Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Gardens, berries, and Lily

Well, summer is in full swing here. It seems that it takes a rainy day and full dye pots before I get a chance to sit down and post an entry!

One good thing about living in the country is that the colour just seems to happen. My flower garden is a wild thing, designed to look that way by Jim Merrick of Commanda Country Gardens. I told him that I don't have time to fuss, so my garden is full of native perennials that are drought resistant and spread faster than the weeds can. Throw in a long, country driveway and from the road, my garden looks fantastic. The cherry trees are loaded. I'm not sure if they are ping or choke cherries - either way, I don't like the taste. However, the birds are all over these trees that surround our yards here.

It's a great year for raspberries. We've been picking quite a few.

And FRESH YARN has arrived from the mill, via a friend heading north on a kayak trip who kindly saved me shipping costs! There is always a few months turnaround from fibre to yarn at the mill, so I had best be getting my spring fleeces skirted and batched off to the mill soon. I have started dyeing this 3 ply sock yarn today.

Every livestock farm has sad stories to tell from time to time. I choose not to write about the sad stories in my blog. So, the following tale has been a while coming as I've been guarded about the outcome. Touch wood, but I think it's going to have a happy ending and wanted to share it here.

On June 26th, our Raven gave birth for the first time. She delivered in the back pasture in the early morning. When I went out to check the girls, Raven was grazing quite far away from the cria, so at first, I didn't think it was hers. Although a bit curious about the cria, she didn't stay near it like most dams do. She looked a bit bewildered when the cria started following her every move.

Things just didn't seem normal, and after watching, it was apparent that Raven had no intention of letting the cria try to nurse.

We've never encountered this on our farm, and we tried everything "in the book" to get Raven to let the cria nurse.

To make a short story out of a long one, we ended up bottle-feeding the cria. Bottle-feeding a cria is a pretty big commitment of at least 3 months.

On the second day, we noticed that another maiden alpaca, Aurelia was allowing the cria to suckle. We thought it strange, but allowed it to happen, knowing that the bonding with the herd is important to the health of a cria.

This kept on. We would bottle-feed and then it would suckle from Aurelia. Aurelia was taking on all of the normal protective instincts of a new mom, alarming at every different sight and sound and keeping the cria close to her at all times. On the off-chance, we started giving Aurelia some lactation herbs.

When the cria was 12 days old, we checked Aurelia's little teats and found that she had started to lactate a bit! The cria, who we have named Lily, had been adopted.

Over the next 2 weeks, Lily started taking less milk from the bottle.

Lily still isn't as big as she should be, but she is strong and sturdy and plays normally. We are still supplementing her with the bottle somewhat.

This is Lily as she was at 17 days of age.

She's a beauty with brilliant, white fibre. Keep your fingers crossed that this happy story continues....

Sunday, July 11, 2010

July Farm Pictures

This morning, Smokey the barn cat puts action in as he retells me the story of his latest barnyard kill....(not really, this is him saying 'Hey, get rid of that camera and pet me already!").

Pepita and her baby are doing just fine, even with this oppressive heat.

With a healthy cria at side, a nice snooze in a sun-baked dust-bath is an alpaca mom's spa!

Awkward teenage chickens...

Have a great day!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Black Alpaca Jackets

I've been writing previously about the black alpaca jackets that my friend, Suzanne Philbin, was weaving and tailoring for us.

We modelled them in the fashion show at the Wasoon 2010 conference in Kapuskasing. Wasoon stands for Weavers and Spinners of Ontario North and is an excellent conference that takes place every two years in a different location in Northern Ontario, Canada.

It felt like we were the stars of the show in these jackets. Even walking into the conference hotel with the jacket on a hanger, I was surrounded by conference delegates wanting a closer look and touch. I kept explaining that I couldn't take credit for my jacket, my true talent lies in ensuring that I have a gifted and generous friend like Suzanne.

How these jackets came to be...

I was in possession of a surplus of 100% natural black alpaca yarn. This yarn was fairly coarse alpaca, with no loft and spun fairly tightly. I knew it wouldn't suit a knitting project. One day, I showed it to Suzanne to ask her opinion of using it to weave a jacket "some day". Suzanne is a very experienced weaver and seamstress.

Suzanne said that we should each weave a jacket. Now, this conversation probably took place in 2007.

The yarn went back into the great yarn and fibre bin that used to be our family basement.

Every once in a while, Suzanne would ask "When are we going to start those jackets"?

And is usually my reply..."Oh, in a couple months I'll have time to start...after (the alpaca show, shearing, school starts, fall sales events finish, etc. - you can fill in the blank with an excuse at any time of the year!)"

The Wasoon 2010 conference date was looming and Suzanne wanted to wear that alpaca jacket at the conference.

Finally, in early 2010, Suzanne announced that we were starting the jackets. Realizing that it was going to be impossible to get me to commit to weaving half the warp on a loom sitting in North Bay and understanding that I didn't sew well enough to tailor my own jacket, Suzanne agreed to do the bulk of the work.

Suzanne and I collaborated on the warp, deciding on the on-loom width of 28” and putting a random length of Noro Blossom (wool, silk, mohair, nylon) yarn that I found in my stash.
We spent most of a Sunday at Ralph Johnston's studio, designing the warp and winding the warp.
Suzanne's experience really showed in the warp design - it's so important where the random strands of colour would go...I wouldn't call them random after all. It's in the planning of the material that consideration needs to ensure such things like there wouldn't be a stripe running centre of the jacket back.

Suzanne wove the whole 7 yards in over a week and several excited phonecalls.
I learned just how focussed Suzanne can be over a project...that's probably why she can create so many masterpieces, while I don't.

The project took 22 skeins of black alpaca and 2 skeins of the Noro. Then she handed me the heavy bundle and said simply..."I wove it, you wash it."
Yikes! What pressure that was.
Keep in mind the whole weaving studio community and Suzanne's friends and family were watching this project unfold.
Keep in mind that I've been known to destroy at least one handwoven article in my washing machine!
What pressure indeed. I contemplated how I might recover from a potential laundry disaster of this magnitude.

Happy to say that the material was washed and pressed, with almost 0% shrinkage in the width.

I brought the washed textile back to the studio, gladly announcing to Suzanne "I did it! I washed it!"....
From another weaver came "Well, really, I think it's the least you could do!"

I smiled.

Suzanne tailored the two jackets. Suzanne’s jacket is from Simplicity # 4045. Suzanne made a pattern for the second jacket from an old jacket of mine. In fact, Suzanne made 4 mock jackets out of sheeting before she was happy enough with the fit for my jacket to begin sewing it. What can I say...I'm a big girl with big shoulders.

For both jackets, the trim around the front and neck was knit from fingering weight 80% alpaca and 20% merino. A single strand of the Noro Blossom was woven into the trim to create a finishing touch. Suzanne’s jacket has this trim around the wrist openings as well.

I did knit my front finishing edge myself...which ended up being somewhere around 64 inches of very fine knitting. (Applause here)
See, that's another thing I did on this project!

Suzanne completed her jacket with hand-felted buttons with a knit alpaca clasp. I decided to leave mine without buttons, as it hangs so beautifully at the front and I never button my jacket anyway.

The jackets are important to me and Suzanne not only as one-of-a-kind quality hand woven alpaca garments. They symbolize a very valued friendship which began through fibre arts, our continuing inspiration and knowledge shared through this creative experience.