A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

September 23, 2008

The Socks Are Done!

My First Attempt At Knitting Socks
My First Attempt At Knitting Socks


Thank goodness – over the weekend while Ric was away I managed the final few rows of the second sock and that project is complete.


The sock project started off because I had some leftover yarn that I wanted to use up.  The yarn was not the best, having been made by a mill owner in his early years of processing alpaca fiber.  Some of the skeins were over spun and had a harsh feel to them, but we made allowances for the fact that the mill owner was new to the business and was in a learning curve (and these days his yarn is vastly improved).


I had read in various knitting publications how fast and fun sock making was, so thought I would try my hand at knitting a pair of socks just to see how I enjoyed the experience.  Well, I didn’t!  Perhaps the fact that I was knitting plain socks with no pattern or color variation was a factor, but I found the creation of the socks quite mundane and fiddly.


Normally my knitting projects involve lace knitting, cables, interesting stitches or variation of color so that might be why I found the socks less than inspiring.  Still I had started the project and wanted to see it through to completion and so I persevered.


The socks were always intended to be used by me, the quality of the yarn was such I didn’t feel right trying to sell the end product, and after all this was my first time trying such techniques as turning a heel.  As things turned our it’s a good job I wasn’t planning on selling the socks as they are not my finest creation, but they certainly have “character” that wonderful term fiber artists use to describe areas of their work that are less than perfect!


You can see from the picture that the shape of the heel on the bottom sock is too elongated, the top sock is better and it was the second of the two socks that I knitted – at least I was showing improvement.  To me the cast on for the ribbing at the top of the socks is too loose, but the pattern instructions said to make sure that the cast on was loose.


The yarn that I used for the second sock was supposed to be the same as the yarn for the first sock, but there is a difference in both the color and weight of the yarn.  On seeing the socks Ric joked with me that I will have to alternate which foot I wear each sock on as he thinks they will wear differently over time.

The result of unsorted fiber, a fuzzy sock with protruding guard hairs

The result of unsorted fiber, a fuzzy sock with protruding guard hairs


When I went to photograph the socks, I realized what a beautiful example they were of fiber that was not sorted prior to being spun into yarn.  Just look at this close up of the first heel – talk about guard hair!  You can see the sock has a very fuzzy outline and some very long straight hairs protruding from it, which are guard hairs.  These protruding fibers will produce a prickle effect to the skin (not good) and over time will shed and pill.  Fiber that was properly sorted by grade, length and color would not have produced two different colored, different weight socks and there would be little to no fuzzy outline or guard hairs.


My sock project ended up being more of an education than I ever thought it would be, so it was not a totally wasted experience – and at the end of the day I have a pair of barn socks that will be great to wear as the cooler weather arrives!



February 25, 2008

Fingers in the Fleece

Geraint - Summer 2007We are back to the task of sorting through the fleeces in the fleece room.  I am determined to reduce the pile before we get to this year’s shearing!

The deadline for submission of clip to the Alpaca Fiber Coop of North America (AFCNA) is February 29 and so I am trying to get as many fleeces as I can shipped off to them today in order that the fleeces are received by the deadline date.

To me sorting through fleeces is an enjoyable task, it gives me the opportunity to reassess the alpaca whose fleece I am working on and consider any breeding decisions I need to make for that particular alpaca.  For some of the boys there is no breeding decision to be made, for one reason or another they will not be used for breeding, but as I look at their fleece it is a good reminder of what the pairing of the parents produced.

There were a couple of fleeces in my stash yesterday that I decided to hold back for show.  We sheared a lot of show fleeces last year and I haven’t had the opportunity to show them all and as I looked at them on the skirting table I decided that it really would be worth entering them in a show.  There is a good-sized fleece show coming up in May in Denver and so I plan on entering the fleeces in that show.

One fleece that did make me smile was that of Geraint who is pictured above.  Geraint is the only surviving offspring of Primera who is a research female we have at the farm.  Primera was donated to our vet, as her crias had never survived.  We became involved in working with our vet to see if we could get one of Primera’s crias to survive and Geraint is the result.  As alpacas go Geraint is hardly the example of an award winning alpaca, but his fleece is actually not too bad.  As I worked on Geraint’s fleece on the skirting table I could feel it’s fineness and lovely soft handle and he even has some crimp definition and brightness to his fleece.  I took a little sample of it to Ric (who is still recovering from the flu) and asked him to guess whose fleece it was, he was unable to guess correctly whose fleece and was impressed when I told him that it was Geraint’s. 

This year things will be a little different at shearing time as we are going to have some of our fleeces sorted by a fleece sorter as they come off the alpaca on shearing day.  Our friend and client Troy Ogilvie of Timber Lodge Alpacas has completed his fleece sorting class and needs to work his apprenticeship by sorting a certain amount of fleeces and so will be coming to our farm to sort for us.  Those fleeces will then be sent to the North American Alpaca Fiber Producers (NAAFP) Cooperative to be processed into high quality yarn and products.  The great thing about having our fleeces sorted on shearing day is that at the end of the day all I will need to do is package up the various bags of fleece and ship them off to the Regional Collection Facility – no storing them in the fleece room or having to prepare them for the processor at a later date.  It will be done on shearing day and off the fleeces will go!  I will even get a report on my fleeces, which I will be able to use to help me with my breeding decisions.

That doesn’t mean to say I won’t get a chance to get my hands on some of my fleeces as I know there will be some we will hold back to show.   Those fleeces I will need to prepare for showing prior to sending them in and so I will get my fleece fix from working on those.  Fingers in the fleece – you just can’t beat it!


October 11, 2007

The Fleece is Flying – Literally!

Large Skirting TableWe have been busily working on sorting and skirting fleeces this week.  We have the fleece bags sorted into piles for the different types of processing we will be using.  Some bags of special fleeces will be spun into yarn with only the fleece from a single alpaca used in that yarn batch, some fleece is going to be made into socks, another pile of fleece will be made into rugs and then a large pile of fleece will be going to the Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America.  We will of course be keeping our show fleeces and then those will be available for sale to hand spinners once the shows are over.  Typically our show fleeces only stand up to 3 –4 shows and so their show life is limited, but they are our best fleeces and are beautifully clean, skirted and great for hand spinners to work with. 

We now have two skirting tables set up, one in the studio for me to skirt the show fleeces on and then our latest super sized skirting table which we are using to skirt fleeces for processing.  Ric made the latest skirting table and I specifically wanted a large size as I find it helps things go smoothly on shearing day.  With a large skirting table to work on I don’t have to worry about trying to prevent the fleece from falling off the edge of the skirting table. 

It was a little bit of a challenge to build this table, we really wanted to have metal ½” or 1” mesh on the table but could not find any that was either sturdy enough or wide enough for the table.  We ended up using a plastic mesh and still we could only get itin 3’ width and so there are a couple of areas on the skirting table where the mesh has joins in it.  The mesh is a little rough on the edges at the joins and so to prevent the fleece from catching on the mesh we have covered the joins with smooth cardboard.  Underneath each join we have a reinforcing wooden strut that makes it easy just to staple the cardboard onto the skirting table.  We contemplated for a long while what material to use to cover the joins and decided at the end of the day that good old cardboard was the best choice.  It is smooth, does not catch on the fleece and does not create static. 

 Skirting Table Join

Talking of static, it is something that is a problem for us in our dry environment.  A couple of things we have found that can help while sorting fleece and dealing with static are wiping the skirting table and your hands with a dryer sheet, or using a static preventative spray on both the skirting table and yourself.  Remember to try and wear natural fabrics when you are sorting or skirting fleece or you can build up static in your clothing.   Another tip is to mix a little hair conditioner with some water in a mister bottle and lightly spray the fleece you are working on, just make sure that the fleece is dry before you bag or box it up again. 

Skirting in very dry conditions can become quite a problem, with strands of fiber attaching themselves to you and being difficult to remove, it can get quite frustrating as you remove the strands of fiber from one hand only have them attach themselves to the other hand.  On Monday though I had my funniest fleece static incident yet.  Ric was emptying a fleece out of its clear plastic bag onto the new skirting table; he was standing about mid way of the length of the table, I was standing at the end of the table.  The fleece landed on the skirting table and Ric went to unroll it, as he did so a piece of fleece flew through the air and literally slapped me in the face!  The piece of fleece had traveled an amazing 3ft or so to get to me and had a stinging blow to it!  I’ve always had an attraction for fleece but now it seems the fleece is attracted to me!   Of course the nylon work trousers I was wearing that day and the plastic bag the fleece had been stored in may have had something to do with my fleece-attracting aura! 


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