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.

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,