Saturday, December 18, 2010

Top Ten Reasons for Owning (Loving) Alpacas - The Fibre!

The other day, I was thinking of starting a Top Ten list for finishing off this year 2010.  The idea came to me that I should list ten reasons why I love having alpacas on my farm.  I often get asked why I chose alpacas for my farm by people waiting for a quick, simple answer.  After answering this question for the last 8 years, I have a pretty standard answer.  But could I come up with ten distinct reasons that I could articulate to people who might know nothing about the animal, quality natural fibre, livestock farming or starting a business?  It was amazing that once I started writing, the reasons kept coming.  I didn't intend a particular order for the list, but this first reason is the most important reason for me and my business.

The Very Top Reason to Own Alpacas is -
An ultimate supply of alpaca fibre, of course!

It's soft and non-itchy, comes in many shades from brilliant white, browns and true black. It's a strong fibre with a long staple, so it can be spun into a very lightweight, fine yarn. Garments made from alpaca have incredible drape and warmth.
Like other farms in our climate, we shear our alpacas in the spring. The majority of fleece from my farm and that which I buy off other Ontario farmers gets skirted and sorted into like lots (by fineness, colour and staple length) over the summer and sent off to the mill. Specific instructions to the mill include everything that they need to know for the yarn, such as blending recipe (percentage of alpaca, merino, silk, nylon, or other), desired yardage per pound, and the amount of twist desired. Other fibre might be turned into rovings, batts or felt.

I’ve been using Wilton Road Custom Fibre Mill in Odessa, Ontario for several years. The mill operator, Tracey, is a spinner and fibre enthusiast. She loves working on my fleece, as I usually have some novel requests that she loves to try out. She usually has a few ideas in creating small lots of trial yarns. We know that if we are excited to produce the yarn, then my customers will be excited to weave or knit with it. Wilton Road has been making my 3 ply sock yarn and my fingering weight yarns for the last 3 years and I am really happy with the quality, as are my customers.

The product is returned from the mill, anywhere from 4 months to a year after they receive my raw fleece. It’s like Christmas when I receive a big shipment of yarn back from the mill! Fresh yarn! Receiving the yarn is the culmination of a long process and I still need to knit up a swatch to find out if I have a truly successful run.

I handdye much of the yarns and rovings that are returned to me from the mill. This year, for the first time, I have sent some fleece to a mill that will also return it as dyed yarn.

I will process some of the nicest fleeces myself on the farm in small lots of unique fibre blends that are bought by other spinners. These might be blended with silk, mohair, merino, angellina or other fibres into beautiful rovings on my Patrick Green SuperCard.

I sell the yarn, rovings, felts and batts through my yarn shop, online and at markets and fairs. Some of it goes into finished products I either make or have made, usually locally.

A small portion of the rovings are spun into yarn by myself, for either my use, to sell or to use in end-products. People who can appreciate the qualities that make up a high-quality, unique, natural fibre yarn will spend the money on handspun alpaca yarn. A handspinner can usually spin a yarn that has less twist, and as such, has a softer feel than commercially spun yarns. As well, a handspinner has the option of creating very unique, novelty yarns that are unlike anything created commercially.

Today is the last Saturday before Christmas.  My shop is in my house, so I believe that my family will be relieved that we won't have to have Christmas music blaring for 5 hours every Saturday after today.  I had quite a few shoppers today, preferring to drive into the country for their last minute gifts than to tackle the mall parking lot.  Alpaca socks make an appreciated gift for almost anyone on your list.


Wooly Knits n Bits said...

Is that a bag full of new yarn??? If I was to get a bag like that, I'd be so excited, I think I would sleep in it a few nights!

Norma from Misty Haven Alpacas said...

hmmm...tempting as that sounds, I don't think I'd feel right about putting it back in my store after sleeping with it. I'd be too attached ;) Duvet batts...another story....

Azure Islands Designs said...

Very interesting Norma...I truly enjoy learning about other people, their work,businesses, etc. I think that is why I enjoy blogging...always something new and interesting to learn!!!

I have to say I find what you do fascinating...from the farming to the finished product!