Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fiber Fiesta Alpaca Fleece Event

Tomorrow, September 30, 2010, is the deadline for entry into the Fiber Fiesta Alpaca Fleece Event. Packages must be post marked by September 30th - there is still time!

We already mailed in our entries. We entered two males, Sancha's White Lightning and SA Peruvian Greyt Exxpectations into the 2 oz fleece competition. And, I entered 2 of my hand spun skeins.

This is a neat way to earn a few ribbons, get some feedback on our animal's fleece (and my spinning), without having to leave home or spend a lot of money.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Smart Ones

I've found that alpacas are a lot like people. They each have their own personality, and some appear to be smarter than others.

Up until recently I was convinced that our smartest alpaca is Kateri. It's not that others are dumb, but, for example, I've found Victoria could care less what I want. Victoria is the leader of our older girls herd. But she is either oblivious to many things, or doesn't care. Maybe if you are the leader, you don't have to care what the humans want. Kateri is the nervous Nelly of the group. She's quick to sense a problem. She also seems to know what I am saying to her, or is able to pick up what I want. For example, there are times I want some of the alpacas in the paddock, and some out of the paddock. Victoria wanders where ever she wants and seems to ignore any request or action I make (when we want alpacas in a certain spot, we herd them there, this sometimes means waving our arms to get them to move to where we want them). Kateri has always been good about going where I want her to. And, I have literally seen Kateri shove another alpaca to move them where I was trying to get them. I swear Kateri has a strong sense of what is going on, she's very intuitive.

Recently I've added Snickers to the smart alpaca list. Snickers is one of our thin girls so she eats grain in a separate area with her cria, Rose. Snickers knows where she is supposed to go, to get her into this separate area. For awhile we were separating Rose from Snickers. We would do this after they ate their grain. Snickers would be herded into the old girls pasture, Rose into the maiden girl's pasture. By the second day of trying this, Rose began to balk. Of course she didn't want to be separated from her mom. Snickers is an older experienced mom and appeared to understand it was time to begin weaning. Snickers would walk over to the maiden girls' gate, and push Rose at it. Then I could get Rose in there. Then Snickers would walk over to the gate to the older girl's pasture (with no herding from me) and stand there until I let her in. She knew exactly what I wanted!!

I appreciate the smart ones. They are the ones that not only get themselves where I want them, but also help move the others, the ones who seem oblivious to my desires.

My son has a theory on why some animals know what humans are saying. His idea is that this happens when the animal was a human in a past life. His theory is that some of their comprehension carries over from their past life. He thinks this is grounds to prove reincarnation. I'm not saying I personally believe in reincarnation, but at our house we often will consider the "what if's." I encourage my kids to wonder, to explore their curiosity. Zack has a lot of theories, many of which resemble the thought process of an 8 year old boy :) (since he is an 8 year old boy). This particular theory has more merit than many of them. Life is never dull with Zack around.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

color check

On Friday I planned my day so that I could volunteer as a color check, later in the day, at the Michigan International Alpaca Fest. I already had to do a home visit on that side of the state for work, so I arranged to do that early on Friday afternoon. No sense making that trip more than once in a few weeks time. From the home visit, it was only a short jog on the highway to Flint, Michigan.

First I want to say that I know there is a lot of work that goes into planning an alpaca show. And, since I'm not volunteering to run one, I don't want to be too critical. There must be reasons for why they do what they do. I did wonder, why do they host the show in Flint, Michigan? That would not be the ideal location to me (to put it in perspective, there is bullet proof glass around the check in desk at the closest hotel, I know because that is where we stayed last year). I wonder what people from out of state think about our state, basing it on their arrival in Flint. On the positive, the arena appears well maintained, is nice, and does have security around. And, even in the hotel, I never once felt I was in danger. My other question would be, why do they schedule the show for the same weekend as National Alpaca Farm Days? Shouldn't we be advocating for alpaca farmers to be home, having an open farm on this weekend? We've been to quite a few shows, and the venue here is not one I'd advocate for. The arena is fine, but the location in the town is odd. Though I will give them a lot of credit for getting the word out to the community. I know we have always had a lot of foot traffic at this show, more so than most shows we've attended. This is one of the only shows we've heard about on the radio when we drive into the show.

As for being a color check, I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew I'd get my hands on a lot of animals. I was excited about what incredible fiber I would see. People have told me I'd learn a lot.

To color check, you need to open up each alpaca's fiber, and match it to the color on the color chart:

It sounds easy enough, but sometimes it's tricky. Some animals come in a color between two shades on the chart. Sometimes an alpaca owner has a strong opinion on what color their animal is, other times they want to ask you all sorts of questions (like what qualifies an animal as pinto and so forth). Rules are that the color has to be checked right next to the skin. Sometimes this is a different shade than what is further out. Also, any disagreement in color can be taken over to the judges for final decision. I don't care to argue (or even begin a debate) so if anyone questioned what I came up with as the color, I encouraged them to take it to the judge. In the end the judge is the one who determines if they are in the right class anyway. I think we had a good system going where at least two of us doing color check would look at the color and come to a consensus on it.

Maybe I had too high of expectations of what great fiber I'd see, because I didn't feel like I saw anything new or informative. We have a variety of fiber quality on our farm. We have some alpacas who didn't place in a show, and others who have won first place. Most of the fiber I saw there was right in line with what we have on our farm. I should have known that's what I'd see. We show, we could have come to this show (last year we did and came home with two 1st place girls). There were some I color checked that I feel we have better. There were a couple who were incredible, I would have loved to have taken home to add to our breeding program. I do feel like we are already working on producing that level here. I guess I did have too high of expectations. I mean, we have been to a lot of shows. We do walk around and look at a lot of animals while at the shows. We certainly seek out the color champions. I have had my hands on a lot of animals. I think if I were just beginning (had done color check 3 years ago), I would have felt like I learned something doing it. I did learn something about myself. That is that I am much more discerning about what animals I want. In the past I'd see an animal from a distance and make a judgement based on how they looked (isn't it cute!). Now, I want to dig in their fiber, see their crimp, bundling and feel their handle. It's so important to touch them and discover how they feel. We are to the point we are looking for specific fiber traits to add to our herd to take us to the next level. Three years ago I would not have noticed the big differences between animal's fiber, which today are so important to me.

Not to say I know or have seen it all. Things change so fast in this industry, you really have to stay on top of it. We've observed this especially with the grey alpacas. If you aren't making huge leaps each year in quality, you'll be left behind. Three years ago a grey could do well in the show ring just being grey. Then greys starting having crimp, now they not only have crimp, but are fine with less guard hair and so forth. It has changed incredibly fast in a very short time. Every generation needs to be built upon for the next generation in order to improve the fiber quality.

I certainly will continue to seek out animals at shows. I will make an effort to see and feel the color champions. I will continue to learn about fiber and improve upon our herd's fiber traits. While I'm happy to feel like we have done a great job in learning about fiber, I don't want to stop learning. There is always something to learn and improve upon.

Friday, September 24, 2010

MIAF ~ Michigan International Alpaca Fest

This weekend, Saturday and Sunday, is the Michigan International Alpacafest, MIAF. It is being held in Flint, Michigan, at the Perani Arena & Event Center. This is about a 2.5 hour drive from my farm.

We have chosen not to show any animals at this show this year. This is the first time in 3 years we have made this decision. It came down to the fact we only budget to be able to attend one fall show, and really want to show Rose. An alpaca has to be 6 months old in order to be old enough to show (who would want to take a young cria away from their mom anyway). Rose was born in late April, so she will be 6 months old in late October. This means she could show in November. We looked over the AOBA show schedule and found Alpacafest in Ohio in early November. We have never attended that show before (last year we opted to got to MIAF instead, being closer it was less expensive for us to attend, and November can sometimes mean bad weather). This year we decided to risk the chance of bad (ie snow) weather. We also decided to only take 3 of our animals to this show to cut back on cost. I'll blog more about this show when the time comes for it.

MIAF has a deeper meaning to us. In 2007, we met up with a farm, South Haven Alpacas, at MIAF. We had been in talks with them since the summertime, working out buying some of their alpacas. In September of 2007, at MIAF, we gave them the down payment for our 2 wonderful foundation girls: Hana's Victoria, and Kateri. Both of these girls were bred to Goldsmith. We could not have asked for a better start to our herd. Both Victoria and Kateri delivered Goldsmith daughters on July 11, 2008. We often referred to them as twins (they did after all have the same sire). Victoria's cria, Shelby, has moved onto another farm. She is incredible, an alpaca that people would see across the room and have to come and look at. I expect in the future we will run into her offspring in the ring. Tehya is Kateri's 2008 cria, and she is also incredible. We are expecting a 2011 cria out of Tehya! Our baby is going to have a baby. I could brag up Victoria and Kateri all day if you let me. Victoria has the typie look that we love so much. She has a compact body, incredible full top knot, and fuzzy face. She possess nice fineness and density in her fiber. These wonderful traits she passes onto her cria. Every one of Kateri's offspring has won 1st place, and 2 of the 3 claim a color banner! We could not ask for a better production female.

This year I will be at MIAF, but only on Friday evening. I have volunteered my time as a Color Check. This is the person who verifies the alpacas' color to make sure they are placed in the correct class for judging on Saturday and Sunday. I have never done color check before. I'm sure I'll have lots to say about it after this new experience.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Alpaca Beans

Alpaca bean are the most wonderful fertilizer. We use it on all our flower beds and garden. They can even be used fresh without harm to the plants, they don't burn like manure from other animals can. They also don't have near the terrible odor that most manure has. Especially the ones that have had time to compost, those have no odor.

I know many of my readers have their own alpaca farm or live far away, but if there is anyone nearby who would like some alpaca beans for their garden or flower bed, we have tons to give away. I know some farms sell their beans, and if I had more motivation I would market them for sale. They are valuable. However, I don't have the motivation to do that. So instead, I'm offering them free to whomever would like them. Maybe in the future I will work out selling them, but at least for this year, they are free to whomever wants to come and get them and load them up. We have plenty for several people. Take as much or as little as you need.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sound the alarm

Three times last night, and at least another two nights in the past week I have woken up to the sound of the alpaca warning alarm. Alpacas make a strange shrill sound when they feel they are in danger. The kids and I have practiced making this sound ourselves but we can't get it down. I need to get out my camera and put it on video one night when they are doing this so you can hear it. It's like nothing else I can describe. The first time I heard it, I thought it was a strange bird making the sound, it took me a bit to figure out it was an alpaca making the sound. It's nothing like their usual hum or grunts.

Our farm is guarded by our loyal guardian dog, Spot. Spot is a Great Pyrenesse, a typical dog used for guarding herds of animals. He isn't a herding dog, or even the usual house guard, a guardian dog is unique. Their work hours are nights. They stay awake all night and bark at anything. This means if I step outside after dark, Spot will bark at me. All I have to do is announce to Spot "it's me" and he knows my voice and will stop barking. But I know, even if I step out into the garage to bring some trash out, if it's after dark Spot will bark. Before dark he just grins at me. On our farm we are used to Spot barking periodically throughout the night. We live deep in the woods, there are deer, opposum, racoons, squirels and so forth out there. Years before we had our alpacas there was a bear on our property (I think that was about 7 years ago). Spot's job is to bark and usually that is enough to make whatever animal out there decide to walk (or run) away. The biggest threat to alpacas is loose dogs. Insurance companies are quick to say that most claims are due to neighbor dogs that got loose and hurt an alpaca. Spot would deter any loose dog from coming near our alpacas.

In addition to Spot, the alpacas have their own way to protect themselves. When visiting an alpaca farm some puppies got loose into the pasture and those moms tried to stomp them to death (thankfully the puppies were fast, but it was close). Those moms mean business.

I have found a dead opposum and a dead mole in our pasture. I'm quite sure it was Spot that killeld them, but it could have been one of the moms stomping it to death.

If the alpacas sense danger, they will sound their shrill alpaca warning call. This not only warns the herd that there is danger, but warns the intruder to leave. It seems like there is always the same alpaca making this sound. Up by the boys, our gelding Snowstorm is the one who does it. Back here by the girls, Snickers will do it. Snickers will even sound the alarm when I come back from a walk in the woods with our house dog Quinn. She is quick to sound the alarm. I find one will sound the alarm, the others will all look in the same direction, right at the threat. I can always tell where the intruder is, because they all stare at it.

I don't know what has been out by the pasture lately that has caused the alarm. It could be as simple as some deer that are walking by. We did have a doe who had twins a couple years ago. They reside in our neighbor's yarn, but often pass through our land. It also could be a dog who has lost it's way. I haven't been able to see what is out there. Whatever it is, it is in the woods behind the pasture. I can't see past the pasture to know. I hope whatever it is leaves soon because waking up three times in a panick wondering what might be hurting my girls was enough to really ruin a night's sleep.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fiber, fiber everywhere

Sometimes I think I'm a bit ADD. I have various stages of fiber all over our house. There are bins of fiber in my living room (this is my fiber nook, I sit on the couch and flick fiber, then spin it into yarn):

There is a skein of freshly washed yarn hanging over my patio (doesn't everyone have skeins of yarn hanging off a basketball hoop?):

That skein had a little mishap. When I was winding it onto the swift to make the skein, it fell off. It was horrible. I rescued it the best I could without having to completely start over (I had fears there would be horrible knots). But I predict it will be horrible to put into a ball when that stage comes. Not everything works how I plan or hope it will go. Along with fiber everywhere, there are emergencies that you need to deal with along the way, and handle the best you can at the time.

This weekend I also made a fresh ball of yarn (out of that contract yarn that J plyed and washed last week):

I have a strand of fiber in process to yarn on my spinning wheel:

Fiber is also in bags all over our fiber room in our basement (along with whatever happens to be on the skirting table at this time). I may be a bit ADD (it does run in my family). But I think the fiber mania is what happens to most fiber enthusiasts. If you take fiber from raw form into a balled yarn, it takes time. Some steps require waiting, so while I'm waiting for that step, I work on another fiber batch in another stage of the process. For example, while one skein is in yarn form, already washed but hanging dry, there is nothing else I can do until it dries. So I start flicking up a new batch of fiber, getting it ready to spin into a strand of yarn.

I spun yarn this weekend, not only to mark Spin in Public Day, I've been spinning yarn every weekend in an effort to increase my yarn production. So far, I've kept up spinning at least a skein a weekend (with 2 skeins over Labor Day weekend). This weekend was a bit more difficult in that I seemed to get caught up in various different activities with the kids. That needs to happen too. So I'm not upset to not have completed the entire skein this weekend. I know it can be completed throughout the week. And while I love making yarn, my kids are of a higher priority

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Teaching is one of those skills that I do not possess. My husband was a teacher for several years, and I am often amazed at how he can give instructions to people. I struggle. I can educate, provide information, give stats, tell my own experience, but teaching, no. My poor 8 year old still hasn't learned to ride a bike. He frequently asks, "when will you teach me how to ride my bike?" I finally had to tell him that I have tried everything I know how in order to help him ride his bike and nothing has worked. I then explain that while he thinks I am the best mom ever, I have my faults. When the other kids ride bikes around the drive, he runs along. Poor kid! Emma somehow learned to ride her bike, but I think it was her own determination, not me. Now Emma is asking to learn to spin yarn. I just know that my teaching her is a bad idea. She doesn't take instruction well, and I don't instruct well. If only they taught spinning in school! I've heard of schools that teach knitting (another thing she'd like to learn). I managed to teach J to knit, but that was only because he loves me and is a easy student and really taught himself more than I taught him.

What I decided to try, is to start Emma out plying. Plying is a lot easier than spinning strands of yarn, but uses many of the same actions. Last weekend I spun up two strands of yarn. All week we tried to find some time to sit down together so I could show her plying, but it took until today for us to be able to do that. The idea was that I would help Emma. (If you know Emma, then you know my *helping* is a laugh in itself. She is extremely independent, never asks for help, and wants to do everything herself. I've learned that it's best to let her be, unless it's a safety risk. I very carefully pick my battles with her, saving the fight for the really really important things). For this plying, I started it out, then I let her push the pedal, while I held the strands. We plyed most of it together.

She decided that I was right after all, this is harder than she realized (which was very hard for her to admit):

She did pedal the wheel for most of the plying. It was a struggle, and she had to restart the wheel several times. She never did advance to taking over the hand part of it (other than for a moment when I took that picture). But she kept working hard at pedalling. Pedalling requires a rhythmic action. If you pedal too fast, you can't keep up with your hands. If you pedal too slow the wheel will stop and start going the other way, tangling the yarn all up.

I do think a double treadle spinning wheel would be easier for her. J has already suggested that he'd prefer a double treadle. I prefer the single (I tried both when I was looking to purchase). If we have the chance, I'd love to be able to purchase an Ashford Kiwi for the two of them. I think J and Emma would love that. The Kiwi is a very nice beginner wheel. It was on my top 3 list when I bought mine (I have Louet). My concern was that I would outgrow the Kiwi and want something else after a year or so. Now that I've been spinning for almost 2 years, I'm less concerned about outgrowing a wheel. I wish they didn't call it a "beginner wheel" that actually turned me off it. Any wheel can be used indefinitely. When I purchased my Louet, I wasn't considering that J or Emma would want to spin yarn too.

Spin in Public Day

I wish I could brag about something great I have planned for Nation Spin in Public Day:

I'll be honest and say that the day crept up on me. I do spin, and I know I will be spinning on this day. I'll just be doing it in my own house. This weekend J is away on a golf trip, which means I have full child and farm duties. It's no fun to drag the kids out somewhere to spin yarn. They are active kids and that would not hold their interest long. Instead, I will spin at home, and publicly blog about it with pictures. Stay tuned for further spinning updates.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cria Kisses

One of my favorite things out in the pasture is having a cria come up and kiss on us. Rose is one who will often do this. She clucks at us, just like moms do to their babies, and she will breathe her warm breath on us.

Here is Rose coming up to Emma:

Here Rose wanted to smile for the camera:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fuel for the soul

I don't know if I've ever mentioned before what my other job is. In addition to alpaca farmer, wife, mother and all jack-of-all trades, I also am a social worker. I've worked in several different position, but for the last 10 years I've been in child welfare (it sure does date me to acknowledge my career in social work is longer than 10 years, but on the other hand, I've already admitted I have a 10 year old daughter, and no, I wasn't a teen mom :) ). For the last couple of years I've been an adoption worker. I know most people think of newborn adoption, or children from other countries. I do a different sort of adoption. I work with older children who's parental rights have been terminated. These are children who had to be removed from their birth parents, and for a variety of reasons the parents were not able to regain custody of them. Their stories are as unique as each of them are. And as you can imagine, there are days I come home from work drained.

I won't get overly religious on you, but I do think that's part of what motivates me to do this job. One time at a training I heard someone compare being a social worker in child welfare to meeting God's request of "feed my lambs." I don't think God meant for everyone to have sheep farms. God was talking about his herd, his family, his children. Sometimes feeding God's people is hard and draining. The world is complex.

I think the only way someone can stay in a job in the helping field is to have a genuine belief in what they are doing has a purpose, having a strong support system, and having a way to rejuvenate, a way to refuel their soul.

Alpacas do this for me. After a long day at work, I rush home to the barn. (I know I should rush home to my kids and family, and I do desire to see them. But I've found my kids need to unwind when they first get home, by playing outside or something like that. I spend time with them after we all eat dinner together).

On the really stressful days I do what I refer to as "poop therapy".

This is where I scoop up poop with vigor and drive. The more stressful the day, the harder I scoop. It's a time I'm alone in my thoughts. The combination of the fresh air and the exercise lifts my spirits. The hum of the alpacas, the calmness of them, brings me back to the world in a positive way.

Alpacas (like sheep or lambs) are actually easy to feed. They enjoy their hay, and look to me for their next meal. I see them there and think "feed my alpacas." They are so easy, and rewarding, to care for. I give them hay, they give me a calmness, tranquility, a piece of mind that I can't find elsewhere.

Seeing the newest cria roam and eat and play, how could one not feel blessed:

I swear some of them smile at me:

Saturday, September 11, 2010


It's hard on a day like today, September 11th, not to think about life. My blog notes life in it's title, and in the web address. I knew when we started a farm that life, and death, would be part of this adventure.

This past week my in-laws dog passed away. It's sad on so many levels. She was only a year old. The vet couldn't figure out what was wrong. When she wasn't getting better, my in-laws took her to another vet to get second opinion. He diagnosed appropriately and treated her, but the damage was done. She had giardia, and swallowed an acorn that caused a bowl obstruction. Had these things been treated right from the start, she would have had a chance. Things like this are so unfair. Death is not new, not even to my kids. But it's never easy.

Tonight I gave our dog Dottie a bath and was astonished at how frail Dottie has gotten. Dottie has always been our rough tomboy. I used to end up giving her a bath regularly because she'd roll in something nasty that she found outside. It hit me tonight that I haven't had to do that in over a year (I've given her a few baths this year, but always because I decided I should). She's not the same Dottie we knew. Dottie used to run wild, roll in nasty stuff, and come flying home ready to bounce on us. She was a lot like Tigger, in the Winnie the Pooh series. Now Dottie mopes around the house, struggles to walk down the steps to the back yard, and snarls at anyone and anything but the immediate family. She can't see much more than shadows. She barks incessantly at times. While giving her a bath, she felt so frail to me. Dottie has always been a thin dog. She ran so much she never kept any weight on. But she's a different sort of thin now, a frail, old thin. Giving her a bath was like bathing a newborn baby. She didn't fight, she didn't play, she never shook and got me covered in wet dog water. She's not the same happy fun loving Dottie she used to be. She couldn't even get out of the tub on her own. This dog who used to jump out if I turned my back, now couldn't do it at all. I had to lift her out. She cried. I cried. I realized before me stood an old frail unhappy dog, who is in a lot of pain.

Dottie was hit by a car in the spring of 2000. Emma was a baby, we hadn't been married long, but J was determined to save Dottie. Major $$ in vet bills later, Dottie came home. And she gave us 10 more wonderful years. It was worth every penny to have her with us.

I would have gotten a picture of Dottie for this post, but she's mad at me over giving her a bath. She crawled under the bed, her den, and won't look at me. Here are some pictures I found that were taken within the last year:

Dottie has been the best family dog. We often say that no matter how great any future dog is, they will never measure up to Dottie. Quinn, our two year old American Eskimo is a good dog, but he's no Dottie. Here is Quinn:

In addition to our two house dogs, we have a Great Pyrenees as a guardian dog to our alpacas. Here is Spot:

Don't let size fool you. We've all agreed, the dog of ours that we'd least like to fight would be Dottie. She really is that tough. Even in her old frail state, I still wouldn't take her on.

I know it's a bit silly to have a dog named Dottie and Spot in the same family. I admit freely that I didn't name either of them :)

Contrast yarn

Often when knitting something, I like to have a contrasting yarn for edging or to do a design in the knit pattern. We usually make the contrasting yarn from left over strands of solid colors (when two solid strands are plyed together, sometimes I have left over of one of the strands). J plyed this from the left over strand of white I had, plyed with a left over strand of fawn we had on hand:

Here it is hanging dry in our bathroom:

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Before Challenger was born, we were hoping for a grey alpaca from that breeding match-up. Challenger's sire is our light silver grey male, Tucker. We knew from a genetic standpoint, Tucker could either pass on his grey gene, or his black gene. That makes a 50% chance of grey. Challenger's dam, Victoria, is a brown, but a reddish brown often referred to as maroon. (Pictures of each parent can be found on the website I linked to from their name). Victoria has a black gene (from her sire) and a brown gene. Victoria could pass on either, giving the cria a 50% chance of brown or 50% chance of black. Combining the color genetics of both parents, the odds stack up to this: 25% black, 25% silver grey, 25% brown, and 25% rose grey.

When Challenger was born, we could see the grey on his face, the grey patches on his legs, and some grey sprinkled in his blanket. Having had a cria that wasn't quiet grey enough for the grey class (our Pocahontas who color checked as "indefinite dark" rather than grey), we were leery to jump right to thinking Challenger is grey.

Now that he is shorn, we can see the grey all over him. I don't think he will have any problem color checking as rose grey!

Unfortunately he is a very active boy who does not like his picture taken. Those were the best I could get. He does have quite a few spots all over him. In the grey class, spots are not considered a defect. Spots are so common among greys that it is fully accepted. I will say that one thing I like about our grey male, Tucker, is that he has almost no spots, especially on his blanket. I prefer the look of no spots. But, Challenger may just change my mind on spots.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Two Ply

I'm kind of boring with my home spun in that I always create a 2 ply yarn. I prefer the two ply because I find that it's more balanced than a single ply. When you spin it by hand, it's hard to get it even, so there are thicker and thinner spots in the strand. By plying two stands, the thin and thick balance out better (it's less likely that the thin will meet up with thin on the other strand). I don't do more than two ply because that makes a big enough yarn. I guess if I ever want a really bulky yarn I could do a three or more ply. For what we do, two ply seems to work best. My yarn does vary in that I sometimes spin a thin strand, and sometimes a thicker strand (depending on the fiber used and the desired weight yarn), so every yarn I spin is by no means the same. They just all happen to be two ply.

Here I am, plying:

I was disappointed that my two strands did not meet up well. I had a lot more of one left over:

We usually do a pretty good job of weighing out the fiber so that our strands end up closer to the same length. This one was even more off because I had some left over from the first skein I made this past weekend, and I added onto that one. Since my next skein is going to be with the same fiber, I will just add on again. Typically I use this left over to mix with another color to create a contrasting yarn. I find it fun to have a contrast to use as edging or in the knit pattern.

After it is plyed, I put it into a skein using my swift:

Right now it is sitting in the sink to wash:

Next I'll soak it in in plain water (no soap). Then I will hang it on a hanger to dry. By tomorrow we can put it into a ball and start knitting with it.

As I planned, I finished this second skein :)

I weighed out another batch to start flicking up fiber for my next skein. I am determined to increase our yarn production.

Neat Website

While working with fiber this weekend, I was also doing some web surfing (the downside of living out in the deep woods is that our Internet connection is dial-up, which means I am always multi-tasking while waiting for sites to load). I stumbled across this really neat website that is an arts and crafts community. It shows blogs, and has forums, and lists of events all over the country. It is more than just alpaca or even a fiber website, it includes many crafts, hobbies and businesses.

It is called: The Hive

Click here to see more:

Proud member of TheHIVE

I wanted to add that while I often post links and sometimes use pictures of products, I do so to help others find the resources I am talking (blogging) about. I don't do it for any compensation. I may rave about a product, but that's because I really love it and want others to enjoy it too. I don't do it because some company promised me anything. If that ever changes, I will be sure to let my readers know. I think it's important to be honest about those things.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Monday - fiber weekend finale

From the skein I plyed yesterday, J already has begun to knit up a scarf:

I spun up two strands over the course of the day (with many breaks for various other things I needed to get done, such as make 4 dozen muffins :) ):

It's not even 5 p.m., so there is time that I could ply these two strands yet tonight. But, I have a feeling there will be back to school business going on. I'm content to ply it tomorrow evening. As far as I am concerned, this is close enough to count as 2 skeins for this weekend.

If only I always had 4 day weekends, I could do 2 skeins every weekend. I do want to work towards a skein a week. I know I can do it, it's a matter of making it a priorty to actually do it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Spinning realities

After Saturday's successful spinning day, I woke up Sunday with a new attitude. I was invincible, I could accomplish so much and it was easy!

I didn't get right to farm chores, or start working on fiber right away. I could relax a bit. I sipped coffee, surfed the web, checked out recent news on TV. Before I knew it, I had done nothing and it was almost 10 a.m.! Worse yet, the natives (ie my kids) were getting restless. The true reality set in: I am the mom of two active kids (age 8 and 10), the idea of two consecutive spinning days was laughable.

There were tantrums (by me: "I want to spin", "leave me alone so I can spin" and so forth). I discovered that it really is true, tantrums don't work in this house (how many times have *I* said that, oh it is bitter to have your own words used back at you). I needed to regroup and come up with a more realistic goal for the weekend.

The kids had heard of a Logging Festival in town. We looked it up and there was a parade at 1 p.m. with free kids games afterward (I like free, and the idea of anything that might wear them out a bit). So we planned to go to that. The kids agreed to behave, knowing we had plans for later on in the day. This gave me until 12:30 p.m. to get something done. I quickly fed the alpacas, and rushed inside to ply my yarn.

While this did slow down my production a bit more than I would have hoped for, it is reality and it is why I don't spin as much yarn as I'd like. I do have kids. While they do a fairly good job of keeping themselves busy, they aren't independent, and they do still need me.

After plying the first skein, I washed it, and hung it to dry outside. It's been a cool breezy day, so it dried pretty fast. By evening, J put it in a ball and he's already started knitting a scarf with it. This just shows how eager we are for yarn! Barely spun and dry and he's knitting it up.

I got a good start on the second skein. One strand is already spun, the second batch is flicked ready to spin. I can spin that up first thing in the morning, and by evening I can ply it. I will have two skeins done for this holiday weekend after all :)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Spinning Saturday

In keeping with my fiber production goal for the weekend, I started my day early. I sometimes get early morning insomnia. Recently I've used that as an excuse to get in an early morning jog. This morning happened to be one of those days. I got on the treadmill by 6:30 a.m. (early for a Saturday of a holiday weekend anyway). I only went 3 miles because I knew I had barn chores to get done (those count as exercise too). We had rain on Thursday and Friday, so I haven't scooped poop at the boys' barn in several days (I typically do it on Thursday evening). If I get it twice a week (every 3 days) I can get by with only doing one trip of poop each time. With the rain, I hadn't scooped it since Sunday evening, almost a week. Also, due to all the rain, the moisture adds weight to the loads, so I can't haul as much (it is hard wheeling the wheel barrow that 1/3 mile back and forth from the boys' barn). I had to do two trips this morning. But, I got all the poop scooped by the boys. And that counted as a second work-out :) Then I did another load of girl's poop (that one doesn't have to be hauled nearly as far). I fed all the alpacas, and swept out barns. Water buckets were scrubbed and filled, hay tubs filled up. The animals were all set.

I took a shower, and got something to eat. By 10 a.m. I was settled down to spin up some yarn!

I managed to spin up one strand of yarn by 12:30 p.m. Then I began flicking the second batch to spin into the other strand. Everything was falling into place ahead of schedule.

By 3 p.m. (add in a couple breaks throughout the day) I was done flicking the second batch, and started spinning that second strand.

As it turns out, I flick the batch in about the same amount of time it takes me to spin it into yarn. That's a good time frame to keep in mind. I don't know how much fiber I have in these batches (J weighed them out). Once I find that out, it will give me a good frame of reference for how long it takes me to spin up yarn.

It is now almost 5 p.m. I'm about 1/2 way through spinning the second strand of yarn. I am going to take a bit of break, and will pick up more spinning this evening (I'll wait to post this until this evening for a final update). It looks very promising that I can get that second strand of yarn spun yet today. This will mean I can ply on Sunday morning, wash it, set the twist, and let it dry. I was thinking I'd be spinning the second strand on Sunday, and plying on Monday (since you should wait a day to ply). I'm way ahead of that plan. I'll be starting on a new batch for another skein by early Sunday. I could possibly get 2 skeins done this weekend!!

Saturday evening update:

I managed to finish spinning the rest of strand #2. Now I have two strands, ready for plying (tomorrow, after it has overnight to set):

J confirmed that these are 3 ounce batches, so it will make a 6 ounce skein. He figures this will be more than enough to complete a scarf he plans to make.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Friday Update

I managed to flick up all the fiber by just after 9 p.m.

So far I am right on schedule.

Fiber Challenge

I've been challenging myself to get more fiber spun into yarn. I know if I could get it spun, J would knit it into product. Plus, what he didn't knit up, we could sell. I never have any extra yarn to sell, we use it faster than I can spin it.

My goal in August was to spin up a skein of yarn a week. If I would prepare the fiber throughout the week, then spin a strand on Friday evening, and a strand on Saturday, then I could ply on Sunday. I could finish Sunday evening by starting to prepare the next batch. My aim was to have 4 skeins by the end of the month. This would be a huge increase in production. While I didn't meet my goal, I am happy to report I got 3 skeins completed. That is more than what I have done before.

Now September begins with a Holiday weekend. Many people mark the weekend with a last change get-away before the fall routine starts. We however, don't have any specific plans. J has to work all weekend. The kids start school on Tuesday, which means I'd rather not go away, I'd rather get prepared for the start of school. And as it turns out, it's been raining most of today (Friday). There is rain predicted for Saturday too.

I am very sad that I didn't participate in the Farm Girls' Fiber Festival. I did last year, and it was so much fun! As it turned out this year, J has to work all weekend. This left me with child responsibilities. And now that it's been raining, I'm less sad about missing it. Next year, next year I will need to do it again.

Instead my plans are this, flick up Lightning's fiber tonight.

Pictured: orange tub is the raw fiber, pink tub is the second cuts, debris and rejected stuff (some of Greyt's fiber in the bottom):

This is about half of Lightnings' fiber all flicked up, ready to spin:

I need to finish up flicking the rest of the orange tub of fiber, then I will be done for tonight.

Saturday I hope to spin up one strand, then flick all the fiber for the 2nd strand (already in another orange tub).

Sunday I will spin up the 2nd strand.

Monday will be the day to ply, wash and set the twist. That will be one skein already completed for the month of September.

Throughout the weekend I'll post to show my progress. Let's see what I can get done!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Yarn Spinning Technique

I was putting together my two skeins of yarn for the Fiber Fiesta and discovered one requirement is to write up about the creation of the yarn. Part of it included explaining the spinning technique and plying technique ??? This required me to do some research.

I found all sorts of information.

I found information on how to prepare fiber with a flicker (this is how we do it).

I found this site that offers information on yarn spinning technique. I discovered I do the "worsted technique".

And this on plying.

All over that site are tons of videos and pictures to help show everything. What a wonderful resource!


Ugh! In some of the recent bails of hay we purchased, were a bunch of burrs. What a mess they made of the girl's top knots. They had them in the fiber on their legs, and on their sides. What a pain.

Here is Kateri sporting her burr filled top knot:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hungry alpacas

We typically feed our alpacas at about the same time each day. They come to know when grain time is coming and they will gather by the gate. This is what I am greeted by:

The dams (moms) and cria area:

The maiden area:

They love feeding time!
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