Category Archives: alpaca

The Blanket Project

Ginette and I decided to collaborate on a fibre arts project. She’s the weaver and I’m the spinner on this project. A client of hers wants a hand woven blanket that is white, soft and uses a good amount of local fibre. So we went out to Ann’s place. Ann has many sheep. Not only does she have many sheep, but she treats them well so their fibre is lovely, soft and top quality for spinning. We came away with these two bags of Ramboulette/Targhee cross. It’s 3.5 lbs and it’s already washed. BONUS. It is in two bags because the locks in one of the bags has the tips cut. Even better.
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Ginette has some wonderfully soft alpaca that she wants to use as the weft, so what I’ll be spinning is the warp. With that in mind, the first thing I sampled was combing it and spinning it worsted. The yarn that resulted was nearly perfect worsted yarn. Strong, lustrous, and smooth. But combing takes time and produces waste. I wanted to know if I could produce a worsted type yarn, but with a faster preparation technique, like a drum carder.

So the next experiment was to drum card the fibre and spin the batts worsted. Here’s my set-up for making carded batts. What you see below are my tools and equipment. From left to right are the brushes, doffers, carding board and drum carder.

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I get the fibre ready for the drum carder by teasing it on the carding board. Just a few passes with my hand cards and it’s ready for the big machine. See how it opens up the fibres and gets them ready for the drum carder? This saves tons of time. I used to this teasing lock by lock. It got rid of more straw and bits, but it took a lot of time.

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Once I have teased up about an ounce of fibre, I start putting it into the drum carder. Nice and slow. Little layers at a time. The fibre was so clean I only needed two passes on the drum carder.

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For that first sample using the carded preparation, I spun with a short forward draw (worsted) and smoothed the yarn as I went. I was aiming for the same thickness as the weft yarn.

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From top to bottom: 1) combed/short forward draw;  2) drum carded/short forward draw with more twist in the ply than in the next sample; 3) drum carded/short forward draw with less twist in the ply than sample 2; 4) drum carded/short forward draw but I let the twist into it, so it’s a modified woollen draft; the sample below the pen is drum carded/long draw. It was a bust – horribly uneven, but I included it the show and tell anyway.

blanket yarn 002Even though I was focused on making a worsted yarn because that’s what I thought was the best thing for warp – the woollen yarn that I made ended up being the yarn of choice.

While we like all the yarn produced, for this project we decided on sample 2 – the woollen sample. It is strong enough to be used as warp – but it’s light and soft, matching the weft yarn better than any of the other samples. It is also faster to spin than the other samples. BONUS. So I need to card and spin 900 yards of two-ply yarn. If I want a blanket of my own, I just need to spin up another 900 yards.

I think I’ll do just that.

 

Testing out some fibre

Here is some fibre – cria (baby alpaca) to be exact – that has been sitting in a bag in my laundry room for the last two, maybe even three years. That’s just crazy. Over the weekend I decided that I had to do something about it – spin it up or give it away.
The Backstory:
I’ve been on this de-junking spree lately getting rid of old magazines, clothing, household goods. It’s been making a difference and the house is looking tidy and much more spacious. I’ve also been semi-ruthlessly going through my fibre stash getting rid of things that I really don’t want, making better storage decisions about things I do want to keep. This cria (six bags like the one seen below) has been in my laundry room for a long while.
It was time to make a decision about this fibre so I took a bag of it onto the back porch and opened it. The staple are long, about 10 inches. The fibre was also full of VM – vegetable matter. It called for the combs. What’s seen below are the two test nests I combed. Each nest took four passes of the combs. The total weight of both nests is 11grams, and the total weight of the waste was 5 grams. That’s a lot of work to lose 50%. One strike AGAINST it.

Then I spun up these nests into a 2-ply yarn measuring 20 yds or 18 metres. You see it below. The first picture of the test skein is before it was washed. You can’t see any sheen and it looks decidedly creamy.

2014-05-19 07.10.36 This next photo is the skein washed up. The wash water looked like chocolate milk after the first wash. And here you see the sheen coming through. It’s really lovely stuff. A mark FOR.

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Despite the fact that it really is lovely fibre and spins up to be beautiful yarn, I made a difficult decision. At our annual guild “swap and shop” I gave it all away – for free. I don’t have a lot of time, and what time I have I don’t want to spend it on the amount of fibre preparation that this requires. I know the fibre folks who walked home with this fibre and it’s in good hands.

Now whenever I walk into the laundry room, I just see an empty space on the floor, and not a bag of fibre that gives me stabs of guilt.

100-Mile Skirt – Complete – the photo shoot

I started this project in October 2011. Inspired after a spinning workshop with Abby Franquemont, who had plans to make her own pair of jeans from hand woven fabric from her own hand spun cotton, I thought I could do something similar.
I was in love with the Claudia Evilla skirt. While a bit of a knitting marathon, it was an easy knit. I had made one already, knew that the style looked good on my shape, and knew roughly how much yarn it would take.
So I started. Through the course of 2011, 2012, and yikes, 2013 I blogged about it. I combed the alpaca, spun 4 sets of singles, plied the yarn and then plied it again to make a strong cabled yarn that could withstand the wear and tear that a skirt, especially the bottom, gets.
And then I started knitting. I ran out of yarn and had to go back to the combing, spinning, and plying. I combed all the alpaca I had, make all the yarn I could make and got back to knitting. And then I was stuck.
Stuck because I just didn’t have a good plan B if I ran out of yarn. Fast forward to late December 2013.  Local Yarn Store 88 Stitches hosted a KAL (knit along) on Ravelry to help us finish UFOHs (Unfinished Objects with Hope). Among the three things I listed, one of them was the 100-mile skirt.
And I finished it. All that worrying about plan B was all for naught. I ended up with a small ball of yarn about the size of a loonie, 8 metres to spare. 
And here are some photos of the finished, washed and worn skirt.  It is an incredibly warm skirt. And the fact that it requires a second layer under it because of the lace. . . . well, I’ll only be wearing it in January and February. We’re moving into a wee cold spell here in so I’ll wear it to work this week.
Here’s a photo of it being blocked.
After it mostly dried, I hung it over the stove to finish it off and to get the drape going.

The first time I wore it, it was full of static.  It bunched around my legs and drove me crazy.  I was so upset! After all that work and the damned thing is full of static!?!!

Then whilst in the laundry aisle looking for something to remove hair dye from upholstery, I saw something from my past called “Static Guard”.   INSTANTLY ELIMINATES STATIC CLING! was the claim. I bought it. And yes, it has saved me and my skirt from annoying static cling.

Ta-da!

I wore it yesterday to an event at 88 Stitches and was happily reminded about how much I love this skirt. It flows beautifully, is the perfect length, and yes, I have the satisfaction that I made the entire thing.

A Recurring Theme – The 100-Mile Skirt

I was looking over my blog, reviewing 2013 and I noticed a recurring theme. The 100-mile skirt. This year I have several posts about it, all promising some kind of progress and completion.  Here’s the short story of it.
In October 2011, inspired by Abby Franquemont at the Taos Wool Festival, I decided to make a 100-mile skirt. That meant that I would source the fibre from my area, prepare, spin and knit it. I already had a pattern, from a knitted skirt I made and finished in August 2011. 
Here’s the fibre I chose. Local alpaca – nasty stuff, full of brambles, twigs and other things that stab you. And a braid of fibre from Sweet Georgia Yarns fibre club.

I did a few samples and settled on the look that the skein on the far right gave.

The yarn is a 2 x 2 cabled yarn. That means one ply of grey alpaca and one ply of the blue stuff made into a 2-ply yarn. Then you take that 2-ply yarn and ply it again. That meant spinning up yards and yards of each – it was a 4-ply cable to that was a lot of fine spinning.

Here it is being plied again to make the cabled yarn.

And here are the first two skeins, washed and ready for knitting.

I got this far with the skirt and then ran out of yarn, so I had to go back to combing the alpaca and spinning up more singles of each – the alpaca and the blue wool.

And here is the last skein of this yarn. Once this is all used up, I have to go to plan B.
And here it is in progress. This is where we are today — 8 repeats of the lace pattern. I’ll knit until it’s gone and then if I need more length I’ll make a cabled yarn from the blue wool singles that I have left over. Right now it reaches to about an inch above my knee.

Here’s a close-up of those sweeties.

Plan B:  There’s a lot of yardage on these bobbins, so I think, if needed, I could make enough yarn for a half repeat. Enough to give a finish. We’ll see.

88 Stitches, our local yarn shop is hosting a Knit Along (KAL) for the month of January. I have openly announced that I will work to finish this project. I am so close – so very close. So I’ll have some incentive to get this done. . . . of course I have the Norwegian mitts to finish first. When they are done, I’ll re-acquaint myself with this pattern.

Happy New Year’s to all and best of luck and love for 2014.

100-Mile skirt update III

I’ve been faithfully knitting along on my 100-mile skirt until yesterday, when between Scott Road and Gateway Skytrain station, I ran out of yarn.

I’ve done 6 pattern repeats and have just increased in the purl ditches. In my other knitted skirt, I ended up with 14 pattern repeats, and I imagine I want the same length. But that’s all the knitting for now. I have to go back to the very beginning and comb some more of that nasty alpaca and do a whole bunch more spinning.  I figure I am slightly less than 2/3rds of the way through. But it does get wider as it gets longer, so I may actually need almost as much as I started with. Wow, that just knocked me back — that took a long time to make.

Not that I mind the combing or the spinning. It’s easy and mostly fun. It’s just that I was really enjoying the knitting. I was at the stage of knitting the pattern where I had it memorized — believe me it’s not a difficult pattern, but I have it all in my head. If I take too long a break, I’ll loose my rhythm with it. Which is why I am being boringly disciplined with myself and am spending the day combing the alpaca — here’s a close up of it. You can see all the vegetation and nasty bramples just waiting to stab me as I reach in for a lock.

To cheer myself up, I’ll move my lovely bouquet (thanks Davy) into my newly tidied studio to keep me company.  Flowers, Bizet’s Carmen on Radio 2 and maybe a wee glass of bubbly.

Happy Saturday everyone.

100-mile skirt update

As a result of a great effort, and I kid you not, I now have two decent sized skeins of 2 x 2 cabled yarn.  It is a total of 400 m and 212 g. I know I don’t have enough to make the entire skirt, but I have enough to get started, and maybe even get mid-thigh. But it’s a darned good start and that’s exactly what I need.
As a reminder, this yarn is made up of two strands of 2-ply yarn. In each strand there is a singles of grey alpaca and a singles of blue merino/silk/bamboo.Yes, that’s singles with an “s”, the single strand of yarn that you spin is called a singles. Don’t argue with me, I didn’t make up this spinning language.  
When you spin the singles for a cabled yarn, it’s a good idea to put a gentle twist into it. The fibres I am/was working with are fine fibres and I was spinning a thin yarn, so I made sure that there was enough twist to just lock the fibres into place, that’s a way to ensure a gentle twist.  Then I plied the grey and blue together putting a lot of twist into the ply. A lot of twist into it. So much that I had to take breaks because my treadling leg got tired. Seriously.  And I’m a runner. 
Then I plied those over/super plied yarns together and got a 2 x 2 cabled yarn.  Why all this work you ask?
I am making a skirt that I want to last and look good.  The seat of a skirt gets wear and tear so I wanted a structure that can take wear and tear and bounce back.  A cabled yarn is the answer.  At least that’s what I have been lead to believe.

Here are the finished skeins all washed, bashed and ready to be made into balls and knit up. They are soft, surprisingly light and from a distance they look like denim.  There’s 400 m of it, so it’s enough to really get going on this skirt and then only (hopefully) have a wee bit to spin up to finish.

And then I’ll have a 100-mile skirt.

Imagine that.

Sasha: cria alpaca fibre

A while back two of my darling neighbours, young lads named Adam and Ian, came to the house and gave me a huge bag of cria alpaca. [Cria is what a baby alpaca is called.] This fibre came from an animal named Sasha — the pet of a friend of theirs.

Sasha’s “hair” was getting mighty long so her owners had her shorn. They were going to toss all the wonderful fibre all onto the compost as they didn’t know that anything useful could be done with it, but fortunately Adam and Ian were on their game and intervened. They know things about making yarn and the mysteries of fibre.

Their grandmother and I are both spinners so these young lads are well schooled in what is possible for the fibre arts. They talked their friend into giving them the bag of newly cut alpaca for they had a plan. They came to my house, gave it to me, and it exchange for hugs and much appreciation, they walked away with jars of strawberry and raspberry jam.

These boys have good instincts. The fibre is lovely, soft and mostly clean. And it’s white!  Which means that there are so many dyeing options. Here it is all laid out on a table for sorting.

Because it is a pet it has been well fed and seems to have lived stress-free.  Here is a small sample combed and spun lace-weight. It is divine. I can’t wait till I have the time to dive into this an make something substantial from it.  Here is a mini-skein of it spun up on my lace-weight spindle.  It’s wonderful stuff.

Sometimes pennies fall from the skies, and sometimes they walk across the road.
Thanks Adam. Thanks Ian.

Jenny’s elegant gauntlets – Complete

It all started in early August.  I wrote about it in Yarn for a new project.  I also shared with you what I thought was a minor disaster, yarn with tons of bits and noils in it. Then, to document the process, I did a quickie post.  So here is a photo shoot of the finished gauntlets.

The pattern for these mitts comes right from Morgan Wolf’s Baby Fan Mitts that you can get for free on Ravelry. In an earlier trial run of this project, I tried to figure out how to make the lace wider at the elbow and then slowly narrow down for the wrist.  Everything I came up with, while it looked good, required a great deal of attention and concentration.  Both of which I have very little to spare.

So I tried an old trick that has served me very well many times.  Instead of casting on with 3mm needles like the pattern wanted me to do, I cast on with a 5mm.  After 3 inches of that, I moved down to 4mm.  Three more inches, and then down to the 3mm, which is where you would probably begin the pattern.  And then I was on my way.  Three inches of that and I started the thumb gusset.

The larger needles at the elbow opened up the lace and made for an airy fabric.  As I moved onto the other needles, especially the 3mm, you can see how the fabric got more dense.

I delivered them to Jenny and they fit her perfectly.  She loves them, which is always a treat for those of us making these items.

Thanks to my model, our youngest.

Quickie post — Jenny’s mitts


What you see here is 73 grams and 222 metres of fingering/sport weight yarn all ready for knitting.  I still have another 30 odd grams of fibre left.  But I really think I have enough to knit elbow length gauntlets.

The picture on top shows the sheen that comes through from the blended silk.  And the photo below, without the flash, shows the noils.  The nasty noils that caused me stress but ended up being quite a nice, if not intentional, addition to the yarn.

It may have lots of noils, but it’s really knitting up nicely. Here’s mitt #1. It’s quite an elegant thing.  When I am finished the pair I’ll do a full on post about the pattern and such.   But for now, this is a quickie.

Jenn’s elbow length gauntlets

I wrote about blending fibre for this project in an earlier post.  At the end, I noted that the results weren’t what I was hoping for — too many noils.  I figured I could easily get rid of them so didn’t fret too much over it.  I have 112 g of this blended fibre — wool, alpaca and silk — I am not planning to abandon it without trying a few things.

Yesterday I heard back from Jenn with her measurements and confirmation that she wants me to make these gauntlets — so I confronted the challenge of spinning this fibre into fingering weight yarn.  It was a lovely lazy day. After struggling through a hot spell the threat of rain in the air was a welcome relief.  I set myself up on the front porch, with my wheel, tools, and glass of cider.

As I mentioned earlier, this fibre ended up with a lot of noils in it.  Some of them were from second cuts. That’s when the shearer passes a second time over the piece being shorn and produces very short clumps of fibre. If I had paid closer attention, I could have removed these before I picked and blended the fibre. I was too excited about using the picker to blend the fibre that I didn’t even look closely at the polworth. The other noils are not from second cuts, but seem to be from mishandling of the fibre. The polworth is a fine wool and it can’t take the stress of the picker and then the drum carder.  The fine fibres either break or get tangled and become a noil. Again, something entirely preventable.

You can see the noils in this photo. They are the white bits that are sitting in the fibre. I figured I could remove them so I got out my mini wool combs and tried combing them out. To no avail. The fibre is so fine the noils just slip past the tines and stay in the fibre. I tried drum carding it again, being much more gentle  — but no, they are still all there. Then I tried hand carding them, to pick out the second cuts and comb straight the other noils. Again, it didn’t work.The noils are there to stay.

I started spinning.  As I spun I stopped often to pick out the noils.  It was slow going and not satisfying spinning.  There had to be another way.  The way I finally decided upon was to do a test swatch and as I spun ignored the noils.  It was difficult because everything in me wanted the yarn to be smooth and not littered with these bumps.  But really, what choice did I have?  I could abandon this fibre or I could accept it as it is and see what it looked like spun up.

I spun a small (15g) sample as though the noils didn’t exist.  I washed it up and then to my surprise, fell in love with it.

It’s not perfect yarn, but it is really lovely. The noils from the second cuts pop out on their own in the plying and washing. The other noils just get tucked into the yarn and create a bit a texture. The silk shines through, the wool gives it a bit of bounce and the alpaca some drape. I knit up a sample, see above, of the gauntlet.

I think this will do just fine.