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.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What's in Your Closet?

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately.

That statement reminds me of a famous line often uttered by my PhD advisor: "Ten minutes in the library can save you thirty minutes in the lab. But sometimes ten minutes in the lab can save you thirty minutes in the library."

So...sometimes one needs to stop and think, but sometimes it's better to just try and do. This seems to me to be a fitting description for the art of life - mastering the balance of time put into thinking and time put into doing. One without the other leads to either a lack of purpose or a lack of fulfillment. And if there was an easy answer to this balancing game, I'm guessing the phrase "time management" and all of the articles and books written about it would not have to exist.

There is much happening on our farm right now that has required thinking and decision making of a serious business-type nature. Commercial mill equipment will be on its way here shortly as we prepare to convert part of our barn space into a full-service yarn mill. We have been thinking about which equipment to buy, how to use the space we have to its best advantage, what changes may be necessitated, and where each piece of equipment should sit (when your carder weighs 3000 lbs, you can't just move it a little to the left a few days later). And that's just the tip of the thinking iceberg.

Then I came across a blog post tonight about The Fibershed Project, which got me doing more thinking, albeit along more philosophical lines.

As a knitter, seamstress, fiber artist, and alpaca rancher, you would think that I would be wearing more of my own handmade clothing. However, like most other knitters and fiber artists I know, the objects I make generally end up being for other people - either for sale, for gifts, or for charity. There's nothing wrong with that, but now I'm starting to think about how making and wearing my own clothing is more than just a utilitarian exercise.

The Fibershed Project has inspired me to become a force to start a similar movement in Grays Harbor County. The clothing we wear does not have to be produced any farther away than our own homes or the homes, farms, or businesses of our local community. You don't have to be like Rebecca and exchange what you already have for solely handmade, but let's start thinking about the next thing that enters our closets. Try to find the time to make a few things for yourself. If you haven't already, learn how to knit, crochet, sew, quilt, weave, spin, felt... If you do buy something new, pick something locally made. We have a vast resource of fiber artists and raw materials available in our area that's waiting to be tapped.

If you stumble upon this post, I hope you will think about joining me in an effort to push the 'local and sustainable' concept beyond just food. You are what you eat, but your values are also expressed by what you wear. That's what I have been thinking about tonight. Now I'm ready to start knitting.

Ciao for now,

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

New Pattern

As fall approaches, I will be publishing several new pattern designs. The first has recently been listed in my Etsy shop - a jar cozy to repurpose some of those canning jars sitting in your closet. It only requires 50 yards of sock yarn (another chance to repurpose some leftovers) and is a quick knit.

How will you use your 'new' vase, candle votive, office organizer, etc...?
Ciao for now,

Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday Photo Op

Our neighbor's goat thought the grass looked greener on our side of the fence today. (Can you find him in the photo?) Of course, being the star of the show with the undivided attention of 16 girls didn't hurt - even if those girls were another species. :-)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mint Condition

I am preparing to launch a new product line this fall...my own herbal tea blends. At the moment, mint is flourishing in the garden. With both spearmint and peppermint, it smells delicious when you walk by. The rose bush is loaded with flowers, which will bring rose hips in the future, and the summer blooms of the native blackberry bushes whisper a hint of the fall harvest to come. I also have recently planted lemon balm and lavender.

I will have several blends available for purchase in time for our Schafer Meadows Fiber Arts Festival in October, including some made with black, green, and white teas. Nothing like a taste of summer in a steaming cup on a cold winter night...

Ciao for now,

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My 'Paca Pancake Recipe

Our Sunday morning menu generally includes pancakes. There's nothing specifically 'alpaca' about these pancakes, except for the fact that I get to watch the alpacas from the kitchen while the pancakes are sizzling on the griddle. However, if you get an alpaca or llama cookie cutter, you could probably pour the batter into it to make alpaca-shaped pancakes.

1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup quick oats
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 Tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup milk (plus or minus, depending if you like your batter thinner or thicker)
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 large egg
1/4 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp canola oil, plus extra for greasing the griddle

Combine the dry ingredients (first 7 listed) in a large mixing bowl. In a glass measuring cup, measure the milk, add the lemon juice, and let this mixture sit for 3-5 minutes to sour the milk a bit. In a separate bowl, beat together the egg, vanilla, and canola oil, then add this mixture to the dry ingredients. Stir in the soured milk (you could substitute buttermilk for the milk/lemon juice mixture, but I like the taste that the lemon juice adds to these pancakes). Gently mix the batter until just blended. Lumps are OK. Over mixing will make tough pancakes, but give the batter a stir before pouring because the oats have a tendency to settle to the bottom.

I cook my pancakes in a preheated electric skillet with the dial around 370 degrees. I also coat the skillet with canola oil before pouring each batch of the batter because these pancakes have more of a tendency to stick compared to other recipes. Cook the pancakes until bubbles stop forming and the edges are dry (about 2 minutes). Before you flip them, gently go around the entire pancake with a spatula to unstick them from the pan, then flip. Cook an additional 2 minutes or so. Serve topped with warmed fruit or maple syrup. This recipe makes about ten 4-inch pancakes. Bon appetite!

Chow for now,

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Kalajoki Sock Update

I have finished knitting my first sock ever. Yea! I underestimated the length a bit, but it still fits fine. Since I chose 100% alpaca yarn, I only plan to wear these to keep my feet toasty while sitting and knitting.

Now for the big challenge: make another one just like it (except for the left foot). We'll see...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

11 Hours...23 Alpacas. Shearing Day, 2011.

Our grey Suri girls wait patiently for their new 'dos.
Our first shearing day at our ranch has now come and gone. Phew! Volunteering at other ranches certainly helped with preparing for the big event, but you never really quite understand all of the work involved until you do it yourself.

Let me begin with a HUGE THANK YOU to our family and friends who came to help with the animals, take pictures, set up food, babysit, and support our endeavors. When a job needed doing, someone was there to jump in and get it done. It definitely takes a village, and we are grateful for ours. And an extra shout out to Karen and Ellen, the die-hard ladies who stayed for the entire 11 hours. Yikes! We promise to offer smaller shifts next year.

Another thank you to Franc and "Bear" of First Cut Shearing. We never would have gotten through the day without their calm professionalism and willingness to teach.

Now, enjoy the show...

First up...Pearl, Jasmine, Anna, and Carmella.
Is it hot in here, or is it just me?
Jasmine on deck.
Pearl's first hair cut.
Shearing the blanket fiber.
A quick fleece lesson.
"Noodling" the blanket fiber for skirting later.
Just a little off the top (and a lot off the bottom).
Those sure are funny looking deer!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sock Knit-A-Long

Despite my years of knitting, I have never knit socks. Thank goodness for Ravelry - and more specifically, the 1000 Things Alpaca group on Ravelry. When someone proposed a sock knit-a-long, I decided now was the time to jump in.

The majority vote picked this lovely free pattern, called Kalajoki. The wavy pattern in the socks resembles the meandering path of the Kalajoki river in Finland.

The Kalajoki River as pictured on http://yliveto.blogspot.com/2009/11/neuleohje-kalajoki-sukat.html
Kalajoki sock pattern as pictured on http://yliveto.blogspot.com/2009/11/neuleohje-kalajoki-sukat.html
Here is my work in progress:

I'm looking forward to a future with toasty warm alpaca socks! We've just started this project, so feel free to join us on Ravelry (it's free to join) for our KAL.

Ciao for now,

Monday, May 9, 2011

Monday Photo Op

Finally, a warm spring day has arrived, perfect for just lying around. Apparently our studs think they've been working too hard. This gives new meaning to the term lazy boy...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Weeds. They're not just for breakfast anymore.

Public Domain Photo
Dandelions apparently thrive just about anywhere on Earth.  OK, maybe not Antarctica, but they do grow anywhere that I've happened to live. If children weren't so good at encouraging seed distribution, perhaps the story would be different.

I find it somewhat funny that dandelions are the whipping boy of the flora world. It's actually a nutritious plant, with leaves that are high in iron. And a field of dandelions gone to seed looks like an ethereal snow fairy waved her pixie dust over the grass. Besides, there's just something fun about making a wish and scattering those tiny seed umbrellas flying off into the wind to make more dandelions.

What does any of this have to do with alpacas and fiber arts? Well, we have many dandelions currently staking a claim on our 10 acre alpaca farm. And, you can use them to dye wool. I spent some time today between rain showers gathering from the abundance of yellow dandelion flower heads in the gardens around the house and out in the fields. I'm a little late in the season - some have already gone to seed - but I will continue my bending and plucking work out for the next several days in an attempt to harvest at least a pound or more of the flowers. My bucket is still a long way from being full.

The first batch is now drying on a screen in a covered area where it can stay dry but still get good air circulation. I plan to save the dried flower heads until I'm ready to dye yarn at a later date.

If dandelions are still blooming in your area, start picking and saving for a dyeing adventure this summer. For those of you living in the city, help out your neighbor and pick their dandelions, too. If you decide to knock on the door to ask first, you'll likely be greeted with bewilderment (you want to what?) followed by sincere gratitude (take all you want!).

My dandelion-stained hands showed an inkling of the dyeing to come.
Ciao for now,

Friday, April 29, 2011

Easter Egg Dye is Not Just for Eggs

I know many people who have used Easter Egg Dye and KoolAid for dyeing yarn, but I haven't tried it myself - until now. Today, I invited the preschool class at the local YMCA to come out for a farm tour, and I set up a table with canning jars filled with different egg and KoolAid dyes so the kids could experiment with some small pieces of yarn.

Most of the dye pots were still quite full after the kids left, so I decided it was time to have fun and dye some handspun corriedale yarn that's been sitting around for awhile. I only used the egg dyes for my yarn because I liked the colors. (One tablet of egg dye was combined with several tablespoons of white vinegar in an 8 oz canning jar. I then added enough hot water to fill the jar about half way.)

Yarn simmering on the stove.
The yarn was gently simmered in enough water to cover the yarn, plus some healthy splashes of vinegar. Meanwhile, since the dye pots were cold by this point from sitting around, I picked the colors I wanted to use and put them in the microwave until they were hot. Vinegar is volatile, so I added another splash into each pot for good measure.

When the yarn and the dyes seemed to be about the same temperature, I donned heavy duty gloves, gently squeezed the excess liquid out of the yarn and submerged 3 sections of yarn, one section into each of 3 colors - blue, green, and purple. The dye pots are sitting in a foil pan - more on why later.
Three different sections of the yarn skein submerged in 3 differently colored dye pots.  

As the submerged yarn soaked, I used a paint brush to paint orange onto the exposed white yarn. After all of the white sections were painted orange, I overdyed one section with red and another with yellow to give each section a different orange hue.

Once painting was complete, I poured boiling water into the foil pan (maybe about 1/2 inch?), then placed another foil pan on top to enclose the yarn in a foil pan tent. I figured this would help steam the painted yarn and help set the dye. An hour or so later, I gently squeezed out the excess dye liquids and gave the yarn a rinse in warm water with some vinegar added. The purple dye pot was exhausted, while some color remained in the blue and green pots.
Dye pots after dyeing. Much of the color was removed from the purple and blue pots, with some remaining in the green.

Since we had a sunny, spring-like day, I hung the yarn outside to dry a bit. I'm still contemplating what project I'll use it for. I'm leaning toward a necklace-like item that will show off these fun colors. 
My dyed yarn hanging out to dry.
Ciao for now,

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Paca Pedicures

We finished trimming the alpacas' toenails this week. Not a glamorous job, mind you, but a necessary one. Their nails do not get worn down on our soft pasture, and, just like humans, the nails will continue to grow and even start to curl if not regularly maintained.
Alpacas have 2 toes on each foot, which doesn't seem like much until you're the one holding on to the 150 pound animal while they express their displeasure with their legs being touched. I do the holding, while my husband does the clipping. If you're into isometric workouts, I highly recommend this.

Sarcasm aside, it is, of course, an imperative that we maintain the health and well being of our animals. That is why we invite people who are interested in someday owning alpacas to spend a day on our farm. We share everything we know and encourage our guests to actually do some of the tasks that would be required of them as ranchers. Here is a photo of (you guessed it) a recent toenail trimming lesson.

Tooth trimming is next on the agenda. Can't wait! More on that later...

Ciao for now,

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Kitchen to Dye For

I am lucky to count Val, dyer extraordinaire, as one of my friends and, now, business associate. Val has many years of silk dyeing under her belt, so I've asked her to start experimenting with dyeing alpaca fiber. No surprise, she jumped right in and is having a lot of fun playing with her dye pots.
I recently had the pleasure of spending the afternoon in her kitchen to watch the process and ogle over the beautiful colors. The test of the day was natural dyes, including madder root (red/orange), osage (yellow), and blueberries (violet/gray).
Madder Root

Val also tried a few different mordants, which can affect both the final color in the yarn and the fastness of the dye (i.e. the color resists fading and washing out). It was a terrifically fun day - I can't wait to experiment some more!

Ciao for now,

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


As I mentioned before, I brought along my newest hat design, Kaleidosnow, and some handspun yarn to Alpacapalooza this last weekend to enter into the Fiber Arts contest.

Unfortunately, there weren't many entries, but a win is a win, right? Regardless, I'm still enjoying my first show ribbons with alpacas on them. I gave the hat away as a gift - here's the lucky recipient sporting that hat and the blue ribbon that it earned at the show!

And my variegated alpaca marl yarn won a red ribbon. A win and a place...I'll take that!

Ciao for now,

Monday, April 4, 2011

Fleece Show at Alpacapalooza

I'm back! Being a volunteer for the fleece show at Alpacapalooza was more fun and educational than I could have imagined. There's no substitute for putting your hands on 50+ fleeces while noting the comments of an experienced fleece judge. Thanks to all of the staff and volunteers - I had a great time!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I'm heading south tomorrow for Alpacapalooza, which takes place this Saturday and Sunday. This will be my first year attending, so I'm very excited to watch the halter shows, attend seminars, and meet all of the other alpaca enthusiasts in attendance.

I was lucky to be able to attend a recent seminar on judging fleece characteristics and will be continuing my education as a volunteer for the fleece show this weekend. I'm also entering my Kaleidosnow hat and some handpsun yarn into the Fiber Arts competition. It's not about blue ribbons, right? But that would be way cool.

Stay tuned for a full update next week when I return...

Ciao for now,

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

We have a winner...

The 'name the hat' contest is now officially closed. The winning name is Kaleidosnow, suggested by mamahobbit on Etsy. When I came up with the design, I had a sunburst in mind, but the hat really did take on an alpine skier's look when finished.

Northern Lights was by far the most suggested. But, we thought the juxtaposition of the kaleidoscope and snow concepts made for a unique and visually descriptive name.

Thank you to all who contributed suggestions. I hope you had as much fun with this contest as I did!

Ciao for now,

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Name this hat design, please...

Despite my best efforts, I am unable to create a name that I like for this hat design. So, I've created a contest through the Etsy Promotions Forum.

The person whose design name I pick will win $18 worth of merchandise from my Etsy yarn shop. I'm officially hosting this contest through the Etsy Promotions Forum, but you can leave your suggestion here in the comments, and I'll make sure you're included.

You may suggest as many names as you'd like. The contest is running until 9pm (Pacific Daylight Time, USA) on March 29, 2011. I will post the winning name then.

(Any post submission implies full rights for me (Alpaca Creations and The Alpaca Yarn Shop) to use the chosen design name without further due compensation beyond the $18 free gift. Any submissions found to be violating valid Trademarks will be null and void.)

Good luck!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Manure Haiku

Scoop and dump. Repeat.
Worms...time...heat. Now rich compost.
The true Incan gold.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Living the Dream

Over 10 years ago, I started imaging the day when I'd become an alpaca rancher. That dream finally became a reality 6 months ago. Unlike most people who start out with 3 or 4, we found a place that came with 23 alpacas!

Our official ranch name is Olympic Yarn and Fiber. Our primary goal is to create beautiful 100% made in the USA yarns with alpaca and other natural fibers from both our fleeces and those from other local farms.

Of course, the animals come first. It's been lots of hard work and a steep learning curve, but we're finally getting the hang of things. There's always something new to learn. That will probably never change. But the ebb and flow of a normal farm-life routine is beginning to materialize.

Now...enough talk. Here are some photos to enjoy.
Ciao for now,