Category Archives: Alpaca Yarn

The felted, matted mess

imageLast year, I purchased a beautiful Suri alpaca rose-grey fleece from a local farmer. It was the most beautiful natural colorway I had ever seen in a fleece, with hints of autumn-rose and oatmeals and grey. I handled the fleece with extra care, checking the temperature of the wash and rinse water carefully, handling it gently, quietly contemplating at each phase of the wash-rinse cycle all that might be made from these gorgeous fibers. And then I did something stupid.

I don’t like that word stupid, but it’s the word that really works here. Fiber demands its process. You can’t rush fiber. You can’t tell it to hurry up and dry or get clean. You can’t shear an alpaca and make socks within the next five minutes. If you could, we crazy fiber nuts would find something else to fawn over.

Eager to begin carding, I decided to place the washed fleece in a pillow case and put it on air dry in the dryer for a good 15 minutes. This is something I had done with other fleeces and without issue, but I did not check the air temperature in my eagerness to dry the fleece. Anyone who works with fiber knows the most fundamental of rules:

Heat + agitation = felt.

By the time I realized my error, I lifted a matted piece of felt the size of a corgi out of the dryer. And yes, there were real tears.

I tried in vain to make something useful from the felted monstrosity. I even hung on to the fiber for months, hoping I would come up with something useful to somehow make up for the error. But what I realized was that this felt was destined to compost, as beautiful as it was. And that I had learned a lesson worth 10 times the price of the fleece; that process is important and, in instances like this, vital.

It’s so easy to try to take the short-cut, or to give up when someone tries to throw a wrench in your plans, but when you look at life as a process of growing, of moving from this raw, dirty fleece to a clean, organized useful yarn, it’s easier to see that those little bumps in the road aren’t there to deter you, but to help you broaden your awareness.

There’s a reason Gandhi was so wise; he was a hand-spinner! 🙂

Things to do when not farming…

The seed catalogs are piling up and it’s a constant reminder of how in flux we’ll be as of

photo 5
Identifying cool mushrooms…

June. It’s been a long time since I’ve not put in a large seed order, and frankly, I’m feeling a bit antsy about it this season. So, to take my mind off of what I won’t be doing, I’m thinking ahead to the things this extra time will provide in terms of opportunities for learning. An ever-growing, ever-bearing, zone 1-10 list of things to learn while not farming:

  • Tend to the travelling orchard
  • Improve spinning technique
  • Improve fiber processing set-up and technique
  • Experiment with natural dyes
  • Learn about medicinal herbs
  • Practice grafting techniques
  • Volunteer at school or public garden
  • Help a fellow farmer with farm chores, butchering, shearing, etc.
  • Learn old-fashioned candy-making
  • Focus on food preservation techniques:
    • Pressure canning
    • Smoking meats
    • Drying
    • Fermentation
  • Take a class in business planning for the fiber mill
  • Maybe, just maybe, learn a new knitting skill
  • Explore niche or value added markets
  • Take a botany class
  • Spend some time with growers using methods outside of your own, including conventional, biodynamic, and other permaculture or organic farmers and gardeners
  • Cut up seed catalogs to make art with the kids
  • Cut up seed catalogs to do some companion planting planning
  • Re-read Edible Forest Gardens

The list continues to grow and hope blooms eternal, so… suggestions are always welcome and may spring shine warm sunlight upon your gardens!

Tender leanings

On the way out to NY last week, I stopped near Port Huron for coffee before the trek through Canada. At the counter of a Tim Horton’s (that’s right, because, well, Canada), a young man behind the counter asked about my scarf.

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The scarf is a beautifully knitted infinity scarf made by my mother-in-law, with our fiber. And amid this industry-hardened region of the thumb, an 18-year-old boy who has never seen an alpaca, leaned forward over the counter and said, “Your scarf looks so soft.”

“Do you want to touch it?”

“May I?”

Now, normally, this might feel awkward, leaning forward toward a total stranger in the middle of a chain restaurant, so that he can feel my scarf, but something told me this kid was genuinely interested in fiber.

As his thumb ran across the corded alpaca and his eyes met mine with a sparkle.

photo (2)“Is an alpaca like a llama?” The questions began. And before long, we were talking about the process of taking fiber and turning it into scarves. Leaving, I ran my own fingers across the soft fibers and thought about the process. And how the process is an ongoing story. And how that story impacts more than just the animal or the farmer. It’s the connections between, whether the winding off of the skein by the hand-spinner, or the carefully knitted scarf by the knitter, or the person inspired by the tactile beauty of the finished scarf, this process inspires conversation.

And hopefully, for at least one person in southern Michigan, it inspires something more. An opportunity to explore a world he may not have known existed. For this gal, from a tiny town in northern Michigan, it afforded a similar impact. This whole journey forward is about exploration, adventure, and expanding our world.

Special thanks to Cindy Graves for the lovely scarf!

A Simple Twist that Launched the Modern Era

imageI had never given it much thought previously, but on numerous occasions at the farm, I’ve found myself in need of rope or string and had to twist long grasses as a temporary fix. This is likely how our understanding of the strength gained by twisting fibers grew until we began moving from plant materials like hemp, cotton, and flax to shorter animal fibers like those that come from sheep or alpaca.

That simple twist increases the durability of the fibers considerably by allowing fewer movement between (or increasing pressure and friction on) individual fibers. There’s a whole science to the ideal twist per fiber type, if you’re into that sort of thing. And to take it a step further, this simple act of twisting and plying fibers yielded some pretty significant inventions including cloth, rope, handles, sails, rigging, junkyarnnetting, etc. Try to imagine our lives without it.

Due to the recent move and our temporary living arrangement, I’m not spinning on the
wheel, nor am I processing fiber. I do, however, have the drop spindle and make time each night for some twisting and whirling which never feels like an isolated action, but one handed down generation to generation to generation, a reminder of our ingenuity as humans and our innate desire to remain connected, whether to our animals, to one another, to our ancestors, or to the earth.


Feeling Fibre

photoThe fiber is packed away, my spinning wheel is safely stowed, and I was feeling confident I could let my little hobby go for the winter ahead, but there’s something about the tactile sensation of fiber and the art of spinning that pulls at a girl. So, I gave in and bought some roving and started spinning with the drop spindle. Certainly, this is one of the very best things about the drop spindle – its portability.

So, while I won’t be spinning yarn for sale for a bit, at least I can revel in the sanctuary of the art, gain some more confidence, and hopefully come out a better spinner this spring.

RealEyes Podcast on Our Farm Story

Levi at RealEyes Homestead, which is a permaculture farm adjacent to our farm at DeYoung has just started doing podcasts. They’re great! And we’re particularly fond of the second ever, the story of our farm. Please take a listen and then sign up to receive additional podcasts from RealEyes.