Wednesday, April 25, 2012

An Alpaca Adventure

Yesterday I packed the boys in the car and we went to visit Leslie at A to Z Alpacas. (Her website is It was a gorgeous day for a drive- not too sunny and not windy or raining either. (When does this happen? It was perfect!) We saw many old farmhouses and leaning barns along the way, as well as plenty of horses, cows, and even a flock of sheep. Keeping an eye out for them kept the boys busy!

We headed into a part of Alberta I have really only seen from the highway, and I was glad to go and explore. I love the way the landscape rolls and opens up at the top of every hill; shelves of cloud reveal every shade of white, gray and blue as they rise above the horizon and then fall behind. I regret that I could not take a picture of it; even if I had stopped, there is no way a simple camera could capture what the prairies are.

When we arrived at the farm, we were greeted by the sight of dozens of sheared alpacas grazing on the south pastures.


sheared female alpacas

I found out later these were all the females, as they begin shearing them the first in the spring. Leslie had invited us for lunch, and after we ate, we went out into the pasture to look at the alpacas closer. We visited the females first, to check if any of them were in labor. I was kind of hoping, but none of them were, so we went to see the little cria who was born two days ago.

cria & momma

He was so cute! And quick. Leslie tried to catch him for us to see, but he was too fast.

cria & momma

Curious, but wary.

We saw an older cria, who was a surprise birth last winter.

surprise baby

We went down towards the yearlings to find Alley and Zaiden, who were bottle-fed and tame. They actually come when you call them!

Calling all alpacas!

Here come the alpacas!

Here come the alpacas!

Benny met Zaiden:

Is he gonna kiss me?

Nope! Too close!

Woah! Too Close!

Ian made friends with them quicker (I guess being taller than them does help!)


Benny was a little worried, but petted Zaiden a little:

Okay with this now.

And then they became best buddies!

Heck we're best buddies!

The alpacas were all quite curious about us and came to see us when we showed up, although only Alley and Zaiden let us pet them.

Alley and Zaiden


Zaiden, the one facing the front, has such a funny grin! He looks like an amiable boy- which he is.


After we were finished seeing the yearlings, we stopped by the chicken coop. I have an affection for chickens (probably because I have never had to clean up after them) and find them beautiful.

White chicken


We even found some eggs!

We found eggs!

They were also colourful.

Look at all the colors!

I can't wait to eat them!

Benny! No! Those came straight from the chicken's butt!

All the female alpacas had been sheared, and they were beginning on the males. They do the yearlings last. We got to see this male get sheared:

Do you have to shear me?

He was pretty reluctant.

They blow the alpacas first to remove a lot of the dust and any vegetation:

Blowing the alpaca

Then they are tethered for shearing. This is done so the alpaca and the shearer don't get cut during the process.

Shearing the alpaca

The fleece is graded as it is taken off. The desireable blanket cut, which has the best fiber and the least guard hairs, is kept in one pile, and the second and third cuts piled separately. Leslie also goes through the fleece and removes any second cuts in it by hand. They are picky about which fleeces they sell to spinners.

After the shearing, Leslie brought several bags of fleece inside for me to look at. I really was amazed at how clean they were. They really put a lot of effort into getting the bulk of the dust out of the fleece. I was able to pull out my spindle and test spin some right there. We had a good chat about crimp, staple length, and what spinners are looking for in a fiber. I am no expert in that, but I was impressed by the quality and selection of these fleeces. And they're clean!

This is the one I chose:

My fleece

It's a nice, bright white, crimpy, with a shorter staple. I'm planning to blend it with some of the other luxury fibers I have, so I was looking for a shorter fleece. It has some longer parts too, but with the fleece starting out this clean it's going to be no problem separating out what I want.

All in all, it was a great day, and lots of fun. The boys just had a blast, and I can't wait until we can make another trip out there. It was well worth the drive.

sheared females

Goodbye, Alpacas!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Lace and Flowers

I am so excited! Tomorrow I will be visiting Leslie at A to Z Alpacas with the boys. I can't wait to see the shearing and there is one cria. I'll be sure to bring my camera and blog about it! In preparation for our day trip, I made a couple of pans of blueberry muffins:


Yummy! And yes, we already dove into them while they are still warm and have perfect, crunchy tops. I like to add lemon juice and zest to flavor them, but I'm out of lemons at the moment, so I added cardamom instead, and they are really good.

I started knitting the cabled four-ply into a nice lace pattern:

lace swatch

It's a sort of modified fishtail lace. I decided to add the garter stitch welts which flow in the opposite direction from the eyelets. I think I'll have to chart this out and write some instructions for a scarf or neckwarmer! I like the 4-ply, but I think I'll stick with the 3-ply. I have dyed up gobs of the fleece (I haven't actually weighed how much, but I think I must have a pound by now) and I am deciding whether to make a blanket or the Petal Cardigan from Knitty, or maybe something else entirely. If I do the cardigan it will mean more swatching, though, because even with all the swatches I've done, I haven't done simple stockinette!

I realized I was going to need a lot more spindles for this project, and really light ones too. I wondered if it would be not that hard to actually make my own spindles, so I got some dowels and toy wheels. First I tried out a top whorl with a hook. It ended up terribly unbalanced and I hated it. I decided the problem was poor hook placement, and that I don't have the patience or whatever to deal with trying to find the precise center of a dowel, so I tried a low-whorl with a groove. It worked almost perfectly! So well that I have made 2 more, just adjusting the placement of the groove so the new ones hardly wobble at all.


This is great, because I have an awful lot of fleece to spin, and quite a few more dowels and wheels. This way I don't have to try to make plying balls, and I can put off my decision about how many plies I need for a while. Also, my top whorls are free to spin other things, though most of my spindles are dressed up in something...

spindle collection

Just a couple of the wobbly ones are empty. They're better for heavier singles, which force them to behave themselves and stop throwing themselves on the floor. I call them spindle tantrums... it can't have anything to do with how I spin...

I have more rovings to dye up. This batch will have BFL, Corriedale, BFL/silk, Merino/bamboo, and a little Wensleydale. I also have some soysilk to dye up, and I'm going to try out some milk fiber as well. There should be a lot done by the end of the week!

Spring is surely on its way, with all kinds of fresh green things popping up everywhere! It was gloriously warm- I think we topped out at 25C, which encouraged all things green, so I took my camera outside and captured what I could.

May Day Tree

Our May Day tree


A crocus coming up in our north-facing front yard


Yet more crocuses in our flowerbed


A daylily is starting to grow (this is about an inch high)


More daffodils on the verge of opening

Yellow Trumpets Blowing

And some yellow trumpets blowing.

Hurray for spring!

Friday, April 20, 2012


Look who's poking up cheery little faces!

First crocuses!

I saw them coming, but didn't realize how close they were to blooming.

first crocus!

It is so lovely to see that sometimes, hard work pays off. I did so much digging and planting last year. I think not everything I planted last fall has survived, thanks to the rabbits...

first crocus!

but these did!

My other surprise this week was not a good one. I got to the heel on these socks:


and discovered that, due to a gauge issue, they are a full inch longer than they're supposed to be. Annie at the Loop suggested that rather than frog them down past the heel, I cut off the toe and an inch of the colorwork. Unfortunately getting the stitches picked up in colorwork is proving to be a huge challenge, so I'm not sure what I'm going to do after the tears dry up.

I decided that the CxSR fleece would be perfect dyed pink and spun in a 3 ply. It sounds like a much better project right now than those darned socks.

Dyed fleece

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Dyeing and Spinning

Last week was a whirlwind of dyeing fibers for the launch of Feathered Fish Fibers at Make One on Saturday, which was a great success. To give you an idea of it, I took this picture:

 A rainbow of wool! And that wasn't all, there was stuff still drying when I took this. I dyed up shetland, argentinian wool, corriedale, alpaca, superwash/nylon, finn, and polwarth. One of my favorite forays into dyeing was this:
Sock Spinner's Set
A deep, dark, and mysterious blend of colors I called "Grindylow" as it reminded me of those magical creatures lurking in the depths. I also dyed one with a rainbow of colors under the black I called "Dark Prism", although I didn't get a picture of it before I ran out the door with it. (I didn't even get it braided before I brought it so I did a little last-minute braiding there!) Those were on the wool/nylon blend for socks, and I'm getting geared up to do more of those.

The CSR fleece sampling is going well. I took a picture of my lace swatch of the three ply:
sample swatch

I don't like it as much as the 2 ply, but it's growing on me. I decided to carry on and try a cabled 4-ply, so I spun up some more singles and made some 2-plies with lots of twist:

Ready for plying

I got out my plying spindle*, ready to- woah, wait a minute.

Fabled Fish BFL

not ready to ply. Full of some BFL I dyed up but ended up slightly compacted and felted in spots, so I sacrificed (ha!) and started spinning it myself. So, ok, I wound that off and then started plying.

The finished yarn:

Cabled 4 ply

136 yards, and 45 grams, and 14 WPI. It is somewhere in the region of sport/DK. I am pondering what to knit with it, realizing that I have enough for a pair of fingerless gloves. However, I don't want white ones, so I will probably dye this up before knitting it.

I was thinking I might try a 5-ply too, but honestly I don't think I need to. I know I like the 2 and 3 ply yarn; the only drawback is that I was thinking of spinning a worsted weight yarn, so I'd have to adjust my drafting, which isn't easy.

Oh, and speaking of fingerless gloves, I have another pattern in the boiler. I realized it has been a while since I published one, so I've been pondering what to publish next. These are some mitts I knit quite some time ago, but I lost my pattern notes. I found them yesterday (yay!) so I'll knit up another pair and type it all out.

Here is a picture of them:

Moorish Lattice Mittens

Click here for my Ravelry project page and more pictures.
This was a handspun, so the lattice stitch pattern gets a bit lost, but I'll take a better picture when I've knitted them again. They require about 50 grams of sock yarn. What do you think, are you interested?

*This spindle is not really a "plying" spindle, I call it that because it has a nice long shaft and can hold more yarn than my other ones.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Look! Look! Look!


And there isn't even any snow in the forecast! The tulips are coming up, and more daffodils! I found crocus spikes poking out of the mulch in the front garden! And little whorls of leaves in the very tiny middle of my perennials! AND, to top it all off, I actually had to do some WEEDING. I have never been so happy to see a weed in my life. (Granted, they were weeds I had neglected to pull last fall. See how my laziness was rewarded? I would stop being so lazy if there were never any benefits to it, but there are many, I'm afraid.)

Couldn't resist sharing this... now back to the dyeing and spinning.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

When A Spinner Disappears... means she has met someone. Some sheep, that is. To be more specific, the fleece of a sheep. A lovely, soft, crimpy fleece with little grease or VM and a short staple for carding. The sheep is a Corriedale x Shetland Rambouillet ewe, and I am absolutely in love with her fiber.
Here it is raw:

Fleece (unwashed)

And washed:

Fleece (washed)

Spindle shot:

Spinning the fleece

I'm a fickle spinner. The main reason I'm using my spindles is because my wheel bobbins are full of some california red fleece, which will be a 3 ply, and a white merino/silk blend which I am planning to keep as singles and make into a shawl... either Maplewing or something from Knitted Lace of Estonia by Nancy Bush- if I can face nupps.

I am spinning the singles quite thin, with a short draw as there are some neps which I am picking out here and there. I am trying out a variety of plying methods. This is a sample of my 2-ply:


It came to about 105 yards and 18 grams. I knit it into a very pretty lace sample:

Lace from handspun

The edges are wonky because I was too lazy to get out my blocking wires for such a little sample. Avi likes it so much and wants it to be used as a doily, so I guess I'll have to get out my steamer to fix the edges!
I used 3.5mm needles, which seemed just about the right balance of laciness and stitch definition.

Close up:

Lace detail

Do you see the owl? So cute! I am pretty sure I will use this stitch pattern for a shawl, if I can settle on an edging.

I finished the three ply and I'm knitting it up now, but I don't like it as much. I'm doing some lace and cables, but I think it will be best for colorwork, actually. I'm going to be doing a lot of dyeing this week so I'm going to throw some of this stuff in the pot when I'm done another hank. I'm pretty sure it's going to take dye beautifully. I've started spinning for a cabled 4-ply, which is the yarn I think I'm aiming for, for a sweater. However, the yarn might surprise me... and I love surprises!

This particular fleece came from Wooly Wool of the West. She was very helpful and patient with all my questions and I love the fleeces I get from her.