Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Purple Dye and Goodbye to the Devil's Socks

You didn't know that the devil wore pink socks, did you? Well, here they are, all finished and ready to leave the premises. Thank goodness! I hope they fit! I like the results, but for heaven's sake, how involved should I get in the life of a pair of socks?! So onward to the next pair--two pairs, actually--of blue men's socks. Simple, straightforward, no extras, so much easier. Right? Right?

Today started with a misty sunrise. I trekked out to the wool barn to start some dyepots and my little companion followed, fearless as ever. His name is Cheeto (CheeseMan to you) and he's one of four kittens from this summer. My husband would like to get rid of all of them, but so far, only one has found a new home. He's a keeper as far as I'm concerned, even though his appearance is common as mud.

I concentrated on purples and blues today. I need a couple of skeins of blue for the rest of the sock order and the purples just struck me as the thing to do, even after that pink sunrise.

I really like this process and some of the surprises that you get when you don't treat it as a science. My challenge this year, however, is to become more scientific and accurate about what I'm doing. I also have to come up with some names for my colorways. Right now, I'm trying to reproduce a hand paint that we did last year that looked like a lilac bush, both in the skein and after it was knit up. This year, I'm trying it as a dip dye. We'll see how that turns out. The few purples and blues drying outside my wool barn are done on white and gray yarns with slightly different results. As soon as my sister arrives, we'll go into production mode, but for now it's a little here and a little there.

Monday, October 29, 2007


Alf, our guard cat. A brilliant mouser, he looks like a million other cats, but his personality is what makes him special. You can tell by the condition of his ears that he's had a fight or two in his lifetime. Alf hangs out with the dogs and comes when you call his name. He rides the hay when we stack it in the truck and jumps in the back of the empty truck to ride with the dogs. He's the first to greet in the morning and the last to say good night. Quite a character, is he. I'm not really a lover of house cats, but if I were to ever move away from the farm, Alf would have to go with me.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Red Lace

The model of this red shawl was oh so pleased to display it. (You can tell by the smug look on her young face.) It started out as a neutral silver gray, but I couldn't leave well enough alone, so I dyed it with a tomato red dye to come up with this cranberry color. It's knit Shetland style with no cast off edge, but in a triangle, rather than the traditional square. It's more than a pretty accessory. Because it's 100% alpaca, it actually quite warm, holes and all. I'm not sure I like the color, but I very much like the design of it--simple Turkish faggoting in the center, plowed acre for the wide border and an eyelet sawtoothed edge--all the easiest of lace stitches, but with a nice effect overall, I think.

Now, how about some help with how to take better pictures?

Yarn, yarn, yarn!!!

The first of my mill processed yarn has arrived. I send in about 80% of my fleeces to a mill for processing because I could never keep up with hand processing and hand spinning all of it. I keep the show fleeces and most of the grays to hand spin. It's also cheaper for a customer to purchase. Mill spun sells for between $12 and $18 per skein and hand spun sells for $25-30 a skein.

This is harvest for me, when I get to see nearly all of my alpaca fleeces in their yarn form. It's an exciting time for us all because the next step is to dye it. We'll do solids, dip dyes, space dyes, hand paints--you name it and we'll do it. We've never been very good at keeping track of our dye lots or our methods. It's just too much fun to apply color and let the chips fall where they may. This year, however, I have some customers who are asking for repeats of previous years, so it's time to start measuring (no! not that!), keeping records and sample cards, and trying to be more consistent.

My blacks, browns, and fawns will come in next week and I'll have close to 100 pounds of yarn to sell. Obviously, we can't dye blacks and darks, but as we found last year, the fawns and light browns dye up with terrific results. The colors are muted and earthy, rather than clear and bright. The grays give us rich jewel colors. Over course, we'll save back some of each natural color to sell as is, but the greatest fun of the season is the dyeing.

For those of us who have a serious yarn addiction, pictures like this can evoke tremors, salivating and even faints as we contemplate the possibilities and future adventures. If you're one of those, just wait until you see the pictures after the lot has been dyed. If you're one whose spouse has put out a cease and desist order on your yarn spending, I'm sorry for you. I'm sure we'll still have yarn left when the order is lifted!

I've requested some lighter weights this year--sport, fingering and lace--as well as some suri yarn. In case you've never heard of suri's, they are the type of alpaca whose fleece grows in twists and lock, rather than perpendicular to the body like wool. The look is kind of a "bed head" look, or somewhat like dread locks. They're amazing animals and there are much fewer of them around than the typical wool alpaca which is called a huacaya. Suri yarn is much more lustrous and behaves more like silk than wool, although it's wonderfully warm and less is more when working with it. A bulky or worsted suri yarn is overkill and the price per ounce for yarn ($15 and up) would break the bank, so we've got fingering and lace weights to work with.

We had three suri's until this year when they were sold to a new home in Pennsylvania earlier this fall. The first was a complete surprise to us when she was born. Her mother was a black huacaya and when her baby popped out, we didn't quite know what to think or what to do with her. She was the strangest baby we'd ever seen. As it turns out, the breeder we bought the mom from didn't realize that either the males got out and an accidental breeding happened or some other mistake happened and we got a half suri baby. I'm not posting a picture of her because she is ghastly looking by breed standards.

The offspring of this first suri became my favorite baby. Her name is Esme and she was born during a cold front, complete with sub-zero temps and driving winds. Her mama had not a drop of milk, so Esme came to live in my laundry room. For 11 days we bottle fed her and took her outside 4-5 times a day (with her little jacket on) to be with the herd and her mama. After 11 days, miracle of miracles, she took to nursing. Our vet was surprised, saying he'd never heard of any animal nursing after that length of time. So, Esme...not a high quality animal, but very sweet. The final suri was a little boy we called Tanner, born this year in June. Thankfully, all three went to the same excellent home and I'm out of the suri business. Whew!

So... I'm looking forward to digging into the dyes, but I'll wait until my sister arrives from Peru. I need her eyes and her judgment because I've put together some awful color combinations and my yarn is precious. I can't really afford to ruin any of it. To be fair, I've done nice combos, too, but two minds are better than one, don't you think?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Blue skies and old barns

What a glorious day it is today! We had our first hard freeze over the weekend and our first snow on Sunday, thankfully doing away with nearly all of the flies. Today, the sun is back in it's full glory and it will soon be 70 degrees F. Tonight it will be down to 25 degrees or less. Indian summer we call this and it's my favorite time of year.

The third cutting of hay is in windrows, ready to bale. There's not much of it this year. We tried to put in grass alongside the alfalfa and we're not sure how successful we really were. It's always been alfalfa for us so we don't really know what a successful crop of grass hay looks like. We've actually had a pretty good year for rainfall. The last few years were drought years, with less than 8 inches of rain in a year, but this year we had intermittent, but heavy rain and at opportune times.

The old barn still looks somewhat picturesque surrounded by the aging trees and the fading fences. One day it really will blow over and I'll be sad. Until then, I can complain about how shabby it looks and how ugly it is, compared to the barns others in our area have. It sits not 30 steps from my back door and perhaps that's the real problem. Rustic, encroaching on an attempt at civilized living, makes the whole works look messy and old. Ah well, it does it's job and does it well. And the price was right, since it didn't cost us a penny to build and put to work.

I was struck by how utterly clear and blue the sky is this morning. That's not unusual for us, but somehow this morning, it just bowled me over. Have I said before how much I love the life I lead?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sock Saga in Pink

The saga of the socks continues. I'm only on my second pair and I think I've ripped this one out at least a dozen times. I'm normally a very laid back person, at least in most ways, but for some reason, perfectionism rears it's ugly head at the least opportune moments. The customer asked for two shade of pink for her pre-teen daughter and left the rest to me. Sounds like a knitter's dream, but it's turned into a nightmare. Perhaps I've given myself too many choices this time and can't make up my mind for the best design. I've been sitting up late at night trying different things until my eyes crossed and I finally told myself, "It's just a sock for heaven's sake. Get on with it." I finally opted for a simple baby cable and an hourglass heel and toe. And so, I'm marching towards the toe on the first and just starting the cables on the second. It's still slow going because my eyes really are tired and over worked at this point.

I wonder if the eyes are the first things to go as we get older. (Oh, wait, the waist already went!) I rebel at the thought of wearing glasses, especially bifocals. I'm awful about locating keys, cell phones, sunglasses. How could glasses be any better? I shrink at thinking I might be dependent on the silly things. I suppose worse things could happen, but I've been dragging my feet about having my eyes checked. If I pretend there's not a problem, it will just go away, right? If I deny the problem, everything will be alright. Isn't that how it works? I know better, but still can't seem to move my feet in the direction of an eye doctor, or whatever they call themselves.

Perhaps I should just repeat my solution to the sock saga. "You have to see, for heaven's sake. Get on with it!" I hope they don't have too many choices when I get to the doctor's office.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


I'm one of the teenage daughters and I live on the farm. I'm 13 and this is my favorite goat, Charlie. You see, he was born on a cold, cold, cold, (12 below zero F) February evening... and Charlie's mama got scared and ran away from her babies(just born). We found the twins on the ground. The first was dead(sniff) but the second was holding onto life by a thread. We rushed him inside and put him on a heating pad. He was nearly dead and my mom was telling me how we had done our best for him and that it would be OK if he died. At about 11:00 pm, my dad came in and told us to do something with this animal because he was standing up, wagging his tail and hollering for food. I bottle fed him that night and every day after that until he was grown. Today, Charlie is as much a pet as one of the dogs. He knows that he's a member of the farm management team. He has a beautiful curly white fleece as soft and sweet as his personality.

What joy!! What wonder!!! What a miracle..
Ok I'll stop there before I get too goofy.

His picture isn't very nice because he wouldn't back up from the camera so we could take a nice one. We'll shear him next week and then he'll look like a little lamb.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Fawn sweater

I don't have any beautiful models here today, except Celeste, and she has declined to do a photo shoot today. Models! Sheeesh! Who knew they were so finicky about things! It turns out that the sleeves on this sweater are not very complimentary to her particular body type (four legs and a curly tail), so I tucked a dark scarf inside the sweater to show the stitching and the motifs to a better advantage:

The sweater is of medium fawn alpaca yarn with a crocheted tie closure; bell sleeves; shell edging.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Transportation in style

I just had to post this picture. The last time I had alpacas transported, the driver showed up with a shiny silver 52 foot, air-conditioned trailer with security cameras, auto feed grain feeders, cushioned mats, and I swear there was mood music playing. But this! This is much more my style. I didn't even notice the llamas looking out the back window until I had already looked at it many times! What a hoot!

Some special people and a special place

Not far from my farm is an amazing place for people who overflow with enthusiasm, innocence and possibilities. These people are called developmentally disabled by society, but really, they're just wonderful folks who enjoy life. They live at a ranch called Triangle Cross Ranch and I think they're the luckiest of people to be there. At the Ranch, they raise two alpacas, 9 angora goats, a cat, seven bunnies and two horses. They do the chores, process the wool from their animals into felt, participate in Special Olympics, volunteer at the local food bank, clean the local park every week, keep the houses clean, go to social gatherings, and basically live as "normal" a life as they possibly can. Most don't know they're disabled because they are such an accepted part of their local community.

The goal of the Ranch is "to create a new definition of normal..." I just love that and I think they're really doing a good job of it. The residents are generally happy people who live with purpose and anticipation of what the next day holds. Here's the acrostic that describes life at the Ranch. N - Necessary to the community; O - Oriented to daily life; R - Realistic in expectations; M - Moral in action; A - Abilities beyond disabilities; L - Loved beyond measure.

If this sounds like an advertisement for the Ranch, forgive me. I just think it's an absolutely amazing place and I wonder at the families that are willing for their family member to sit all day long in an institutional setting and watch videos or play cards.

Triangle Cross Ranch doesn't receive any federal funding to do what they do, so the fund raising is an ongoing effort, as is the volunteer search. Obviously, my family and I are quite involved at TCR. My girls are quite at home there among the residents and staff. It's actually a safe haven for us when life overwhelms. It's an escape into contentment and a simpler existence.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Matchmaker, matchmaker make me a match

Time for breeding to begin. We've actually been breeding alpacas for several weeks, but some of them are just now starting to show signs of being interested. With alpacas, it's fairly easy to tell if a female is in cycle because she'll lay down (cush) for the male if she is. If she's not in cycle, she'll spit him off and if she's pregnant, she'll really spit at him. The signs of a successful breeding is that a female will flirt, breed and then turn into a witch, when she's around a male, that is. Not really that different from humans, I think. As with most breeding males, they're not at all conscious of what the female wants or doesn't want. They're completely, 100%, absolutely single minded! Did I mention that it's not all that different from humans?

We have several young females that have never been bred before and it's taking them a little time to understand what exactly is going on. We also have two young males that have never bred before and they're so clueless, it's absurd. I'm just not the kind of breeder who will actually
physically involve myself with the details of male and female contact. (Did I say that delicately enough?) I figure that if they don't know how, they're not ready yet.

These are some of our pairings for this year. Both of these pairs have produced beautiful gray offspring and we hope to repeat that. Rose is shown with Roxy, her baby from last year out of Black Knight. We liked the results so much we're repeating that breeding. Solace is our leading black female and we're breeding her again this year to our light rose gray male, Gandalf. They produced a lovely silver gray female born this past spring. Of all my males, Gandalf is the sweetest gentleman. He's kinder and gentler with my females than most of the others. I like him for that. And for the fact that he's just plain handsome.

Rose is a "special" animal. I purchased her from a farm in Spokane, WA and found out after the fact that she suffers with seizures--petit mal and an occasional grand mal. She had never been handled when I got her; born, raised and bred in a large pasture. We've worked with her until she's pretty tolerant of us and actually fairly friendly as long as our interactions are on her terms. We're careful with her feed and her stress levels. We give a year off from breeding about every two or three years and use rescue remedy when we have to shear her or do any shots or foot care. I'll never be able to sell her. Like the lovely grandma goat, Pansy, whose face graces my front page, she'll live out her life here until she dies. Not a bad life for her all in all. She serves her purpose and gives me a pretty baby every year or so and provides the most beautiful rose gray fleece to work with and in return, she lives a stress free life. Sweaters and shawls made from her wool sell for our highest prices. Even if they didn't, I'd keep making them, if only for myself. It's a strange relationship we have, Rose and I, but it works for us. I'm so glad I have her.

As far as goats go, it's Mr. Hermes all the way. He holds the honor of being the one and only proven buck on the farm and has a great track record. He'll only get three of the six females, though. I'm giving one of my older females the year off and sending two out to be bred elsewhere. I'm not telling Hermes anything about that yet. I'm hoping to be able to use his son, Sawyer, in a couple of years with some of the upcoming kids from the outside buck. Don't they just look like "Me and Mini Me"?

Work, work, work...or is it?

This is where I work, at least this is my indoor work space. We created this space by covering the west side of our outside porch. The wind in the winter drives at us from the north west, so covering the porch also served the purpose of protecting the west side and preserving our heating fuel. We installed a wood stove and the place is quite cozy in the winter, although pretty hot in the late afternoon during the summer.

The other reason we created this space was so that my husband could sit down in the evening without sitting on yet another project and without sitting on...stepping in...tripping over knitting needles and paraphernalia.

I usually spin on a Lendrum wheel, but it seems that my daughter prefers my wheel over hers, so I've taken to spinning on my mother's wheel. My mother, who was a hard worker and a farm woman from the ground up, passed away in November 2006 and I think it's fitting that her wheel be put to good use. She had an Ashford wheel and it works just fine for me. It's nice to be able carry on with something that my mother put so much time and effort into.

The first pair of socks are finished and blocking on the counter. I hope the lady likes them, otherwise, I guess I'll have to sell them elsewhere or send them to my sister in New York for Christmas. She adores hand knit alpaca socks when they have six feet of snow on the ground in the winter.

The first three skeins of my daughter's "Bethy" yarn, as we call it, are done. It's a little too loose for my taste but we'll see how it knits up.

I couldn't resist adding a picture of one of our black beauties. She's a 4 month old cria and her name is Onyx. Doesn't she make you want to hug her?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Rain, Goats and Yarn

Another cloudy, rainy day today. That's two in a row and it's wonderful. We're used to lots of sun, a lot of wind, browns and greens. With the rain, everything looks so green. The weather is cooling off quickly and just in time to chase away the flies and bugs. The corn fields are bare and brown, so the green is refreshing.

Even our old barn looks tolerable surrounded by green. We've been hoping this barn would blow over for years now, but even though it looks like it's fixing to fall over, it's probably the strongest building on our place. Such an ugly barn, but it serves its purpose. So much of our place is made up of old wood, "jerry rigged" fencing and old outbuildings, but you know, they just keep on doing their jobs. I suppose there are worse things than old buildings and no buildings or fences, I guess!

His Royal Hugeness Hermes is standing out in the rain, seeming to enjoy it. He's in his prime and at his stinkiest this time of year. He can't wait for the girls to arrive in his pen the first of December. I think he uses way too much aftershave for my taste, but his girls just swoon over him and think he's beeeautiful! He does do his job, however and seems to enjoy being the sole breeding male on the place.

My daughter is spinning a bumpy novelty yarn from Mr. Hermes' fleece (extra well washed, of course) blended with a black alpaca from our black beauty, Solace. The combination creates a lovely dark charcoal color that we're plying with a silver thread. I think it's going to be great. It amounts to three skeins of about 200 yards each, so not quite enough for a sweater. She's got her work ahead of her to get enough done, but she's only about half way through the batch of rovings.

Good stuff here

Heh, I'm the other half of the blog team...the less resourceful, the less down to earth, and the one that makes things more complicated than they need to be. I have my life spread out from Wyoming down through Colorado and further south to where I am right now - Peru. How much more complicated do I need to be? Yeesh.

Look at what comes from the Wooly Works workshop! Beautiful stuff here! Even the model is great!

Anyway, we make good stuff here. The Christmas and holiday season is upon us. We head to Windsor in November to put our good stuff out there for people to see, touch, and smell. I personally have a hat knit from Peruvian sheep's wool that still has that lovely sheepy lanolin aroma on it. It was fun to knit, but it took up over half of that yarn, so I'm left with less than enough to make another felted hat...What to do, what to do? I seem to have that problem lately - leftover yarns that I haven't enough to make the project that I want...maybe with time, I'll have enough in my leftover stash to make a granny square blanket...afghanland, here I come!

I recently received a book from, "Amazing Crochet Lace", by Doris Chan. WOOHOO! There are some great patterns in there! But, me being me, I'll probably only make the original pattern once and then modify the beejeebers out of it to suit myself...hence the one of a kind creations. Hang on Doris! I won't be long in making one of your fabulous patterns and then twisting the daylights out of the concept and ending up with something completely different.

Okay - I'm off to organize all those odds 'n ends of yarn left overs. They MAY make a few great HATS!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A Rainy Day

It's a rare rainy Saturday for us in Colorado. Such a nice change from the hot and dry of summer. The transition into fall isn't as dramatic here as it is in other places, but it's nice all the same. Hopefully, we won't see any sun for a couple of days so we can all get into the spirit of the fall season.

The animals don't seem to mind looking a little bedraggled in the rain. I think they enjoy the change in weather as much as we do. The "sentinels" are a little more somber today as they watch over the home place.

All in all, a lovely day to stay inside and catch up on those socks I've been working on. I'll be done with the first pair this evening and move on to the next pair--at least two shades of pink for a young preteen girl. I'll have to dye more yarn, but I'm looking forward to that part--maybe a painted yarn or a space dyed yarn.

It's a great life I lead...