A tale of two cheeses

I mentioned earlier this year that I’ve been making fresh goat’s cheeses, like Feta, Halloumi and Chèvre. Do you recall me saying “It doesn’t seem amazingly hard (so far)”?

So how hard can it be™ to make an aged cheese? Can you guess?


Drunken Goat

As soon as I heard the words “Drunken Goat Cheese” I knew I had to make this one. You may also have seen this called Cabra al Vino. It’s basically cheese that is soaked in red wine before it is aged. Sounds amazing, right?!

I compared two different recipes for this one, and ended up mostly following the instructions in the second (there is a lot of detail with pictures on cheesemaking.com):

The make itself went really well, to the point where it smelled fantastic and I couldn’t wait to try the cheese! The only hitch being that I’d need to age the cheese for a few months before it would be ready to eat.

  • Newly pressed cheese
  • Cheese after it has been brined
  • Cheese after soaking in red wine
  • Cheese after second soak, with a hand for scale

Easy, right?

To age a cheese you need a place that is both humid and cool. Not as cold as a typical fridge, and a whole lot more humid (about 85% is perfect).

So I built a cheese cave!

It’s an old bar fridge (the kind without any auto-defrost features) with the freezer shelf removed.

I’m using some pine boards that I washed with vinegar and left in the sun for a few hours as a place to rest the cheese.

I keep it at about 11ºC using an InkBird thermostat power point gadget (no need to hack the fridge, the temperature sensor just slips inside the door seal and the power is switched off and on if the fridge gets too cold or warm).

Water beading on the roof of the fridge means the humidity is at about 100%

The trouble is, the “cave” sits at about 100% humidity when there’s a moist cheese inside, which is too wet.

Any cheese I put in here grows a lot of mould. 🤨

I couldn’t keep the mould on my Drunken Goat cheese under control, so I tried to work with the mould instead of against it. I attempted to put a schmier onto the cheese:

Every day I brushed some of the liquid in the jar (a weak red wine brine) onto the cheese and the boards underneath.

I flipped the cheese every other day.

This is meant to build up a layer of friendly bacteria that prevents mould from getting into the cheese.

Furry, mouldy cheese

This worked, to an extent. Guess what: no mould got inside the paste of my cheese! However …

… my lovely Drunken Goat Cheese grew a huge variety of mould on the surface, some of which smelt awful (musty).

It cleaned up beautifully after I washed the mould away using white wine.

But it tasted (to me) too foul to eat! 😫

Besides the musty off flavours, the paste of the cheese was dry and tasteless.

Nothing like the soft and fruity flavour I was hoping for!


Colby

Shortly after I made the Drunken Goat cheese, I made a batch of Colby (from my Mad Millie cheese kit instructions).

I must have slept really badly, or taken a dose of forgetfulness with my breakfast muesli because this make went wrong in almost every way it could!

I heated the milk too hot in my double boiler before adding my culture and rennet. Oops!

The milk failed to flocculate for a whole hour (usually this takes less than 15 minutes), so I added more rennet hoping to save it. Oops! It instantly coagulated into a horrible grainy mess.

I soldiered on with the recipe regardless. I took exactly one photo of this cheese make, because by now I was expecting a total fail and was laughing at how badly this was going.

Eventually I managed to press the soggy bloop curd into a cheese shape and brined it (overnight, oops!) and then put it on the bench to start drying out.

About four days later I managed to get the cheese cave set up (oops, too long on the bench!) and popped it in to age with the Drunken Goat.

Yep, that puppy grew some pretty colourful mould!

Colby is not supposed to look like this

I gave up on it after a few weeks, took it out of the cave, removed the mould (with a saturated brine) and left it in the main fridge so it would stop growing mould. I neglected it for another two weeks, after it had dried out and cracked like crazy.

Oh, that cheese was a fail.

But Stephen ate it!

He said apart from the dry cracked bits, it was quite nice as a sandwich cheese. It even smelt faintly cheesy, so that’s something!


Emboldened by this “success” I decided to try a second Colby where I didn’t screw up the make. And this time I waxed the cheese to make sure there was no mould!

Waxed cheese has soooooo much wax

So, how did that go?

Yeah, nope. Last week it started to feel a little squishy inside the super thick layer of wax, so I decided to open it up.

It went “pfffft” when I pushed the knife tip in, letting a puff of gas escape.

That can’t be good!

The trapped gas could easily have formed as a by-product of Botulinum reproduction. No way are we eating that! ARGH! 🥵


So I guess this was the tale of three cheeses, really. And all of them were fails. 🤷🏼‍♀️

I’ll stick to my comfort zone and go back to making delicious Feta for now!

Introducing our mini herd

When we brought home our two does at the end of 2020, little did we know that we had the makings of a small herd of miniature goats! In April 2021 (almost a whole year ago now) we had four new kids arrive, and we decided to keep them all.

Let’s meet the new kids on the block!

(Sorry, I’ll stop doing these terrible boy band puns soon, I promise)!

Pumpkin

Pumpkin is female (a doe) with a white forehead blaze on a black head, a black line down her back, mottled black / white on her right hand side, and mostly white on her left hand side. 

She has black legs with white feet (except her front right leg which is mostly white), and a white tail. Her ears are black with white speckles.

Percy

Percy is male (a wether), brown eyed, with a white saddle / barrel chest and black everywhere else. He also has a black head with a white blaze on the forehead, and a white tail.

His fur is less mottled than Pumpkin’s and he has alternate coloured legs (his front legs are more blotchy than his back legs).

Charlie

Charlie (a wether) is brown eyed, with a warm russet and black coat, with some white patches on his tail, belly, front legs and head.

He has white speckles on his ears and in the saddle area of his coat that make him look like a fawn.

Jade

Finally, we have Jade, who is such a delicate little doe.

She is black and fawn coloured (dusty brown) with Swiss markings (I think) like her mum (Keira).

Her summer coat is fawn coloured, but her winter coat is plumping up with soft grey cashmere.


  • Goats grazing in a green field with shrubs
What goats do when it’s rainy outside!

Can you find five goats in this photo?

Learning to make goat’s cheese

Well, the title for this one pretty much says it all, really: I’ve been learning to make cheese! Specifically from goat’s milk, because …🥁… we are milking our goats!

Yes, this is awesome.

Our goats came to us with one doe in milk (Keira) and both does pregnant (surprise!). It has now been over eight months since both Keira and Scarlet had their kids. And we have a lot of milk!

What kinds of cheese can you make with goat’s milk? Turns out a lot! So far I’ve made:

  • Paneer
  • Halloumi
  • Feta
  • Chèvre

The next cheese I’m going to try is called Drunken Goat. Yes, really!

So, is it hard to make cheese?

Hmmm, I’m not quite sure how to answer this. At this point I’ve made a bunch of cheese (which is super cool, really) and it was not just edible, it was delicious! I must be doing something right, surely?

It doesn’t seem amazingly hard (so far) to follow a cheese recipe. I’ve used everyday cooking skills, like heating liquids, measuring the temperature of liquids, and using a timer.

Using a double boiler is something I hadn’t done very often prior to making cheese, but it’s really not rocket science.

I think the trickiest part (so far!) has been comparing recipes and deciding which one to use. They tend to vary a fair bit, so which bits have wiggle room and which bits are important to follow exactly? Which one is the “correct” way to do it?

I’ve found the wiki articles at cheeseforum.org to be really helpful in my learning process. I’ve just joined the forum itself, and there’s a wealth of information there, and a bunch of really helpful people.

After reading up on the forum, I’ve discovered my current level of confidence versus competence puts me at the “Naïvely confident” stage of the learning curve:

I think I know what I’m doing, but I probably don’t.

Jess, naïvely confident

But it’s fun! And delicious!

Getting started

Making cheese at home is more approachable than I thought it would be. Paneer and Queso Blanco cheeses don’t need any special cultures or rennet, just pots, a cheese cloth and some lemon juice or vinegar.

When it comes to equipment, you can wing it using things you probably already have in your cupboard (colanders, strainers, plastic containers with snap on lids, saucepans, etc.). Most people don’t have a milk thermometer, though (you definitely need one of these)!

Luckily I was given a pretty full-on Mad Millie kit (years ago) that contained a bunch of things for a variety of cheeses: ricotta and feta cheese molds, a cheese press, draining mats, plus measuring tools for tiny amounts of ingredients (spoon measures and pipettes).

To make cheese you need a way to turn milk into curds and whey. This is done with acid, or cultures, or rennet (it’s easy to get hold of vegetarian sources in Australia) or a combination of these.

My kit gave me vegetarian rennet tablets (which amazingly have not denatured yet) and citric acid, and I purchased some powdered culture from Green Living Australia.

One piece of advice if you’re getting started with a kit:

Use cheese-making kit instructions as a place to start, but go looking for other recipes to compare and contrast!

My advice, take with a grain of salt! (Not literally.)

I’ve found the Mad Millie instructions to be very time-based: “do this and then leave for an hour” type of thing. If your milk is super fresh or your goats have been on lush pasture, it will behave differently and the timings will be out of whack.

Understanding why you leave it for an hour is really useful (e.g. you are trying to get to a certain level of acidity, or to allow the curd to set for a “clean break”).

Understanding why helps you to anticipate the outcome you want and spot it happening early / late, rather than just crossing your fingers and hoping the recipe works for you that day.

Halloumi

If you’ve not had halloumi sliced and grilled with a drizzle of lemon, you’ve been missing out! We used to call this “squeaky” cheese because of the way it feels when you bite into it, and it’s possible to grill it because it won’t melt in your pan.

It’s traditionally made with a mix of goat and sheep milk, but it works perfectly with just goat milk. The basic idea here is to squash the milk curds under a heavy weight, and then boil them in the whey. I store the finished cheese in the fridge, in brine made from whey.

After making this cheese several times, I’ve discovered the reason it won’t melt in your pan is because the curds are not very acidic when you boil them.

Interesting halloumi fact

Here’s a batch of halloumi in progress, taking advantage of the cheese press from my kit.

On the left is a makeshift double-boiler (a heavy enamel pot on top of a stainless steel saucepan containing water). The whey is in the enamel pot, and is coming up to almost boiling point before I boil the curd.

On the right the curds are inside the cheese press, which is sitting inside another saucepan to catch the draining whey. The amount of weight I have “pressing” is about 6-7 kg (which is like a full 5L paint tin sitting on top of the curd). I like the cheese press, it’s very handy and compact!

Feta

Another classic cheese to make from goat’s milk: this is a firm, white, crumbly cheese you put into salads, or whiz in the food processor with spinach to make Spinach and Feta rolls (omg, yum).

I’ve made several batches, and I’m feeling pretty confident I’m making better feta than we can buy from the shop. Each batch I make gets more delicious, and yields more curd, and so I think there’s still plenty of room for improvement!

This was my first feta, and it came out pretty darn great.

This was my second, and it was even better. The colour of the cheese is a little more yellow and it had a more “cheesy” flavour.

Making Feta is fun because you drain the curds (basically a bunch of soft wobbly white things) inside a mold instead of a cheese cloth. After just 30 minutes you can flip the curd mass over (using your hands) and see your feta cheese taking shape! It’s like magic!

Chèvre

I made this for the first time on New Year’s Eve (I’m a party girl, me 🎊🧀). Well, I started making it, and I finished several days later. This one was more like making yoghurt: lots of time sitting and fermenting!

This cheese is a soft spreadable cheese that you can season with practically anything you like. I chose smoked paprika for one, and fresh oregano and thyme for the other. Yum!

To make chèvre you use mesophilic starter culture (I used this “soft curd” culture) to produce curds and whey. The bacteria consume the lactose in the milk and produce acid, which protects the cheese from spoiling on your bench top.

Here’s my 2L of goat milk, sitting in my house at 23 ºC, quietly approaching cheesiness (which is a quality you can measure: the target pH is 4.6, which is very acidic).

The top of the milk is greenish-yellow (that’s actually the whey pooling on top) and the curd is a soft mass of white.

Once it hits that pH (which I measured using pH test strips, like a boss scientist) you scoop and drain the soft curd for another day using whatever you have to hand (like a ricotta or feta mold or two).

I was able to turn out the curd by flipping it, but it was very soft. I worked some salt into it (by hand, in a bowl) which mixed it all up again. It was smooth and silky in texture, but overall it was firmer than greek yoghurt.

I put it all back in the feta molds to drain again (adding salt draws out more whey) before I seasoned the cheese.

I have to say, this stuff is amazing! It’s really delicious. It’s fantastic spread on toast or inside a salad sandwich, and I can imagine making a cheese cake out of it (skipping the herbs, of course)!

What’s next?

Like I said earlier, I’m going to try making Drunken Goat, or Cabra al vino. Mostly because I saw the name of it and decided I just had to make it!

No, I will not be making my goats drunk before milking them! 😵‍💫🐐

This cheese will be my first “semi-hard” cheese. It’s made by soaking the curd overnight in red wine before aging it in the fridge, giving it a red rind.

Wish me luck! 🍷

Men’s to Boy’s

Okay, you may not be old enough to remember the band “Boyz II Men” and thus get my woeful pun, but it’s too bad! I went there anyway!

This is the story of a Men’s collared shirt that found new life as a Boy’s collared shirt, just in time for my son’s Year 6 Farewell dinner.


We start our disassembly here, with this size 41 shirt.

A rotary cutter makes short work of separating the sleeves, collar, cuffs and yoke from the main body of the shirt.

By laying the side seams together and creating a fold at the centre back, we see it’s possible to cunningly cut a size 9 shirt from the main body.

Yes, even if it means piecing together the front facing!

Each sleeve yields up one back yoke, and one mini-sleeve each.

The offcuts yield enough fabric to make a short section of bias binding, or a pocket (or two).

And of course there are always scraps to audition button holes!

We can re-use all the buttons and have enough for two short sleeved shirts.


This shirt was so much fun to sew. I loved every moment of it.

Partly because the fabric is sleek, cool and a dream to touch (some kind of smoothed shirting cotton) and comes from a professional quality shirt (Van Heusen).

But mostly because I tailored the heck out of this shirt.

The pattern is the Thomas Shirt by Felicity Sewing Patterns: the method of construction is professional and the instructions are comprehensive. I was able to sew a completely seamless bag yoke! 🌟

I made a couple of alterations to the shirt, mainly to avoid using an overlocker (serger). I much prefer to see clean seam finishes in a garment!

Photo showing a flat-fell seam and a tiny curved shirt hem.

I added extra seam allowance to the sleeve and side seams so I could flat fell the seams (like they do on professional shirts).

Check out that teeny tiny shirt hem!

I used a light-weight fabric instead of fusible interfacing inside the collar and to line the facings.

This meant I could hide all the raw edges (by seaming and then enclosing the edge) which looks fantastic.

Yes, this is the inside of the shirt. Pretty slick, huh?

I set the rounded sleeve cap into the complete armhole (classic set-in sleeve technique) because the sleeve cap was pretty curved and needed a lot of easing.

I wasn’t convinced I could flat-fell the armhole seams so I used bias binding (cut from leftover fabric) to do a fake flat fell / bound edge hybrid.

The bias binding is a little too wide and looks a little clumsy, but it’s close enough!

Seriously stylish.

William chose the contrast button holes, and I used the same thread to attach the buttons, too, in a cross style.

That last buttonhole, turned horizontal? That’s to help the buttons stay closed if you tuck your shirt.

At the end of the day, I can’t stop running my hands over the inside of this shirt. I’m really proud of this make.

  • Photo showing the inside of the front facing with an almost invisible join where the top and bottom meet.
  • Photo of the new shirt with another men's shirt behind it for size comparison.

Remodelling an unfortunate sewing project

I’ve recently taken out my sewing machine, dusted it off, and tried out some new patterns by indie designers. I love the print-at-home phenomenon!

In the last two months I’ve sampled:

It turns out that I’ve been pinning most of these patterns on Pinterest since forever!

Let’s talk today about the Alice top, which turned out not to suit me at all, and what I did to recover this project.

What I was hoping for

I wanted a way to use up this Revelry “Snap” voile (by Cloud 9) that I bought on impulse at a Spotlight store (back when driving over an hour to a fabric shop and browsing in person was actually a thing).

I hoped that the voile would work out because this review for the Alice top came up trumps (also a very amusing read). After reading about the yoke stretching out, I figured using a more stable linen with a contrast yoke would be a good idea, so I decided to try this alteration of the pattern.

Everything I have read says that voile has “good drape” and so it should have been suitable for this top. But I had some doubts.

Cotton voile is very tightly woven, folds crisply, and is quite sheer. I was nervous about using it without a lining, but I figured that gathering the blouse section would sufficiently hide my underwear.

The experience of sewing

I enjoyed getting started with the Alice top. I appreciated the way the paper pattern was pieced together, and the hand-drawn nature of the pattern made it feel very “mine”.

I liked that the seam allowances were marked at most corners with notches! I don’t like having to search the pattern instructions to find out how much seam allowance is included on various edges.

I also really liked that some allowances were small (necklines) and some were larger (side seams) so I could be frugal with fabric but still have enough to make an alteration (or a really tidy seam finish) if I wanted to.

Once I got up to fitting, things became less fun. Mostly because I couldn’t judge how things would fit in the armhole area until I had basically constructed the fully lined armhole…thingies.

Picture of a cap sleeve that is too tight showing wrinkles where the fabric pulls.

Once I attached them to the main bodice…

…the top was too tight under the arm!

I tried removing some of the fabric and leaving the upper part unaltered, to create a kind of cap sleeve…

…but I had unwittingly created a Star Trek maternity uniform!

(Why does my head look so small here?)

Finally I ended up ditching the armhole thingies altogether and doing a bias-bound edge to cover as much flesh in the armhole area as I could.

The finished product was quite wearable, so I called it “done”, but I didn’t really like it. I took some photos, praised myself for the awesome French seaming, but generally felt a bit lacklustre about the result.

Why didn’t it work?

For a start, choosing white for the yoke was a mistake, especially a very opaque white. I don’t this is a good colour for me, or at least not for a round high neckline.

Secondly, this type of top (gathered over the bust) in voile (a fabric that didn’t have as much drape as was needed) was not a great combination because the gathering caused the fabric to stand away from my body shape.

It looks rather like a slightly stylish mosquito net, I think.

The top didn’t suit me, and wasn’t flattering on my body shape. Erk!

What next?

A few weeks went by, and I made up a different pattern (the Airelle blouse) in another Cloud 9 voile which has turned out to be my new favourite top.

Yay! It is possible to sew something that suits me in voile!

What’s more, the new blouse was not too sheer, and is dreamy to wear because of the lightweight voile. An idea began to form … 🤔💡

What if I took apart my Alice top and removed the gathering? Could I turn the gathering into pin tucks, maybe? Could I use the dart shaping from the Airelle blouse for a more flattering look?

Out came the seam ripper (I call this a “Quick unpick” because that’s how it was marketed when my Mum taught me to sew, in the 1980s!).

Here’s my attempt at imagining what the top would be like without gathering, and filling in the armhole area with some leftover voile.

Not bad (better, anyway) but still not fantastic. A little frumpy, still.

I pulled out my pattern pieces from the Datura and Airelle tops and started comparing them to the bits I had leftover. It came to me (slowly, not at all in a flash) that the Alice top is most like the Datura in shape. Perhaps I could just cut a new yoke using the Datura pattern?

…and then the penny dropped that I could change the colour of the yoke!

The remodel

I sanity checked that I could re-cut the blouse section into a new set of body pieces for the the Datura top.

Yup!

I then cut a new yoke from a warm grey-brown linen (a colour called “Atmosphere” which you can no longer get, but I think “Drizzle” is a close match).

I made a full pattern to make it easier to lay out for best use of the fabric. Cutting these on the fold would have been really challenging!

The rest of this project was essentially sewing up a Datura top, but I made some modifications to the pattern before I started.

First up, I rotated the dart slightly so that it was perpendicular to the yoke (a little more “French dart” and a little less “straight dart”).

I also left the yoke unlined to give it a closer weight and transparency to the voile body sections.

Hello, Summer! ☀️

The neckline and armholes are finished with an all-in-one binding / flat piping using the bias-stripped I salvaged from the original project.

The final verdict? A smarter, more flattering top that I love.


What do you do when you sew something that you just don’t like? Does it kill your mojo for future projects? Do you end up doubting whether you understand fabric properties at all, like I do? Choosing fabric is surprisingly hard!

Ba…by goats, do-do-de-do

So, remember last time, when I said we had some adventures with our two new goats? The goats we brought home thinking, “One day we might breed these goat with a buck?” The goats we thought were not … already pregnant?

Yeah, those goats!

Surprise! Adorable baby goats! OMG squeeeeee!

We now have four (four!!) more goats, taking us to a total of six, which I think anyone would call a herd of goats. How on earth did this happen? Let’s go back in time and re-live this little adventure, shall we?


January

Our goats arrived at the end of November, and took the whole of December to settle in. In mid-January, we look at Scarlet and think, “Does she have bloat? She looks a little … rotund”.

February

By late February, we suspect that Scarlet is either pregnant (wow!), or has some kind of a tumour (eep!), and decide to call out the vet.

The vet laughs, but promises to bring the ultrasound to have a look (apparently spotting goats in utero is a bit hit-and-miss).

The ultrasound shows at least one spine, and three dark patches. We could have up to three kids in there!

“Shut the front gate!”

Our vet, upon seeing the ultrasound

But when is the due date?

Now we start guessing when we can expect to welcome some baby goats. The gestation period for goats is 145 to 155 days from mating, which had to be earlier than the day we picked up the girls (27 November).

If we add five months to that date, the latest we can expect kids is around 27th of April.

The penny drops that we’re going to be delivering baby goats pretty much any time in the following two months.

March

Now follows a period of frantic goat midwifery up-skilling, wherein we discover:

  • Many ways goats will show they might be ready to give birth “soon”
  • Many ways goats give birth normally (oh, wow, videos)
  • Many ways goat births go wrong (gulp)
  • What to put in a goat birthing box (towels, gloves, Betadine, dental floss, torches etc.)
  • Many opinions about how to prepare for birthing, such as should you shave the doe or not? Should you keep the kids separate, or not? Keep the kids with the herd or not? and so on, endlessly.
  • What makes a good birthing stall and how to build a safe pen for kids.

9 April

The kids are not yet here. How long now?

Scarlet starts to wallow (elegantly, because she’s a goat) and generally take it a bit easy.

We get pretty intimate with her udder, feeling her tummy and generally photographing things in an attempt to discover if maybe this is the week the magic happens.

12 April

Does Keira look a bit … football-shaped … around the middle? Do you think?

21 April

Well, hello super-sized udder. Looks like today’s the day! Clearly (and there’s really no mistaking it) Keira is going to give birth today.

What?? What??

Both our goats are pregnant. Both of them.

We get out the birthing box and watch for signs of labour.

Midday

It’s about lunchtime when I decide not to wait any longer, and to go get that Covid-19 test I booked in for, or I’ll be stuck in isolation if we have to call the vet. Keira is just fussing, and Scarlet is not really giving many signs of labour. I have time.

At 1 pm, I’m leaving Goulburn base hospital when I get a text from my husband. Scarlet is having contractions 1:15 apart.

I’m still twenty five minutes from home.

1:23 pm

I tear into the driveway and leap out of the car. As I dash into the goat pen, my husband reaches in to help Scarlet with her last push. Out drops our first kid!

This next bit is a blur. We watch Scarlet start to lick her first baby clean, not wanting to interfere too much. Scarlet is tired from the birth, because she pushed for at least 15 minutes (which is a decent time, for a goat).

She rests, and licks. Keira fusses and wants to come in and look. She’s jealous.

1:50 pm

Scarlet shows signs she is pushing again. The very next push, and we have our second kid! This time, I get it on video.

Baby number one is still not very clean, and Scarlet isn’t inclined to deal with the new kid yet, so we get in and swap them over. Once she’s licking him (it’s a boy!) we know we’re away chuckling. Scarlet is happy we’re here to help, so she licks us, too.

We spend a bunch of time towelling off the first baby (it’s a girl!) and generally helping them take a bit of milk, and our confidence grows.

Is there going to be another baby? Could be! We wait until Scarlet delivers her placenta, and then we decide we’ve all been amazingly clever.

Afternoon

Keira enters her birth stall about 2:45 pm in the afternoon. Scarlet’s babies are settling well, and we’ve seen a little bit of self-feeding happening, which is amazing.

By 4 o’clock, Keira decides to go back outside and dig a nest in the dirt. Scarlet eats her placenta. Yeah, that’s a thing.

By 6 o’clock, we figure it’s been a pretty darned exciting day, and we have to eat dinner, so one of us runs out for veggie burgers.

6:30 pm

It time to check on Keira: it’s dark, and really quite cold: 4ºC.

The last stage of Keira’s labour happens before we know what hit us. One baby arrives (a boy) and about four minutes later, we have another (a girl).

We are right there to towel off the babies, because it can’t be fun to be all wet and sticky when it’s not much above zero, can it? And they came so fast!

Keira gets on with it like a pro. She’s decided we are her babies too: she licks our hands and her kids, and she licks and licks and licks.

After twenty minutes the kids are parcels of fluff, they are feeding, they are well. We did it!


Well, there you have it. Surprise goats. It’s been absolutely wild.

Baby goat wearing a knitted jumper

Totes ma goats

I am guilty of making a terrible pun here, but what can I say?

How do you tote your goats?

In a box trailer filled with straw!

Say hello to Scarlet and Keira!

Scarlet is a matriarch with a chill attitude; Keira is Little Miss Adventure.

Both goats are Australian Miniature Goats, which means they are descended from feral bush goats with a bit of Cashmere and Angora mixed in. This type of goat is often called a Cashgora (but ours are also mini, about 55 cm at the shoulder).

We brought them home in a straw-filled box trailer on 29 November last year, full of trepidation and excitement, but woefully underprepared emotionally!

It turns out the getting-to-know-you phase with goats is a rollercoaster ride (who could have guessed)?


Goat pen: the concept phase.

This shed shares its back wall with our chicken shed, and we were using it to store firewood, tools, and odd and ends. We figured it would be the perfect size for a couple of miniature goats, if we enclosed that grassy area with a yard.

To prepare ourselves for this adventure we did a fair bit of reading about keeping goats, and decided to use electric fencing (netting) for their day pen. We weren’t convinced this would be safe enough to deter wild dogs at night, so we wanted something a bit more … constructed … for their night pen.

By the time our girls actually arrived, we had the shed cleared out and a yard with 120 cm high chicken mesh installed (remember: our goats are mini, less than 60 cm tall at the shoulder). This matched what we saw at the goat stud. Enough, right?

Yeah, totes.

For the shed itself, we re-used our old fence gate from Berowra as a door, plus some school fencing (welded and very sturdy) to put a front onto the shed. It was much like this:

However (and this turned out to be significant) we didn’t have that top section of wire netting between the fence and the roof.

Can you guess what happened on the very first morning?

Yup! Our goats used the inner rails to parkour their way over that fence and escape into the garden, and ten minutes later, onto the road. Luckily they were too nervous to venture far, and they came when we called them (and shook their grain bucket).

I don’t think I’ve ever been so stressed in my life!

Fast-forward just a few days, and Stephen and I had managed to upgrade the initial yard to become Fort Knox:

We added another 90 cm of wire netting above the first fence, matching the height of our chicken coop — two metres in total, which is at least three times the height of our goats!

The girls, however, did not like sharing that shed.

At all.

The next couple of weeks were characterised by skirmishes between Scarlet and Keira as they sorted out who was going to be “top goat”. Every water bowl and hay feeder was the scene of a battle. Keira would frequently get butted in the side by Scarlet who was not amused by sharing a large shed with … well anyone else at all, really.

Spoiler warning: Scarlet is the “top goat”.

Two weeks and quite a lot of grey hair later, we realised we needed at least two of everything: water bowls, feeders, shelters, and most importantly: a divided sleeping place!

We detached the welded school fencing from the front of their pen and reinstalled it as a hurdle to divide the shed into two stalls.

Ah, peace.

Having figured this out, the girls called a truce, and we were able to relax a bit. It turns out goat psychology is quite amazingly complex, and nothing we read had prepared us for this!

Now they have settled in, and they are both so loveable in their different ways!

Over the last seven months (oh golly, that went by in a flash) we have had a lot more adventure, but most of it has been super fun, and everything we hoped for. More on that coming soon!

Looping gif of Scarlet scratching between her horns using my husband's knuckle as a scratching post.
Scarlet loves scritches!

Table Loom Experimentation

Hi folks! I’ve been spending much of my two week vacation time playing with my table loom, and sampling for a new project–a tea towel twill “gamp” (a sample for different twill patterns and colour combinations).

Twill sample weave
First sample: 22.5 epi in a 15 dent reed

Unlike the last time I warped up a table loom (to weave these tea towels) I’m finding this process incredibly frustrating.

Is it me? Is it the loom?

I’m going to say it’s a little bit of both. I’m definitely not too experienced at weaving, especially the warping of a loom! But this loom is not as easy to use as the one I borrowed for the tea towels!

Picture of my Jack loom showing how the lever pulls threads down

My loom is a “Jack” type, which means each shaft moves independently of the others, controlled by a lever.

I lock some shafts into the “down” position in order to make a shed–an opening through which I can pass the shuttle.

So, what’s going wrong?

I can’t get a clean shed.

A “clean shed” is one where you can easily pass the shuttle (containing the weft) between the top and bottom threads. With a clean shed it’s easy to see that all the threads are correctly “up” or “down” according to the pattern.

Ideally all the threads would march tidily across the width of the loom, with no threads dipping down or up to interfere with the movement of the shuttle.

On my loom, some threads are not pulled far enough down when I sink the shaft, which causes them to snag the shuttle. It’s also really hard to see whether they are just loose top threads, too.

The shed opening is really small.

Urgh, this is a pain in the butt, combined with the other shed issues I’m having.

✔️ a small shed places less strain on the warp and weft threads.

❌ a small shed is even smaller when using a reed (with the loom’s beater) because the widest part of the shed sits behind the beater, instead of in front where I need it.

❌ a small shed needs to be really clean in order to pass the weft. If the shed is uneven, there’s less “wiggle” room in order to get the shuttle through.

The top of the shed is saggy.

So saggy, in fact, that I have to manually lift the top threads up in order to pass the shuttle.

There’s not much of an advantage to use a loom with shafts if I can get the same experience as using a heddle bar–It’s quite slow to manually adjust the shed with every pick of the weft!

Warp threads are breaking at the back beam.

This started to happen en masse when I added more tension to lift up the saggy top shed. 😞

A Jack loom places an uneven tension on the warp threads, pulling the bottom threads much tighter. This is because the bottom threads travel further (dipping down and then up) than the top threads, which stay horizontal.

What I really want is for the top and bottom of the shed to have equal tension!

Experiment #1–Use heddle rods

The first thing I tried was ditching the shafts altogether and weaving without them, using heddle rods instead.

My aim was to fix up the uneven threads that popped up into the shed and make it possible to pull the shed open wider by manually tugging on the heddle rods.

What’s a heddle rod? In my case, it’s a water colour pencil to which I’ve attached heddles in one long continuous string.

Laverne Waddington’s tutorial for making continuous heddles is invaluable if you want to try this yourself. I suggest you check out her site, because she’s a master weaver when it comes to Backstrap Weaving (and this technique is also useful if you have a rigid heddle loom and want to weave with multiple shafts).

What did I do?

I pushed aside the existing heddles and removed the reed. This gave me a larger space to “knit” the heddle rods, and more room to pass the weft through the shed.

Once I got going with the sample I then lashed each heddle rod to the matching shaft so I could use the Jack levers “as normal”.

✔️

Observations

Using this method I could skip threading the heddles and sleying the reed, which was … quite nice.

It took me less time and was easier on my back.

I really liked being able to knit the heddles under tension, having chosen which threads to use with a pick-up stick.

The threads ended up more even (horizontally) on each shaft. This made me realise that my old heddles stretched unevenly (yup, they need replacing).

This method works only because the loom is a “Jack” loom, pulling threads always in one direction (down, in my case).

I missed using the reed (which helps maintain the width of the weaving). I struggled to maintain the appropriate width when I was weaving the sample.

Once I was weaving, things were slow. This approach still had problems with the top threads sagging into the shed, due to the mechanics of the Jack loom.

✔️

Final verdict

This worked okay, and I preferred the weaving set up phase.

However, it was slow to weave, and I still couldn’t get a clean shed due to the uneven tension (floppy on top, too tight on the bottom).

My heddles need replacing with something non-stretch, and very even, like Texsolv heddles.

6/10

Experiment #1 sample

I wove this sample without a reed. To separate the threads I used a “coil rod”, which you can see in the image below.

Starting with a sett of 28 epi

The selvedges are tablet woven, starting off with one tablet in each selvedge.

It was tricky to weave because the single tablet flopped around, and each selvedge had a different shed position to the main weaving.

I added a second tablet to each selvedge with opposite threading direction which helped a bit with the floppiness. I think I’ll go back to a standard floating selvedge for my next sample.

Sample weaving for experiment number one showing tablet-woven selvedges and variable widths of weaving.
Sample, cut off the loom

Experiment #2–Change heddle “eye” height

I figured one good way to balance the tension between the top and bottom of the shed was to raise the “resting” threads up to the “top” position in the shed.

Then when the shafts are pulled down, the shed opens out evenly into a diamond shape, placing equal tension on the top and bottom threads.

This is apparently how the David 2 Louët loom works (here’s a fantastic review by Kelly Casanova about this loom).

Retrofitting

Low–I have to replace some heddles anyway, and this doesn’t require changing anything else about how the loom works.

✔️

Scaling up

I can’t use purchased Texsolv heddles (easily) because these come centred vertically in the shaft.

This means I’ll have to make all my own heddles (groan–hundreds of them!) if I go with this approach.

Observations

This kinda worked, but kinda not.

It was a fiddle to work out a good “eye” position and get set up to create the heddles. I don’t think I nailed the measurements.

Once installed on the loom, the replacement heddles moved the top threads up by about 3/4 of an inch.

Unfortunately, when pulled down by the Jack lever, the bottom threads only dipped by 1/2 an inch.

This made the shed opening only 1.25 inches! Which is way off a comfortable opening (should be double that!)

✔️

Final verdict

I’m not so keen on this approach.

I didn’t quite get a balanced shed (top to bottom) and fussing with creating the heddles was a PITA.

I’m not convinced I could do this properly in order to get a larger shed with the shafts I have.

Making these fussy heddles by hand sounds very tedious and time-consuming.

3/10

Experiment #3–Convert to Counter-balance

A well documented way get even tension on the top and bottom of the shed is to use to a counter-balance loom action.

A counter-balance loom works by raising and lowering shafts in pairs. When one shaft rises, the paired shaft sinks.

This pulls evenly on both the top and bottom of the shed.

Bonus points for being historically the way most looms worked for the period I like to recreate!

Retrofitting

High–at minimum I’ll need to:

  • take the springs off the top of each shaft and install a roll-bar or pair of pulleys to attach adjacent shafts together
  • make it possible to change which shafts are paired up
  • unhook the bottom of every shaft from the Jack levers
  • Find a way to raise / lower the shafts the right amount to create a nice wide shed

Ideally I’d also install a top roll bar (so I can lower both shafts in a pair if I want, e.g. for plain weave). This would require some wood-working, though!

👷🏻‍♀️=⚙️

Scaling up

I can use purchased Texsolv heddles which are super easy to install.

I could even add more shafts (although making my loom into a proper 8-shaft loom would require carpentry so I could fit all the roll bars vertically stacked).

✔️

Observations

I did a dodgy retrofit of the first two shafts as a proof of concept, which was pretty successful (see my video below).

I got a lovely 2.5 inch open shed, even with the heddles I have currently installed (which appear to be about 8 inches tall).

Changing sheds was relatively quiet (although not fiddle-free) because the Jack loom springs go “Squeeeeak” with every lever pull. The counter-balance loom is quieter (check out the video to see)!

I’d like to use a full-width roll bar (rather than a pulley) because the roll bar seems cheap to fit, and solid (or, I suspect so at full width). Something like a broom handle or thick dowel will do the trick!

✔️

Final verdict

Hell yeah!

I think I can replace the jacks with light-weight alternatives so that I can operate the shafts from the side of the loom.

Or I could drill holes in the castle (the top-most beam) so I can operate the shafts with a cord flipper gadget.

I could even add more shafts (although making my loom into a proper 8-shaft loom would require carpentry so I could fit all the roll bars vertically stacked).

8/10

Experiment #3–the open and closed shed
Experiment #3–the converted shafts in action

Next steps

Well, I’ve run out of holiday. 😞

The next thing I want to do is purchase new Texsolv heddles for every shaft, and install them.

Then I’ll fit a better (read: less shonky) roll bar for the first shafts I converted, and compare the weaving experience against the remaining two shafts (which are still set up as Jack shafts).

You’ll hear more from me when I get that going!

Tree change!

Now for something completely different — we’ve moved to a rural property!

Our new place is 2 hectares (5 acres) on the edge of the Southern Highlands—south of Sydney, in the cooler hills, with a drier, more temperate climate.

And what an amazing place this is!

We have a large amount of space in which to grow a lot more of our food:

Plus a beautiful dam:

And a huge variety of wildlife:

We’ve been settling in over this last year—and what a year it has turned out to be:

  • A crippling drought had us in its grip at the end of 2019, drying up all the dam water for the first time in many years. It was heartbreaking to watch the landscape and local wildlife suffer through this.
  • Then the bushfire crisis escalated in our area just before New Year’s Eve, devastating the neighbouring town of Wingello. Thankfully, we came through unscathed.
  • In January 2020 the kids and I spent a lot of time evacuated until it was considered safe to return, whilst Stephen and our eldest came back periodically to keep the garden alive. The kids had maybe two weeks back home before starting at their new school.
  • At this point, things were looking pretty bleak!
  • Finally, at the end of January we had some rain–by early February we had so much rain that the area was flooded, and we were cut off for a week from the main Sydney road (the Hume). It was impossible to grumble about this though, we were all bemused and so relieved to have the water!
  • Then the 2020 school year launched (switching schools is always a major challenge, and exhausting). We had about four (?) weeks of school and then everything shut down due to COVID-19–and the world tumbled into a new era.
  • Our eldest brought her fledgling music teaching business to us, leaving Sydney behind to teach remotely from our bakehouse for the rest of the term.
  • I stopped going up to Sydney to work in our office, and since then, it’s been 6 months of Zoom meetings. So. Much. Zoom.

However, once the drought broke, things really started looking up!

Especially now that it is Spring, and I’ve finally taken a couple of weeks of holiday time from my job!

We’re planning to plant out the vegetable garden, establish an orchard and (soonish) add to our livestock:

  • with ducks (I’ve always wanted ducks!), and
  • goats–as pets, and maybe for milk!

I’m excited about what the next year will bring, and I hope you’ll enjoy seeing more of our new place!

Documentation for the London Hood

Just a quick note to let you know I’ve just published a rather extensive article about my London Hood recreation. 🙂

Those of you interested in medieval garments might be interested to read about:

If you find any broken links, please let me know!