Half-dried alpaca fiber

I brought the half-dried alpaca in off the line last night.  I have spread it out on a screen to finish drying inside.  You can maybe see the parts that are more dry than others, they are the ones that are bright white.  There is still a lot of dirt and bits of VM in the fiber, but as I work with it more and more comes out.  When I pull it apart with my hands lots falls to the floor (then needs sweeping!).  Once this is all the way dry we will card it.  It can be spun from there or dyed, depending on our mood that day.

This fiber is so soft.  I really love working with the alpaca.  I think I will keep washing tomorrow, since I have tomorrow off.  It is really a job to be done when you are at home doing other things, and not something that you can hurry and do.

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A blustery Sunday

It is such a cold and windy day here today.  The thermometer reads 45′ but the wind is just  relentless and it feels much colder than that.  But it has been a beautiful day anyway, the sun is shining and after all of this rain that we’ve had, it’s not a bad trade off to be cold and sunny.

This morning we took a ride through Lexington to check on the fiddleheads.  They are up and being picked in Kingfield, but it is still winter in Lexington.  We found very few sprouts poking their heads up through the sand and leaves.

Fiddleheads have a very short season up here.  A week at the most, so when they are up you have to pick them right then or you miss out.  We will have to check again in a few days if it warms up.

I have been doing a bunch of things this afternoon, and in between I have also been washing some alpaca fiber.  This is done in small batches.  I could not imagine doing a whole fleece at one.  Some do, I’m sure, but it would be hard to handle when it is wet in a larger quantity.  Alpaca is much cleaner than wool, but it still has lots of dirt in it.  What it does not have is lanolin.  Lanolin is the grease in sheep’s wool.  I would not wash sheep’s wool in the kitchen sink.  It would clog the pipes, just like pouring bacon grease down the drain.  But alpaca is dry.  Dusty and full of VM (vegetable matter–seeds and hay and bits of junk from the fields) but it is not greasy and poopy like wool can be.  Alpaca will actually poo all in one pile.  Isn’t that very civilized of them?  The whole herd, one pile.  Sheep are not that organized.

When fiber is purchased as a whole fleece, whether sheep or alpaca or whatever, it is not generally washed first.  That is up to the person who buys it.  Sometimes it could have been cleaned first, but I would think that you would pay way more than you would want to for it.  This is raw, dirty alpaca.  You can see the bits of stuff in it.  Some animals have more of this VM than others.  And some parts of the fleece are dirtier than others.  But a lot of this comes out in the washing, and most of the rest comes out in the drum carder.  This amount of junk does not bother me too much.

In this photo you can see the beautiful crimp in the fibers.  This is exactly what you want.

How I do this cleaning is to fill a salad spinner with hot, soapy water, then load it with fiber.  I used to just use a bucket or basin, but from the dump I have acquired two salad spinners and they work great.  The basket makes it easy to lift the fiber out of the dirty water without agitating it too much.  The dirty water gets emptied, then filled again with clean, hot, soapy water.  For this batch it has been taking 4-5 soakings to get the dirt out.  Then a final rinse in hot water, no soap, then a spin dry.  The spinning removes a lot of the water that is still in the fleece.

This is a first soaking for this batch.  Look how dirty the water is.  In the bag it doesn’t seem that dirty until you start washing it.  And it smells kind of “sheepy” too.

After spinning out the “salad”.  You can see more of the VM in this photo.   This fleece really has a lot of bits in it.

This wet fiber can be dried inside or out.  I have done it before using an old window screen across the tub, but this takes several days to dry.  And you have to move it every time you take a shower.  I like to dry it outside better.  A windy day is actually better than a sunny day.  The wind is more drying than the warm sun.  A warm sunny windy day is ideal, but this is April in Maine.  Today we have wind.

I put each batch into a laundry bag and clip to the clothes line.  Each time I hang another bag I shake and fluff up the previous bags, this will separate the fibers and help them along in the drying process.

My comforter is on the clothes line because all of the feathers seem to migrate to the edges, with nothing but fabric in the middle (not very warm!).  Every time I go out there to add another bag of fiber, I give it a good shake from the edges.  The feathers eventually go back to where they belong.    I think I am done washing fiber for today though.  There are four bags on the line.  I don’t know how much fiber that will be, it has not really even made a dent in the big bag of dirty fleece.  I will weight it when it is completely dry.  I will show you the carding process too, but not today.

Happy Sunday everyone!

March Madness has ended

March Madness has ended, just in time for May.  This is the fiber that I was spinning in March.

I finished it yesterday.  It has been washed and hung to dry.  This evens out the twist and makes for a nicer yarn.

This is 100% alpaca, hand- everythinged by me, washed, dyed, carded, spun.  Alpaca is such a great fiber to work with.  So soft, takes dye beautifully, and is so easy to spin.  If it weren’t for having an alpaca farm on my road, I would never get to work with it.  I buy last year’s fiber at a great discount, as the owner is always working through this year’s stock of fiber, getting it ready to show and sell that she seems to want to get rid of last year’s.

I’m really pleased with this batch.  There isn’t much of it though, maybe 300 yards.  But it is another half finished project done.

Happy Birthday Mum!

A group of zippered bags to hold small knitting projects.  These were  a lot of fun to make. I wanted them all to coordinate, but not to be the same.  I really love these bags, but they are not for me.  They are a birthday gift for my Mum.  So if you see her today, wish her a Happy Birthday.

Pumpkin cheesecake. Sort of.

After supper tonight, we both really wanted ice cream.  We don’t have ice cream.  And we are not driving to town for ice cream.  With gas at $3.91 per gallon, we are not making extra trips for whims like ice cream.  But knowing and understanding that does not make the “I want” go away.  Having no other sweet snack to hand (no, apples don’t count, and I ate one already today), I started to rummage in the cupboard.  A box of instant jell-o pudding, cheesecake flavor.  Now that is getting closer.  But no real milk.  Only 2/3s of a can of canned milk.  Then there becomes the real dilemma:  use all of the milk for the pudding, or save it for coffee in the morning?  More rummaging.  A can of pumpkin.  Not sweetened pumpkin pie filling, but just plain canned pumpkin.

I added a few spices, but no extra sweetener, just the box of pudding mix and half of the can of pumpkin.  Used half of the milk.  Saved the rest for coffee.  It was a bit too thick, but the spicy-ness was perfect.  The pumpkin was good, with a little twang of the cheesecake flavor coming through.  I added a few crumbles of granola on top for crunchy-ness.

I put a cup in the freezer to see what happens.

Yummy.  I really like these little coffee as dessert cups.  You can tell when to stop eating your dessert because the cup is empty.  (Unlike eating ice cream out of the box.  That one is really hard to know when to stop!)   And now I can stop thinking about ice cream!

WIPs

WIP in the fiber world is Works In Progress.  We all have them.  Things that are half done. Things that we are absolutely in love with until we find something else that we just have to start knitting right now.  It is not uncommon to have to have three or four projects going at once.  I try not to have more than two at a time.  More than two overwhelm me and make me feel like I am losing the battle, or getting further and further away from completion.  These are the two that I am working on now:

This is the Gap-tastic Cowl:  http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/gap-tastic-cowl

The yellow yarn is the left overs from the Baby Abraham sweater, two strands, and the colored is from an ugly store made scarf that I ripped apart for the yarn.  It seems to have some wool content.  But the yellow is 100% icky polyester.  It does knit up nicely though and is not terrible feeling.  Boy, there’s a recommendation for it.  “Not terrible feeling”.  I can feel the sponsors just rolling in now.

I thought I was done with this, and started to bind off, but it really wasn’t wide enough, so I will keep going for a few more inches.

The next project is this one, a cowl from a Stephen West pattern, the Purl Ridge Cowl.  http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/purl-ridge-scarf

The black is store bought, I have no label for it, but it certainly contains no natural fibers.  Just trying to use up some odds and ends of yarn.  The other is hand spun (by me) and is super soft.   The colors are really subtle and change from blue to gray to small bits of green.  It looks like the Tidal Pool skein that I made but is not.  Quite similar, but different.

The pattern of this cowl is that there are four rows of knitting, and one row of purling.  This repeats through the whole thing.  I don’t like to purl.  I’m not fast at it, and I can’t do it without looking.  (I have learned to knit without looking, but only knit, no purling or pattern or anything.)  What I learned here is that if you turn your knitting around, and I suspect this only works when knitting in the round, if you turn it around (inside out) you can knit back the other way on the inside and it makes a nice little purl row on the right side.  I can hear the knitters groaning now.  But it works.  Cheater.

I’m having fun with these two projects.  The yellow one lives in the car and the blue/black one stays in the house.  It is amazing what you can get done in ten minute batches of car knitting.  If I am waiting somewhere, or early to work or whatever, having a project in the car is almost like knitting for free or something.  Like making extra time.  It feels like getting away with something.

You’ll see these guys again when they are finished.  Hope the sun is out where you live today.

a garden tour this morning

It is cold and still rainy here today.  This is the millionth day of cold and rainy here today.  But the garden doesn’t seem to mind.  I took a walk round the garden this morning with my camera.

Do you remember planting the garlic in the fall …… here.  Well, they are all up and doing well.

The peas that I planted here are up.  Ug says they are weeds, but they are definitely peas.

Mr. Rhubarb was the first thing to get going.  He will be huge by the time he’s done.

This is the second year for the blueberries.  I planted 6 plants, 3 different varieties (2 of each) last year.  They were about $4 each from Reny’s.  They are doing really well.  Last year I pinched off all of the blossoms and just let them grow.  I have added composted cow manure, leaves and pine needles.  I will add more poo this year.  But they all look pretty healthy for this early in the year.  Awful photo, but it was hard to get up close.

This guy made it through the winter too.  In the fall I started a new herb area.  This sounds nice, but what I did was that I dumped out the herbs that were growing in their pots all summer and were quite root bound into one area.  This is the sage.  It was a bit dried out and half dead looking when I unceremoniously dumped it in.  Now look at it.  Just as happy as can be.  We’ll see how the rest of them survive their less than delicate treatment.