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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Alpaca Fibre Processing....

I've been diligently washing 2 lingerie bags of alpaca fibre every evening this week, as soon as it's dry it's on my combs, being made into clean, soft nests of delicious fibre ready for spinning:
This is the fibre that was sitting in the red basket on my 'Three Bags Full' post last week, it was a fleece I bought from a breeder friend last year off her alpaca Chantallini.
I washed it in mild hair shampoo, 2 good rinses, then a final rinse with a spot of hair conditioner added (as this cuts down on the static when you come to comb it), then laid it out on a rack to dry and have combed 280g so far. There's another 200g dry today. I shall wash another batch after dinner, and so the washing/drying/combing cycle goes on and on.

I have an image in my mind that one day I will have a whole shelf of large lidded boxes, each box containing the processed fleece from one of my alpacas. When I get the urge I can just walk to the box and remove the required amount of ready to spin fibre that I need. We can all dream.

Sometimes I don't want to sit and knit, or to sit and spin for that matter, sometimes the only thing that will cut the mustard for me is some good old fibre prep!

Monday, October 20, 2014


Today I picked the first of the season's asparagus from the garden. It doesn't take long to grow once those first little spears poke their way through the soil. We will be eating it most days for the next 8 weeks, then I have to stop cutting it and let the crowns fatten up ready for next year. I have managed to keep this bed alive for the last 4 years so I must be doing something right!

I love the colours, green and purple are so nice together.

Poached eggs & asparagus for dinner tonight. Yummy.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

3 Bags Full.... of Alpaca Fibre

Well, 2 bags and a basket to be precise.

This is 2 days of work.
The white is 700g of cria fleece which will be blended with 18 micron merino, the bag in front is 1kg of tan/white alpaca and the basket contains the rest (about 600g) of the tan fleece which I want to wash and comb.
The 2 bags are going off to the wool carders tomorrow for processing. I still cleaned all of this fleece, lock by lock, with a flick carder to get all the VM out and believe me it was full of the stuff. But, if you send rubbish off to the carders you get rubbish back, and I want to have nice fibre that's a pleasure to spin, so time spent on it now will pay off in the long run.

The white alpaca is so soft, I'm going for a 70/30 blend with the merino. The tan fleece is also lovely and soft - I'm tempted to just have it washed and carded and kept as 100% alpaca. All the fleece have staples of about 7".
I've just made a start on Radar's, it's chocolate brown with black and so far I have skirted it, taken off the legs, neck and belly fibre yet I can't see any guard hair in his fleece at all. It's very crimpy and silky soft. I think I may send it to the wool carders next month if I have it prepped by then. That will be 3 down, 2 more fleece to go. The end is in sight...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Rappard Little Peggy

I finally got a Little Peggy wheel. She's a 1980 wheel. I've been wanting one for a long time. She will be my ideal wheel for going to spinning meetings due to her size. I have an Ashford Traveller (which I also love) but Little Peggy is much more compact. I also love the idea that she can be set up in Scotch tension or double drive. I brought her home yesterday and she was in a state of neglect, I feel she has been a well used wheel but has not been used for years. Apart from the dirt and grime she was in pretty good condition:

I spent a good few hours cleaning every inch of her with furniture oil, the wool on the bobbins was a pain to get off as it had set on there like cement and has left black marks on the core of the bobbins that won't come out, but that's part of her life history. I cleaned all the old black dirt/grease off. Took the rust off the metal parts using steel wool and furniture oil, then I put her back together and thoroughly oiled her.

She now has new flyer hooks, drive band and brake band. The old hooks had just about worn through:

Here's Peggy after her makeover:

You can see the bobbin support upright is missing so I put an elastic band on for now to hold the bobbins on. I had a wee spin on her last night, smooth and quiet, I'm smitten!

She has a few bumps and knocks but in my eyes she's a real beauty.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Uppers & Downers

How the time goes by, a few days after my last post I got the very sad news that my youngest brother had lost his 2 year battle with Leukemia. He was 36 years old, taken far too early. So I returned to the UK pretty quickly. It did me good although it was under such sad circumstances, it firmly cemented in my mind that I had done the right thing by emigrating to New Zealand.

In August my beloved dog Molly died. It was very quick, she had been diagnosed with MVF in June this year and seemed to be doing well on her meds but we knew it was not a cure, we were just prolonging her life. It was all rather quick in the end, she laid on my lap that evening and just drifted away. She was 13 1/2 years old which is a good age for a Cavalier King Charles. I take comfort in the fact that she didn't suffer, didn't lose her quality of life and died in her own home with the people who had loved her every day of her life at her side.

Because of these unexpected events I have had very little time or inclination for crafting, plus I took on a new job which is swallowing up more of my time than I originally anticipated.

But, there are a few things I would like to tell you about. Firstly I entered some items into an exhibition. 2 were handspun shawls that I made a little while ago. I won 2 awards, the Ashford New Zealand award and the Gifford colour award. The Ashford prize was a gift card and after much thought about what to buy this is what I chose:

The lace flyer kit that fits both my Traveller and my Traditional wheel. I had it in my mind that I could just pop it onto either wheel when I felt inclined to. That's not the case. You have to replace the maidens, as you can see on the pic it comes with 2 different ones. So I decided to set it up permanently on my Traditional wheel. I thought I was spinning fine before, but my word spinning fine singles now feels effortless and much faster. I am thrilled with it to say the least.

A batch of superfine merino which I hand dyed a very long time ago. This is my practise batch for the new flyer and it's a dream to spin.

My Traditional wheel is the one I first learnt to spin on, bought second hand but it was almost new. I drove all the way to Methven to get it, the lady selling it had bought it a few months previously, had a go then decided spinning was not her cup of tea and put it up for sale. It was a steal and I felt guilty handing over the small sum she asked for it.

I finally got round to making new curtains for my bedroom and cushions for my Son and his fiance so while I had the machine set up I made a cushion for the guest bedroom:

I think this fabric is so beautiful, looking at it makes me feel very happy. I have a throw the exact same colour as the blue birds to go with it.

Strangely I seem to have been on a winning streak recently besides the exhibition awards, I won a Tui gardening book, a hair salon gift card for a cut & colour, a very large bulb storage tin (which I cannot even remembering entering a competition for) and a bottle of champagne. I'm definitely buying lotto tickets this week.

We are well into Spring here now and I can almost smell Summer coming. The cherry trees are in full bloom and I have found a little time to spend in the garden, the potatoes are planted, the tomatoes and cucumbers have germinated and I need to get on and clear the Winter crops from the greenhouse and plant the Summer crops out. I look forward to a lot of crafting and cooking over the next couple of months. This time of year is by far my favorite and I feel rejuvenated and full of inspiration.

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.