Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Way-Too-Short Weekend at

Apple Leef Farm

This post is a wee tad on the picture-heavy side, so I apologize to those of you with dial-up service. Go make a cup of coffee while it downloads, and come back when you're ready. You can click on all the pictures to make them larger.

All done? Good.

Something tells me that y'all would like to see these featherweight, hand-dyed, felted, wool stoles live and in person, but a picture will have to do:

Something else tells me that you'd like to know more about the person who makes them, and more about the shop they live in.

Welcome to the shop at
Apple Leef Farm. The farm features fiber-bearing animals, flock guardians ... and a wonderfully welcoming fiber arts shop. Not only does Leef offer fiber arts classes, but she also has two delightful, cozy and spacious bed and breakfast cabins, and if you'd like to camp out in the nearby woods, you can do that too.

The shop offers yarn, weaving and spinning supplies, and both classes and weekend retreats for knitting, weaving, felting and spinning.

Here's the great wheel at the entrance to the shop, Leef's workhorse wheel to the left, and her plying wheel on the right, with a sampling of spinning fibers and finished yarns in the background:

Leef offers a wide variety of spinning fibers: colonial and mutilcolor fleeces and roving from several breeds of sheep and goats ... alpaca ... natural-color organic cottons, recycled cotton from blue jeans, and pima cotton ... combed tops, pima sliver, cotton lints, and seed cottons ... carded silk cocoons, raw silk cocoons, silk hankies, bombyx and tussah silks ... soy silk ... bamboo ... flax ... A-1 bombyx silk bricks ... kid mohair locks and tops ... corriedale-cross rovings in natural colors ... moorit ... wensleydale ... and a variety of blends of most of the above fibers, may favorite of which is a yummy merino, cashmere and angora blend.

Leef offers a variety of ready-to-weave cotton yarns for weavers, organic cones and dyed cones, as well as hand-dyed warps.

She also has felting wools, blanks for shibori dyeing, and a wide variety of dyes, as well as finished, ready-to-use silk blanks for scarves and kimonos.

In case you're wondering? I haven't mis-spelled "leaf." Leef is the name of Leef Bloomenstiel, my dear friend who runs Apple Leef Farm, along with her husband, Les.

Before I tell you more about the farm, I shall tell you about my friend Leef.

There is a certain quality to friendships forged in times of trouble that cuts through all the ordinary facades and meaningless chatter which usually cloud our initial perceptions of another human being when they first appear in our lives.

During less trying periods, we might have coffee and host cookouts and take walks with a new acquaintance countless times, without ever really getting to know them in a real and meaningful way. You may go on for years, chatting about politics and gardening and the weather, without ever opening up to one another or seeing the roots of that other person's soul.

Leef and I met at a herpetological society meeting over twenty years ago, and we quickly realized we had much more in common than our interest in reptiles and wildlife, and the fact that we both like to knit.

Before too long, we realized the we were both dealing with nearly identical life-straining situations, and as we formed a two-woman support group, we found that our creative energies ran in the same direction as well.

We humans gain acquaintances when we realize that we share a few common interests with people whose company we find agreeable -- we may share the same views about politics, work for the same company, enjoy a few pints at the same tavern, live in the same neighborhood, or share the same hobby. And many acquaintances who are baseball fans, Trekkies or joggers soon develop fast friendships. The common interest served merely as an introduction -- an icebreaker handed to us by the Fates: "You're a knitter, too? And a computer enthusiast? A reptile geek, birdwatcher, and hiker as well? Wow, we have a lot in common!"

Common interests are handy, and a person's interests tell you a lot about them. But the best friendships are forged between people whose values and passions are deeply symbiotic -- people who bounce energy off each other in such a way as to bring out the best in each other.

Now about the knitting part. When Leef and I first met, we learned that we both enjoyed knitting, and soon we were getting together regularly to knit, have coffee, and work through our life problems.

We became friends in the green-screen days of computering and in the infancy of the Internet, search engines and AOL. At the time, it was difficult to meet other knitters, so it was delightful to have another knitter with whom to share resources, tips and techniques. Finding the original Knit List was a coup for both of us.

She was a farm girl stranded in the city, so she made sure that her kids grew up hiking, camping, riding horses and visitng their grandparents in a delightful Louisiana hill-country town, not too far away.

Neither of us is the sort of person to have a casual interest in too many subjects. We both are the sort who dive in head-first and earn ourselves a seat-of-the-pants PhD when any interest grabs firm hold of us. Before we knew it, our common interest in knitting led to spinning and dyeing, and Leef took off from there into weaving. I weave a little, now and again. Small things, when the mood strikes me.

But Leef is a certified, bona fide Weaver.

Over the years we went through life changes, Hurricane Andrew, job changes and her mother's death ... and I experienced her kids growing up.

This friendship began twenty years ago. Life has taken us in different directions in recent years, and Leef and her family moved to Texas, partly for job opportunities for her husband, and partly so she could have a small farm, but distance doesn't change the qualitative nature of a solid friendship.

Unfortunately, we hadn't seen each other live and in person in far too long, so I hadn't seen the new farm, or the new store (they recently moved from their mini-farm closer to Dallas).

So the store kind of bowled me over when I walked in. Years ago, we spent so much time talking about having a studio, a yarn shop ... a place to teach knitting, spinning and dyeing. We would spend hours dreaming up what we'd sell and what the shop would be like -- some cozy seating in a corner, the teaching studio over here, natural light from over there, and of course we'd have to have a coffee bar.

And now here it is. I sorely wish we were doing it together, but I am so happy for her that she has it for herself.

Below is the part of the store that serves as a weaving studio and class workshop. Note the floor loom on the left, a triangular loom partly filled with a handpainted warp, bags of fleece, and yet another spinning wheel:

You need to know that when Leef teaches a new weaver or spinner, she doesn't just set you down and show you the basics. If you go to one of her weekend retreats, you will come away from it really knowing how spin or weave. Leef is the sort of person who teaches her students not only what they need to do, but why they need to do it. She wants you to walk away from her studio with a complete understanding of the process.

On the opposite wall from the loom and teaching area, she displays some of her yarns and felting supplies, as well as a selection of felted stoles and gossamer hand-dyed silk scarves.

The dyeing workstation is out-of range to the left in the picture, and includes a stove, sink and work table.

I remember Leef's early dyeing experiments -- hiking the local woods and creek banks searching for flowers, bark and roots to find ingredients for natural dye recipes. Then it was out to the backyard with a propane burner and an old canning pot, standing over dyebaths until she arrived at the perfect shade of green, brown or yellow. I remember picking sack upon sack of railroad daisies.

After Leef moved to Texas, my work schedule became enormous, but when I had any time at all to myself, I took to the same locations in search of wild indigo plants -- the invasive descendants of indigo crops grown in the plantation days of south Louisiana. Indigo requires a lot of plants and a special touch with the dyepot -- and although I enjoy working with natural dyes, I have never gotten past a wan blue with my own efforts.

Leef had started getting serious about felting -- hats, slippers, you name it -- shortly before her family moved to Texas.

Which brings me back to where I started.

Now I know you are curious about those stoles. Leef produces these amazing, drapey garments in Nuno felting, a technique in which she felts and dyes wool onto a silk gauze. The end result is a rich, drapey, exotic-looking fabric which makes me think of something that perhaps an alien ambassador or priestess might wear as ceremonial garb when meeting with Captain Picard, or attending a meeting of the Federation. Each one is an individual work of art.

To the lower left, below the stoles, you will see a display of dyed silk scarves, befitting Stevie Nicks at the height of her gauziness ... and I do mean that in a good way! These scarves are as light as a feather and display equally well either ironed flat or dried in a scrunched-up technique -- not unlike making a broomstick skirt.

There are also some yarns for sale -- some handspun, and a selection of comercial sock yarn. She also carries a sleection of bamboo knitting needles, and every conceivable accessory or tool you might need for spinning, weaving or felting, from dyes and niddy-noddys to spinning wheels, looms and drop spindles.

There's more yarn in the picture below, and dyeing supplies in the background. Do you also see the hand-dyed gauzy silk jacket, graced with a felted lace stole? Leef offers both materials and classes to make all of these things:

Leef's farm is in Van Alstyne, Texas, just a tad off the beaten track -- a scenic drive through the rolling hills north of Dallas. But if you are a fiber enthusiast anywhere in the Dallas-Forth Worth area, Oklahoma City or the general Texoma region, and you're up for a day trip, you'll be glad you went to the trouble to find her.

Leef is happy to arrange weekend retreats for any guild or other group of fiber enthusiasts who'd like to spend a weekend on her farm. In addition to the two bed-and-breakfast cabins, there is ample campground space on her property. You can contact her directly to discuss classes, arrangements and prices, depending on the classes you want to take and the size of your group.

For directions to the shop, hours, and class information, contact Leef at:

I'll leave you with a photo of some of the farm animals: here's a little cluster of sheep, presided over by Doc, a 30-year-old horse whose hobbies include coyote-stomping, and Murphy, a llama who not only provides fiber but also serves as a flock guardian. You can see Murphy just above the second sheep from the left:

Next time, I'll tell you more about the farm animals, the land, and Leef's plans to expand the services she and her husband offer.

At the moment, you can contact Leef through her website and see what's new at the shop. If you have a group of friends who are interested in a weekend retreat so you can learn to spin or weave, you can arrange that as well.

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At 12:59 PM, Anonymous MonicaPDX said...

Ooooh! (Yep, that's my eloquence coming out.) A bunch of seriously gorgeous stuff there. The felted stoles? All I could think was, "Frozen fleece!" Especially with the light blue and apple-green ones on the lower right. The upper two look more like crinkled tissue paper covered with some incredibly-colored metal leaf. Beautiful effects, simply amazing! And the felted lace stole - frozen cobweb.

And that's just the topper for all the fibers and dyes and yarns and good lord, woman, do you realize I have a budget I have to think about?! [g] Thanks for such a great look at a beautiful shop/studio!

Plus, of course, the coyote-stomping Doc, Murphy and the sheep. ;) (I have a fondness for coyote-stomping critters; Dad got into raising donkeys for a while. [g])

At 6:24 AM, Blogger Em said...

What an absolutely lovely store/studio! It seems like such a wonderful, nurturing, creative space. Your friend is a true fiber artist!

At 2:32 PM, Anonymous sweaterhag said...

How fabulous for you to have such a wonderful supportive and creative friend/force in your life. Just wanted you to know that I sent off 8 hats to Covenent House this morning in Gail's memory. Happy Holidays!

At 6:53 AM, Blogger Mary Lou said...

Sounds like a great trip/friend support in life. And it coincided with the announcement from my 7 year old nephew's announcement of the primary quality he will seek in a wife - willingness to hold reptiles! He'll be glad to know there a plenty of potential mates out there.

At 9:48 AM, Blogger Jo at Celtic Memory Yarns said...

Ok I'm on the next plane... But hang on, I was going to go to Louisiana too, to see you! Can we work something out here? I just have to take one of those weekends. And meet Murphy of course.


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