Last week (October 21-27) was extraordinary in that I got to have so much fiber-y fun. (No, not Metamucil!)
On Monday, I went with a fellow fiber junky to Mesa, Colorado, to help “skirt” and weigh fleeces, then on Friday, I went to a local alpaca farm, which also happens to be a fiber mill. What a great week!
Monday’s trip up the Grand Mesa was with a guild friend, Mary K., who is a spinner extraordinaire, having actually won a prize for the most yarn spun using a drop spindle at the Taos (NM) Wool Festival, the first part of October. Mary helps her friend, Gaylene, process wool after shearing. Why are they shearing in October, you ask? Because the quality of the wool is better after the summer on grass, than after the winter on hay. For a couple of days after the shearing, the sheep are a little cold, but then something happens to the wool (it closes?) and they are fine for winter.
The fleeces were rolled up in units by sheep. There were about a gazillion (probably 20-25) that needed to be skirted. Sometimes they held together while we tossed them around, sometimes not so much. Skirting a fleece means picking out the second cuts, small tufts of wool that aren’t useful for spinning, plus any fecal matter or vegetation that gets caught in the fleece. There’s a cut side (where the clippers sheared) and the tip side. You start on one side, then roll the fleece to the other side and do it again. Your hands get dirty and repugnant with lanolin, but they will be soft after a bit of skirting.
Sheep sweat, believe it or not. And the sweat mixes with the lanolin and makes glops of goo that hang around in the wool.
I learned to see the crimp in the wool, which was just lovely. The sheep at Gaylene’s place are CVM (California Variegated Mutant). Mary and Gaylene had skirted most of the white fleeces on Sunday, so we mostly had grays, browns and mixes of those in varying shades of exquisite beauty. They tried to teach me more, like the various qualities of wool from parts of the body, but I couldn’t keep up.
Gaylene and Mary are a force, however; I named them the Fleece Goddesses. They are so knowledgeable about sheep, fleeces, different qualities of fleece on one animal, etc. Mary also saved a lamb from the slaughter while we were there. She named her Lucy. (Seriously, Gaylene doesn’t name an animal she plans to slaughter.)
As the day went on, Mary and Gaylene started putting the pressure on for me to get a fleece. I tell you, friends, I resisted up until the very end, when I gave up and took a small fleece (3.55#). It’s so beautiful, it’s almost like a pet, but you don’t have to feed it or clean up after it! I’m not going to learn to spin on it, though, it’s too beautiful for hodge podge spinning. I have plenty more to learn on.
Me with my new pet:
I was pretty tired after that. Mary and Gaylene suggested I get a tetanus booster, since I couldn’t remember when I had my last one. (I got one and was sore for a week! SMART TIP: Get it in your booty, because more/bigger muscle mass.)
Then Friday, I went to Suncrest Alpaca Farm, which is in Palisade, but on Orchard Mesa, where all the yummy peaches are grown. I was a few minutes late, but the group didn’t seem to hold it against me. The proprietor, Mike McDermott, was raised on the property and originally got alpacas as a 4H project for his children. His wife is allergic to horses and cows, so they had to think outside the box.
Mike was very entertaining and engaging, telling us about alpacas being a hybrid of llama and paca vicuña, how you have to keep the males and females separate, because the females ovulate upon…well, let’s just say, they don’t have a “season.” He had some beautiful alpacas, including a couple of yearlings:
In the upper right hand corner, kind of behind the gate, you can just glimpse the peach orchard Mike also manages. The promontory in the background is Mount Garfield.
Here is a beautiful girl:
An adult female and a yearling:
This little gal needs braces:
Don’t you just love the little fluffy hats on top of their heads? And don’t their noses remind you of Falcor the Luckdragon in The NeverEnding Story?
Mike is very scientific about raising alpacas (as Gaylene is about her sheep). They pay attention to the wool that they get from their breeding programs. I learned that Mike is trying to increase the crimp in the alpaca’s wool, Gaylene had one ram who fathered sheep with straight wool, and the softness of any type of wool fiber is measured in microns of diameter: the lower the microns, the softer and finer the fiber. Allergic to wool? You probably won’t be allergic to alpaca because it alpacas don’t make lanolin (although one fiber-y friend IS allergic to alpaca!).
I asked Mike a bunch of questions, like, “Do you take care of their teeth, or do you have it done?” (He and his wife take care of the teeth; it’s a two-person job.) Alpaca teeth are like rabbit teeth: they grow continuously and have to be trimmed.
Mike and his wife also have a fiber mill, where they can process any kind of fiber. He had lots of great stories to tell. His latest machine toy is a knitting machine from China that makes hats. It looked a lot like something from Rube Goldberg, but he knitted a hat in just a few minutes. He said it took him a year to figure out the machine because everything was in Chinese and there was no user manual! That’s dedication.
(For more information on Rube Goldberg, visit www.rubegoldberg.com. I would have loved to include an image, but their licensing is out of my price range….)
So I hope this will inspire you to get out there and explore the fiber world a little more. You may be surprised at how close you are to a sheep or alpaca ranch. If you get a chance to hang out with sheep or alpacas, do it! It will make your week!