Monday, October 31, 2011

In the News!

"An English major from Pittsburgh never would have guessed she'd become an alpaca farmer in northern Idaho, but at age 70, Judy LaLonde is "totally happy" with her lifestyle." That is how a Daily News article about me and the farm begins.

It's always fun talking about the farm, the fiber and the alpacas! Don't know that they needed to include my age!

It wasn't easy to get a good picture! I had Leyla on a lead, but all she wanted to do was to get back in with the other alpacas, so the picture has her pulling on the lead, with her ears back! And she just wouldn't stand still.  That is, until the photographer left. Oh well!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Alpacas Swimming and Fleece Cleaning

Yes, summer finally came to the Palouse--slow as spring! It's been an unusually cool and wet summer with few days in the 90s. That's good for the alpacas though, since they seem to have a harder time with heat here on the Palouse than they do with the winters. I'm assuming that this is because their homes in South American are at higher, and therefore cooler, elevations.

So we make sure the alpacas have a swimming pool in each pen!  Some of the alpacas just stand in the pools or use their front feet to splash water up at their bellies, but there are "swimmers" who take a full dip and sit down. To each his own!  This is BMCA Jenna taking her first dip of the year.

While the alpacas enjoy the summer grass and their swimming pools, I'm busy skirting fiber. What do I do with it then? I have several options--all of which I use.
Some of it gets sent off to small mills. I used a new mill this year in Lebanon, Oregon--Creekside Fiber Mills. Sent some fiber off this spring and got back about nine pounds of luscious alpaca/mohair/silk from four of my medium brown alpacas (Leroy, Miguel, Dominga and Jane Wagner).  It looks grey on my screen, but it's a great shade of medium brown. I'm selling it on my Etsy site (Alpacaknitter) and at the Yarn Underground in Moscow. 

I like what they did so much, I sent more fiber their way. I'm also trying out a mill in Pennsylvania--Lazy Meadows.

I take some of my alpaca after skirting and wash it myself. I'm lucky enough to have traded my crew's skills at trimming alpaca toes for a used top loading washing machine I keep in the garage. I fill it with hot water using a hose from my laundry room near the garage door. The fleece goes in with some dishwashing liquid and soaks and then gets spun out. I may soak an extra dirty fleece a second time, and rinse it. The usual method of drying is to set the fleece in the sun on screens or the skirting table--that can take a day or two, turning the fleece, rescuing it from bursts of wind, etc.

But this year, I had a great idea! The story goes back about 9 or ten years ago when I accompanied my brother Brad up to an appliance store in Spokane where he was talking/pricing range tops. I got bored with the discussion and wandered around the store. "Brad, come look at this!" It was a "drying system," a "two-story" appliance with a "regular" dryer on the bottom and a second story of shelves and racks for drying/airing stuff. I had never seen anything like it before!

I should have known better than to wax eloquent over anything, because when Brad went up to Spokane a few weeks later to pick up his new range tops, he drove back with the "system" for me! Funny thing was, it wouldn't fit into the house where I was living at the time. So, it's been sitting in Brad's (now my) garage for years, unused!

Lightbulb appearing over my head!! Could I set fleece on the shelves instead of sweaters??? YES!!!! A trial run and it worked! Takes less than an hour to dry fleece. Wonderful!

So now, I can sell washed fleece---so much better than the fleece straight off the alpaca. No matter how hard we try to clean them beforehand, using a shop vac even, there's always dust left! I don't wash the fleece that gets sent to mills, but this skirted, washed fleece is wonderful for spinners!

So I tried something else this year. An inveterate Ravelry-er, I asked if there were spinners who were comfortable with suri and made an offer--I'll send you clean fleece; you spin; you send me half and keep the other half!  I've had quite a few takers.

My first "return" came this week from Raveler Tara from Tennessee--she combined my suri with cormo (wool) and you'll have to take a look at the result on her flikr page:
I'm so happy with it!  Looking forward to seeing what I get from "my" other spinners!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Yes, It is Spring


Well, at least the bluebirds know what time of year it is!  They have been romancing my truck and its mirror and flying around having a good time.

Spring is such a mixed up time. Madi, the young woman who works for me, was so happy on Wednesday because she got to cut the grass on the farm! Having sun was so unusual, she forgot to put on sunscreen and so was suffering the following day (when it rained again!) We got up to nearly 80 degrees on Saturday, but we were spared the tornadoes and hail that were predicted! Early this morning it snowed--but of course, it didn't stay long!

Sunday, after a beautiful morning, it rained, but the Girl Scouts that came for a farm visit didn't seem to mind. They enjoyed visiting the alpacas, feeding grain and petting BMCA Madison and BMCA Leyla, who always love the attention. The group of older girls and geldings and Katherine, the llama, kept approaching the girls with their usual curiosity. The girls learned what it meant when I explained that alpacas were herd animals, as they pursued the animals to try to get them interested in the grain.

The girls collected eggs and laughed at the skinny, bare necks of the turkins! They each picked their "favorite" egg to take home. They also took small ziplock bags of alpaca poop home!

In the garage, after spending time with the animals, the girls used alpaca fiber dyed with Kool-Aid which they felted and strung along with beads to make zipper pulls. They feasted on cake and lemonade and worked on an alpaca crossword puzzle and word search.  I gave them a demonstration of spinning and they read the display boards that showed pictures of shearing, a cria birth, and other pertinent alpaca "facts."

"I really had fun!" one of the girls said to me. And her grandmother who came along as one of the chaperones decided that she really wants two alpacas!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Did I say Spring???

Well, it's surely not summer--it's closer to winter. This picture of "Mother Earth and Earth Dog" was taken by a friend who lives only 10 miles east and went outside to play in the 4 inches of snow that came down at her house yesterday!  Here on the farm, the yearling girls were out early and cushing together on their hill, but when the snow started, back to the shelters they went! It snowed on the farm, but didn't lay, but it was cold and windy.

But tulips and daffodils have made their way out of the mud and  I'm sure will be blooming in a couple of weeks. It's sunny today, but supposed to be rainy for the next few days. Don't know when I'll be able to shear. Last year it wasn't until the third week in June and it may be that late again if spring keeps coming in so reluctantly!
I'm getting ready to head north to a fiber festival in Fairfield (South Spokane) Washington on May 7. Will be taking roving, alpaca socks, alpaca yarns and other miscellaneous things of interest to fiber folks.

Today as I worked down at the Artisan Barn studio, I plied two bobbins of alpaca--one a darker gray huacaya and the other a white suri. I have to take it off the plying bobbin and wash it tonight. Can't decide if I'll try to sell it or use it myself for a cowl--what I had in mind originally.

In the meantime, I'm working on a beaded lace shawl with 100 percent baby alpaca--it's Alpaca Cloud in Raspberry from KnitPicks and the beads match perfectly. The pattern is a lace sampler and its fun to see the different lace patterns take shape and decide where I'll add the beads.

A Happy Easter to all!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spring comes to the Pacific Northwest!

Yes--although we woke to snow two of the last seven days, spring is definitely here! Snow, sun, crocuses, lambs! Weather changes every two hours!! Yes, that's what spring is here. Yesterday, our Friday spinning/knitting/knoshing group met at a Troy farm to visit the spring lambs! Although this picture only shows white, we enjoyed black, brown, black with white starred foreheads and one little tan baby ram, all running around enjoying sunny weather. Baby animals are all so adorable.

In celebration of spring, I finished my latest pair of entrelac socks in a pastel blend that makes me think of Easter baskets. It's made from Plymouth Zino, a blend of wool and nylon, a single-ply that does have a tendency to split if one isn't careful. You can see them on my Ravelry page.

Spring Visitors
Another sign of spring are the visitors that came off and on this week to enjoy my pond--a pair of Canada goose. This was the first week that the pond was water, not ice, and the pair seemed to enjoy stopping by.

Watching grosbeaks at my feeders, too! One friend saw bluebirds back. Last year was the first year I ever saw bluebirds. I had nesting pairs in my two bluebird houses and I have another house to put up. I'm considering raising mealworms to keep them well fed and loving my place! 

And the alpacas are enjoying the spring sun--instead of moving back and forth from feeders to their shelters, they are spending time sitting in the sun and nibbling at the fresh grass coming up.
Promises of warm days and starting the day outside with a cup of coffee!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spinning (and shopping) with Friends

Saturday, many of my friends headed north through snow and slush (!! a surprise!!) to the Log Cabin Spin-In sponsored by the Northwest Regional Spinners in Post Falls, ID. Lynne and I arrived at 10:09 (or so our German-speaking GPS guide told us!). That's me withthe big butt and thighs at the front left.

It was momentarily difficult to decide whether or not to browse the vendor booths before sitting to spin. But only momentarily! We browsed before we even set up our wheels! So many great vendors with practically anything a spinner/knitter's heart could desire. Many of my alpaca friends from Pacific Northwest Alpaca Association were there, either vending or just browsing and networking.

Lynne, who has yaks along with llamas, alpacas, and dogs, enjoyed meeting a fellow yak farmer from Sandpoint, ID. While looking at her lovely exotic fibers, a large skein of yak and silk lace yarn called out loudly to me! It has joined my stash! Right before we left, it called out to Lynne, also. She also had to buy a t-shirt "Got Yak!"

I also purchased, from another vendor, some extra f ine lace merino that I thought would go with some red beads I bought a month or so ago. I had nothing in mind at the time, except that I had no red beads--it turned out I had no yarn to go witih the red beads. One thing always leads to another!

I spent time with Jayne Deardorf from Me2 Farm (Colville, ID). Jayne has taken my alpaca fiber and made me some beautiful roving over the past five years! She always likes to get the name and picture of the alpaca from which the fleece comes from. She told us that she pins the picture on the wall as she's working and talks to it (nice alpaca!!) She just recently sent me roving from BMCA Elayna (which is now at Yarn Underground) and from one of the early imports from the farm, Esplindida. I'm saving that for me, maybe!

Jane also had some dyes and I bought a "Mother Mackenzie's Miracle Dye Mix kit with 9 basic colors and directions for secondary colors. The only dying I've done so far has been supervised by friend and partner Margo, who took a class on natural dyes and has been experimenting. I really just loved the indigo, but you can't have everything in blue! I also succumbed to temptation and bought a beaded wheel orifice hook.

My friend Jennie brought a young girl with her who is from Germany and currently studying at WSU. Michelle has fallen in love with spinning and knitting and was learning to use a spindle. Shelley was there from Yarn Underground networking like mad when she wasn't buying yarn or roving!

I did spin, though. I brought with me some gray alpaca huacaya roving--my first huacaya. Yes, it is much easier to spin than suri! And it's going to have a very nice gradation of colors. I may use it for a cowl I'm going to knit for a SKAL (spin-knit-along).

I'm planning to head to a Fiber Festival in May in South Spokane. Walking around at this spin-in gave me some ideas of what I could take to sell--maybe I'll have to take Esplendida's roving there!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

BMCA Bonnie Selected for AOBA National Auction in May

This is Big Meadow Creek Alpaca's Bonnie!! And she has been selected by Celebrity Sales to be sold at the Auction in Denver, CO, at the AOBA National Show May 19-22 in Denver, CO.
We're not surprised, bonnie lass that she is! But she doesn't have red hair--instead she has wonderfully luxurious, white suri fiber!
She carries genetics from award-winning alpacas from both the east and west coast. Chasqui, well recognized in the show circuit, is Bonnie's maternal grandfather--he is one of the premier herdsires at Ameripaca in Maryland; her fraternal grandfather comes from Alpacas of Tualatin Valley in Oregon.
Neither Bonnie, nor her father ATV Hercules nor mother Ameripaca's Blair, have been to alpaca shows, since my farm focus is on fiber, rather than breeding. I'm currently carding Bonnie's fiber from last year so that I can spin it. It's so nice and soft, I'm planning to knit a cowl with it.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Back to the Basics--Well, Almost

Several more inches of snow last night on top of this weeks inches of blowing snow! And then at least four hours without electricity! What a great time to go back to the "almost" basics--sitting in front of the fire and spinning!
Of course, it was a wood stove, and I had some beautiful dark brown alpaca (from Leroy!) to spin--the pioneers would not have had alpaca -- although the alpaca supposedly originated in North America before they migrated to South America. And South America is where all the current North American alpacas have come from. Ending a sentence a preposition with! But I had no real coffee! I usually start the day with a fresh pot or heat up a cup or two from the previous day in the microwave. But the pot was empty. Instant--boo!
But the warmth of the wood fire made me think food, so I started a pot of lentil curry soup. Warmth and a good smell! [I could light my gas stove with a match!] Usually when I'm spinning, I'm listening to a book on tape, but that wasn't possible today. And I had no one to read to me from Pilgrim's Progress or other such enlightening literature! But the crackling fire was great background. And then, so was the plow outside, as a friend came to clear my long, winding, snowbound driveway!
I never did knit anything for my granddaughter Ellie from Leroy's fiber for Christmas (my intentions whe I wrote about Leroy last October). My first skein of Leroy, only my second skein of yarn, was too "beginner-ish." I may make myself a hat for next winter. But I've become a much better spinner and I think this yarn will be "IT." Second spool finished in front of the fire today--I think the plying will make all the difference. A friend lent me a video, "The Gentle Art of Plying," which I'm going to study before I ply these spools. I have a little more Leroy roving to make more yarn if I need it.
This afternoon, the electricity came on and the sun came out! It was beautiful with some blue showing in the sky. I went out for a walk and to say hello to the alpacas. Fed them a little grain as a treat--this is BMCA Desire, who snuffled down into the snow for the last bits of grain that fell.
The alpacas have tracks from their shelter to the hay, to the water, and back again! They don't really mind the snow except when its windy--the wind blows their fiber up (they are suris without the "sheep-like" fluffy coats). The chickens were out and running about and it was very pleasant, with great views on all sides! What a lovely place to live.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Playing with Entrelac

Yes, it's wool! But it's going to be felted, so I can't use my suri alpaca! This is the Hobo Bag from Gwen Bortner's Entree to Entrelac book. I'm going to be teaching a class on entrelac at the Yarn Underground, so I thought I'd get a couple of projects done. I still have to complete the strap and felt the thing. I can't believe I ended up with another orange and brown project! Those were my high school colors soooo many years ago. But I wish I had picked up a blue to use, now that it's almost finished. When done, it will join my other items on sale at the Milk House Fiber Studio at the Artisan Barn in Uniontown.

I'm going to do a scarf with my black and white alpaca, using some lace stitches on the white "blocks" and then add some black beads I picked up in Posts Falls a couple of weeks ago.

Sunday, I'll be giving some tips on knitting lace at the Woolgatherer's meeting. One of my tips might be to be careful of your lace knitting when you're drinking tea! I had my shawlette with me when I was knitting a couple of Sundays ago at the Yarn Underground and alas! part of it ended up in my cup of tea. I didn't notice right away, and even though I tried to get the tea out with some cold water, it did't work. So now I have the entire shawlette sitting in some weak tea, hoping that I can get the effect that you get when you put fabric in tea--just a light "antique" look that won't detract too much from the nice blues in the Starry yarn.

I'm looking out the window at two inches of fresh snow--everything looks so clean--and there's even some blue in the sky today and very little wind. Hard to believe that just a week ago, it was approaching the high 40s and everyone was thinking "spring"!!

So, back to my hobo bag!!! Cheers!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Yarn Ahoy!!

When the Yarn Underground opened in Moscow, I took some of my alpaca yarn to add to their inventory. Not that I needed any yarn, but I and spied this yarn--Starry sock weight with silver from Dream in Color--98% superfine merino! It called out to me, and I wondered how it would work for a shawlette pattern I had downloaded recently from Ravely. It really knit up fast and I was pleased with the results!

One skein had 450 yards, so I probably have enough left over to use in a pair of fingerless mitts!
And speaking of finished project, I also finished the alpaca jacket/sweater I started knitting for myself more than four years ago! Disappointment! It's too big; it's too heavy. Although I blocked the individual parts (fronts, back, sleeves) before joining, I may block again just to see how it changes. I don't even remember what size I chose to knit from the pattern--but I know I never measured a sweater that fits me to compare (this is something that I've learned in the intervening years I should have done). Since it's the first sweater I ever knit (except for baby sweaters), I'm going to use it as an object lesson! I'll probably frog the whole thing and use the yarn for something else . . . . eventually.
I've been considering joining the ongoing KAL on the Knitting Daily--even purchased some yarn for it--but for some reason, I keep backing off from starting. The Seaweed Cardigan is not a "full" cardigan--the two fronts are considerably smaller than the back--the modeled picture uses a belt to "close" it--I'm not sure it's meant for my body size (In the manner of Alexander McCall Smith, I'm a "traditionally built" woman!) I might just knit it for my studio at the Artisan Barn--it's a lovely lace pattern, and I do love to knit lace.
I'll be giving some lace instruction at the next Woolgatherers meeting here on the Palouse--talking about reading lace patterns, what all the stitches are, using a lifeline, etc. It should be fun. And I'm scheduled to do an entrelac class in two sessions at the LYS (Yarn Underground in Moscow, ID) in March.
AND, my alpaca yarn has been leaving the shelves at the Yarn Underground in leaps and bounds! I've been selling it at a pretty low cost, since it's part of the stash I inherited when I inherited the alpaca farm. But I'm getting ready to send off some more fiber to get more yarn made, which I will have to price at a more "fair"--to me price.
I put new yarn on my needles two nights ago--scarf with beads now in progress!