Monday, May 25, 2009

Meet the extended family

Now that Devi is settled in and Evita has come to her new home, it's time I introduced their herd buddies. But first, get to know Evita a little better. She is the girl I was supposed to get earlier this month, who ended up having mites. We finally got the all clear to pick her up this past weekend. She's nicely settled in now, and I'm processing her fleece.

Evita and Devi live at Olde Spring Alpacas, the farm where I board my animals. They spend their time with a weanling boy and a yearling girl who belong to Olde Spring Alpacas. Jolli Mon is the boy and Keela is the girl. The pic below is of the Jolli Mon (left), Devi (center) and Keela (right).

Jolli Mon, Keela, Devi and Evita live in one pasture together. The rest of the herd lives in an adjoining pasture. These are the bred females that belong to Olde Spring Alpacas, with one recent birth. The pic below is of a true black girl nick named sixty two. I can't remember her real name, but sixty two was her auction number so that's what everyone calls her. Next to sixty two is Bali and her new cria, Captain Rex.

Here's Captain Rex with Sixty Two, Bali and Summer in the background. Sixty Two and Summer play aunty for Captain Rex. He's a curious little guy, with a handsome face and wonderful cria fleece. I'm excited to watch him grow. He's visibly bigger every time I go to see my two girls.

Meanwhile....back at the apartment.....

I'm processing Evita's fleece and spinning Devi's. All I can say about washing fleeces is: now I understand why they use blue Dawn dish liquid to clean animals that are victims of oil spills. That stuff will remove anything. Evita is white, so forget the cold water wash. I ran the tap until it was hotter than I could stand it, added the Dawn and submerged the fleece. The first batch was washed in garment bags. I'm about to throw that batch out the window. I've had to wash it four or five times now, without the garment bag, and it's still not entirely clean. Lessons learned: No garment bag when soaking a fleece. Use the garment bag if you're spinning out the water in your washer or dryer (no heat in the dryer, spin cylce only in the washer). The garment bag helps maintain lock structure, but the water doesn't penetrate enough to remove all of the dirt. White alpaca fiber tends to have a band of brown/beige dirt that is very stubborn to remove. The dirt band was still there after three washes and rinses in the garment bag. I washed a smaller batch of fleece without a garment bag, in ultra hot water with Dawn. Two washes and two rinses, and I have lovely, fluffly white fleece. Still some vm, but not an inordinate amount. Second lesson learned: Wash small amounts at one time so the water and soap can penetrate. Third lesson learned: You're better off skirting first.

Devi's fiber is spinning up nicely. I took ten ounces and divided it up into equal portions. I'm going to spin worsted weight singles and then 2 ply. I'm spinning semi-long draw, and struggling to spin the singles thick enough for a worsted weight 2 ply. Apparently I can only spin lace weight evenly. I'm carding Devi's fiber into rolags because I don't have combs and I like working with fluffly alpaca rolags, although the cria fiber has a lot of static. It sticks to the cards and me. The singles I've spun so far are very soft and a beautiful chocolate brown. Wish I could spin all the time, but I've only had time for two or three rolags a day. I'm off to pull that stubborn fleece out of the rinse water.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

What's in your van? (aka Best weekend EVER!)

This was the best weekend ever! Saturday night we went to Boston to see one of our favorite bands, The National, perform at the House of Blues. It was an outstanding performance. If you enjoy Indy Rock, or even if you don't and are looking for something new, I highly recommend you purchase their album, The Boxer. The National uses interesting lyrics, unusual combinations of instruments, and unusual textures in their music to create a unique listening experience. They are excellent live performers too.

Sunday we (finally) got our second girl, Evita. That's her riding home in my in-laws' van. She's a sweet girl with nice fiber, which will soon be available as yarn, dyed fiber, and raw fiber on my Etsy shop. She was very good in the van, until we turned on the radio. Oops. She didn't like that so much. She also wasn't a fan of the downpour on the roof of the van. She got up and walked around in circles in the back of the van, which made me a bit nervous, but she settled down again as soon as she figured out that nothing really bad was happening to her. 1st lesson, bring a smaller vehicle. 2nd lesson, no radio.

When we got her to her new home she hopped out of the van like it was no big deal, marched right into her new pasture and made herself at home. As soon as I took the halter off she was chowing down on some hay. The three young ones were checking her out, and she was cool with everything, although she let the young ones know the boundaries with a spit or two.

Driving with an alpaca was surely a unique experience. I wish I had the chance to take a spin through a drive thru window or a toll booth. Maybe next time. I would love to see that reaction.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Holy crap! I sold some hand spun yarn!

I found the hanks of hand spun were beginning to accumulate, so I started an Etsy shop with my (future) farm name. You can see my Etsy mini over on the right. I listed two hanks of yarn and some roving on Tuesday. Today I put listed one more hank for sale, and when I logged on this evening I found it had sold! Honestly, I'm friggin' astonished. I expected I would sell some eventually, but I didn't think it would be so quick. I felt unprepared! The yarn I sold was 100 percent alpaca, from the fiber my mentor farm gave me a while back. You can see the alpaca it came from a few posts down (the one about CT Sheep and Wool). I made a little card with a picture of the alpaca who produced the fiber to go in the box with the yarn. The whole thing was too much fun. It was kind of weird packing up the yarn though, knowing I don't get to see what it will become, but I'm glad someone will get to enjoy it.

This is the yarn that is on it's way to a new home.

I dyed the fiber myself in red, orange and yellow.

Then I blended each color together using hand carders.

I spun it long draw and two-plied, and... voila! My first sale.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The waiting is the hardest part.

I was supposed to pick up my new alpaca on Saturday. I was going to drive the van up to the farm and bring her to her new home. Just me and Evita on the open road, and possibly a trip through a drive-thru for kicks. That's what was supposed to happen until it was discovered that she has mites on her ankles. Mites are microscopic parasites, and she was in full fleece when I went to see her, so I had no idea there was a problem. There was no hair loss or other visible symptoms. The mites were discovered on shearing day (thank goodness we didn't take her before then). The mites need to be eliminated before Evita comes to live with Devi and the other alpacas at the farm where I board, so it will be another two weeks before I can bring her home. Bummer.

The waiting is finally over at Olde Spring Alpacas, where I board my animal. They have a new cria (cria is the term for a baby alpaca), born earlier this week. He's a little white guy with a spot of brown on his side. He has extremely soft, and very curly cria fleece, and he is a very curious and brave little guy. He walked right up to me and my husband and gave us a sniff. You don't really appreciate how little cria are until you see one in person. This little guy is fourteen pounds, and his head comes to just above my knee! I'm sure I'll have pics pretty soon. I'm always taking pictures.

I've been waiting to work with Devi's fleece. I decided to try a cold water wash since I'm paranoid about accidental felting. I was pleased with the way it worked on alpaca fleece. Almost all of the dirt, and quite a bit of the vegetable matter came out in the cold water soak and left the fleece feeling as soft as it was when freshly shorn, and with the lock structure preserved quite a bit. I filled a large sterilite tub with cold water and submerged the fleece - no lingerie bag needed. I covered it and let it sit for 24 hours. I then drained the dirty water, spun the water out of the fleece (in lingerie bags) in my washing machine. While the fiber was drying a bit, I shook out a lot of the vm and did some picking. I refilled the tub with more cold water and resubmerged the fleece for another 12 hour soak. I spun the water out a second time, let the fleece dry, and that was it. Now I can begin carding and spinning it, but I do want to finish with the hand dyed alpaca that is on my wheel right now. I tried the cold water wash on the romney I picked up at the sheep and wool festival as well, but I have mixed feelings about the results. The fleece is a great deal cleaner for sure, but there is still quite a bit of lanolin in it. It also smells a bit. However, I did not let it soak for the entire seven days that is to be allowed for cold washing sheep fleece, but as an apartment dweller, I was concerned about the smell. I think I'm going to go with hot water and blue dawn, give it a vinegar rinse and work with whatever the results are. I really just want it clean enough to store. Right now there's still too much lanolin and I think it would get quite sticky if left in storage for a while.

I didn't have to wait to get the hang of Navajo-plying. I watched this video on youtube, and caught on. I made a couple of practice hanks with some fiber samples I had lying around. Now I feel quite comfortable with it. I think the romney is going to be Navajo-plied. It really is quite simple. Just think finger knitting, but bigger, as you will hear in the video.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

It is called alpacas and school children....isn't it?

I rarely share anything about the school children, mainly because it's been business as usual at school (which is a good thing), but this is one of those times when the special nature of children has to be recognized. I lost my grandmother on Tuesday of this week. She passed away after a long battle with emphysema. She was 87. My grandmother was quite a formidable woman. She kept everyone going (albeit with force) after my mom died. She has been fighting emphysema for over a decade, and it never slowed her down until the last couple of years. Her doctor said she should have been dead years ago. I always knew she wouldn't go until she was good and ready. This week she decided she was ready.

Growing up without my mom, who we lost to cancer when I was three, my grandmother Louise was the only real female figure in my life until I got married and gained a mother-in-law. (My in-laws are very special people. They are the parents I never had.) We have known for a while that the end was near for my grandmother. Still, it's a shock to know that she is really gone and not coming back.

I found out Wednesday morning during my planning period at work. I received a message on my cell phone from my brother Mike. Oddly enough, I was on the phone with my brother Chris' wife when Mike called. I was in a fog for most of the day. I wanted to go be with my family, but there was no way I could leave work, and in the end that was the best thing. The kids didn't know anything was going on, but their special energy and happiness influenced me to live in the moment I was in, which was teaching these children to make music. Yes, my grandmother was gone, but at that moment I was surrounded by the positive energy of our students, and as Cesar Millan says, you should always live in the moment. The moments to grieve would come later. Right now I was doing something important and positive with outstanding young people. Cesar Millan is also correct about the energy of the pack affecting an unbalanced pack member. He always uses his balanced pack of dogs to help rehabilitate dogs who have become unbalanced. At my school, wolves are our mascot, and we always refer to the wolf pack analogy. In this instance, the positive energy of our 'pack' influenced me to come back into balance for a day. It made it much easier to get through Wednesday, and half of Thursday, before the moment came to grieve.

The wake was Thursday night, and the funeral was on Friday. Both were lovely...and sad. After the funeral, I went to visit Devi. Animals are helpful too, in times like this. You have to have control of your emotions when you are around animals. They pick up on everything, and will react to negative energy. If I allowed myself to be negative, the alpacas would have avoided me, but I was able to stay in the moment once again, and Devi showed her usual curiosity about me as did her herd mates. Mother nature leads us toward balance too. Humans need to recognize that more. We are the only species that follows unbalanced leaders.

On the happy side of things, I'm getting another alpaca next Saturday. She's a fiber female/non-breeder that is currently at a farm in Massachusetts. I decided that I want to focus the bulk of my earnings on saving for a property, so I'm going to wait two years until I purchase another breeder. It's difficult to make a profit as a boarder, so I really need my own farm. However, I also don't want to be the only alpaca owner in America that has only one alpaca, and I want to have an animal that is solely my pet. I can get attached to her without having to sell her, and I will have an abundance of lovely white fiber from her. I really wanted a white so I could dye the fiber before I spin in up. I also wanted to find a girl with a nice personality, and it seems with this new girl I have found what I wanted. This way, when I finally get a property and am ready to move my animals, Devi won't have to adjust to a new home and a new herd at the same time. The animals will be able to move together. In fact, I can take the new girl, Evita is her name, to shows with Devi as a companion too. Evita is five years old and already halter trained, so she can help Devi with that too. Evita has been the aunty alpaca for the new cria at her farm, so she can serve in that role too. Devi is only seven months old, after all, and the two alpacas she is with are seven months old and a yearling, so they can benefit from an 'aunty' as well. Actually the yearling girl that belongs to the farm where I board has been missing her mom quite a bit. Maybe Evita will alleviate some of that for her too. Who knows? You can't actually predict how the animals' relationships will turn out, but you can hope for the best.

I'm picking up my new girl next Saturday, and get to drive her home myself this time. This should prove to be a unique experience. I'm looking forward to it. You can expect a post about that experience for sure! I also learned to navajo-ply this week, and will be sharing about that as well.