Monday, August 31, 2009


The Fremont Times Indictor has a front page story on the Grant Frontier Festival. I am a featured picture (note the day was cold and rainy so while I am wearing my Tucker Sweater, it is under a rain poncho). To get to the newspaper on-line, click on the title of this post ("Newspaper" above). The link should take you to the newspaper, until it is replaced with a newer version (it's the August 26th edition that I am in).

Here is my picture as it was in the newspaper:

I have copied the article because I think they replace it each week with the newer edition.

This is what the article said:

Frontier Festival
features some
heated contests

By Ken DeLaat

The sixth annual Grant Frontier Festival featured
fun for all ages as the area around the Community
Center buzzed with activity.

In a heated horseshoe competition, Peggy Stitt of Hesperia and Pat Gustman of Fremont emerged victorious in the tournament by besting James and Rich Beckly of Muskegon in a finals match that drew a bevy of admiring spectators treated to the nearly constant clang of ringers.

The other “heated” contest involved what many consider to be the mother lode of all comfort food, chili. Tami Roeters cooked-up a victory with her delectable batch of culinary cuisine that sent taste buds soaring. She was asked to reveal the secret to winning chili.

“If I told you,” she replied, “it wouldn’t be a secret, would it?”

Melissa Brock from the Grant Parent Involvement group sold a delightful array of used children’s and youth books at one of the frontier storefronts built for the occasion and Angie Ripley of the Grant Police Department handed out safety information and children’s badge stickers, with the help of the Newaygo County Sheriff’s Posse.

Cara Stray of Oak Haven Alpacas spun yarn as strollers visited the fascinating animals corralled in back of the booth.

Duane and Lacey Bazzett of Grant took in the activities with their four children.

“I like the games the best,” said daughter Alexis. “They’re cool.”

With tractors on display, music in the air, and people milling about to join in the fun, the festival captured the welcoming small-town atmosphere for which these celebrations are known.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Grant Frontier Festival

We have a booth, along with Ashton Stone Alpacas, at the Grant Frontier Festival. This is our first booth, so it will be a learning experience, I'm sure.

Our plan is to have some alpacas there for people to see. I know many people have never seen an alpaca, so that alone should draw some attention. Jillian and I will have our spinning wheels there. I have some of Lightning's fiber ready to spin up tonight while I'm there. Jillian will do some felting demonstrations.

I have raw fiber, yarn and finished product to show the process of raw fiber from an animal all the way up to a finished product.

Here are some of the things I've put together to show off.

I will be wearing my Tucker Sweater (thankfully the weather is cool enough):

And I will have Lightning's fiber to spin up:

I have sets of fiber from individual animals to show the process, from raw fiber to yarn to a finished product. Here is an example from Maddie and from Tucker:

For yarn, I have 2 balls of Victoria's fiber and a ball of Tehya's fiber as example and for sale. The yarn from Tehya is especially nice.
This is one of the balls of Victori's yarn and a scarf made out of her yarn:

Tehya's wonderful yarn:

I have examples of a mixed ply yarn that people can order (sorry, I don't have more than a sample ready). The one that is knit up is a mix of Victoria and Maddie, brown and black ply. The other yarn is a mix of Victoria and Tehya, brown and fawn ply. The Victoria/Maddie mix doesn't show up well in the picture since the brown and black are dark, but trust me, in person it is a wonderful color combination.

For finished product we have the scarves as shown above (out of Victoria's fiber and out of Tucker's fiber). Here is a close up of Tucker's scarf:

The Fiber Process

I know I've done pictures of various stages of the fiber process, like pictures of the spinning wheel and what it looks like when the fiber is washing in the sink (soaking in a mesh bag). There are other steps to processing the fiber. I'm going to try to lay it all out here.

We start with the alpaca, who grows this wonderful fiber. Every spring we shear the alpacas to collect the fiber. We sort this fiber. The young alpacas have very soft very luxurious fiber. That is the best fiber. The older girls and the gelding have rather coarse fiber. Coarse fiber is best for felting, or making something like a rug. The softest fiber should be worn close to the body, like in a sweater or scarf. There is also a mid-grade fiber that would be great for things like slipper socks - not worn right by the body, but also not so far away as being a rug.

After sorting the fiber, the next step for me is some skirting. I hate skirting so this step I do only because I know I will have fun during a future step. Here we take out the large debris and vegetable matter (i.e. large pieces of hay), and we skirt out 2nd cuts. A second cut is when the shearer goes by a spot more than one time and there are very short fibers. Those do not spin up nice so we take them out.

For me the next step is washing it (I have heard some spinners prefer to spin it dirty then wash after it's spun. I personally wash it before spinning, but there are many different ways you can do this). Here is Victoria's fiber washing in the sink:

To wash it, I put some fiber in a mesh bag. I fill the sink with hot water and some Dawn dish soap, then put in the mesh bag of fiber. I soak for 15 minutes, then pull the bag out, drain the water. I fill the sink with hot water, no soap, and put the mesh bag in for 15 minutes, then remove bag, empty sink, and repeat one more time. During this process it is important not to agitate the mesh bag as that can cause the fiber to felt.

The next step is laying out the fiber to dry. I put the fiber on the skirting table in our basement for this step. We've found having a fan blowing under the table really speeds up the drying process. On this table is some of Kateri's fiber, and some of Tucker's fiber:

It takes about 2 days to really dry out the fiber. You don't want to put it away wet or flick it wet. It could mold if it doesn't dry out well, which would be a horrible waste of fiber. We usually check on the fiber a couple times a day to fluff it up and help the drying process.

The next step I do is to flick the fiber. More common is carding fiber, where you have 2 wire brush and pull the fiber between the two. I've found with our fresh raw alpaca fiber that a flicker is all we need. A flicker is one smaller wire brush. It's a little less work than carding. We make the raw fiber into what is called a Cloud. This is sort of like a roving, but not in a straight line, more of a puff of fiber. Here is some of Lightnings fiber in Cloud form:

Next I spin it on the wheel. Here is my wheel:

This is what the yarn looks like on the bobbin:

I don't have pictures of my niddy noddy, I actually broke it. I know, I hated the thing anyway ;) (see previous post for more on that). After it is made into a skein off the niddy noddy, then we wash the fiber. I usually only soak it for 15 minutes in hot water (again, no agitation in the sink or it will felt the yarn). I find a simple soak is plenty because I already washed it really good before spinning. It does need to get wet, as I've read that helps set the twist in the yarn.

Then the yarn is hung up as a skein to dry. Here is Sommerfield's yarn drying in our basement, hanging off the skirting table:

Lastly, I use a ball winder (sorry, I forgot to get a picture of the ball winder), to make the yarn into a ball. Here is Tehya's beautiful yarn in ball form:

After it is in a ball of yarn, it's ready for me to knit. So far I have made a sweater and started on a scarf. J has made 2 scarves:

My Tucker Sweater:

The start of a scarf out of Maddie's fiber (here you can see the stages, from raw fiber to yarn to scarf):

And one of the scarves J made:

As you can see there are multiple steps. And, the reason each picture is of a different alpaca's fiber is because these are all going on at the same time. If I did one at a time, I'd have to wait 2 days for the fiber to dry between steps. So, I'm washing one while spinning another and often J helps out with flicking another. I have containers of fiber all over my house :)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Spinning Mishaps......

Just so you all know, while I love spinning yarn, it's not all happy and wonderful. There are times I mess up and could kick myself. One big struggle I have is with the niddy noddy. A niddy noddy is a long pole with horizontal bars on each end, making it a capital "I" shape. After you ply the yarn, you wrap it on the niddy noddy to make a skein. Then you wash it, hang it dry. After it's dry you can put it in a ball. Though I'd heard it's best to wait to put it in a ball until you are about to use it. I believe the ball shape pulls the yarn, whereas the skein shape is best for long term storage. My struggle comes somewhere between using the niddy noddy and getting it into a ball. That skein that I make always ends up in a big knotted mess. It's horrible! I have literally spent entire evenings getting knots out of my "skein" so that I can put it into a ball. For the life of me, I can't make a skein that doesn't end up in a knot. I know the problem starts with putting it on the niddy noddy. I've wondered if I just made a skein off of the swift instead if that would work better. But, I think the niddy noddy is supposed to pull the yarn straight which the swift would not do. If any of you have more experience in this area and could offer suggestions I would love to hear them!

Another spinning mishap is something awful I did the other night. Oh could I kick myself over this one. I had a strand of Sommerfield's fiber on 2 bobbins, ready to ply. To back up a bit, to make yarn you spin up 1 strand at a time, take 2 (or 3) stands and ply them together to complete the yarn. I was in a great mood because in one evening I had made 2 strands of Sommerfield's fiber. I waited to the next night to ply them. I've read that it's best to wait overnight to ply to set the twist in the strands. When creating a strand, you spin the wheel clockwise to make a twist (this is a Z direction twist). Then to ply, you spin the wheel counterclockwise to ply into yarn (this creates a S direction twist). Plying does sort of loosen the twist in the strand because you are going the opposite way. This to me make sense in why you would wait overnight to ply, so that you don't twist it the opposite way right away. I can imagine a more experienced spinner would say they have plied right away and all was fine, so maybe this isn't an essential step. But, since I read this was a good idea, I try to work it out to include this rest period to set the twist.

Reading from my favorite book "Start Spinning, Everything You Need to Know to Make Great Yarn" by Maggie Casey, I see there are several good reasons to ply yarn:
* plied yarn is stronger
* plied yarn will even out inconsistencies. All home spun yarn has spots that are thinner and wider than the rest. "By plying, chances are the skinnier and fatter spots will balance themselves out in a plied yarn."
* plied yarn is easier to use than singles
* yarn is plied in the opposite direction of how it's spun "which removes some twist, balances the yarn, and allows the fiber to bloom."
* "A plied yarn has more personality." You can ply the same color together or mix colors. I've had a lot of fun mixing colors. I love my Maddie (black) and Victoria (brown) mix. Oh, or the Tehya (fawn) and Victoria (brown). This part is so fun to me!

So my adventurous plying starts, I have both bobbins ready and start the yarn on the wheel. I'm excited to see how this Sommerfield yarn is going to look! As I get going, I can't figure out why but the yarn is very twisted and almost creating hard bumpy knots. I loosen the wheel adjustments, and try to adjust the speed at whichi I treadle. Nothing is working, so I work harder and hard. I'm about 1/3 of the way through plying the yarn and I take a quick break. When I come back to the wheel, I realize my horrible mistake. While I had the yarn on the right side of the wheel to ply in an S, it was going under the bobbin, not over, and was actually a Z direction twist. I had been turning the wheel the wrong direction all along! I was over twisting my yarn, creating a very tight twist and knotted spots.

Oh the mess!

So, there I am at a crossroads. Do I continue to twist in the wrong direction and end up with an over twisted knotted yarn? I can't see much use for that kind of yarn. It was hard and bumpy. Do I scrap the whole thing? I hate to throw away such nice fiber, but where do I even start to fix this? Do I attempt to un-ply the yarn? I can't just start twisting it the other way (at least I don't think I could).

I decided to un-ply the yarn. But I had no good plan of how to untwist it. Maybe there is a suggested way to do it, I'd love to hear about it if there is! I ended up having to cut each strand at the bobbin. Then I stood on a bench and held the plied yarn up, letting it dangle and un-twist itself. This worked well until the un-plied yarn got longer and longer. In the end, I had a huge knotted mess. Several hours later (and let me add that our dog Quinn ran off with a strand at one point, so add in chasing down the dog in there), I finally had my strands back on their bobbins ready to ply. By that time it was way past my bedtime. All that work and I accomplished nothing for the day. I wish I had just not even tried to ply that night.

The next night I did ply Sommerfield's yarn and it is the most wonderful yarn! It was worth all that :)

I don't think I will ever make that mistake again. What a huge mess that created!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dark Rose Grey!?

can it be?!

I have wanted a dark rose gray since I first saw one. It is dark brown with gray hairs running through it. I have thought that they look pink with this color combination.

Well, we had Pocahontas's cria tips shorn off near the end of last week. We got out our color chart but still were not sure what color she is. She definitely has dark brown, but we couldn't tell if maybe there was some black in there making her a bay black or what. This weekend we were doing herd health and J notice gray on her tail, then we looked and could see it all over her chest and neck. We dug around in her blanket and it's there too! A dark rose gray :)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Auntie Maddie

Maddie has always been one of my favorite alpacas. She has such a nice disposition. She's never spit at me, or even seemed angry with me (unlike some others that give me nasty looks all the time). We've always known the young alpacas look up to Maddie and she acts like a aunt to them, taking them under her wing. This past week we've seen why they love her so much. Our dog, Quinn, an American Eskimo, got loose in the pasture. He's not supposed to be there, but he was. It's impossible to catch him. I tried to talk Spot (our great Pyrenees) into chasing Quinn and catching him for us, but Spot wasn't interested. So Quinn runs around like a crazy dog all over the pasture. The moms, who you would think would naturally protect their young ones, barely even look up while munching in the hay bin. Instead, Maddie, who has not yet had a baby, sees Quinn running all crazy and barking and she herds the babies into the paddock. Maddie stands between barking Quinn and all the cria! I told her I knew she was my favorite for a reason :)

We think Maddie is now pregnant, so she will have a chance to be a mom come next summer. She is going to be a great mom too.

Busy with Fiber

Fiber is what they call the fur on the alpacas. Selling the fiber and fiber products should bring in enough income to offset the cost of feeding and vet care of the alpacas for the year. Though, I have to say when we initially went to visit alpaca farms, we found many of them had bags and bags of fiber in their basement or attic. I swore I was getting into alpacas to do something with the fiber. I had envisioned having yarn made at a mill, then I would knit product. After seeing someone hand spin, I decided I wanted to give that a try too. I love it! Knitting is great too :)

So, now comes the hard part of marketing our product. Well, not hard, but not my personal favorite thing to do. I'm more a behind the scenes person. I love spinning the fiber and knitting things. I'm not so fond of washing fiber and flicking (sort of like carding) the fiber, and promoting it. But it's all part of the process.

To start, I put fiber lots on our Alpaca Nation page. I didn't expect that to draw in a lot of people since many farms have fiber up for sale. Plus, most people on Alpaca Nation have their own alpacas. But, it got me to sort our fiber and start the process of selling it. I also set up my Etsy store. I am excited about getting that up and running. A dear friend of mine, Eliz, bought the first lot of fiber from us. She wants to try dying and felting. She bought some of our coarse fiber for this project. I am anxious to hear how her projects work out!

We will have a booth at Grant's Frontier Festival in mid-August. They will allow us to have some alpacas there, so we are planning to take Shelby, Tehya and Brooklyn. Ashton Stone Alpacas will be there too. I think Jillian and I will spin some yarn and see who stops by the booth. I won't have a lot of product ready by then, but I will have raw fiber available, and I will have samples of yarn and products (scarves) for people to see. We will have order forms since I don't have product ready for purchase. I am also looking into getting a booth at a fiber fair in White Cloud for Labor Day weekend. I likely will only have raw fiber for them too.

I have been very busy getting samples of product put together. I washed a sample of Maddie's fiber, Tehya's fiber and Victoria's fiber, and have that spun into a sample of yarn. Maddie's I started to knit into a scarf to show what it will look like in a finished product. I have to say Tehya's was the most fun to spin! She has variation of color (beige to light fawn to medium fawn). The yarn is so soft because it's her first fleece, and the color is heathered that looks so neat. I still need to get a sample of Sommerfield's spun up (it's washed but not spun). For fun, I mixed up some yarn, for example, I had a bit of Victoria's spun up but only 1 strand, so I plied it with a strand of Maddie's fiber. The mix of brown and black is really neat. I knit up a sample of what that will look like in a product. I also did a mix of Victoria (brown) and Tehya (heathered fawn). That one is so pretty too.

This has been what has been keeping me busy lately. It's all about fiber :)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


I'd love some feedback on the Etsy account I just set up:

Other than raw fiber, I only have 1 ball of handspun yarn ready for sale. I'm working on more things! But I thought it would be good to get this account up and going.
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