A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

August 19, 2009

It’s Not Alpaca But…

Filed under: alpaca, alpaca products, Alpacas, camelids, Crias, suri, yarn — Tags: , , , , , — alpacalady @ 6:37 am
Front View of Black Trellis Shawl

Front View of Black Trellis Shawl

It looks really nice! 

A few months ago I was asked to make a black shawl out of some trellis yarn.  I did find some trellis yarn that was made out of suri alpaca and tried to persuade the lady who had asked for the shawl that I should use that beautiful alpaca yarn.  Unfortunately the lady’s budget didn’t stretch to the suri alpaca trellis yarn and so she asked me to make the shawl in an acrylic yarn instead.

I knew that the shawl would take a while and it did, partly just due to the size of the project and partly due to squeezing in some knitting time during shearing, cria season and then the arrival of our puppy Blue (who thinks that all knitting projects need to be seized and dragged off into the distance – arrgh!)

The pattern was a very simple one, but with the character of the trellis yarn it was very effective.   At times it seemed as if the shawl was not growing, but stitch by stitch, inch by inch it did grow.  When I thought the shawl was about the right size I called my customer and took the shawl to her to try it on.  It was a perfect fit.    Next we had to decide on the fringe and both my customer and I felt that a long fringe would suit the shawl, partly to give the shawl some weight and partly to help proportion the shawl.

Cutting and hand tying the fringe on the shawl took more time, but once I got a system in place I started to pick up speed with the fringing.  The fringe is 16” long and the yarn developed a pleasing gentle curl to it once it was cut.

It was amazing to me to see how that 16” fringe changed the shawl from a plain piece of knitting to a glamorous shawl.  Unfortunately the pictures I have taken do not really do the shawl justice, but at least they give an idea of how it looks.

Back View of Black Trellis Shawl

Back View of Black Trellis Shawl


The next stage was to wash and block the shawl to help it memorize its shape.   I must admit I was nervous that the fringe would react badly to washing, but I carefully wound it around the folded shawl and washed the shawl by hand very gently.  Once I had the shawl laid out and blocked I maneuvered the shawl so that the fringe hung over the edge of the work surface as it dried, allowing the fringe to dry with a nice drape to it.

My customer was so excited when I called her to tell her the project was complete and we made arrangements to meet so that she could collect her shawl.  As she opened the bag and pulled out the shawl her eyes lit up and she immediately tried the shawl on, it looked very effective and my customer was extremely pleased with her new acquisition.

It was very satisfying to see the shawl’s new owner enjoying the shawl so much, she tried it on in several different ways and twirled around to show it off, that alone made all those hours of knitting worthwhile.

I have already had someone else ask me about making another shawl like this one,  she saw my customer trying the shawl on before I had fringed it and immediately wanted to know if I could make another one and how much I would charge for it.  At that time I hadn’t priced the shawl but now I have figured my costs and labor I can get back with her and give her a price – I wonder if I can persuade her to let me make her shawl out of the suri alpaca trellis yarn…  (wishful thinking on my part but you never know!)



March 11, 2009

Well That Was Lucky!

The Unintentional Two Tone Balaclava

The Unintentional Two Tone Balaclava


A friend of ours recently asked me to make him a balaclava out of alpaca yarn.  He works on the flight line at the nearby Air Force Base, a place that is exposed to the cold and the wind.  Our friend had tried other balaclavas but found that they made him itch and so wanted something softer.


I took various samples of yarn to him to test before I started on the project and he picked out a rose grey lopi style alpaca and wool blend.  I was a little surprised that he picked that particular yarn as the wool in the yarn may cause it to have some prickle, but he tested all of the yarns against his face and that was the one he liked the feel of the best.  The wool actually will lend some elasticity to the balaclava, which is a good thing.


With the yarn chosen and having found a suitable pattern I started on the project.  I did make some adjustments to the pattern as I felt that the neck ribbing would be too short.  Fortunately Ric had a balaclava that I could use to compare sizing on, which was very helpful as I tried to judge what changes I needed to make.


As I worked on the pattern I received a couple of surprises.  First the amount of yarn I ended up using was much less than the pattern required.  If I had been going by ounces I could understand that as alpaca weighs less than acrylic or wool yarns, but the pattern specified yardage rather than ounces, so either the pattern is wrong or my skein of yarn was longer than the label said it was.  I ended up using about 1 ½ skeins of yarn, which is not too bad.


The other surprise was that all of a sudden my skein of yarn changed color.  What started off as a definite rose gray became more silver grey part way through the skein – oh dear, that’s not what a knitter wants to see in a yarn.  Fortunately the color change occurred just as I finished the neck ribbing and started on the head portion of the pattern so it doesn’t look too bad.  I must admit I held my breath when half way through the head portion I had to start a new skein of yarn, but fortunately the new skein matched the silver grey of the previous skein – whew!  I was so lucky that the color change occurred at a good place on the balaclava, imagine though how that would look if I was making a sweater.


I will be getting in touch with the yarn processor to let them know about the color change in the yarn.  I was able to continue my project so will not be asking for a refund on the yarn, but I feel that they need to be made aware of the problem so that they can try and prevent it from happening again.


The balaclava has now been washed and is drying before I take it to its new owner.  I did try it on before I washed it and it feels nice and is definitely warm.  I hope our friend likes it and that it does not irritate his skin as the other balaclavas have.


Now I am on to my next project, a shawl made out of a ladder yarn, not alpaca I am afraid, but an effective yarn all the same.  Despite my efforts to persuade the lady I am making it for to let me use a suri alpaca ribbon yarn that I had found she eventually went with the acrylic yarn, mainly because the suri ribbon yarn would take the shawl out of her budget.   So I will have to wait to try out that suri ribbon yarn, but I am betting I will find a project for it sometime in the future.



August 15, 2008

Fixing a Prickly Problem

Mercury Without his Cactus

Mercury Without his Cactus





We are fortunate to have a wonderful teenage helper, Bethany, who comes out and helps us when she is not in school.  Bethany has worked during the week throughout the summer break and when her school starts again she will switch to working with us on weekends.


Yesterday Bethany showed up for work and started feeding the boys in the bottom pasture, as is her routine.  There are four boys in the bottom pasture, Mercury, Magellan, Christobal and Comet.  They are older boys (Christobal is in his late teens) and the four have been together for most of their lives.  The boys were originally donated to our vet, but when he moved into a house in town he could not longer keep them and gave them to us.


Having been initially raised as part of a large herd, Mercury, Magellan and Christobal are pretty much hands off alpacas.  Comet who is the youngest of the group joined the other three when they were at another farm and they have educated him in the ways of an alpaca that is not fond of being handled.  When caught the four boys are not too bad to handle, but they are wily creatures and it takes a bit of teamwork on our part to catch them.


Shortly after Bethany had started chores she returned to the house, a sure sign that something was up.  Bethany asked if we knew that one of the boys in the bottom pasture had a piece of cactus stuck to his face.  We had not been aware of the problem and so we told Bethany not to turn the boys out into their pasture and that we would come down and see what we could do to remove the cactus.


It turned out that Mercury was the cactus wearer.  Mercury is a fawn, suri alpaca and the mellowest of the group of four boys; still he wasn’t about to let us catch him without putting us through our paces.  With Bethany, Ric and myself all being available to herd the four boys we were able to herd Mercury into the shelter to be caught so that we could examine the cactus.   The cactus was about four inches long with one inch long barbs, and it was on Mercury’s face right up next to his right eye.  As Ric held on to Mercury I was able to get hold of the cactus and gently detach it from Mercury.  I was wearing good thick leather gloves but it still took some careful manipulating to prevent me from impaling myself on a cactus barb or two.


Having removed the main piece of cactus we then examined Mercury to make sure he didn’t have more cactus pieces or cactus barbs left on him.  Sure enough, right by the inside corner of his eye was a large cactus barb.  Very carefully, while Ric held onto Mercury I managed to remove the barb.   Thank goodness the cactus did not get stuck into Mercury’s eye.


Once we had removed the barb and rechecked Mercury’s face we let him go and turned the boys out into their pasture for the day.  They wasted no time in running as fast as they could to the bottom of the pasture, getting as far away from us as possible.  Let’s hope that they don’t find any more cactus plants to get into!



March 22, 2008

Yarn Glorious Yarn

Skeins of NAAFP Worsted Yarn

I have received another shipment of yarn from the North American Fiber Producers (NAAFP) Co-op, just in time for Open Farm Day.  This time the yarn was some lopi yarn, a single strand yarn that has a looser twist to it and is a blend of alpaca and wool.  I have two white skeins, one grey skein and one rose grey skein.  All of them are beautiful and have more of a handspun character to them than the other woolen and worsted yarns I have received so far.  I didn’t have time to snap a picture or two of the lopi yarn but will post some pictures to the blog when I get a chance.  The lopi yarn will be priced at $5.oo an ounce and we expect it to sell well.

So far all the product that I have received back from the NAAFP has been of an excellent standard.   The Certified Sorting process that is being used on the alpaca fleece prior to processing is making a marked difference in the end product.  I have spoken to other NAAFP Co-op members who have received other products from the Co-op such as throws and duvets and they too are thrilled with the end result.  Looks like we are onto a winner!

The previous shipment of yarn I received contained some Superfine Luxury Alpaca Blend which is made of 90% Huacaya Alpaca, 6 % Suri Alpaca and 4% Angora.  It has a lovely loft and a dreamy soft hand.  Also in that shipment were some skeins that were more of a worsted yarn and I must admit they have been my favorites so far.  The white worsted skein has 90% Huacaya Alpaca and 10% Suri Alpaca, the fawn skeins have 66% Huacaya Alpaca, 26% Suri Alpaca and 8% Tencel and the Rose Gray skein has 65% Huacaya Alpaca, 17% Suri Alpaca and 24% Tencel.  The skeins are large 7 oz skeins and the blends used create a lovely silky hand and soft shimmer to the yarn.  These truly are luxury yarns which will be appreciated by those who love fiber arts and fashion.

The trouble with being a fiber producer and someone who enjoys using fiber is that when you receive your shipments of yarn and they contain something special you have to force yourself to put them out on the For Sale rack!  Really you want to keep them all for your own personal stash of yarn, but I suppose if that happened every time I would have more yarn than I would have time to work with (ask Ric and he probably would tell you that is the case already).

The good part of being a fiber producer is that there is always more fleece being sent in for processing and before long another box of glorious yarn will be delivered.  The boxes don’t get to sit here long before they are opened and admired.  It would be a shame not to let others have the joy of working with this wonderful yarn, so out onto display the yarn goes and if it hasn’t sold by the time I come to do my next project (which is unlikely) I can always steal it back – can’t I?


February 23, 2008

The Scent of A Woman (or in our case a female alpaca)

Cosmo demonstrates the Flehman Response

I have often thought that cats and alpacas are similar in personality.  Both prefer to come up to you when they are ready rather than have you approach them, both love to lounge in the sunshine, and it seems that they also share a similar behavior in scenting females of the species.

Recently we received a newsletter from The Sundance Ranch Feline Sanctuary that is also located in Clovis, New Mexico.    The Sundance Ranch Feline Sanctuary provides a much needed resource for domestic cats and kittens in our area.  In the Q & A section of the January/February issue of the Sundance Ranch Newsletter the question was regarding the strange expression cats get on their face after smelling something.  The answer addressed the “Flehmen Response” and got my attention as alpacas too exhibit the “Flehmen Response”

In the picture at the top of this post you can see our Suri alpaca Cosmo giving a lovely demonstration of the Flehmen Response.    This strange pose occurs when a male alpaca smells the urine of another alpaca and often occurs at the alpaca poop piles.  The alpaca doing the smelling will throw his head back and curl his upper lip back at the same time which helps to seal his nostrils and draw the scent over a receptor on the roof of the alpacas mouth called the Jacobsen’s Organ.  As the scent is drawn over the Jacobsen’s Organ the alpaca can detect if the urine he is scenting is from a female alpaca who is receptive to breeding.

If the alpacas were all kept together the male alpaca would find the receptive female alpaca and breed her, but we are careful with our breeding program and keep the male and female alpacas in separate pens.

Sometimes I will see our male alpacas exhibiting the Flehmen Response at their own poop pile; very occasionally I have seen a female alpaca exhibit this behavior. 

I must admit to get the picture at the top of this blog some staging was necessary.  All I had to do was wheel in a wheelbarrow full of poop from the girl’s pasture and the boys started sniffing and posing for me.  Of course the boys were sorely disappointed that a visit from the girls did not follow the appearance of the wheelbarrow, but never mind, it won’t be long until crias start to arrive and then the girls will be ready for a visit from the boys (well the select few boys anyway, sorry Cosmo we don’t have any Suri girls for you).  Until that time the boys can continue to practice the Flehman Response at their own poop pile and dream of the girls in the pasture across the driveway.


January 26, 2008

Cossy Gets A Perm!

Filed under: alpaca, Alpaca Fiber, Alpacas, camelids, General, suri — Tags: , , , , , , , — alpacalady @ 7:51 am

Curly Cosmo

I wonder what goes on in the alpaca pastures overnight.  Sometimes I go out in the morning and see something in the pastures that defies explanation.  I have had the privilege of spending several nights in the pasture with the alpacas, and the most excitement I saw was the girls chasing a rabbit and alpacas deep in sleep twitching their feet as they dreamt.  Apart from that the only other thing that seems to go on in the pastures at night was eating hay.

Yesterday morning there was snow on the ground during morning chores. There was also some freezing fog and as the moisture landed on the trees they turned into beautiful white sculptures.  As cold as the air was, it was a beautiful morning, and perhaps I felt better about the cold weather as the forecast for later in the day was temperatures in the 50’s – finally a little warmer weather.

When I was feeding one of the groups of boys, Cosmo, one of our three suri alpacas came over to see what I was doing.  Cosmo (or Cossy as we usually call him) usually sports the typical suri hairdo of long twisted locks hanging over his face.  He always looks quite fetching and his stylish looks are usually only ruined by my attempts to trim his topknot when it becomes obvious that it is preventing him from seeing properly.  My hair dressing skills are slim to none (ask Ric, he will willingly verify that) and usually following my attempts to trim Cossy’s topknot he looks as if I have stuck a basin on his head and cut around it.  Fortunately Cossy’s topknot grows back quickly, so my poor attempts at trimming are not evident for long.

As I looked at Cossy yesterday morning I realized he looked different, it took me a moment to realize that his topknot had gone curly!  Cossy had a perm! 

Now I am pretty certain that the male alpacas did not sit down with a set of perm curlers and perming solution and create Cossy’s masterpiece.  I hope not anyway, or maybe I should hope they did as then we could make a fortune having them demonstrating their skills!  Rather I suspect that something to do with the moisture conditions had caused Cossy’s locks to separate more than usually, which allowed the individual hairs to curl more.   This is the first time I had ever seen this happen though, and we have owned Cossy for several years and seen him in many different weather conditions.

I am sure a suri breeder could provide an explanation of the significance of Cossy’s curly hair do.   The fact that his locks could change so overnight probably indicates something about his fleece.  

I will be interested to see how Cossy’s topknot looks this morning, most likely it will be back to normal.  Of course, if I go into the boys pasture and find Cossy sporting a mohican hairdo or anything else unnatural I guess it will be time to start putting camera’s in the pasture overnight and calling the media to have them come and film my beauty school boys!


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