I took my youngest daughter, Lauren, to the Excalibur Medieval Tournament and Market Faire here in Humboldt County on Sunday. Here we are on the giant wooden rocking horse – yeeehaaaa!.
We had a great time wandering the fair, and there were so many awesome dogs there with their people. We had to stop and visit all that we could and now I have new inspiration for dog breeds to add to my dog pottery line – Great Pyrenees and Scottish Deerhounds!
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.
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.
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.