Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Socks, the first success

Last year I tried knitting socks. Half way through the first one I knew something was wrong. It was big enough to fit King Kong. Oops. So I put it aside in the UFO basket. A few weeks ago I picked up the same pattern and tried again. Swatching really does help. ;-) This time around the sock actually fits. Even the second one fits! I learned the basics from this website.

My next version will address the "drat, I ran out of yarn and must go spin some more but the green is gone and all I have left is yellow" issue that cropped up right after turning the heel in this pair. The yarn is handspun Lincoln wool dyed with commercial dyes. My feet stay toasty warm but not too-warm. Important now that our penny pinching budget tightening has forced the thermostat down to 61 degrees during the day.

Socks are fun. I'm not a big knitting fan but socks go pretty quickly. Now I'm doing a pair of slippers that get felted when done. Check out the free pattern here.

Alpaca related info: Wayne and I go to pick up our girls on Saturday from Derwydd Alpacas. My female Melody should deliver us a cria in September 2006 and Wayne's girl, Pink Champagne, will be close behind with her own cria. It will be interesting to see how the crias compare as they have the same sire.

On an additional fiber front: I'm preparing a grey Lincoln wool fleece to send off to a mini-mill. I have a big bag of alpaca seconds that I want combined with the Lincoln. This wool fleece is exceptional - it was a ribbon winner at the Monterey Wool Competition. The locks are too long to combine with the alpaca seconds so I'm slowly chugging through lock by lock cutting each Lincoln lock in half. (Don't fret - I have 2 other ribbon-winning Lincoln fleeces.) I want to use the roving for an Australian Locker Hooking item (either a rug or a wall hanging) and spin some of the roving to make more socks.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Cria photo

I downloaded photos from my digital camera today and found this cria picture.

This is FTHL Regal. His dad, Regal Escubo, is an award winning rose grey alpaca. Although all of Regal Escubo's other crias bear his signature rose grey spot on the side of the blanket, this one has his mom's silver markings. I suppose we should really wait until Spring when he's shorn though. It's always interesting to see what the true markings are after cria's first shearings so we may indeed find Regal Escubo's marking on this boy as well!

Doesn't he just live up to his name? He's truly the most regal of the summer crias. FTHL Regal lives at Wayne and Eileen's ranch.

Kimberly, off to find more cria pictures...

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Saying Goodbye is a part of life

One of my favorite alpaca females was delivered to her new home recently. Aurora was owned by Foothill Llama and Alpacas and now lives in Idaho. You can see her in my March 2004 post on ranch chores. She was one of my favorites because she epitomized the "huggable investment" alpacas are touted to be. I don't know who coined that phrase because if you've spent any time with these beautiful animals you know that they really don't like to be hugged. Really, they don't even like to be touched. But once in a while, you find one who takes a liking to people. Aurora always greeted people in the pen. The first thing she would do is inspect your feet. Then she would follow you around like a puppy dog soliciting pets and back scratches. If the herd "witch" tried to harrass you, Aurora would put herself in the middle, and even one time turned to spit at the grump as if to say "hey, mind your manners around my friend".

Now even though Aurora liked people, there was a caveat to that: she had to not be pregnant. When she was pregnant, she was your typical "don't bother me, human" alpaca. I remember being pregnant and I can't say I blame her.

As an alpaca rancher, saying goodbye is part of the business. Sometimes it's hard because the animal sold is such a lovable animal. Aurora's new owner is no doubt enjoying her. We wish them both well. I am happy to say though, that we at Foothill Ranch already have a candidate stepping up fill Aurora's shoes: Jamie.

Monday, November 07, 2005

North Fork renovation work

Right after DS's baseball game on Saturday, we drove up to North Fork to do some more work on renovating the house. It was chilly when we arrived so we set about starting a fire in the wood stove. Our first discovery was a long-dead bird in the cavity of the stove. As I shoveled that out, I then discovered the level of ash was, oh, about 6 inches deep. When was the last time this stove was cleaned out? 1898? Sheesh. Back in June when we were cleaning up the property, we wisely saved any tools we came across. The all-metal axe came in handy as Ken chipped away from a log to create some kindling. It was awfully hard on the hands without any handle padding. (I've added "axe" to the list for next trip.) In about half an hour, we had a roaring fire going. The amount of wood we went through that night and the next morning was a bit surprising. Even though we have what we thought was a good size wood pile, it's clear we're going to have to cut a lot more for future trips. (Adding chainsaw to the list too.)

Another discovery is the winter temperature. Boy oh boy does it get cold at night INSIDE the house. And there isn't even any snow yet! I kept waking up because my nose was freezing. I had already planned on adding whole house cooling to the renovation but after this past weekend, we'll be sure to be looking into heating solutions as well. The wood stove needs to be replaced anyway (not up to code).

The last time we were up there working, the kids discovered a scorpion. I didn't even know there were scorpions up there! I figured it was too high of an elevation. According to another rancher up in the area, there are small and large varieties in the area. Lovely.

Renovation work is going along slowly but surely. We've removed all of the wallpaper the downstairs rooms except the bedroom we slept in. On our next trip, we can tackle that and be ready for texturing the walls downstairs. The current job is getting a contractor to replace every door in the house. All of the interior doors except for one have a hole(sometimes holes) in them. The front door has been busted in one time too many so the jam is nearly useless. The back door is exposed to the weather and looks it. Nearly all of the surface has flaked away. The back French doors were destroyed by the previous owner's dog. I would have like to repair those because they're really nice doors but a woodworker says they're too damaged. And the master bedroom door is missing. Gone. It wasn't even among the junk we disposed of this summer. I'm hoping we can get this work done before Christmas.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Major Update

Life has been quite demanding these past 6+ months. Here's a quick synopsis:

North Fork House and Land
Right around my last post we started having trouble with the tenants/former owners of the North Fork house. They stopped paying rent and by mid-March, I had to start eviction proceedings. We finally got possession of the house in late May. But oh my, what a mess! Nine trips to the dump later (the trailer we used was 10' by 5' by 6' and we piled it higher than the 6' walls) and we have a house we can start remodeling. Anyone know of a way to clean 30 years of smoker's soot from a pine tongue-in-grove 21 foot high vaulted ceiling?

On the herd front...
We were expecting two crias this summer - one from our own female Melody, and one from a female we don't own but chose the stud for breeding. Melody graced us with a beautiful white female cria on June 26th. We named her Aria to start us off with our alphabetical naming tradition. Sadly, Aria only lived 28 days. The necropsy showed her intestines were just not working and any hay she ingested sat in C1 (the first stomach) fermenting to the point it released toxins which shut her system down. So $2908.00 later we are back to square one. The second female, Halley, slipped her pregnancy at some point because a blood test taken a month before her due date came back negative (she's now months beyond her due date). The stud we chose to use with Halley died about 2 weeks ago so we can't try that match again.

After all that's happened this summer, if I was in this business for breeding, I'd have thrown in the towel. As much as I love the animals, this was just a heartbreaking summer. Thankfully, I also love alpaca fiber and thoroughly enjoy spinning, weaving, and felting. Running a fiber ranch of males is looking more and more appealing. But we're not quitters, so it's off to Derwydd Alpacas to breed Melody and get ready for Round 2 next summer.

Fiber Arts Competitions
My daughter and I both entered things in competitions the last few months and Dana even competed on several Sheep to Shawl teams.

The first judged event was in April at Monterey Pronk. My woven suri scarf won a first place! Every yarn I entered also got a ribbon. Dana entered a knitted pencil holder necklace and got first place. Hers was the only entry in the kids category and she said she wishes more kids would enter so it would feel like a real win. Her lace weight suri yarn competed with the adults and she got second, only because she didn't set the twist. (DH chided me for not doing it for her.) The judge was very impressed that a 10 year old spun such fine yarn.

The second competition was the Alameda County Fair. The same woven suri scarf got third - and when I saw what got first and second, I understood why. First and second were very complicated weaves that must have been woven on 16+ heddle looms. They were very pretty and very well done. Dana's pencil holder necklace got second - we never did find first place (They display entries by themes, not by category.) Her yarn got third - again competing against adults. Pretty awesome!

The Alameda County Fair is where one of the sheep to shawl competitions Dana participated in was held. She was on a kid's team against four adult teams. They placed third!! Dana will get to keep the shawl they made - for now all of the shawls are making the rounds of the guilds.

Dixon Lambtown (July 30th) was Dana's second sheep to shawl competition this summer. The same kids from Alameda participated along with two adult teams. This time they came in second!! The organizers of this event solicit prize donations from the vendors. All of the kids were awed with the prize table and took home oodles of goodies.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Fun fiber stuff

My dd and I made some neat yarn yesterday morning.

A few months ago I won an ebay auction for 24 pirns that were loaded with string. I only wanted the pirns to use in a shuttle I had bought; I had planned to throw away the string. Once the items arrived, the string was actually kind of nice. And since I had a warp on the loom already that needed to be used up, I went about using the string and made some nice placemats. They were so nice that I used them as a Christmas gift to my sister, who said she loves them and is using them as doilies and end table runners. Even after I ran out of warp (remember my floor loom came pre-warped with white string), I still had about a dozen pirns filled with string. But these were not in as good a shape as the others - the string broke when pulled on with medium tension. I'd hate to make something and have it fall apart because the weft is too weak. So to the garbage these fibers were headed.

filled pirn

But it killed me to throw away all that string. And it was taking forever to pull off the string. Rotary cutter to the rescue! One quick pass over the length of the pirn and I had most of the string removed.

cut pirn

But wait! The removed string actually looked just like that stuff in the eyelash yarns. Oooooo!!! Card it into some wool, spin it up, and Viola! Eyelash Yarn

eyelash yarn

Monday, February 28, 2005

Layout change

Time for a change here. As much as I like the option of letting people leave messages when they visit our blog here, I detest the pop-ups that the tag board people subject my visitors to. So I'm taking the tag board down.

I'd like to change the look of the blog too. Get a new layout and background. I checked out the freebies offered by blogger and none of them worked right: the two columns wouldn't line up properly. I don't have time right now to fiddle with the code, so I'll save that change for another day.

In the meantime, enjoy reading without any of the annoying pop-ups!!!

Monday, February 07, 2005

One by one...

I'm convinced that if everyone who likes fiber - that would be knitters, crochetters, weavers, etc... - tried alpaca fiber, that they would never go back to anything else. To that end, I do my best to expose as many people to the fiber as I can.

I carry a drop spindle with me where ever I go. I always let people "pet" the fiber and the yarn when they ask what I'm doing. Someone always asks. :-) They are always amazed that it's so soft. My current carry-around is some of Boot's suri fiber.

Sometimes I substitute teach at my children's elementary school. I always bring a bunch of wooden toy wheel spindles and fiber so that if we have some free time I can teach them. It doesn't matter what age the kids are, they LOVE learning. I've even done presentations in the kindergarten classes to coincide with the cowboy section they study in January.

I sent my cousin a small skein of dyed alpaca yarn at Christmas time. I had just found out she's a knitter. She spent time this weekend at a Superbowl party knitting some wrist warmers. Aren't they great!!

Of course, my children being California babies asked why someone would want to make something to keep their wrists warm. LOL!! I reminded them about our trip to the snow in Tahoe last year. *Then* they understood!

Friday, January 07, 2005

Puss 'N Boots

And Boots makes THREE!

Technically he's not part of Humming Hearts Ranch. Boots belongs to our daughter. She fell in love with him from the day she first met him. He's an incredibly friendly (but not too friendly - the tail stays down) and curious alpaca. He's first to the fence when visitors arrive and loves attention. In fact, he was recently photographed for an article in the local newspaper. The Hollister Freelance came to Foothill Llama and Alpaca Ranch (where we agist) to do a story on the business of alpacas. Boots was so friendly that he was featured on the front page of the Community section where the article was published.

The ranch who owned Boots gave us his last fleece. DD (dear daughter) has been cleaning it and spinning it. So have I. It's really incredible. So soft and shiny!!! Suri fiber really "shines" best when it's combed and spun worsted. I only have a drum carder and haven't learned worsted spinning really so I doubt I'm doing this lovely fiber justice. Nonetheless, it's making some really nice fine gauge yarn. I've kept most of the chocolate fibers separate so far but I'm not worrying about the bits that do make it through. It just makes for a more interesting yarn.