The Latest Scoop
21 April 2012 – Last weekend we were at a craft show in nearby Hershey and the Hersheypark characters stopped in to visit.
The alpacas certainly took it all in stride. If it were a dog, they would be frightened – if it were a cat or a squirrel, they would be beside themselves with curiosity. They appeared to view these characters as just more “two –leggeds”. Do they not see these characters as looking vastly different from others of the two-legged species?
After each show I always reflect on what I learned from it. I have found that in terms of feeling positive about the experience, there are factors that are important other than the amount of profit made. It is very gratifying to sell something made from the fiber of one of my alpacas – as that is my goal – to eventually market just products that I have made from my own fleeces. I also like being able to sell something that I have designed or adapted myself.
I was very pleased that, at this show, I sold 3 of my winter hats – two made from my handspun yarn, one of which was from one of my alpacas. I was also pleased to sell yarn from several of my animals, plus some of my hand dyed yarn. After much experimentation with various dyes and techniques, I am finally at a point where I can begin selling my hand dyed yarns and the possibilities – all the various colors and combinations – are mind-boggling.
Several months ago I attended a small local show where I had very few sales. However, as a direct result of contacts made at that show, I was invited to apply to 3 other shows – 2 of which are juried.
Now this is exciting and a step forward for me. In applying for a juried show, it is necessary to submit photographs of my work, plus a photo of my booth. (As my booth setup is different at each show, it is difficult to know which photo to submit) A panel, ( jury) decides whether or not the applicant’s work meets the criteria for that show.
I hope that I will be accepted to at least one of these juried shows as I feel that their philosophy reflects my own feeling that an “arts and crafts show” should promote the American handcraft artist. Too often commercial items are being sold at shows which are billed as “arts and crafts”. A juried show has very strict criteria and no commercial products are allowed.
I would like to eventually have the majority of my shows be juried ones and have all of the products that I sell come from my own animals. Lots of work ahead!
Meanwhile, we stay very busy here with routine spring chores. We are putting much time and effort into our pastures. With the possibility of drought predicted for this summer, we are trying to get our pastures into the best possible shape so that they can withstand the summer dryness and revive as they go into fall. The alpacas are eating less and less hay – and have little interest in their grain – as they are allowed increasing hours on their spring pastures.
Each season has a different routine and this is what keeps life interesting in any farming operation.
22 March 2012 – I have been busy getting ready for some spring craft shows that I will be attending. This will be my first time as a vendor at a warm weather show. While alpaca products sell well when it cold, I’m not sure how sales will be when the weather is pleasant.
I came up with the idea to weave some lightweight scarves in open weave lace patterns. Here are some of them – freshly pressed and waiting to be packed up for the show this weekend. Each scarf weights just one ounce.
As I was unable to find the bright spring like “Easter egg” colors that I wanted, I bought some spools of alpaca/silk blend yarn and dyed them. As I was dyeing yarn for my scarves, I made up a few extra skeins and will try selling them. With each yarn purchase I will throw in a free pattern for a scarf.
I also made up a couple of hats in the style of my best selling felted hat. I had earlier purchased some roving in shades of pink and another in shades of purple. I handspun the rovings into yarn, then knit and felted the hats – here is the pink one. An casual Easter bonnet.
This weekend I will be at Enola Emmanuel United Methodist Church’s Spring Arts and Crafts Show. This is located at 22 Salt Rd., Enola, PA. The hours of the show are 4 PM until 8 PM on Friday, March 23 and 9 AM until 2 PM on Saturday March 24. This will be an indoor show on 2 levels of the church. This is a fully handicapped accessible facility on both levels and there is also an elevator available. The show includes over 60 vendors, hourly giveaways and The Emmanuel Café serving their soup, sandwiches and baked goods. Admission and parking are free. You can find detailed directions to the church at www.EEUMC.org .
23 February 2012 -Early this month I attended a fiber function sponsored by the Centre County Knitters Guild. This was a great event and the perfect way to spend a winter’s day.
The event, which was held in a fire hall, was presented as a day out for fiber enthusiasts and people did indeed come to spend the day. In one large hall were groups of various fiber artists. Groups of weavers, spinners, knitters, embroidery and cross stitchers - everyone busy weaving, spinning, knitting, sewing, exchanging ideas, giving demonstrations.
In the other large social hall were 11 fiber vendors of which I was one. As at most fiber festivals, everyone was very friendly and eager to exchange ideas. The members of the Knitters Guild were very helpful, making frequent rounds to check on the vendors and offer us a break when needed.
Between the two halls was a kitchen serving breakfast and lunch. The food was very good – another reason for participants to stick around.
As usual at fiber events, I come away with inspiration for new things to try.
Someone passed along a pattern to me for this scarf which I am working on.
Another person provided the inspiration for me to alter one of my standard woven scarf patterns to make it more spring like for the warm weather shows.
Of course, I had to buy something. I just finished spinning up some yarn from the roving I bought which had been dyed in shades of purple.
A successful day – in many ways – and I am so pleased that I was invited to be a part of it all. Kudos to the members of the Centre County Knitters Guild for a great event. This was the second year for this event and due to the large crowd it attracted, I think I can safely say that this will be an annual happening.
22 January 2012 - I am busy getting ready for a series of late winter/early spring fiber events and craft shows. Included are some shows that I was invited to attend that I have not attended before. I am flattered to have been invited and I do feel a need to ensure that all of the items that I bring to these shows are the best that I can produce.
One of the fun – and challenging – things about working with my own herd’s fleece is figuring out the best use for each fiber. Not only according to fineness – or micron count – but also by consistency and color.
I once wrote that I treasured Belle’s fleece over those of her darker cousins Briza and Bixa due to all the possibilities. I was thinking of dyeing possibilities. However, after working with Belle’s fiber, I would not think of dyeing it. Her fiber is so incredibly white with a great deal of brightness to it. This is a hat made from Belle’s fiber – knit from yarn that I handspun, then felted.
This is actually the second hat made from Belle’s fleece – the first one sold less than 24 hours after I finished it!
Briza and Bixa – the girls actually are cousins – have great fiber shared, along with Belle, in their common Portland Kidd ancestry. However, their darker colors do limit the possibilities for the use of their fiber.
Acer’s fiber is one that I am dyeing. He is classified as “beige” and the yarn from his fiber has an off-white look to it. It will be very pretty over-dyed in various colors.
These batts are from Acer’s raw fleece. I washed, dyed and carded the fiber in preparation for felting and/or spinning. His beige color gives a heathered look to the dyed fiber.
Alder’s fleece may also be headed for the dye pot. While I have had great success selling hats made from his medium fawn fleece, he is turning much lighter as he ages. I think that items made from this year’s shearing will not have that pretty blend of dark, medium and light fawn that characterized his earlier fleece. His overall color is now closer to Acer’s.
Regardless of the color, the fiber is always wonderful to work with and determining the best characteristics of each one is part of the fun.
22 December 2011 - As you can see from the barn in the background, our alpacas have a good view of our Christmas tree. The big boys can also see it from their field at the top of the hill. Hard to know what they think – I don’t know if alpacas can see color or not. I have noticed that Ella, our female llama spends quite a bit of time looking at the lights.
I want to wish a happy holiday season to those of all faiths and cultural backgrounds who take part in special celebrations at this time of year. May we carry with us into the new year the good cheer and generosity of the season.
13 December 2011 – It has been a year now since the “big boys”- Acer and Alder - were moved out of the barn area to their field shelter and separate pastures. I was unsure as to how this was going to work out. Many people will tell me that their alpacas always sleep outside but my alpacas have always preferred to settle into their barn stalls for the night. We have 4 stalls - one for our horse and 3 for the alpacas and I think they derive some sense of comfort and security being close to each other at night. I wasn't sure how Acer and Alder would do, being separated from the main herd.
They were moved out and up the hill to a small field shelter – actually an 8 x 8 storage shed. They can see the barn but are no longer a part of the activity there. I prepared for any possible weather extremes by purchasing sufficient light livestock panels to set up a stall in the barn where they could be brought in and put under the fans during periods of excessive heat or sheltered from the wind in case of a blizzard.
I am pleased to say that not only did the big boys adjust well to their new area, but I did not need to move them into the barn at all during the past year. They seem to be very content – they have their little hut for shelter and appear to spend most nights sleeping inside.
They have plenty of room to run---
Plenty of shade in summer---
Shelter from the blowing snow in winter---
The reason for moving the big boys out was to make room in the barn for my male weanling Cosmos who has not been quite as happy this past year. He seems to have never “gotten over” his abrupt weaning by his mom Barbi and he seems to miss his cria mates Calla and Cynara.
This is how Cosmos spends his “spare time”. He is always hanging out at the gate to his stall, looking across the center aisle at the girls. The girls pretty much ignore him. They are allowed to roam through the barn while I do my AM chores and they pay scant attention to Cosmos as they walk by his stall.
I am pleased that this past year has gone well for Acer and Alder and now, as we head into winter, I will be more relaxed about the big boys as they appear to be quite happy with their little hut, their pastures, and their daily routine.
17 November 2011 – I wrote in my last posting how alpacas appear to understand what is said to them. I saw an example of this the other day.
When I get up in the morning, I look out the back windows toward the girls’ side of the barn. Usually they are cushed on their porch or in their dry lot area. (Our alpacas are confined at night to their stall/paddock areas). However, on a recent morning, the girls were up in one of the little boys’ pastures – having a great time, running all about. The gate to their lane had inadvertently been left open and apparently they had just discovered this. The little boys and their llama were standing at the end of their lane, behind the gate, watching as the girls ran about.
As I walked up to the pasture, the girls saw me and began to gather together in a bunch. “What are you girls doing up here” I said. “You know you’re not supposed to be here”. Without any further action from me – and without their command to “walk” – their usual marching order – they began running down to their own stall/paddock area. They knew they weren’t supposed to be in the boys’ pasture and fully understood that I was admonishing them.
So while they may not understand the exact words that are said to them – they certainly do grasp the exact idea that is being conveyed .
1 November 2011 – Our male guard llama is a rather laid-back sort of guy. In fact, I sometimes used to think that he may be too laid-back to be an effective guard to the young alpacas under his care. For example, there was the time that Jack was comfortably cushed in the pasture, chewing his cud, when a small herd of deer ran by on the other side of the fence, some 10 yards from where Jack lay. Jack not only did not get up – he did not appear to miss a beat in his cud-chewing.
I now know that Jack does take his job seriously. I recently was giving Petey a series of daily oral medication. Now Petey is cooperative with all aspects of herd health except for oral meds – he does not like having yucky tasting stuff pushed into his mouth. Giving oral meds to Petey involves a wild two-step dance all around the stall as I hold his head still while the rest of him dances about. We were in the midst of this wild two-step when I heard a low growl just behind my ear. I turned and there was Jack – 400 pounds of menacing llama up close. I quickly reassured Jack that I was not hurting his alpaca. (Camelid owners will know that they do appear to understand what is said to them!). Jack backed off but for the remainder of the series of daily doses of Petey’s meds, Jack kept a close and watchful eye.
He does indeed take his job seriously.
21 October 2011 - I call her my bella Ella. Now Ella does not speak Italian – but she seems to know that I find her beautiful. She is old and sway-backed - her fleece is ratty and she is down in her pasterns – but to me she is beautiful.
I have been giving Ella a special senior feed to get some added nutrition into her and this is the sight that greets me each morning as I arrive at the barn.
Ella knows that I will soon be holding out a bowl for her with her own special feed. While I sometimes bring Ella into the barn center aisle and put her bowl on the floor, she prefers to remain outside and for me to hold the bowl up for her. So I take the time to do this for Ella each morning and evening.
As Ella is approaching the end of the normal life span for llamas, I know our days with her are numbered. So I treasure the times that I can do little things for her to add quality to her life. And I will miss her so much when she is gone.
10 October 2011 – We are well into fall festival season in Pennsylvania and I am gearing up for my next show. My farm store is unpacked and set up – my inventory is well-organized to load up for the shows - to be a craft booth - then to unload at the end of the show to be a farm store again. I was very good over the summer at making more inventory – hard to think about knitting when it’s hot out but I did it and now I am having fun making little things from the odds and ends in my yarn stash.
My first year with alpacas, I learned to knit. The next year I learned to weave. Then came spinning. This year I have learned to crochet and made several sets of these cute coasters in various colors.
Then, in the colors in my stash that were too somber for coasters, I made felted cell phone jackets. These are in various sizes for various sized phones and i-pod type devices. I like the ones with the loop – I loop the jacket through my belt and slide my phone into it.
I really like these buttons. They are from The Ram’s Horn Studio in Mayville, NY. They are hand-cast from solid pewter and are, of course, made in the USA. I was referred to them by someone I met at a recent fiber festival – she thought they would be just the thing for my purses but I am finding many other uses for these really nice buttons which come in various sizes and styles.
I made several felted hats and purses from Alder’s fleece over the summer and then decided to try a scarf. I wish I know how to photograph a scarf well - I am unable to get a photo that conveys what I like about this scarf. It has a nice feel in hand and while it would never be mistaken for angora, it is softer than any wool scarf I have ever felt – not bad coming from a grade 4 fiber boy!