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Sunday, February 16, 2014

I MADE IT........

Yay, I finished combing the rest of the clean alpaca fibre last night.  There's 218g. I'm really chuffed with it:
It was very labour/time intensive and I could not imagine prepping a whole fleece this way, however, for a special project requiring a small amount of fibre it's definitely worth doing.

I'll continue cleaning the vm out of the remainder of this fleece over the coming week and have decided to send it away to be washed, blended with some fine merino and carded.

 The symmetrical form of Dahlia's never ceases to amaze me. They are all over the garden and seem early this year.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Home Grown Alpaca

It's way too long since I wrote on here. Life has been so very busy here yet again. I was just looking back through my older posts and realised that I hadn't updated for such a long time about my alpaca's. Well, way back when I used to have 2 there are now four, and have been for the past 18 months. Here's proof:

My four big hairy boys waiting for the shearer.

From left to right are Caesar, Jupiter, Radar (the brown one who we should have named Ewok) & Saturn.
They are a constant source of amusement and pleasure for us. Radar & Saturn are 2 years old now, they were a birthday present and I could not have wished for anything better.

The boys after their recent shearing:

They look so thin and vulnerable now. Radar doesn't look like an Ewok any more, he just looks sad.

The combined weight of their fleece was over 20kg.

Here's a pic of Saturn's fleece before skirting:
 It doesn't look too bad at a distance, but believe me it's filthy. All the times he would be soaked in rain, go and roll in patches of dirt or mud then top himself off with a roll in the hay didn't do his coat, or myself, any favours at all. However, it's wonderfully soft and lustrous and the staples are very long at an average of 9".

I decided the only way forward was to pick out a few choice parts of the saddle and clean it it. What a job! I ended up quickly flick carding individual locks just to remove as much of the debris as possible. I would work at that until I had a basket full (which weighed just over 20g, but 20g is a lot of alpaca fibre). Then I washed the batches lock by lock using a bar of pure soap and lukewarm water and they came up a brilliant white.

The lock at the front has been cleaned, the one in the back is pre-washing. My camera is making the pre-wash fleece look far cleaner that it really is.

I combed the clean fibre on my Viking combs:

It's all very labour intensive.
At the same time it's very rewarding and enjoyable.

The fibre nests in the box weigh just 60g in total. I have another similar sized batch drying and hope for another 60g from that. I have been running a kind of production line of flicking out the debris, washing, rinsing, drying and combing for 2 long afternoons and this is the sum total of my efforts so far. I could package up all the fleece and send it off for commercial washing and carding, but where's the fun in that?

My aim is to process enough fibre by the end of this week (200g, yes I'm possibly kidding myself!) to start spinning it next week. I want to produce enough laceweight yarn to make a big luxurious shawl.

As much as I would love to process and spin all this fleece by hand, that just isn't going to happen. I have to be realistic and do the same with the other 3 fleeces, pick out the bits I want to use and take the rest to the local alpaca buyer or I will end up storing it forever and a day and won't find the time to do anything with it.

Although I haven't found time to blog I've been busy with other things. I finally got a greenhouse which I have wanted for such a long time and have been using it to grow different varieties of heirloom tomatoes, along with peppers, chilies, cucumbers and aubergines. The tomatoes and cucumbers have been so prolific, and I've been harvesting both at least twice a week since early December:

I've kept up with preserving my home grown produce - raspberries, redcurrants, strawberries, blueberries, plums and apricots have all been turned into jams and jellies to fill the pantry shelves. A big batch of yummy tomato ketchup came from some of my excess tomatoes and I experimented and made some spicy plum sauce for the first time ever.
The apples and corn are nearly ready for harvesting. The garden has kept us in a variety of salads and potatoes all through Summer, and I've just planted out the Autumn/Winter crops.
The weather hasn't been too great, we have had more significantly cooler nights since December and lots of rain (which I would never complain about as the garden really needs it).

All in all it's been a good few months, we have had family over from England for the past three months. They went home last weekend so we have all been feeling a little sad. We had a great time going on lots of small holidays around the South Island and we tried to squeeze in as many places as possible - Queenstown, Arrowtown, Dunedin, Picton, Nelson, to name a few. So it's back to reality here for us this week.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Spinning for lace........

Over the last 2 weeks I've spent every spare minute I could find spinning the fibre that I combed and I'm very pleased with what I've achieved. It takes a very long time to fill a bobbin when you are spinning extremely fine singles.

While spinning I was considering leaving the yarn as a singles yarn. Here's what Peter Teal says on the subject:

When embarking on the production of plied yarns the spinner should consider the amount of extra labour involved over making a singles yarn of the same count. For example two yarns of half the diameter of the finished yarn have to be spun, and here one should remember that spinning time increases as the diameter of the yarn decreases, then the two yarns have to be combined by a third twisting operation. A plied yarn is therefore very costly in terms of time to produce.

But after thinking about the benefits of plying the yarn:
It balances the yarn
Plied yarns are more uniformly strong

I decided to ply after all

The result was 150g of combed fibre which I worsted spun into 2 bobbins of singles yarns on my Traveller wheel at 11 TPI, these were then plied together at 11 TPI. I have 1590mtrs of perfectly balanced lace weight yarn. It's off to the dyepot.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Wool Combs and an Exhibition

For me it's all about quality. I like to work with the best quality materials and tools I possibly can. When I put a lot of hours into a project I want the finished item to be as good as it can possibly be.

I've purchased locally carded fibre a few times recently and I'm sad to say that I've been really disappointed with it. I recently bought 2kg of half bred carded fibre - when I opened up the bags it was full of neps and noils, short cuts and dirty tips that were thoroughly mixed in, I had paid $60 for it so it wasn't cheap. I tried spinning it but it was taking forever and was far from enjoyable due to stopping every few inches to pick out all the crap. My hubby's favorite yorkshire saying is "you can't polish a turd" That was ringing in my ears the whole time I was trying to spin the blasted stuff.

So I decided to get myself a pair of these beauties:

I am totally chuffed with them. I chose the Valkyrie extra fine combs after much deliberation. I nearly bought the Majacraft combing set but was worried they would be too small for my needs. These combs are lightweight but can handle a fair amount of fibre. There's a comparison table here which I found so very helpful and it helped me to make up my mind which ones to go for. This lady has obviously put a lot of time and effort into testing wool combs and I found her research very informative.

My next purchase will be the hackle to go with my combs so that I can blend fibre from my alpacas with wool and silk to make my own custom blends.

Of course I have been experimenting. I washed, combed and spun a small amount of raw alpaca to see how the combs perform and I was very happy with the result:

550 mtrs of very heavy lace weight 100% alpaca.

My spinning guild will be holding an exhibition at the local art gallery throughout the last week of October. Members who would like to participate were given a bag of locally carded fine corriedale fibre. This fibre is also full of crap and I had been considering not using it. Today I decided to comb that bag of fibre. The result is beautiful ~ soft, white, perfectly combed little nests of fluff, however, there is an awful lot of waste, as in there is more waste than actual combed fibre:

The fibre as I received it. It doesn't look that bad coiled up but believe me it is full of noils and vegetable matter along with dirty tips.

After 2 passes through the combs.

This is the waste from one batch of fibre.

Here's the beautifully prepped finished nests ready for spinning. See, you can polish a turd!

Now comes the hard bit - to decide what to make, but first to spin the fibre and see what meterage I can get. I'm going to aim for a heavy lace weight to fingering weight yarn and hoping to possibly get 100g of good usable fibre out of the 300g that I have.

There has been crafting of another kind going on here recently, I made a new Roman blind for my bathroom:
Lastly ~ I finished off 2 cardigans this week, they had accidently got packed away to the loft during all the recent upheaval, one of them had been a WIP for nearly 2 years:


~Harvest Moon

Monday, March 25, 2013

Fabulous Fennel

The veggy patch is in full production. We picked 3 kg of runner beans yesterday, ate some with dinner last night and I blanched and froze the rest. There's another similar amount of beans almost ready to pick. I can see us getting sick of beans fairly soon.

The Florence fennel is getting quite big ~ so today I picked 3 bulbs that were bigger than a clenched fist and decided to make soup. It was a great way to use up some home grown potatoes, onions and spinach too. I made fresh chicken stock from yesterdays roast chicken carcass, celery, onion, carrot and a bay leaf but I have used stock cubes/powder in this recipe before and you still get a good result.

Creamy Fennel Soup:
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
a knob of butter
3 large fennel bulbs, cleaned and chopped
reserve a few of the fennel fronds
600g potatoes, peeled and chopped
900ml chicken stock
100 ml milk or cream or a mixture of both
salt and white pepper

a handful of spinach or silver beet leaves, shredded
3 rashers of streaky bacon, chopped

Heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan (or stock pot). Add the onion, garlic and fennel then sprinkle with a little salt and stir. Put the lid on and cook gently just to sweat them, you don't want to colour them, just soften them up. It will take about 10 minutes.

Next add the chopped potatoes and the chicken stock, bring to the boil and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for 20 minutes or so until the potatoes are tender.

Remove the pot from the heat and using either a stick blender (my preference) or a jug type blender process until the soup is smooth and free of any lumps. Return to the pan, add the milk/cream and stir whilst gently warming. Avoid boiling the soup at this stage as it could split. Taste and season well with salt and white pepper. Add a few snipped up fennel fronds and stir through.

Keep the soup hot while you make the topping:
Dry fry the streaky bacon until it's crispy, then add the shredded greens. Stir for a few minutes until the greens are wilted. Pour the soup into bowls and top with the bacon garnish.
Makes 6 servings.

If you are making the soup you could go the whole hog and make this bread to go with it:

I used the same recipe but divided the dough into 2 rustic cobs and proved until doubled in size, then baked them for 15 mins each in my mini oven (I still don't have the proper oven installed).

Thursday, March 21, 2013

I'm back....

It's been a long long time since I have had the time or chance to write anything. Life here has been total mayhem ~ the house repairs are still not finished, the kitchen is still half fitted. The saying 'anything that can go wrong, will go wrong' has become my mantra over the past 6 months. I used to be a glass half full type of person but now I find myself leaning to the glass half empty side more and more.

I would not wish this EQ repair process on anyone. I knew it would be a major upheaval and in my mind I could easily cope with it (hey, we used to move house/county sometimes country every 18 months when my hubby was in the RAF). We were lucky in that we had an extremely good team of tradesmen, but unfortunately it was the organ grinder who didn't listen. Hence we are still waiting to have the chimney, fireplace and surrounding walls taken out in the kitchen. Heaven knows when this will happen.

Because of this we can't have the remaining parts of our new kitchen installed, but as it happens that's no problem as things went wrong yet again. The kitchen cabinets were ordered way back last year, when delivered in December 3 crucial cabinets were missing. One being the oven housing unit. Me being me, although feeling extremely annoyed, thought it's no biggie, worse things happen ~ I will just go buy a bench top oven and make do for a few months until the other cabinets arrive in February.

February turned to March and still no cabinets, I rang the shop and they said they had arrived but I would have to pay an outstanding invoice before they could deliver them. WHAT? We had paid in full for the entire kitchen on order day. I searched through bank statements and invoices to prove the payment had been made. After emailing copies of these to them I waited and waited. No apology, no confirmation, nothing. Zilch. I rang the shop to ask if they had clarified that it had been paid for. It had, which I knew anyway. It was like pulling teeth. Still no apology.

The delivery truck arrived last week and after unwrapping the cabinets I saw that the wrong oven housing unit had been ordered. I saw red. I rang and told them there was NO WAY I was willing to wait another 3 months for another replacement being ordered (from Germany). It seems they made a mistake on the latest order, even though I had confirmed twice with them that this one (showing them a picture) was the cabinet on order and was assured that it was.  As it turned out they had the cabinet I was wanting in stock, unfortunately it was a shop model one. Did I get a discount? Don't be silly, refunds/discounts don't exist here. Once they have your money there's no way you would ever get a penny of it back. You have to think yourself lucky that they managed to get you the items you had ordered and paid over the odds for to start with!

Sorry if I'm sounding negative about New Zealand today, but the place really tests my patience sometimes. Life is not a bed of roses here as friends and family overseas like to think. It seems everything has to be put through the Kiwi Complicator machine at least once and sometimes twice.  Sometimes I feel life here is just a big battle.

On the positive side, there are little things that are making me happy, such as food and flowers from my garden:

These colours tell me it's Spring, yet it's Autumn.
Easter approaching tells me it's Spring, but it's not.

A pre-loved Ashford Traveller wheel that I finally found the time to lavish with TLC, it's like new after a good rub down with furniture oil, a new drive band, tensioning system and a few tweaks here and there. It spins lovely ~ not that I've had the time to do much spinning:

We have a completely renovated, beautiful bathroom that's waiting for some new flooring laying tomorrow, (finally we have a 'finished' room, yay!) my organic vegetable garden has kept us in potatoes, salads, berries and vegetables over the past 6 months. I walk my dogs most days and as I turn to go back up the driveway and look over at the mountains I know I've got it good. The problem is life can stop you seeing it that way sometimes!

Thursday, October 4, 2012


It's 5 years and 4 days since we emigrated to New Zealand. That's 5 very long years when there's no shortbread.

Rewind to Monday ~ at the supermarket I noticed they now have packs of rice flour (ground rice to us Brits). Imagine my excitement.

Now everyone who bakes shortbread knows that this is the 'special' ingredient that adds the satisfying crunch and texture to the biscuit. When baked without ~ well that just isn't shortbread to me. It's too soft and cloying in the mouth.

I bought some after scrutinizing the label to make sure it didn't contain any gelatine or other suspect additions as is often the case.

So what did I make on Tuesday morning?

Here's my recipe:

115g soft butter (unsalted)
55g caster sugar 
A good pinch of salt
130g plain flour
40g ground rice/rice flour

1. Pre-heat the oven to 150C. Put the butter into a large mixing bowl, and beat with a wooden spoon until soft. Beat in the sugar and salt.
2. Sift over the flour and ground rice and mix to a smooth dough; it should come together nicely. If not add a little more butter.
3. Shape the dough into a log, about 2" in diameter. Roll in baking paper and chill for at least an hour.
4. Cut into slices just over 1 cm thick and place on a baking tray lined with paper. Leave a space as they will spread slightly. Bake for 25-30 minutes until they feel firm but are still very pale.
5. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes then transfer to a wire rack. Once cold they will last for a good few days in an airtight container, unless you eat them all quickly of course.
Makes about 24 biscuits.
I often add flavourings such as grated lemon rind, finely chopped preserved ginger, chopped dried cranberries with orange rind, lavender flowers, macadamia nuts or drizzle a little melted chocolate over the tops. But sometimes, like today, I just want them plain to remind myself of what I have been missing. 
I can predict what will happen next ~ in a few days the rice flour stock will be totally gone and will never get refilled. When you ask about it at the store they will say 'there's no call for it' even though there obviously is. I've noticed this happens a lot here. That's why I bought 6 bags. Now I'm off to eat shortbread.........