Cornish alpaca

We came back from the Cornish wedding last year with spinning treasure – 3 large bags of creamy white alpaca.  My just-married step-daughter, Ellie, had negotiated the sale with a work colleague (and got me a very good deal too).  The car was laden, but we managed to squeeze the bags in somewhere – far too good to leave behind.

I’ve never – in all of my thirty years of spinning – spun alpaca properly before, so I wasn’t sure how to tackle it. First I needed to lay out my treasure (and this is only the first bag) …alpaca on sitting room floorOf course, Poe had to inspect it first …Poe with alpacaNow to consult the experts …Spin Off mags on alpacaWriters in these Spin-off magazines wrote of the difficulty of spinning alpaca – how slippery it is, how heavy and lifeless your yarn will be.  Yes – I have to admit that I don’t terribly like spinning alpaca – everything, everywhere was covered with fluff – far worse than when grooming the cat.  Alpaca was in my mouth, my nose … ugh! And yes, it did break constantly as I tried to spin quite a fine yarn – just slipped through my fingers.

Hmm …. there were all sorts of other suggestions in these Spin-off magazines.  One article strongly recommended that you ply your alpaca with another yarn, so I found an old batt in my spinning stash which I think is synthetic yarn of some sort – can you see the sparkle on it? – and got a nice little hank of mixed fibre yarn.stash yarn and plyed with alpacaHowever, others wrote that you can produce “straight” alpaca. So that is what I did too.   This yarn I produced is very soft and fluffy and has just a bit of lustre. I rather liked the result, – so much so that I got carried away and started knitting without remembering to photograph my pure alpaca hank.

I’d decided to knit Emily Wessel’s Tin Can Knit’s Loch hat with the alpaca.  The Tin Can Knit’s ladies have come up with these lovely lacy patterns which – after initial lacking-confidence struggles – I am now enjoying knitting more and more.IMG_1960Easy peasy – in no time at all, it was finished.  Completed alpaca Loch capThe alpaca knit up like a dream.  It’s softly fluffy as opposed to lustrous, but you can still clearly see the wonderful pattern.  detail of Loch alpaca capThing is – I don’t really see myself wearing an off-white hat – just not a colour I feel comfortable with.  So could I dye it? I’ve always been given to understand that you could dye fleece and dye yarn, but not a finished product because it would felt.  However, perhaps if I dyed it in a microwave oven, which would be a very quick process, with minimum disturbance, I would get away with it …? Time to consult the dyeing books …synthetic dyeing booksFrances and Tony Tompson only cover microwave dyeing very briefly in their excellent book, Synthetic Dyeing, but by very good fortune a friend had attended a workshop they ran and was able to give me the course notes which expanded the information on microwave dyeing considerably.  At the end of them they say:” Finally, the wool will remain soft and springy with no chance of matting.”  Sounds promising.  Gail Callahan also gave excellent clear information on microwave dyeing.

In the end, I came to a rough mix of their times and their temperatures.  I mixed up the colour from Easifix’s AllinOne Acid Milling Dyes: Emerald Green, Golden Yellow, Ultra Blue and a little Black to act as a saddener.  Into the microwave my pot went.  Oh, it does look so very promising!Microwave dyepot of alpaca capAnd what an excellent result!  When wet, of course, it was much darker and I was afraid that the dark colour obscured the pattern definition.  But dry, it was just perfect, and honestly not matted at all.green Loch capCuriously, it has a little darker crown.  I didn’t change yarn, so I can only think that I must have spun a different part of the fleece here which didn’t show up when it was all creamy-white.  I rather like it.top of green Loch hatAnd luckily, the weather is still cold enough to go off for a brisk seaside walk well wrapped up and sporting my new alpaca beanie!K out for walk in new green hat(The camera and light are playing colour tricks – the outside photo is closest to the actual colour.)

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Christmas gifts – and wintry weather!

December knocked me flat.  I feel quite ashamed to admit this because in retirement we enjoy a leisurely and simple Christmas.  No longer are there small children to delight and exhaust, no longer are we heavily involved with parish church festivities, and no longer do we have working schedules that get more and more chaotic as Christmas approaches.  I look back on those times with amazement – and wonder how we did it all?

This year, it is only now – as Twelfth Night, Epiphany, the end of the Christmas festival, approaches – that I have recovered sufficient mojo to look back on December reflectively.

Of course lots happened.  But for the purposes of this blogpost, I’m going to concentrate on homemade Christmas gifts.  These made me very happy – and I hope they gave the recipients pleasure too.

I just love the small furry animals devised by Kerry Lord, the talented brains behind the Toft alpaca story. They are so cute – so quirky – with so much character – surely, I thought,  they would be acceptable gifts to our very grown-up children?

The first Toft creature I made – a bunny – was crocheted using Toft’s own alpaca yarn.  I’m not a crocheter and found the pattern very hard to master so I was just pleased as punch when I finished her.  Isn’t she a sweetie-pie?Toft BunnyA wintry day in December found me up in my woolly workroom, with Poe, our cat, putting together some more Toft creatures.  I didn’t have enough of the Toft yarn to crochet more creatures, so dug into my stash for some hand-dyed homespun. A single strand of Rowan Kidsilk Haze added to homespun  gave the Toft creatures a soft furry finish.

The trickiest part to making these Toft creatures is the stuffing – they need to be tactically understuffed. I’m getting better at this – not easy.   But it is the sagginess that adds to the character. Each creature also has a little bag of “ballast” sewn into their belly to help provide core stability.working on Toft animalsThese two were meant to be Siamese cats but they do not look at all feline to me. No, they are foxes, surely – little Fennec Foxes, I think!Toft Fennec FoxesHere’s my Toft gang before they set off bearing Christmas love and good wishes. Most of them went to new homes, but three little ones (the darker ones – my earlier attempts) keep me company and stay here.  As it is cold and wintry, they all got stripey scarves to keep them warm on their travels.Toft animal collectionSome Toft creatures found themselves making new furry friends in their new homes … Others got Christmas cuddles when they arrived …Hats were my other focus this Christmas.  Browsing through old Designer Knitting magazines, I found this two-colour cabled hat designed by Cully Swansen in the Winter 2009/10 issue.   Just a great pattern – and excellent for using up smaller amounts of yarn.  I changed the pattern slightly, adding a wide-ribbed headband in place of the garter stitch of the original pattern.  All the pompoms are alpaca and were purchased from the Toft alpaca shop – I can’t tell you how lovely they are: soft and furry and very fluffy.Cully Swansen's hat patternMy first attempt was this green and white hat. The white is the leftover yarn from the Toft bunny above, and the green is homespun mixed fibres yarn (wool, silk, and mohair).  I picked up a small ball of what I think is Noro Silk Garden in a charity shop and put a strand of that with my homespun.  This added to the variegated effect and the softness.Hat for BarbaraI was really pleased with the green and white hat – so made another. It took me a long time to work out the colours. I knew I wanted grey – but what to put with it. I tried red – no, too obvious. But khaki golden yellow? Hmm – yes, that looks very promising.  I think its what is called Grellow in knitting circles these days.  The yellow is left over Rowan alpaca colour (a gorgeous soft silky yarn) and the grey is two strands made up of Lang Donegal and another grey yarn (name and details lost – oh dear, system slipping).Jam's Christmas hatWe had perfect weather over the Christmas period for the wearing – and modelling – of the new hats.Jam & Barbara in hatsI made three of these hats as Christmas presents. This last is more a beanie because that’s what my husband wanted.  He didn’t think a pompom was for him …   (The black is Debbie Bliss Fine Donegal combined with my own homespun, and the name and origins of the red scrap is lost in history – but it is a lovely thick flecked yarn.)Stephen's cabled beanieAnd now I’m making one for myself. I found it very difficult to restrict myself to two colours so with my own hat, I’ve allowed myself to use three colours. I know it doesn’t show off the clean lines of the cabling, but the colours work well together. One of the yarns is a beautiful hand spun merino yarn my husband brought back from South Uist.  It’s red and orange and brown and yellow – Uist Landscapes – Peat Stack is the name the spinner, Denise Bridge, has given it.  So evocative.  The variegation confuses the cable pattern further, of course, but I don’t think that matters.  The homespun merino is like little flames in the green and brown, isn’t it?  (The green is a Rowan Tweed, and the brown is my own homespun combined with a strand of dark purple Rowan Kidsilk Haze.)Katherine's cabled hatMy son asked for the present we all want – more time.   And this is what my clever Stephen gave him – why, of course, let’s up the hours in a day from twelve to thirteen!  That’s 8.3% more time a day … Look how pleased my Jammy is!  The secret of this time cook-up lies with Stephen, but I can let you know that there were cheap Homebase clocks and Excel broadsheets involved …13 hour clockThere were a couple of new GiveWraps for these presents.  Both went to cat-loving ladies. I think these Japanese ladies work very well with the cats – for some reason …Japanese ladies and cats GiveWrapAnd this GiveWrap went to a lady who loves cats and Mexican Day of the Dead images  and Moomins – and those scratchy cats of Alexander Henry’s keep up on cropping up everywhere …Even an old child’s pillowcase has started a new life as a GiveWrap … happy memories …  Mr men GiveWrapI was given the most generous of gifts – gifts to feed inspiration.  There were books and fabrics and yarns ….

Perhaps you read my blogpost about dyeing fleece, and my undisciplined methods?  This year I am going to learn how to dye properly – thank you, Gail Callahan!Hand dyeing bookThese wonderful Japanese fabrics were a gift from my daughter.  They are such an amazing vibrant colour – and the patterns!  I sort of have the seeds of an idea for another quilt – and perhaps these would be part of that …Christmas fabrics from HelenMore fabrics from Stephen. This is an entire sari – silk, of course.  It is vintage – I guess that means somebody threw it out?  It is very soft, both in texture and in colour, and I will not be throwing it out any time soon.  There is enough material to make a full length dress, but my seventies days are over, and I’ll probably be making a tunic to wear over leggings.  Gorgeous to wear in the summer.recycled sariFrom another Ebay website, Stephen got these silk sari scraps.  These are the good parts from old, damaged and worn-out saris.  They will make some beautiful GiveWraps.recycled sari piecesLots and lots of inspiration there.  Now the days are grey and dark, windy (very) and miserable.  I learn from a Brittany instagrammer that the Celts call this time Les Mois Noirs.  Apt description indeed.  We look out on wet puddled fields …view from window and wild seas …Spittal beach promenadeOnly the seagulls seem not to care …Seagull soaring over wavesOur lane is eroding as water forces new pathways …View down our laneTime to put all the lights on so that I can actually see some colour, and get playing with all this gorgeous new stuff!

(I must add that although the weather here is very wet and windy and generally horrible, we have not been flooded.  Many homes in the UK have experienced awful flooding troubles over the last few weeks.  There are some poor souls watching and waiting as I write, fearing they will be flooded soon with this continuing rain. It’s been a heartbreaking Christmas for many.)