheep in the barn and close them in to keep them safe from predators.

During the day I am able to work on crafting or creating.  Sometimes I am dying wool, sometimes felting scarves, sometimes designing a new product.  I greatly enjoy the creative process but also the flow and rhythms of the movements it takes to make large numbers of handmade products.

Tell me about your sheep – What kind of sheep do you have?  How did you decide on the type(s) of sheep you wanted?

The breed of sheep I started with is called Wensleydale.   They have long curly wool that is unique and beautiful.  I got them because they are a rare breed in the US and I had hoped to sell their lambs for breeding stock.  Unfortunately, I did not realize how attached I would get to them and I could not bring myself to separate the babies from their moms and so ended up keeping them all.  Luckily this has worked out because my business has grown so I needed more wool to work with.

I also recently added more sheep to my flock because they were displaced after their owner lost the land where they lived. There was an adjustment period as these new sheep have horns and my Wensleydales do not.  Now though everyone seems to be getting along just fine.

This new breed is called Karakul and there are thought to be the oldest breed of sheep in the world.  They are very dramatic to look at and have excellent wool for felting.  They are all very friendly sheep and I consider myself blessed to be able to give these sweet souls a good home.

What do you love most about what you do?

One of the things I love most about my business is being able to support and give my animals the best care I can.  These sheep are like family to me and I feel very fortunate to be able to give them a forever home, not to get rid of them when they stop being “useful” to me.  They are all individuals and contribute different dynamics to the flock.  They each grow such different fiber as well which makes shearing time a fascinating phase.

I also deeply enjoy how having the sheep and working with the wool, as it connects me to a whole world of fiber arts and tradition.  I love watching the wool grow and then ending up with a finished product in my hands.  It is such a beautiful process and I feel it joins me and my sheep to history and to a fundamental way of being connected to nature.

Needle Felted Landscape Scene Wall Hanging

Needle Felted Landscape Scene Wall Hanging

Thank you, Carole, for sharing your story with us.  If you would like to know more about what is happening at Plumb Blossom Farm, you can follow the Plumb Blossom Farm Blog.  Carole has great pictures of her animals and insights into their personalities and farm life.

Beautiful Giclee Canvas Prints by L.A. Shepard

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I was shopping around on Etsy and found this wonderful artist, L.A. Shepard.  She really captures the spirit of the dog and she has a large body of work.  I love all of her dog prints, especially the German Shepherds 🙂  And her story is wonderful too. She began her full time painting career to be able to support her family while taking care of her husband (who was suffering from brain cancer) at home.  Her husband, Gary, had an idea to start a movement for people to celebrate their birthdays by giving a gift to someone in need.  You can read more about it on L. A. Shepard’s “About” page.  What a wonderful idea and one I plan to see through on my upcoming birthday.  Gary ended up passing away, but his idea lives on and you can help make it bigger by incorporating it into your birthday celebration.

Visit L. A. Shepard’s Etsy Shop, TheDogLover, and check out all of her beautiful prints.

 

Beautiful Handmade Leather Dog Leashes by HiHorseRanch on Etsy

Leather Leash - hand made, engraved with wolf prints

I love walking my dog, Dante, on his worn leather leash.  Over the years it has softened and gotten very supple. I find myself passing it through my thumb and two forefingers like worry beads as I walk. I know a lot of people love the retractable leashes but, because I walk with Dante at my left side, I don’t need a lot of distance on my leash.  Plus, I just feel more in control of my big boy with a shorter leather leash.

Even though I love my current leash (it has history behind it which makes it hard to replace), I can’t stop myself from looking at peoples leather work – a skill I really admire.  I was looking on Etsy and found some really nice work by HiHorseRanch, which may make me reconsider my above statement.  Or, maybe I could collect leashes like some ladies collect purses and have different leashes to suit my moods.

I really like HiHorseRanch’s philosophy – here’s an excerpt from their shop announcement:  “Our original designs are completely handcrafted from the very best leather and hardware and are made extra tough to last for years. This level of quality is hard to find today. We believe our leather products should not only be great looking – they should be soft and comfortable to wear and age gracefully”

Nice work HiHorseRanch!