Wednesday, December 15, 2010

VVF Floreanna and the AOBA Ozarks Show

I waited and waited for the results of the AOBA Ozarks show to be posted and I eagerly checked my mailbox for the results for a box with my fiber and hopefully ribbons. Actually I received the results pretty quickly (within in 12 days) but when you check the AOBA website at least 4 x a day it seems as if it is a long time.
I had sent 4 samples of 2 oz to the Ozarks show for the spin off. I like to send fiber samples to the spin off because I always get very good feedback. As it turns out my animals received 3 blue ribbons and a second. The photo above is one of my cria's from 2009. She is dark silver gray. Very lovely girl. I also sent in fiber from GA Blazing Ben's, VVF Delphine and GA Kahula Kid.
Nice gift for the holidays.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Fiber Arts-Woodland Weaver And Spinners Sale

This is what I will be doing this weekend. Hope all of you in the area can come by and check it out!


Friday, December 10, 2010 2p to 8p
Saturday, December 11, 2010 10a to 4:30p

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Yarn Hollow Open House

Today was the open house at The Yarn Hollow in Grandville. It was a lot of fun. And the company was great. Thanks Melissa, twirly curly bird. As you can see from the picture Heather has her arms full of beautiful rovings and yarn. I picked up a gorgeous bag of multicolored hand dyed fleece by the Yarn Hollow ( a.k.a Rita Petteys) and some wrist warmers from Winding Wool Creek Fiber Mill, LLC. I found a lot of my wonderful knitting friends from the Peaceful Knitters Group (check them out on Raverly) were already there and knitting away! But I promised Juliette and Cait not to post their photos. Maybe next time.
All in all it was great and if you haven't stopped by they are open until 5 pm today.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Fiber Arts-Etsy Store

Most of this week has been spent taking photos and working on my etsy store. And it looks as if it paid off. The store was profiled on Etsy Treasury Alpaca Shack for VVF's Art Tarts.
Here is what they look like

Hope everyone has a fun filled fiber weekend!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Photographing Your Handmade Items

Ah...It seems that taking care of your animals is not the end all be all of alpaca farming. While I find it the most relaxing I do also enjoy the fiber aspect of my job. Creating items from alpaca fiber is a lot of fun. However, I want to sell them too. There are a lot of ways that you can market your fiber. The most common is via the internet. Yet you can market your fiber at craft and fiber shows, offer classes, give demonstrations, join spinning groups and of course there is the Etsy store. Etsy is the mecca for handcraft items. Posting your items on Etsy is done in 1/2 hour. At least not the first time. I learned the hard way by setting up a store and then sort of winging the photographs. The pictures of your items are the single most important aspect of your store.
I am not a photographer. In fact I don't really have the patience for photography. I just want to put my item on a table and take a photo and be done with it. Unfortunately that is not how it works. So I decided after my initial attempt at my Etsy store I would pull everything off my site and restart after I did some thorough research. I started with the Storque blog on Etsy. I found a really great article by a photographer. She demonstrated how to build a light box-a suggestion that my professional photographer husband had recommended a long time ago to me. This box basically helps control the light so you can take better photos.
The link to her blog is Copy and paste this then scroll down to the bottom of the page for the DIY light box. There is a lot of information there for the camera shy.

This is a photo of my box. In spite of not looking so great it has turned out to be a lifesaver. I don't have a professional camera and frankly don't know how to use half of the settings on my Olympus Stylus Tough. (It can be used that is a thought!)

This is a photo of a skein of yarn taken in the light box.

And a skein outside of the light box.

How I did it.
I placed my light box on a stand. I turned a magnifying glass with a built in light on and placed it at the side of the
box. I placed white stock board paper in the bottom and at the back of the box. I turned off the flash and put a shadow adjustment on the camera. Then I began to think I how could enhance the photos by staging a bit. The draw back with the box is that you are limited on the size of items that fit into it. A skein of yarn works great but a gum ball machine is too tall. I searched around my house for some small items as the wood bowl seen in the photo at the top. It took me about four hours to complete this session and I took photos of about 10 items. I was getting tired and annoyed toward the end. I suggest that you set up your props and products the day before so you will be ready to focus only on the photographs. It is too distracting running around all over the house looking for stuff.

And speaking of stuff -try to be creative in your staging. Use color to enhance your product by placing it on a cloth or stand that makes your work pop out. I am thinking of putting my 2 oz rovings in a trifle bowl or perhaps on a tray that has a complimentary color to the roving. For example if you create felted flower pins you could place your pins with a small hand shovel or clay pot in the background maybe some soil scattered in the foreground. You get the idea...

Make it fun and creative so that it won't seem like work, but part of your overall project. The photos you can keep as records of your work or to submit to juried shows. Think of the broad picture (no pun intended).

Once your photos are taken you can upload them to a site <""> to crop or fix the color saturation, etc. This site was suggested to me by Twirly Curly Bird. See her Etsy shop at I highly recommend that you use this site or another similar one to clean up your photos before publishing them. Although I am still working on a few details such as the larger items that won't fit in my 12 x 12 x 12 light box. One step at a time. At least I have a store back up and running. And it has some pretty neat photos!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dyeing the Color Spectrum

My mom gave me Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fleece by Gail Callahan for my birthday back in September. I finally cracked it open and was delirious with the dyeing possibilities. I couldn't wait to get myself set up in the kitchen. I wanted to use her 'dyeing your own color wheel" instructions and get a spectrum of colors in alpaca. I was curious to see how alpaca would take the dye. Of course it is beautiful as I expected. I started off by reading the instructions, but not reading them at the same time. I screwed up and wasted a whole of McCormick food dye in yellow. I realized that I needed some coffee, a shower and music. I made a cup of joe, showered and put on some Regina Specktor/Cheb Khaled/Johnny Cash. My brain was ready.
I started by mixing the dyes, correctly this time. My jars were labeled and I had some alpaca seconds washed and ready to go.
Basically I soaked the fiber in 1 part vinegar 2 parts water for 30 minutes. I let it strain and then added it to the mason jar with the dye. I then let it stand for 30 minutes and then into the microwave for 2 minutes for the dye bath to run clear. After microwaving I rinsed the fiber and let it dry. Now I have a beautiful array of colors. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in dyeing. I have read several dye books and I think this Ms. Callahan's directions are very clear and well written. Don't take my mistake at the beginning as a fault of hers. The directions were clear. I was just not at the table. The photos are also of high quality and not over done or cluttered. She includes some really clever methods of dyeing cones, the parking meter method for stripes on yarn, and "mozzarella-style" dyeing with raw fleece. Cannot wait to post another dye method from this book!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Friday Fiber Arts-Dyeing Crazy Day

I spent almost the entire day dyeing skeins of alpaca. Each skein is 110 yards of white 'paca. Alpaca really absorbs the colors well and I ended up with some nice finished products. I mixed Wilton Cake Dyes in mason jars and dipped entire skeins in bowls of color or striped dyed them with a basting brush. I choose hues from yellow, orange, copper to blues and greens. I also finished plying a few hand spun skeins. I let all the skeins dry outside on a dryer rack in the sun. A perfect day for fiber arts. I am scrambling about as I have an expo at Forest Hills Eastern high school on Saturday where I hope to sell some of these beauties.

This skein is alpaca/llama mix. I had some Christmas bling to jazz it up a bit. It was dyed in walnut husks. I plied in a string of red quilting thread with tiny pom poms. I am imagining a nice scarf knitted up from this one.

Enjoy your Fiber Arts Day! Check out Wonder Why Alpacas to see more Fibery Fun!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday Fiber Arts-Art Tarts

As snow is threatening to fall today and I still have to do a few winterizing chores I will be a bit brief today...

This is one of my newest items that I sell at expos and on line. Curly Bird Express helped me brainstorm to come up with this cute packaging. I thought that I would share.
I used 100% alpaca and/or alpaca hand carded with various materials; silk, fire angel, cotton, other wool, some hand dyed, thread, sequins, etc. Placed about 1 /4 oz into a coffee filter and packaged them into bakery boxes. I topped off the 'tarts' with a felted bead. I thought this would be a fun gift idea for spinners or felters.

Check out all the fabulous fiber arts happenings at

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Preparing the Garden for Winter

Ahh. That time of the year when the beautiful colors of summer have faded and we are left with a monochromatic landscape. I like the change of season and enjoy the rest of work from the summer months. Yet I miss the splashes of purples, pinks and oranges that I tuck in my garden between the eggplants, beans and tomatoes. I am keeping the back 1/2 of the plot for dye plants. Last summer I put in fox glove, marigolds and geraniums for the sole purpose of dyeing. Unfortunately I did not get to use any of them. I actually ended up loving the colors too much and did not want to cut them!
Back to garden preparation...I am late getting my garden prepared for winter. I was going to start this morning but I was too cold. When the temperature rises to about 50 F this afternoon I will pull out all the dead plants. I then typically spread a layer of new compost from the huge pile that I have written about in previous blogs. I cover the garden with tarps and place some of the fire pit logs on top to hold them in place over the winter. This system works pretty well. By the time we can actually plant in Michigan (which is about May 20th) the soil under the tarps is weed free. I just hoe it a bit and rake it. Sometimes I add more compost and then I plant my veges. I make a diagram of the garden and order all the plants during the winter. I have tried seeds and started them in the basement with lamps..Way too much work for me. Plus I sometimes forget to water the seedlings. I decided plants are the preferred route for me. Once I have planted the plants I usually place straw in a fairly thick layer all over the garden. It helps keeps weeds down and to retain water. Then I put my yard art in and voila..ready for summer.
I also have a few currants and some blueberry bushes that I need to take care of too. They keep being eaten by the deer or the occasional goat escapee. Grr. So I think this year I am going to keep them fenced. They are still small and never get a chance to grow. Their branches must be really tasty.
Hopefully it will take me only a couple of hours to get this job done. I want to spin this afternoon!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Last cria for 2010

Areia is the last cria for us this year. She is the daughter of our dame, Tula and her sire is Smokey from Ashton Stone Farms. Check out their blog at . She was born on Sunday at around 4 pm. Last year Tula had a more difficult birth. With Areia, she delivered in 15 minutes. I was there to see the whole event. The last few days Tula had been sitting in the shelter and isolating herself a bit. When she began delivery she was resting in the shelter while the rest of the herd was grazing. She walked to the bean pile and kept turning her head to see what was happening at her behind. I figured it might take a while but I was mistaken. She walked around, got down on the ground, walked back to the shelter, sat down, got up and delivered! She was very quiet until the cria arrived and then she just kept talking to her new baby. I moved them up to the barn and within 45 minutes Areia was speaking to her mother. Birth is a miraculous event. This is my 7th cria to be born on our farm. With each birth I am excited and anxious as I was when our first cria arrived, Quito, 1 1/2 years ago.
I try to stay out of the birthing process and let the mom do her job. Alpacas are very sufficient at taking care of their own delivery and care of their newborn crias. I only intervene if necessary and so far that has not happened. Thankfully. NowI will have to patiently wait until late next spring for the arrival of a new cria.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Friday Fiber Arts - Stripe dyeing with Wilton Dyes

I was rummaging through some fiber stash and found a smallish roving of Rambouillet. I decided this fine piece would be perfect to stripe dye and try to work out some kinks in my Wilton dye experimentations. I really cannot commit to dyeing alpaca until I make sure that all goes well on other types of fiber...sorry Rambouillet. Rambouillet also known as French Merino. This breed was developed in 1786 with a flock of Spanish Merino was purchased by Louis XVI. Rambouillet yields a good meat and a fine grade wool.

First I choose sky blue and true blue as my colors. I mixed some of the Wilton dye paste in a mason jar with a bit of vinegar and water. I placed the roving on a piece of saran wrap. I organized the fiber in a snake shape. Using a pastry brush that I dipped into the dye I dabbed the colors onto the fiber. When I had completely dyed the roving I wrapped it up in the saran wrap and placed in it a microwaveable container. On high heat for one minute I cooked the roving. I let it rest for a minute and then cooked it for another minute. I continued this process alternating between cooking 1 minute (total 10 minutes) and rest 1 minute (total 10 minutes).
I then unwrapped the fiber, rinsed it and hung it to dry. Voila!

Before spinning:
Unfortunately my photos are not showing the variation of colors. They are similar yet very rich and deep. I have the before and after spinning. I quickly spun some on a bobbin that had fawn alpaca on it. Therefore you might see a bit peaking out from underneath the blue. The entire roving is about 3 1/2 inches wide. I carefully separated strips lengthwise, about 1/8" wide and spun them.

After spinning:

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Welcome Esmeralda

I calculated the dates when Meddlin Millie was to have her cria. Obviously i was off. Not sure how this happened. I usually can pinpoint fairly accurately. I thought MM might have her cria in a week. So yesterday I was busy with a pellet stove in our studio above the garage. I lit it early in the morning so the studio would be warm by the time I finished feeding the animals. When I finally got up there two hours later the entire room was full of smoke. Grr. I spent the whole morning messing around with getting smoke out of the room and did not get to do all the fun things I had planned. Anyhow this explains why I did not see that a cria had been born. It was my son who relayed the exciting news. He had gotten a ride home with a friend and they were viewing the alpacas. He was very surprised to see Esmeralda in the pasture. He called me on his phone and said "There is a cria here." You can imagine what was running through my mind such as "Where are you?" ( I thought he was still at school) and "What are you talking about?" Sometimes teenagers really don't make any sense at all.
Long story short we have a beautiful new cria-FEMALE! And she seems she is going to be rose gray which is hardly surprising as her sire is a medium rose gray and is aptly named Andrew The Great.

This is Miriam and Esmeralda.
My son named Esmeralda. My family gets angry because I always name the crias. I told him my only condition is that he choose a name of a geographical location in South America. It is my "theme."

Pretty cute!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Wilton Cake Dyes and Alpaca FIber

Yes, you can dye with Wilton Cake dyes. I was attending a Woodland Weavers and Spinners spinning meeting. A woman was working on a beautiful skein of striped roving in blues and purples. I asked her how she had dyed it and was surprised to hear that she used Wilton Cake dye. She explained the method she had used and truly the results were magnificent. I could hardly contain my excitement. As soon as I arrived home I ran to my pantry to dig out all the Wilton dyes I never use. I was excited to see quite a few jars in an array of colors. Whoohoo!
Someone asked me to dye alpaca fiber in red, orange and green. The results of this effort are below. The only thing I have about deciding a specific color or result before I dye is that I loose the thrill of the surprise.
Try as I might, I was unable to get a deep red or a deep green. I will work with this dye possibly even combining it with Kool Aid, my friend, to see what I can accomplish. Meanwhile I like the psychedelic hues that emerged.

Sugar Plum ( I have no idea what a sugar plum is, unless of course it is an actual sugared plum-yuck (This color definitely conjures up sugar plums dancing in my head).

Spooky Orange-uh not really. It is a great color for Halloween. Not too dark/scary and not to light/whimpy. Middle ground orange/fun.

Christmasy Fluff-I know it is not as dark a an actual pine but it does have some elements of leaf/tree. Perhaps it is a bit too light for Christmas bling. I will have to work on this.

Sugar Plum 2-no comment other than my second attempt at red. What can I say? It will look great with the Christmasy Fluff in a bracelet. And yes, I would wear it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Battling the Compost Monster

The Pile

Prior to an open house there is a lot do around the barn such as cleaning corners, vacuuming cobwebs, and organizing tools. These chores I wait until I have a deadline to complete. Now that all those things are done, it is time to really work, i.e. pasture management, soil erosion and the compost pile.

The minis are really hard on the paddocks. We have mostly sandy soil in our area which is great when you want to dig a hole but not so great when you want to grow grass. I reseeded the mini pasture last week and put straw on top. We had quite a bit of rain and now I can see a bit of growth. Hurray! I moved the minis, of course, to another paddock for the winter. So one chore down!

I also have some serious soil erosion issues. The alpacas are much easier on the pastures. They don't have upper teeth to yank the grass out by the root, as minis do, and their necks apparently are not as strong as the horses. Their padded feet don't destroy the growth. Even tiny horse hooves are treacherous to established grasses.
That being said, the issue is a hill in the girl's paddock. For some reason grass will not grow on the side and it is slowly eroding. So I have decided to use some of the gianormous manure pile that is accumulating at the back of the barn. I am also competing with the chickens to keep the soil intact around their fence. They love, love to peck and scratch at the fence line which of course leaves gaps under the fencing.
Fence Line for Chickens

The compost pile, beneficial in that I can use it where ever I am losing dirt, is a monster of a thing. It has out grown the space where it is supposed to be and is now a huge, enormous pile. In spite of my hard work to turn it with a tractor every few days it won't go away. It grows and grows. I think part of the problem is the hay that I shove into it. All that carbon off sets the balance of the pile. So maybe it is a good thing that I have erosion issues. I can just toss it about and maybe it will get smaller. Ha!

The compost house

So as October approaches I will not be doing fun fibery activities for a while, but battling against rain, chickens and a compost monster.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Grand River Spinners

Melissa spinning recycled sari silk on her Lendrum. Paula working hard spinning some Jakob on her new Lady Bug wheel.

On Sunday Grand River Spinners met and spun for a couple of hours at Biggby's on East Beltline/28th Street in Grand Rapids. It was tons of fun. We have some new spinners and enjoyed sharing tips and techniques together. It was also Spin In Public Day/Weekend. ( So we celebrated by drinking coffee, chatting and spinning. We had several people stop by and ask questions or just sort of stare!!

Katie is spinning a "punk rock" roving on her spindle while Alita is taking a break from her drop spindle and knitting a fantastic pair of socks!

Tamara is spinning alpaca (of course) on a wire core. While Alita and Katie pose for the photo.

If you would like to join our group we meet the 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month fromf 1-3pm. You can check out our Ravelry page and join us at Grand River Spinners. I am working on our own website and will have that up soon.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday Fiber Arts-Dyeing and Mixing Colors

So I know I talk about kool aid alot! It actually is a cheap and pretty versatile dye. I have done a lot with cherry and strawberry packets and had some pretty wonderful results. I have been really wanting to dye greens. I searched around for a plant outside, but as Fall is fast approaching, I couldn't find anything suitable. So kool aid my old friend came to the rescue. I started with 50 g alpaca fiber. I mordanted the fiber in alum and cream of tartar. I prepared the dye bath by heating the water and tossing in 2 blue packets and 2 yellow packets of KA. Then I rinsed the fiber under warm water so it does not get shocked in the dye bath. I gently placed them in the pot and brought it to a simmer. I usually simmer about 1 hour. Then turn of the stove and let it sit until the bath is clear. Kool Aid is great in this way because the fiber absorbs it all. I am working on trying to get my colors on the fiber not to streak. I wanted these particular skeins to have color variation. I have been successful in the past with walnuts to get a really even dark color. Key tip is to put the dye in first and stir it around before adding the fiber. Especially with kool aid because the powder can adhere to certain parts of the fiber and not others. Anyway I ended up thinking the green was too minty. So I added a packet of lemon lime. And here is the result with a cherry roving next to it.

Now if someone can help me figure out how to keep the skeins tidy when dyeing. I tie off in three places and am very careful and is the same..twisted and upside down. Drives me crazy. I have the same problem with the hose in the barn. It doesn't matter what I do the hose or skein or whatever stingy thing must be a convoluted mess!

Anyway..this second photos is alpaca dyed in blue kool aid. I carded it on my Ashford hand carders with dark blue locks from a small bag I bought at the Michigan Fiber Festival two years ago. The bag was unlabeled so I am not sure what kind sheep provided these locks. I am going to check that out. And I added silver angel hair. There is about 1/2 oz of fiber in the bundle. I am going to do some more. I was inspired by a friend of mine who combined similar colors and created a beautiful skein of yarn on her drop spindle. Check out her blog at Curly Bird Express

Friday, September 10, 2010

Spun necklace

This necklace was a bit of mistake. It actually started as another project but ended as this. I added a lot of twist to create the jigs and jags in the yarn. I used alpaca dyed in purple kool aid and combed top pink merino. The clip at the back of the necklace is a vintage clip on earring. I would do a few things differently next time. I would take the ends of fiber and crochet them by wrapping them around the back of the necklace to ensure its durability. I would also try to twist the fiber a little more and I would use darker colors for the coming fall season. My kids voted for a necklace in black alpaca with gold bling.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A rainbow of felted alpaca balls

Felting alpaca balls for jewelry is not as monotonous as it may seem. This selection are balls I recently made. I typically needle felt the ball to shape it. Then wet felt it for a more dense ball. The deep purple ball in the left corner is needle felted only. It is not as compact and solid which doesn't make very sturdy jewelry.
The balls shown here are a mixture of alpaca and wool. The orange ones are combed top merino. I don't really like to work with combed top. It tends to be harder to wet felt without creases and cracks. I prefer raw fiber that I have dyed and carded in my Ashford hand carders. The yellow dyes are from yellow cone flower and Queen Anne's Lace from my pasture. I top dyed the cone flower in pink kool aid to get a tie dye effect. The purple balls are white alpaca dyed in purple kool aid. The light brown color balls are fawn alpaca top dyed in orange kool aid. The remaining colors are wool with commercial dyes.
With a beautiful selection to choose from...I can imagine several interesting pieces of jewelry.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Iquique, our newest cria

I just wanted to post another photo of this cute guy. He is so sweet. He has a great disposition and a very attentive mom.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Friday Fiber Arts-Spinning with seed beads

I wanted to add some beads to this skein which was spun on a spindle in Bolivia (100% alpaca of course!). I was shooting for something Indian as in Taj Mahal or the like. I didn't really like the original color so I dyed it my fav. Kool Aid. I love this stuff! It dyes wonderfully, is light fast and produces vibrant unique colors. The original shade of this yarn was a boring beige. Still I wasn't happy with final result even after the hip cherry Kool Aid dye. It really needed some bling! I love sparkles, vibrant colors, and overall shiny, glittering glitz. Hence the seed bead idea. I did not google this idea or check to see how it might be done. Why would I make this easy for myself? I just decided string a bunch of colored beads onto a metallic thread. All was going along well until I had to move the string and place it in a plastic bag. It got all bungled about and I spent 1 1 /2 hours untangling it so I could ply it with the yarn. Finally the plying took place and the result is below.
The thread I used is pretty strong and I am confident it will hold up nicely. I did hear a rumor about a bead stringer that I could buy. A few women were talking about it at the Michigan Fiber Festival and my ears perked up. I tried to find an example from one of the vendors but no luck! I just wanted to see what it looks like. The stringing and plying were a bit of a stress reliever. And I had fun apart from the untangling.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Welcome to the World-Iquique

This morning at 9:00 am Iquique was born. His mom White Lace, a first time mother, was a bit overwhelmed. All the female alpacas were investigating the new arrival. I found him sitting up and very alert. I moved mom and cria to stall to check vitals and make sure he was able to nurse. He is very active and ready for the world. I felt as if it was the first cria not the sixth born on our farm. I was fairly excited. His sire is Blazing Ben, a light fawn while his mom is true white. I think he is quite beautiful and I was very curious as to what color his fiber would be. Photo compliments of Noah's cell phone.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Missing Alpaca

Every morning as I grain the alpacas I count them and look them over. I see if they have anything unusual about them such as their gait or dull expression in their eyes. Yesterday I fed the girls and went over my routine mental check list. All was well. I carried the boy's grain to their paddock and as I placed the buckets on the fence I counted each one. 6 total. Huh? I should have 7 boys. I counted again. Then again. I took a deep breath and scanned the paddock. I walked the fence line to see in their shelter. Who was missing? I rechecked. Quito. My first born alpaca. He is a fawn and a little over a year old. I frantically searched the edges of the fence line. No Quito. I am thinking "Great. Someone has an alpaca on their lawn." I ran over to the girl's paddock and counted. Eight. Good. I searched their paddock and shelter. No Quito. I thought he might have escaped and ran over to this paddock to be with his mom.
O.K. Now I am panicking. Is he alone in the woods that surround our farm? Did he wander off and head down the road? I didn't know what to do so I called Sam. As I am explaining, calmly, that our alpaca is gone. I glance to a tree beyond the fence line and lo and behold there he is-Quito standing in the shade craning his neck to reach a leaf from the oak tree. I felt my stomach fall. Whew. I didn't see him there because he was in the shade where it is quite dark. I should have expected that he would not wander off. I guess I wasn't thinking clearly. Thankfully he is safe and back with his buddies Delphine and Goyo.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Owning Alpacas on a farm in Michigan

When I first brought my 6 new alpacas home I was inundated with questions from friends and family. Mostly I heard...What did you buy?? Then I was asked "Are you sure it is not too cold for them in Michigan?" " Or too hot?" "Or too seasonal?" "Or too...Or too?" No they are actually just fine in Michigan. They do well in cold weather. This must be due to the fabulous fiber they cart around 364 days a year. In early summer they are shorn so they stay cooler in the hot, humid, yuck weather. We have three sided houses in their pastures for them to seek shade. I actually think they are a well adapted animal to our Michigan climate. They seem to enjoy the 4 days of 90+ and then the sudden the drop to 72F for a few days. They don't even mind a beautiful sunny blue sky day and then blam! thunderstorm! In fact, I think they do better than we do. Overall alpacas are an even tempered, gentle spirit. They are contented to eat grass, roam around in their pasture, seek shelter when needed and spit when grain is delivered.
I love their serenity. I love to sit on my front porch and watch them graze or to see the crias prong about. Now that the we have owned alpacas for several years we are more apt to get questions like "When is the next cria coming?" or "Can I come and help shear?" or "Do you have any more of that rose gray fiber?"

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Plying alpaca with cotton thread

I was really excited to spin my new roving that I had processed at Morning Sun Fiber Barn in Iowa. The rovings I received were blended from several of my animals (White Lace, Blazing Ben and Emmy). I decided to spin up a skein of the latte colored fiber. Spinning it was pure joy! It is so soft and smooth. I love the natural colors of alpaca, but decided to give this skein some color. I picked a blue cotton thread to ply with the two bobbins. I figured out each of my bobbins hold about 3 oz of pre-spun roving. This calculation helped me a lot as I was always having extra yarn on the bobbin. I had just enough cotton to complete the project. This skein is 110 yards.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Friday Fiber Arts Dyeing wool with Virginia Creeper

I have been wanting to dye alpaca fiber in virginia creeper for quite some time. Last week as I was walking a friend's dog along the road I found large vines of the native plant. I gathered a small plastic bag full and brought it home to test out.
Viriginia Creeper is a woody vine native to North America. It is a five leafed plant with toothed edges. It shouldn't be confused with poison ivy which has 3 leaves and smooth leaf edges. In the fall the foliage becomes red and purple berries emerge. The berries are poisonous to humans. The vine is prolific in Michigan and I easily found it right here in Ada. I have been waiting to dye with this plant for some time. I gathered only the leaves and chopped them into 3" pieces. The entire plant can be used, but I just used leaves this time. I had premordanted my alpaca fiber from White Lace in alum and the assistant cream of tartar. I placed the leaves in a big pot and filled it with cold water. I let the contents come to a simmer on low heat and remain at that temperature for 2 hours. I let the dye liquor come to room temperature. I strained the dye bath and pitched the leaves. I then wetted my alpaca roving in water the temperature of the dye bath and added the roving to the pot. I heated the bath/fiber to simmer and let it do a magical transformation for 1 1/2 hours. I turned off the heat and let the dye bath cool and sit for about 24 hours. I was going to leave it longer, but someone pulled the car into the garage and knocked the pot over! I then rinsed the roving in room temperature water and then a vinegar rinse to set the dye. I draped my beautiful salmon-pink alpaca roving over a hanger and let it drip dry in the laundry room. I didn't dye enough fiber to spin any large amounts of yarn, but I think I can make some wool balls or run some pieces through my homemade hackle with rose gray alpaca. Yum.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Chickens

We have been waiting patiently for our chickens to start laying eggs. I guess I didn't realize that 20 weeks in chicken age meant middle to late August for eggs. We started this summer off by purchasing 5 Bantams the first week of May. Unfortunately 2 passed away while Sam and I were in India. We ended up with 2 hens and one rooster. I wish we had recorded his crow as he stammered through learning how to be manly in the early weeks of his "teenage years." Now he crows quite well and quite often. He is a small rooster and does his best to control all the hens. The rest of the brood are comprised of Black Australorps and Rhode Island Reds. They are equally beautiful birds. They are larger than than the Bantams but that doesn't seem to deter Mr. Rooster.
In general BA and RIR are friendly chickens. Ours, however, are not because we did not spend time holding them or working with them when they were young.
We house the chickens next to the alpacas and have their own coop and pen that they roam around in. I give them kitchen scraps which they love. They enjoy fruit peel the most. Both Reds and Australorps are excellent layers with good dispositions. They both lay large brown I said we are waiting patiently.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Hackle Monster

Aggh! I am going crazy! My spinning friend, Melissa, showed me how to make a hackle out of combs and a piece of wood. I have been experimenting ever since. I love to combine colors and fabrics into my alpaca fiber. This is my first shot at yarn art. The basis of this yarn is my new alpaca roving from Kahula the Kid and Marla. They are bay black and rose gray. Very beautiful roving. Any way I then combined peach, deep purple and hot pink wool (sorry I don't know what kind of sheep), silver angel hair, bits of peach tuile, and clumps of recycled sari fabric. I spun the hackled fiber and plied the single with silver thread. Oolala. I love it. I had one small break about 1/4 of the way into the yarn, but cleverly fixed it. The skein is 85 yards.

I am now working on fawn alpaca roving with purple merino and pink angel hair. I might add some bits of tuile, or a few buttons, wait..what about shredded wrapping paper? or sequins or.....

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

More Canning..

I have been having a lot of fun trying some new recipes. Two days ago I spent half the day chopping onions, grating ginger root and peeling lemons. I ended up with some delicious marmalades. The red jar is Red Onion marmalade. It has, obviously, red onions, dried cranberries, orange peel, brown sugar and apple juice. The small yellow jar is Quick Ginger Lemon marmalade. Miriam made fresh popovers and we ate them with a dollop of this sweet mixture. Yum. Yum. My only complaint is that it was not quick. It took me forever to peel the lemons, slice the peel thinly and separate the segments from the membrane. And the kitchen was a sticky mess! Yet it was worth it.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cafe Latte and spinning

Today while spinning my new alpaca fiber I was drinking an iced cafe latte. And the results of both were fantastic. I am pleased with my newly processed fiber and was excited to see how it would spin up. The results are in roving and in spun. I confess I was also watching Hercule Poirot with my girls on the front porch while spinning and sipping some caffeine. It was a wonderful, relaxing afternoon