Alpaca Dreams: Mill Bag #1

Several weeks ago my friends at Alta Vida Alpacas gave me a few skeins of the yarn made in the first mill run of their fiber. I knit some hats and a pair of mitts with the bulky yarn that came from their Huacaya alpaca, and put off working with the sport weight Suri alpaca yarn for a couple of weeks. This was the yarn that they labeled Mill Bag #1: it was soft, slinky, amazing. It just had to be knit in some type of lace pattern, but what?

I played with different ideas and lace patterns, and finally settled on making a scarf in fir cone pattern. You can check out my early efforts at my earlier post Alpaca Days; I finally finished the scarf last week and with no further ado, here it is…

 

Scarf
Here she is in all her glory hanging on my front tree. The yarn gives this scarf an amazing feel.
Stitch detail
Here’s a close-up of the fir cone stitch.

I still had a half skein of the yarn left after finishing the scarf; just enough to make a swatch for another scarf/cowl idea. Cari from Alta Vida foolishly told me I could dye the yarn if I wanted. Hmmm… how brave did I feel? I decided that I was only a little bit brave, but I did want to see how the fiber looked with some color variation. I decided to kettle dye the yarn with my Gaywool indigo colored dye.

Dyeing yarn
I put the soaked yarn into a crockpot and added a dilute dye solution in several different spots with a syringe. After the first infusions of color had spread through the yarn (and the temperature was close to the simmer) I added a second round of dye solution infusions. See, not very brave. Some variation in color, but only with one color in the pot. Call me a dye baby…
Dyed Yarn
Here is the finished yarn. By the time the yarn was all dry I had decided to make a swatch of a moebius scarf pattern that I had knitted before in a variegated yarn. Cari and I had talked about a scarf that could also be a cowl. This might be the ticket if the yarn looked nice in the pattern.
Knitted Fabric
Swatch! Look at how cool the color is: just a little pooling.  Since this is a swatch for a moebius I did a provisional CO in the middle of the central garter area, and then knit one side “up” and the other side “down”.
Trinity Stitch
There is trinity stitch on both sides of the scarf/cowl. This is the “up” side…
Wrong side of trinity stitch
…and this is the “down” side showing the wrong side of the trinity stitch.

The yarn is just crisp enough to make the little bobbles in the trinity stitch pop up while still feeling incredibly soft. I think the two sides of the pattern look kind of cool and complementary (and luckily for me, so did Cari!), and as the cowl will be folded and doubled around the wearer’s head both sides of the pattern will be visible no matter how it is folded. The beauty of a moebius is that there is no wrong side and you can just put it on and rock it.

Cari gave me two more skeins of Mill Bag #1 yarn to make the full cowl. I get to dye them, too.

Gosh, this is going to be fun to knit.

Alpaca
Alpacas: You all take good care of that fiber, you hear?

They just sheared their alpacas two weekends ago. I wonder how long it will take for the new batch of yarn to come back from the mill?

Alpaca Days

My friends at Alta Vida Alpacas have gotten the first mill run of yarn made from their animals back. Woohoo!! It is Christmas in May! Cari Corley (of AVA) gave me samples to be knit up to help establish some critical characteristics of the yarn: mostly she is concerned with how the knitted fabric will wear, its gauge and the hand of the knitted fabric. They have two types of alpaca on the ranch, Suri and Huacaya, and the sample packages that she passed over the Starbuck’s table to me contained undyed yarn made from both alpaca types. Knit some stuff with this, she said. Like I said, Christmas in May. I quickly stuffed the bags into my knitting tote before she could take them back.

Huacaya alpaca
Look at this guy! The fiber he (she?) produces is to dye for. That’s right, this  fiber will take dye like a charm. The yarn is white right now, but it won’t stay that way for long now that the yarn has arrived.

She gave me some unbelievable Huacaya yarn in a light bulky weight. We decided to knit it into a hat, and the pattern that her husband Dan chose is the Man Hat by Haven Ashley. I knitted it up in a jiffy (OK, it took an evening…) and this is what I got.

As soon as I finished the hat I shot off a selfie of the finished product to Cari. Poor light, yummy hat.

The light isn’t great on this shot because it was late at night (Hello…Midnight Knitter here!) but you can see the details of the hat. I added four rows of K1, P1 ribbing at the bottom as I wasn’t too sure about the elasticity of the yarn. As it turns out, it was not a problem at all. The yarn maintains shape really well and shows the stitch definition through a slight halo. On my head it feels like a cloud of soft warmth. Forget Man Hat; I want this hat. How about dyed a nice red? Should I add a pom pom? A crocheted flower?

There was enough yarn left over from the hat make a mitt (one, only one…) using the same stitch pattern and gauge. Here is the finished set:

Hat and MItt
I need to talk Cari out of enough yarn to make the second mitt… The mitt that I have is like heaven on my hand. 🙂 Ravelry notes are here for the hat and the mitt.

Once I had made the hat (actually, I made a second hat of another run of the bulky yarn that was processed a little differently so that the two yarns could be compared to each other) and the mitt it was time to take on the other yarn that was given to me, a sport weight silky and shiny yarn made from Suri alpaca.

Lace
I decided that this yarn cried out to be made into lace. Since the ranch has pines on the hill by the house I chose the stitch pattern “Fir Cone”. Cool pattern, huh!
Scarf
The yarn is turning into a 7 inch wide scarf that is a joy to knit; once again I’m coming up short on yarn and will have to talk to Cari to get some more so that it can be finished. How long should this scarf be? I’m thinking 60″, but I would love some input.

I steamed the lace to block it a little for the pictures and an amazing thing happened: the yarn bloomed, lost some shine, bulked out a little as it fluffed, and moved way up the softness chart.

Maybe Cari won’t make me give this stuff back.

What color should I dye my new set of alpaca accessories?

 

Alpaca Summer Camp

Last week was a ton of fun! I helped out at a Camp Macusani, a summer camp run by Alta Vida Alpacas, which is also the site of Alpaca Partners, an organization “committed to creating quality with purpose in the lives of special needs persons through unique opportunities offered on the ranch.” Wow! Teaching, fiber arts, alpacas and a chance to be involved in something special that is making a difference in the lives of young people facing more challenges than most of us. Not only was this a lot of fun, but it was a special, special week.

So with no further ado, here is the week. 🙂

Alpacas
This camp started just as you would have thought: the kids went up the hill to meet the alpacas!! That cute rear end you see in the manger is one of the sheep.
Baby alpaca.
Of course there were babies…
Guard dog.
and dogs. At Alta Vida the owners (Dan and Cari Corley) have guard dogs and llamas in the pens with their alpacas to help keep them safe. Most of the alpacas in these pictures are huacaya, although with their coats clipped off it’s hard for me to be sure. The ranch also has suri alpacas.
Washed alpaca fiber
The actual fiber day started with the kids getting their own bag of alpaca fleece (huacaya and suri) to pick vegetable matter out of and to wash. Here is the washed fiber drying.
Flower hunters in a meadow.
While the fiber was drying we all headed out into the meadows on the property to hunt for Colorado wildflowers.
Wildflowers
and then the flowers were pressed to dry in phone books (with bricks on top to provide the weight!)
Combing alpaca fiber.
The next day the kids learned how to comb their alpaca fiber…
Solar dyeing.
and then they dyed some of the fiber using kool-aid and the heat of the sun. It was a beautiful hot day and the wool dyed great just using solar energy. The individual colors are contained in zip-lock bags, and then the bags were placed in aluminum cake pans with plastic snap-on lids. Slick, huh!
Making felt.
The white and dyed fiber was used to create felt art projects and also was blended to create rolags. Fun, fun, fun!
Felting is hard!
The downside: felting can be hard work. 🙂
Spinning yarn.
At the end of the camp students learned to make yarn. To break the process down to manageable “chunks” we had kids work with partners so that they could just control the spinning at the beginning, and then later they took over the drafting part of the process. Some were able to create yarn on their own using the drop spindle by the end of the second day.

Remember those pressed flowers? On the last day the dried flowers were used along with pictures taken during the camp to create photo memory books that the students took away with them. They also framed and made pictures using the felt that was created, and their yarn was steamed (to set the twist), wound and made into a little skein. Camp was only about 2.5 hours a day, but a lot was accomplished!

That’s why this was such a special week. By the family pizza lunch on the final day the kids had learned how fiber from live animals (that they learn how to take care of during the school year) is used to create items of beauty and purpose. Someday some of these kids will be creating items for sale in a farm store that will be operated by Alpaca Partners, and some of them may end up working with livestock later on in their lives. Things learned in this camp will be used in the two local high schools that currently collaborate with Alta Vida Alpacas to provide a unique educational opportunity for special needs kids; weaving and knitting with that yarn is a future possibility. If ever I spent a week well, this was it.

Oh yeah. I was also with my peeps!