Welcome! The alpacas and farm life have become my constant teachers, and I have begun shifting my blog focus to reflect the lessons I am learning. I plan to share more thoughts and stories related to farm life in Grays Harbor County and carve out a space in the ethernet where one can stop, breathe, and think.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fall Season Update

Despite the lack of summer weather this year, fall has arrived right on time. School is back in session, there is a crisp chill in the evening air, and the fall festival circuit is about to begin. All of this means it's time to start releasing some new knitting patterns!

My latest pattern design is a baby bonnet made with alpaca yarn dyed by my good friend Val. She is already an expert in dyeing silk and is now enjoying learning the ins and outs of working with alpaca. Her latest creation, Rainbow Sherbet, seemed to beg for a baby hat. So, I created this Ruffled Eyelet Bonnet. The pattern is just being finished and will be ready for purchase soon.

Time to take your sweaters, hats, and mittens out of storage. Fall has definitely arrived.

Ciao for now,

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Shearing Time II

Local alpacas are losing their coats all over the place! This time several of us from the Schafer Meadows Fiber Guild helped out at New Moon Alpacas, owned by one of our newest guild members. This is the first time New Moon has organized a shearing at their own ranch, but you never would have guessed they were newbies. The photos may give the impression of a lot of standing around, but once everyone knew their job, the alpacas were lined up to be weighed, fleece was being shorn, sorted and bagged, toes were being clipped, and some very wonderful people were making lunch in the kitchen. At least half the heard was sheared in one day. Good job everyone!


Ciao for now,

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Shearing Time

It's warming up in the coastal northwest, which means it's time for Annette's boys to get their first haircut! All of the young boys did very well for their first barber shop experience - not too much kicking and carrying on. And now there are several pounds of baby alpaca fiber waiting to be made into yarn...it's a fiber addict's dream come true!

After days of rain, the weather could not have been more perfect! Sunny, but not too hot. A beautiful day for getting together with family and friends to corral and clip alpacas. The process went smoothly with lots of volunteers to help hold and calm the alpacas, an expert pair of shearing hands, and an electric shearing tool. Check out the 'before' and 'after' photos below...

Ciao for now,

Monday, May 24, 2010

New to the Alpaca Yarn Shop: 100% Suri Alpaca Lace-Weight Yarn

As summer approaches, thoughts of being wrapped in an elegant hand made shawl while sipping wine at an outdoor bistro seem to rise with the warm air. Interestingly, I took an informal poll at my last Fiber Arts Guild meeting and discovered that most people are either either hot or cold when it comes to lace knitting. They do, or they don't. 

I will admit that I have not ever made a shawl with lace-weight yarn, so apparently my time has come. Always up for a new challenge, I am actively seeking out a shawl pattern to make for myself with the Suri alpaca lace-weight yarn that has just arrived for sale at The Alpaca Yarn Shop.

If you have never seen a Suri alpaca before (photo from Wikipedia), they are rather unique looking with their fiber hanging off their bodies in long dreadlocks. They differ from Huacaya alpacas, which have fluffy coats similar to sheep.

Suri fiber, when compared to other natural fibers, very closely resembles silk with respect to the smoothness of the fiber shaft. True Suri fiber should be free of crimp, making it well suited for worsted fabrics. Suri yarn also has a lovely luster and beautiful drape when used for knit and crochet projects, such as lace shawls and scarves.                                       

If you have never worked with lace-weight yarn before, I hope you will join me in opening the door to a world of lovely lace projects. Let's jump in together and create something beautiful.

Ciao for now,

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Work in Progess: Spring Bling, part I

The Swallows have arrived in the Northwest! According to local fisherman lore, that means only one more winter storm remains for the season, so spring is definitely here!

This Saturday I will be a vendor at a local Breast Cancer Fundraiser, so I am working on my Spring Bling line for the big event. This year's Spring Bling will include felted Wild Rose pins, assorted flower hair clips, and a special breast cancer awareness pink ribbon adorned with various charms.

One of my Wild Rose pins is pictured here, although it's not completely finished yet. The Bling line is still a work in progress, but I will be taking a trip to my local bead store today to purchase some more bedazzles to add to my creations. I promise finished photos in part II...

Ciao for now,

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Make Your Own Alpaca Felted Flowers

I am often asked if alpaca felts. The answer is yes - beautifully! I love adding felted flowers to all kinds of projects, and I hope this post will inspire you to try making your own.

Although I have included my crochet pattern for a small flower here, you can start with any size knit or crocheted flower. Remember, the felting process causes whatever you are working with to shrink, so keep this in mind when thinking about the desired size of your final felted flower.

Pattern disclaimer - I am not experienced at writing out crochet instructions, so if you have any suggestions for improving or clarifying the pattern directions, please leave a comment.

Pattern: For this flower, I used a size G crochet hook and about 4.5 yards of DK weight 100% alpaca Classic Alpaca yarn from the Alpaca Yarn Co.
(1) Chain 3 and join to make a loop.
(2) Single crochet 11 times into the center of the loop, then slip stitch (ss) into the 2nd chain. (There should be a total of 10 chains around the edge of the resulting circle.)
(3) Chain 3, make one double crochet (dc) and one treble (tr) into the 1st chain; make one tr and one dc into the 2nd chain, chain 3, then ss into the same chain.
(4) ss into the next chain, chain 3, make one dc and one tr into the same chain; make one tr and one dc into the next chain, chain 3, then ss into the same chain.
(5) Repeat step (4) three more times to make a total of 5 petals. End with a ss into the 1st chain of the 1st petal . Cut the yarn and secure with a knot. On the wrong side, weave the yarn tail in toward the center and knot the two yarn tails together several times to help fill in the center hole. Weave in the tails.

Felting the Flower: I prefer to use a washboard and textured dishwashing gloves for wet felting these flowers because it gives me good control over the process. I soak the crocheted flower in hot water and rub it aggressively against the washboard to get the surface fibers to felt. I also use the rough surface of my gloves to fine tune the felting. Don't forget to rub the edges of the petals, including the point where the petals meet. You want to continue this process until the fibers are well integrated. When you're finished, it should look something like the one pictured here. Squeeze out the excess water with your hands or put the flower into a nylon bag and spin out the water in your washing machine.
Finishing the Flower: Use scissors to carefully trim the fuzzies off of the flower and to shape the petals. You can do this either when it is wet or dry. Take your time with this step. You can always trim away more if needed, but you can't put it back. Also, make sure to only trim the surface loops and don't cut into the flower itself. Once the flower is dry, you are ready to add any creative touches that your imagination wishes! For example, I like to sew french knots or beads into the center, which adds texture and dimensionality to the flower. Search for free patterns for leaves to add even more pizazz. (Note: The hair clip flowers below were made using a crocheted pattern. The yellow flower was created from a knit pattern.)

Final Notes: Felted flowers are a fun accessory that can also be a creative way to use up leftover yarn. Although I like to use alpaca, you can try making these with other types of feltable yarn, like wool. If you have been inspired to give felted flowers a try, I hope you return to leave a comment about your experience! And please feel free to post comments with other felting suggestions and creative inspirations to share.

Ciao for now and Happy Felting,

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Newly Listed 100% Alpaca Hand Painted Yarns

I'm very excited about the new Paca Paints 100% alpaca yarns that I've just listed in my online yarn stores! These gorgeous yarns are hand painted in York, PA by the skilled dyer at The Alpaca Yarn Co. Each skein is a generous 220 yards!

(Colorways from Top to Bottom are Moonlight, Desert Sunset, and Sea Glass)

*March Sale!*

Enter "MARCHSALE" into the 'message to seller' box at checkout and receive a 10% discount on the purchase of any quantity of Paca Paints yarn from The Alpaca Yarn Shop or my Alpaca Yarn Shop on Etsy during the month of March. The discount will be credited to your account via PayPal after purchase. (A 10% credit will be applied only to the purchase price of Paca Paints yarn. Discount is not valid for other yarn, roving, pattern, or pattern kit purchases. Offer expires March 31, 2010.)

Despite the burgeoning signs of spring here in western Washington, there's still a definite chill in the air - a perfect time to knit up a hat or mittens with these beautifully colored yarns. I'm working on a new Fair Isle style hat pattern using the Sea Glass colorway and a solid Classic Alpaca yarn in Marine. I promise to show you a pic when I'm finished!

Ciao for now,

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Right Detergent for Washing Alpaca Fleece

So, you need to wash some alpaca fleece. Like washing anything else, you just need soap and water, right? Well, yes! And no. Not all detergents are created equal.

Soaps and Detergents. They are common household chemicals that we tend to take for granted. But what are they? If you've ever seen salad dressing, you know that oil and water don't mix. Soap is an amazing little collection of charged fatty acids that form micelles, which can interact with both oils/dirt AND water, so the oils and dirt end up washed away.

Soap can be made simply by hydrolizing fatty acid esters (like beef tallow) using a strong base (like lye). The process is known as saponification. Many detergents today contain the cleaning agent sodium lauryl sulfate, which is synthesized from lauryl alcohol derived from coconut or palm kernel oils. I'll spare you the history of soap in this post, but it is fascinating. You can read a fun synopsis here.

Keep in mind that animal fleece is hair. If you look at the ingredients of your shampoo (but DON'T use your hair shampoo to clean your fleece), you will see a lot more there than just a cleaning agent. There are a whole bunch of other ingredients for balancing pH, managing frizz, or whatever else your brand claims to do. Why? Because you want soft, silky, shiny hair (or at least the shampoo manufacturers want you to think you do). Other detergent formulations have been made for skin. And for laundry. And for dish washing. They all use surfactants, but other ingredients have been added depending on their specific use.

Technically, you don't need to wash alpaca fleece before processing and spinning (and some people prefer this approach). However, alpacas love their dust baths, so if you do decide to wash first, I recommend that you use a detergent that is specifically made for animal fibers.

Many people use Dawn dish detergent to clean fleece. I've used dish soap to clean sheep wool, but it's not my first choice for alpaca. Unlike sheep's wool, alpaca does not contain lanolin, so alpaca fleece doesn't require a whole lot of detergent to get clean. In terms of the expense, I think spending a little more money on a fiber wash for alpaca fleece is worth it because (1) you won't need to use very much and (2) it results in a nicer end product (at least in my opinion), which is why you've spent that extra money on the alpaca in the first place. Would you wash your hair with Dawn? Neither would I.

There are lots of "wool washes" out there (and I'm not naming names because I'm not promoting any particular brand). They cost more than dish soap, but they are also formulated to clean and condition your fiber properly without leaving residues behind that could gum up your processing equipment. (Regular hair shampoos have conditioners that can gum up equipment, which is why they should NOT be used.) If you ask any professional alpaca processing mill what kind of detergent they use, I'll bet it's some kind of fiber wash.

Keep in mind that whatever detergent you decide to use will work more efficiently (i.e. you don't need to use as much) in soft water. Rain water is ideal. But, if you don't live in a place that gets 85 inches of rain per year like we do, you may want to add a softening agent if you have hard water. What is a softening agent and how does it work? Hmmm. I think I have my topic for my next post...

Ciao for now,

Monday, March 1, 2010

Animals and Earthquakes

Given that this is not an alpaca-specific post, it is a little off topic. But, the recent earthquakes in the world have reminded me about some of my experiences with animals and seismic activity.

Having spent more than half of my life on the west coast, I am no stranger to earthquakes. Growing up in California, I distinctly remember my cat acting very strangely about 15 minutes before a temblor. However, sometimes she would act the same way with no subsequent earth shaking. Of course, back then, we didn't have the internet and 24/7 access to the USGS website. If I had, I imagine that I would have discovered some seismic event had taken place nearby, even if we humans didn't sense it. Watching my current cat's keen interest in anything new that arrives in the room, even if it was just a box moved from the garage, I am reminded that animals have not been desensitized to their environments to the same extent as people. They also can hear frequencies that we cannot and are not predisposed to believe that the mild shaking they just felt was due to a truck driving by the house.

My other earthquakes-and-animals story comes, ironically enough, from the midwest. When I was living in Milwaukee, I had a live trap strategically placed (and loaded with cat food) to entice the mice living under the dishwasher to come out for relocation. For their part, the tiny rodents were usually quiet, but one night I was awakened at 1 am to the sound of scratching. Finally coming to my senses, I realized that it must be a mouse in the trap and returned to sleep. In the morning, I found two mice in the trap. That itself is not necessarily significant, but the fact that I soon learned of an earthquake that had occurred in the Chicago area around 1 am is, I believe, significant. Having never heard scratching before or after that particular occurrence, I'm sure those mice were pretty freaked out about the earthquake, even though I never felt it.

To bring this back to alpacas, I have not yet seen how alpacas react to earthquakes. If you have observed alpacas' or llamas' reactions before and/or after a seismic event, please leave a comment. I'd love to read about your experience.

Ciao for now,

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Alpaca Fun Facts

Hello! I'm Lynn, locally known as The Alpaca Lady. I fell in love with these gentle, adorable creatures many years ago and have since become obsessed with alpaca fiber. Knit, crochet, spin, felt, process - yes, I do it all.

Although alpacas are now enjoying more name recognition, I'm sure many people have yet to encounter one in person. So...

Here are 4 fun facts about alpacas to file away for your next party conversation starter:
  • Alpacas, despite having "pac" in their name, are not pack animals. Their llama relatives do the heavy lifting.
  • Alpacas come in 2 flavors - Huacaya and Suri (no relation to the Cruise family). Huacaya alpacas produce fiber that is soft and fuzzy, while Suri fiber is silky and hangs in dreadlocks.
  • Alpaca fiber is as fine as cashmere and lighter/warmer than sheep's wool. It is also lanolin-free, making it a great choice for children or people who are sensitive to wool. 
  • Male alpacas make a sound known as "orgling" while mating. Imagine hearing grandpa gargling ecstatically in the bathroom. Yep. That's about right.
Ciao for now,