Monthly Archives: September 2011

Nasty Alpaca Made Nice

I call this “nasty alpaca” but let me assure you, it has nothing at all to do with the animal, only the fibre.  I never had the pleasure of meeting the beast, but if I did I would ask him/her why he/she insists on rolling in blackberry brambles.  Those are difficult and painful things to remove from fibre.

Here’s the story of it.  At our last guild executive meeting before the summer break, a member of our guild was given a dozen bags of alpaca fibre.  Apparently there was an alpaca enthusiast in her network who finally decided to shear his animals, and when he learned that the fibre was good quality, donated it all to our guild. 

I selected a grey fleece — see below. It’s a lovely cool grey that will look fine on its own, but grey fibre dyed is magic.  Tones down the colour and adds a depth that’s hard to obtain on white fibre alone.  At least for rookie dyers like me.

It’s a good sized fleece and the staples are long.  Really long — between 10 and 12 inches.  My first experiments with combing the fibre were so frustrating, I left it in a bag (unwashed) on the backporch.  I deliberately left it right where I would see it every time I walked into the house.  I knew the guilt would build until it became action.  The guilt trip worked — just in time.  When I finally opened the bag to tackle the fibre, out flew several moths.  If I had left it any longer, those lovelies would have laid eggs and the larvae would have started munching their way through the fibre.

I threw it into a bath of very hot water with Orvus paste.  Let it soak for 1/2 hour and then did that again.  Then I did hot water rinse baths with a bit of white vinegar.  It dried in the sun over two days and then I assessed it.  Much better.  No moths, no more “wet dog/old animal” smell.  Time to tackle this fibre.

The staples are long, much too long to deal with comfortably.  There is so much debris in this fibre, I decided I needed to comb it with my wool combs.  The debris is what makes this fibre so nasty: pieces of blackberry bramble buried deeply enough that you can’t see it until you grab a handle of fibre and stick yourself with it;  some kind of seeds that have nestled themselves deep in the soft down of the fibre; and of course sticks, hay and other mysterious grasses.  No problem, this is a job for wool combs.

I solved the problem of the length of the staple by cutting it.  I cut off the tips where most of the embedded seeds were and then cut the rest of the staple in half, resulting in a 4 – 5 inch staple.  Quite manageable indeed.

Here it is loaded on the combs.

First pass with the comb.

After a couple of passes, it was lovely and clean.  This is it being pulled off the comb.

Here is the result.  From a couple of locks of fibre, here’s what I got.  A 3.3g nest of clean, combed fibre and 1.9g bundle of waste fibre.  Not the ratio I like, but I’ve got tons of this stuff — I don’t care.

A half hour later — and not a very effecient one as I did each lock one by one and stopped to do “photo-shoots” — I had a total of 28.6g (one ounce) of combed, clean fibre ready for spinning.  And 17.6g of waste fibre.  I also had stab wounds from the brambles and a severe dislike for this nasty fibre.  I will feel differently when I spin it up — so I won’t throw it into the compost quite yet.
We’ll see.

How to Make a Hat that Fits or A Hat is Just a Swatch

While it is stunningly hot in the daytime, the days are getting shorter and the nights cooler. My husband is up early in the morning and needs a new hat for his lovely bald head.  It’s too early to put on any heat and the farmhouse is decidedly cold in the morning.

“No problem”, I said with the confidence of a seasoned and fearless knitter.  “I can make a hat in a weekend.”

So I rooted through my stash to find the right yarn.  I found this one. I have four balls of this, so didn’t worry at all about running out.

It’s 100% fine merino wool, single ply, loosely spun. The colours are perfect for him and I love the name of the yarn — Jasper. 🙂  I measured hubby’s head, did a quickie swatch to figure out how many stitches to cast on and I was on my way.  I cast on 110 st.with size 4mm Addi circulars.  I knit a 4 inch. 1×1 rib and then changed to stocking stitch.  It was great, the hat was developing nicely, and with circulars, you can easily try them on the head for sizing.  When it was about 8in. total I started  decreasing:

Round 1: *Knit 9, k2tog*  (cause that adds up to 11 stitches, and there are a total of 110 — so I’ll be decreasing 10 on each round).
Round 2: knit
Round 3: *Knit 8, k2tog*
Round 4: knit
And so forth, decreasing the number of knits on each odd round before you knit two together, and always knitting on the even rounds.  I like this decrease, it echoes the shape of a head, it’s dead easy to remember.

After the round of k2tog throughout, you will knit one more round.  Then cut the yarn leaving an 8in tail, and then draw up all the remaining stitches, I think there will be 10?  Weave them in.  Voila.  A Hat.

I knew from experience that this yarn benefits from a good wash to full the fibres. When it dried I was disappointed; the hat shrunk, not horizontally as I had planned, but vertically.  It got shorter and wider instead of narrower and snugger.

It’s still wearable, but for another head. But isn’t it lovely?  Look at the way those fibres smooth out and make a nice dense fabric, and I love the colour ways too.

Back to the stash.  I had a skein of green-blue yarn from a Dorset fleece I washed, dyed, carded and spun. I wrote about this in an earlier post.

It is heavier yarn than the Berroco, but still in the hat-making range. When it was made into a ball, it’s a pretty decent amount of yarn.

 Again, I did a mini-swatch and then cast on 99 stitches, again using size 4mm Addi circulars. This time I knit a 5in 1×1 rib, in case the vertical shrink thing was going to happen again.  And then I knit and  knit around and around until the whole thing measured a bit longer than 8 in. and started decreasing.  This time round 1 of the decrease was *knit 7, k2tog* (cause that adds up to 9 stitches, and there are a total of 99 — so I’ll be decreasing 11 on each round).

It ended nicely, but it was looking big.  So I washed it and to help with the shrinkage, I threw it into the dryer.  It’s way too big. I know from experimenting with the first mini skein of this year, that it doesn’t felt much.  It fulls, which is just fine with me, but now that I have a larger-than-I-need hat, I want to shrink a bit.  Everything about this hat is perfect — except for the size.  I guess that rules out perfection.  I will try washing it again, this time throwing it into the washing machine.  On hot.

It’s just a hat.  And a hat is really a swatch. And now hubby has two of them and neither are really right.

On to Hat #3.

Garlic and Blackberries and Figs, oh my!

Summer was late coming to this part of the world.  While eastern Canada was suffering through a heat wave with 30+ temperatures and a humidex reading into the 40’s, we were still wearing sweaters and dealing with umbrellas. 

But in August, summer arrived. Nice hot days, coolish nights and no humidity.  The bugs vanished and the river started to go down.  The garden which was late in producing, picked up speed and now everything is ready at the same time. 

I know this is a blog about fibre, but there were many more things that have occupied my spare time ever since I returned to work. The Garden.  It’s not as large a garden as in days gone by; it is more of a recreational garden.  We use it to grow stuff that we want and as a way to learn more about the finer edges of growing food.

This weekend we harvested our garlic. We planted it in February, very late by our standards, but were still pleased by the result.  Good sized bulbs (larger than a golf ball) and strong flavour, even before it has had time to cure. There it is, drying in the sun.

This is the result of three full beds of garlic.  Enough to plant another three beds next year, give us a good tasty supply for our own consumption, and have enough left over for some decent bartering. 

The garlic was ready and so are the blackberries.  In this part of the country, blackberries are the bane of anyone who has a garden.  Not originally from this part of the world, they are an aggressive plant and take over spaces in very little time.  They grow all year round for heaven’s sake, the leave don’t fall off in the autumn to allow for a domant period.  They have one redeeming quality: they offer free food. 

It’s amazing.  In mid to late August you can pick all you want, anywhere — in the city and along country roads, for you can find blackberry brambles where ever you go.  We have plenty surrounding us.  On the edges of the hayfield and along the fence line.  They are taking trying to take over.

There is an art to picking blackberries.  First is to find the mother lode.  Yes, the mother lode.  That is the amazing abundancy of berries that is so densly clustered that you can’t pick in a systematic, methodic manner.  When you find the mother lode, you can fill your bucket in 15 minutes flat, with little pain. 

Blackberries, while very good for our health and all that, are hateful plants.  No matter how careful you are, no matter how well covered you are, you ALWAYS get serious gouges and splinters from the affair.  But this doesn’t stop me.  Blackberry picking is war, and the best prepared get the best result.  Here’s a shot of the mother lode, located along the front fence line at my place.

It’s hard to dress properly for blackberry picking because the berries are ready when the summer heat is at an all time high.  Although full coverage is recommended, I pick sleeveless and in shorts.  The brambles scratch but at least they don’t get snagged in the clothing — which is actually worse than a gouge.  You need a belt and a bucket with a handle.  Attach the bucket to the belt so you can pick with two hands and get the job done fast.  You also benefit from having a leather glove handy and some clippers.  I told you this was war.

The next things that are coming on are the figs. Several birthdays ago, a friend planted a fig tree for me on the north west corner of the house.  I didn’t know much about figs and thought that it would be years before I was harvesting anything. Well, these are amazing plants, and this one loves the spot where it was planted for it is thriving.  Here’s what they look like on the tree.  They grow straight out from the tree and as they ripen, they start to sag and soften.  They keep for days in the fridge so you can easily collect the 2 dozen that you need to make a good fig chutney. 
The last thing to show off is the chard.  That’s my hand on the left edge holding the leaf.  I love the colour of the spine and the deep green of the leaf.  All the leaves on these plants are huge like this, huge yet still tender. 
I am thankful for this bounty.