Sunday, November 18, 2012

Alpaca shearing.

So it turns out Mr Cloudy and Mr Meatballs, our resident alpacas, aren't so good at doing their job as chook protectors after all. They are great lawn mowers, they add biodiversity to our farm, their poo is fertilising our paddocks, we think they are doing well keeping the foxes away and we really do like having them around and watching their funny ways. But they are hopeless at protecting the chooks from the resident eagle family and there are feathers all over the olive grove to prove it.

But having the alpacas with us over the past six months has made me realise something about myself that I didn't really know before. Visiting them and watching their wool grow and being amazed by how thick and deep it got, made me realise that I want to expand my love of wool craft further. I want to go back a few steps in the yarn chain. I want to produce, process, spin and then knit and crochet our own wool. Our own certified organic, Daylesford Organics wool.

Let's face it, if we are trying to make and grow and preserve as much of what we eat and wear and use ourselves, then it's the logical next step for me, don't you think.
Last Friday afternoon a lovely alpaca shearer called Tim came over to shear our woolly friends.

In the past I had heard awful stories of terrified, bucking alpacas being tied down on their backs so I was a bit nervous before hand, but I was also excited never having seen an animal being shorn so close up before.
But as it turned out I had nothing to worry about. Tim was gentle and calm and our alpacas were too.

They struggled a bit at first and I'm sure they didn't exactly enjoy being restrained, but they seemed to understand and respond to Tim's actions and the whole thing went smoothly.
And it was wonderful to watch Tim at work. After years on the job he knows the alpaca anatomy so well and the wool came off smoothly as the razor glided over their skin and under their fleece.

And that wool was so thick and there was so much of it and it was so clean underneath next to their skin.

We kept the wool off their sides and neck in one bag for spinning, and the rest, the shorter more scruffy wool, in another bag.
And after he was done and our alpacas looked like scrawny goat like creatures, he clipped their toe nails, checked their teeth, gave them a vitamin D injection and spoke to us about what to look for in case of sickness and how best to look after them.

I feel like last Friday was a great day in my life as a wool lover. My next step is to find myself a drop spindle and to watch a whole lot of YouTube clips.

I have butterflies in my tummy when I think of knitting something with my own hand spun. I can hardly wait. Eeeeeeeeeeep!!!!


I hope you've had a bit of excitement in your life too.
I hope you've felt passionate and inspired and excited.
And I hope if you have any spinning wisdom to pass on, you'll do so. I want to know everything.
Yay!!

Have a happy week my friends.

xx


Oh and I apologise for my lack of interneting lately. We've had all sorts of issues that have only just been resolved in the last day or so. Hopefully we are all back online drama free now. If you've emailed me and I haven't replied, maybe try me again.




47 comments:

  1. Oh how wonderful!! I'm excited for you too Kate. What an amazing opportunity to nurture these beautiful animals and then be able to use their wool. Cannot wait to see your yarn :) Kx

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  2. Co-incidentally, I just finished reading another Blog post about spinning ... http://spunoutpost.blogspot.com.au/ Perhaps you'll get some inspiration from Hellena?

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    1. Thank you anonymous for passing on the link, and you have a very beautiful blog here! I might be interested in your fleeces sometime.....and if you ever want an alternative approach to spinning and knitting and crochet, I'd love to natter!

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  3. hi Kate
    I cant wait to see you spinning- i know you will really love it- be prepared to become TOTALLY obsessed with it though, its magic! I've found joining a spinners group to be the best way for me- I picked it up pretty quickly and the ladies have an amazing wealth of knowledge between them. So interesting to see how an alpaca is shorn too- hadnt really thought about the logistics of it before and its nice to hear how gently it was done.

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  4. I think that sounds like a wonderful idea. I have been thinking of spinning a lot at the moment and have watched loads of YouTube videos to see if I could do it. It's very exciting that the fleece can be from your farm too I can't wait to see your efforts. Sarah x

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  5. This is very exciting Kate, I think you'll be a natural! There's a local lady I often see spinning, she sets up her spinning wheel and stool at the lookout right on a cliff overlooking the ocean, with her thermos and the radio. It looks very therapeutic..x

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  6. Hi Kate, I have a drop spindle I am happy to pass on here. My sister (the one that said hi to you all in Uluru) would love to bring it over and say hi.

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    1. Oh Aimee, I'd love that.
      Thanks so much.
      I can't seem to get through to your blog, can you email me maybe.
      xx

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  7. its the best feeling to be on the brink of a new project-good luck x

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  8. Kate, it's very exciting! I had my second official spinning lesson last week at the Spinners guild-they are an excellent resource and the ladies there are teaching me. It was a bit of a disaster-its much harder than it looks but one of those practice makes perfect things and is really fun. I came out with a few metres of very uneven stuff. Apparently there is a growing market for the more 'naturally' spun yarn so I think I'll focus on that. Good luck! Mel x

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  9. Fantastic! They are beautiful creatures, are alpacas. Can't wait to see what you come up with.

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  10. You are going to LOVE spinning, Kate! It's so wonderfully calming and rhythmic (especially if you find a wheel with a little creak in it)
    Cannot wait to see what you produce - I'm sure it will be beautiful!

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  11. lucky you to have all that beautiful fleece! I'm sure you'll enjoy your spinning adventure, it's a lovely skill to have. Nothing better than spinning away over the Winter months.

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  12. Keeping Alpacas and spinning my own wool is something I have started to look in to. I can't wait to see how you get on, this is sooo exciting!

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  13. Lovely. We just moved to Patagonia and we have similar animals called guanacos here. My mum does her own spinning, dyeing and knits and does telar. Telar is a form of weaving that she learnt from the mapuches ( original indigenous people from southern chile and argentina). I need to learn from my mother. She. Is inspiring she taught herself to knit following Elizabeth Zimmerman. Now she can weave and do telar making her own wooden structure. There are some photos of the things she has made on my blog somewhere. I can send you the link if you want. Love your blog and energy to do so much.

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  14. wow. Tha sounds amazing. Very inspiring!
    Your alpacas look like they loved their hair cut x

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  15. Sometimes an enforced break from the computer is a good thing...and gives you time for other activities! I must admit I had never even thought of the logistics of shearing alpacas..I think I assumed they just stood still while being shorn. Just shows I should never assume anything! All the best with your new venture..I can't wait to see your yarn and whatever you make from it.

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  16. Oh wow Kate I LOVE reading about your farm-y goings on!!! And yes definitely the right way to go! The perfect next step for you. I'd love to spin my own wool too!

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  17. Your reports of stories of terrified animals being sheared is what makes me believe that the wool industry is often a cruel one and that makes me wary of knitting with it. I am fed up with people turning a blind eye to it. Why do I want to knit with something that is actually blood stained? Not quite the cute and fluffy image knitters like to have of themselves is it? Yet we are all responsible if we buy the stuff not knowing that it was raised in a cruelty free environment.People should read up about merino wool, an animal raised to have problems which are then dealt with in a barbaric way; yet merino is the yarn of choice for many. Why do humans have to be so exploitative and unkind when we take something from an animal - literally the coat of their backs in this case. Surely it can be done kindly? I hope you prove that it can.

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  18. I just love those alpaca lips. Such cute shots of the shearing. I love how the girls were hanging around as well.
    Oh, imagine knitting or crocheting with your own hand spun wool. I'd be very excited as well.

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  19. I love Alpacas - those eyes! Their "hair" always makes me laugh, so a 70s do that reminds me a bit of Kamal.

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  20. Oh how awesome! Let us know if you do start selling alpaca wool at some point as I'd love to be one of your customers!!

    My son has made friends with a girl at school who lives on a farm near here and they have alpacas which just recently were getting shawn. I asked if they get it made into wool but sadly they don't. She offered me some freshly shawn alpaca fleece but since I don't have any way of spinning it I had to decline at this point. Maybe I should have got myself a drop spindle and given it a go!

    Ahh well I will sit back and wait to see your results first and who knows,,,,maybe next time I will give it a go myself lol.

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  21. Cool. I did a season of roustabouting after high school and the sheep shearers had none of that concern for the sheep. If the sheep got cut with the shears, oh well just stitch them up, their fault for moving. I have knitted a few beanies out of natural wool spun by my Gran, and she gave me her wheel with a lesson before she died. I haven't used it since but it's stashed away for when my baby/ies are a bit older (and I have a bit more time - that does happen doesn't it??). That alpaca wool must feel so soft. Yay for the next step!
    Mx

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  22. Oh how wonderful it must have been to see them being sheared Kate. I remember seeing my aunt's sheep being sheared a few years ago and the kids loved it. I cant wait to see how your yarn turns out Kate, it must be so exciting for you. There are quite a few knitting podcasts that are spinners, and most of them use a drop spindle to do it, apart from spinning wheels. You could always contact one of them, and they are on ravelry too. The Knitgirllls (3 l's) could give you some very useful tips on using a drop spindle.

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  23. Oh How I love those alpacas.. Their eyes are just so beautiful. Also love the Kate-can-do attitude.

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  24. how gorgeous and exciting! i have a big soft spot for alpacas!
    have fun with your new thing xx

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  25. What beautiful Alpacas you have! Pleased to hear the shearing went well, they look a little bit like they are enjoying it to me! I look forward to hearing how your venture into spinning goes!

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  26. i think this is spectacularly exciting. Truly. I've got a real soft spot for alpacas and would have a couple in my reasonably large suburban block if it made sense. But sadly it's really only a good chook space and there are five of those.
    I'll watch this with interest! Good luck with the drop spindling. I have tried it and not done so well in the past - but it does seem like a fun idea and maybe it's worth trying again!

    ps long time reader, first time commenter.

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  27. I love seeing all your farmer adventures, the photos are just beautiful.

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  28. Exciting! Put me down for a skein or two of Foxs Lane wool :-)

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  29. Lovely photos as always Kate, this is so interesting. It looks far more intimate than shearing a few thousand sheep! Having your own wool to knit with will be very special indeed!

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  30. OOOOOOOOH I am gasping with excitement for you Kate! Yes, Yes, Yes - Foxsland organic wool - utterly gorgeous! I will definitely buy some and spread the word as far and as wide as I can for you. I wonder if you could have a CSA model for fleece - that could be wonderful! We're in Melbourne and it would be so marvellous to support a local fleece farm. Hmmm .... you have so many exciting possibilities :-) I have a couple of kilos of alpaca fleece from the lovely folk at Pitchingga Ridge Alpacas - we visited them back in May - it was so lovely - but I still have yet to tackle the fleece. A little problem regarding university work and nerves. As soon as exams and daughter's birthday party are done and dusted, you've inspired me to get those bags out.

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  31. So that's how Alpaca's are shorn. Thanks for the photos. Like you I had visions of struggling, stressed animals but that Alpaca looked very peaceful. Had to laugh at the chooks in the background - wonder what comments they were clucking at their "guardians".

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  32. Hi Kate, we have a gorgeous labrador who drops hair at this time of year. For some weird and wonderful reason whenever I've brushed her I put her hair into a plastic bag. Found an old bag of her lovely white hair the other day, which must have got slightly dampened at some point and it's felted itself!!!! I'm dreaming of what to do with it ... !!!! Looking forward to hearing more of your woolly stories : -)

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  33. that does sound like the most utterly perfect next step!! kate, this is so wonderful!! x

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  34. THis is sooo exciting!!!! Not only am I excited for you and thrilled for you, selfishly I'm thrilled and excited for me!!
    At the thought of the possibilty of buying some of this fabulous yarn.
    You know what an alpaca freak I am!! so excited!!! xo

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  35. dear kate
    as someone who grew up spinning I'd suggest skipping the drop spindle and going straight to a wheel.
    also start spinning with sheep wool as it has certain properties that make it perfect for learning to spin.
    alpaca can be tricky to work with for a newbie!
    i spend every saturday in the shop spinning yarn that we sell, remember it isn't going to pay the bills!
    it will however give you a rare insight into every process of turning fleece into yarn and final product.
    give the girls a go on the wheel if you get one, it's a fabulous exercise in doing three things at once.
    pen x

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  36. I just love these photos and the story along with them. I'm a wool lover myself and it is a dream of mine to one day have alpacas or sheep so I can shear,spin,dye and knit with my own yarn :)

    xo
    Amanda
    www.thorntonjournal.blogspot.com

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  37. tee hee! Clipped alpacas look so quirky!

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  38. Yes! So exciting!!
    I would love to learn how to do that one day too. Mum has an alpaca, maybe I could steal his wool...
    My next thing to learn is how to make apple cider. I might have to pick your brain- you and Bren make cider don't you?
    I'm having a Foxs Lane catch up, loving all your posts :)
    Rach x

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  39. Don't forget the wool prep and spinning invitation at our place. You are always welcome. K8

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  40. I used to partake in Living History exhibits, mainly Viking/Anglo Saxon, and as such we weren't allowed to use any 'modern' equipment. As I was new to the group my 'role' was as a Thrall, I belonged to the household, so whilst the ladies were sewing or Nallbinding it was my job to cook, clean and any other jobs they wanted me to do.

    As we were trying to keep the display interesting for the members of the public, I mean most people know how to cook and clean, we wanted to show variety; so I was given the task of drop spindling wool for the ladies of the household to use. It's quite therapeutic and as I was using sheep's wool, just small quantities we had gathered from fences and barbed wire, my hands became very soft from the natural lanolin.

    The only thing I will say is I did tend to pull it a little thing in the beginning, but it gets better with practise.

    You will love it.

    PS here's a photo of what I was working with. http://www.flickr.com/photos/darkside_images/3704108160/

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  41. Not sure if this has been suggested but see if you can get some merino corriedale cross, use a handcarder mix the alpaca through it and try spinning that,alpaca is hard to get to stay together, borrow a spinning wheel from your local spinning group at first too will get you started! Ive been spinning for 30 odd years,god that makes me feel old,my pareants gave me a single treddle Ashford for my 16th and love it~

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Kate XX

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