Big hole in a sock worn for only 1 winter!!!!
This really upset me since alpaca yarn is supposed to wear a lot BETTER than many wools and acrylics! Since these socks are nice and warm and it was a lot of work to knit them, I thought about mending the hole but then I took a close look at the back of the heel !
Egads! Not much point in mending that sock after all. Grrrrrr! This makes me mad. But what about the "matching" sock knit from a different skein of the same brand of Peruvian yarn?
No sign of any hole in this sock. Not surprising if you realize that, in big processing mills, they basically throw all of the fleeces of similar color and fineness together for processing into yarn. The problem with that is that similar color and fineness doesn't equal similar strength or crimp. One of these skeins of yarn turned out to be way better than the other but they looked identical when I bought them. Here's the back of the heel of that second skein:
No problem on that heel. So now I have one good, 100% alpaca sock that is not worn out, and one that is not worth fixing. Is this good for the alpaca fleece and product business? Not really.
Meanwhile, the mis-matched pair of socks that I made on purpose are wearing just fine even though I have worn them as much or more than the socks from the Peruvian yarn. In the photo below, you can tell which sock was sent out to a mill because the ankle of that sock (at top of photo) is a little loose despite the ribbing:
Mill spun alpaca yarn tends to have less elasticity because the mills process it worsted, i.e. comb it rather than card it. But, although the hand spun sock in the photo above is tighter in the ankle, it's also fuzzier. So, more woolen processing leads to tighter fit but also fuzzier look. Fuzzy doesn't bother me as long as it doesn't wear out quickly but it wouldn't be good on a more dressy garment. Here are the toe regions of the same two socks where the difference in fuzziness is also obvious:
What does all this mean? It means that, if alpaca fleece producers don't do a better job of excluding fleeces that are weak and brittle from being made into yarn, we won't have the kind of high quality products that people want. Luckily, it's possible to send fleeces to smaller mills that will give you back yarn from only your own, carefully chosen fleeces. Make sure your fleeces are strong and don't use a processor who's equipment or chemicals weakens them.
But, it isn't just yarn that I'm talking about. I have many pairs of 100% socks bought from Peruvian and North American companies and these have a lot of quality control issues too. Here's a pair that was included in a shipment of socks that I bought from a Peruvian importer:
These are sewn with a big seam going up the side and in no way resemble the actual shape of any person's foot and leg! They aren't even both the same size! They're not really wearable but come in handy when people go on and on about how the Peruvian products are cheaper. Here's a pair of imported Peruvian socks that I bought at an alpaca show:
I wore these a couple of times and loved how warm they were (they are two-sided and reversible!) but they shrunk and partially felted when carefully washed in cold water, and they wore out at the top of the calf where there isn't even any friction from the wearer! Clearly the yarn used to knit these was weak in that spot. There's no visible wear on the heel or toe of these socks and that's where we'd expect to see it so it's not what manufacturers call "normal wear and tear."
So do I hate all commercially bought alpaca socks? No. I have a pair of Red Maple alpaca socks that I wore all through the last two winters and I loved the way they fit. Now if the person who designs these could maybe reinforce the heel and toe, they'd be perfect! After all, they do cost upwards of $18 a pair! I liked them enough to buy them again though.
Just in case you think that, as a hand spinner, I'm too picky about all commercial yarn, here is my current knitting project, a cardigan made from Classic Elite's Zoom 50% alpaca/ 50% sheep wool yarn:
I'm loving this yarn! Great color, great bounce and memory, and it's obvious that the yarn is really strong. Too bad it's far too large in diameter to use for socks!
If you have 100% alpaca socks that you have knit from a commercial yarn and found them to wear and fit really well, I'd love to hear about it. Pls. e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
or, tell me about it in person at the MD Sheep & Wool Festival! I'll be at the spin-in and the meet ups for the ravelry online knitting community. Here's the web page of the MD Sheep & Wool Festival containing the ravelry meeting info:
ravelry meetups at MD Sheep & Wool Festival
My ravelry screen name is: alpacagal
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If you wondered how the baby booties mentioned in my last post came out, now you know! Not perfect but not too bad I like to think. Pretty tough knitting as far as all the tiny pieces and all of the sewing up but worth the result. These were from one of the patterns in Debbie Bliss's book, "Nursery Knits." I took a couple of liberties with colors and yarns but otherwise followed the pattern and, for once, I had no trouble figuring out what the instructions meant. She's terse but clear.
Here is the side view so you can see the bunnies' tails. Hand spun alpaca yarn, of course!
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Here's my crazy husband helping to fix a neighbor's barn roof after our exciting, mini-tornado.
The good news is that I have finished updating the MD Sheep & Wool Festival's website for 2008 so anyone who's interested can go there and see what classes will be offered, what the T-shirt design will look like, who the vendors will be, etc. For the first time in many years, I will not be a vendor but I will be there taking classes and helping to run the Jr. Handspinner's contest as always. If you end up in the Mitred Square Engineering class, please say Hi, I'll be in there too.
Click link below for the website:
MD Sheep & Wool Festival Website
I actually met the new guy who will be taking over as webmaster for the sheep and wool festival when I move this summer and he seems very nice but I feel miserable to be leaving the Festival Committee after this year's Festival. Wahhhhhhhhh!
They are my friends and I will miss them all very much. Also, they are super useful for free knitting advice and they give me a free Festival T-shirt every year. I may have to kill the new guy - nothing personal.
Meanwhile, I did finish using up my stash of exotic fibers (mentioned in the previous post.)
Pictured above are the Ingeo skein, plyed with a Suri Alpaca / Cotton blend (top in photo.) I love the way this came out! Skein of Merino wool, remnants of two alpaca singles plied together and a skein of Tussah silk plied with soy silk. The soy was wonderful and soft to spin, the Tussah was harder but the sniny color is soooooo beautiful! Merino is always a joy to spin and the Suri blend was pretty easy to spin too.
Not pictured is a skein of 100% Suri that was given to me by another alpaca breeder. It spun up like hairy barbed wire so I threw it out. Not trying to look a gift horse in the mouth but some fleeces are just not worth sending out to be processed.
Here's what it looked like in the roving though. This was my first clue that this one might not be worth spinning - look how much guard hair:
Now if I could only knit all of these skeins into something and see how they feel and act.... but, I am stuck trying to finish Debbie Bliss, bunny-eared baby booties for a baby shower present instead. If you have never seen Debbie Bliss's baby patterns for knitters, they are pretty much the cutest thing in the entire Universe. I'll have to take a photo - if I ever finish them.
I get a lot of weird e-mails pretty much constantly but the latest was from a guy who wanted to know if I could sell him a female Mallard duck!!!! I have a photo of a pair of Mallards somewhere here on this blog where I sometimes put photos of cute animals that show up at my farm and I guess this guy found me on Google and thought I sold Mallard ducks. Isn't it Illegal to sell wild animals? And, how do you deliver them, in the duck trailer? People, try to read the web pages you find BEFORE you hit that e-mail link.
If you have read this far without dying of boredom, here is the part that will finish you off. I have to BRAG, BRAG, BRAG about getting an article of mine published in International Camelid Quarterly's March 2008 edition. Of course it is an article that will tick off the "I'm an alpaca BREEDER - who can bother with fleece?" alpaca people. Can't give up my reputation as most hated alpaca person on the East Coast without a fight. Article is called, "Coming out of the Cottage" (as in that slightly condescending phrase, "cottage industry.") If you're too cheap to buy the magazine, I have a copy on my website but, really, you should subscribe to Camelid Quarterly if you're into alpacas - it's a very good magazine.
PS. If you think I'd complain about altering a formal dress for my daughter but spare her the indignity of being plastered on my blog, of course, you'd be wrong. Look how pretty she is!
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Icicles hanging outside my front door
Aren't icicles so cute when they are plastic with little lights inside? Not so cute when they're real though.
Now that the years of having my own farm and hand spinning studio are coming to an end and we will be moving, I have been making a valiant effort to do what we fiber addicts call "de-stash". Regular people call this using up the stuff you already have before you buy more but that makes it sound a little too easy in my opinion. It's more like fiber de-tox for hardcore addicts. Is there a 12 step program for this?
I have now spun up my collection of bamboo roving, silk caps (bombyx mori) Blue Faced Leicester sheep (BLF) roving, Merino sheep roving, Yak top and Ingeo (chemically extracted from corn) top.
I still have quite a few more bags of rovings and tops to work my way through but I'm slowly converting them all into yarn. If you're thinking, "Well, then you'll just have to de-stash on all those handspun yarns.".... don't think that thought hasn't occurred to me. I know!
I already blogged about how much I hated spinning the bamboo HERE.
The Blue Faced Leicester and Merino were both quite pleasant to spin but I liked the BLF better because it had a longer staple length. Here is the BLF skein:
hand spun Blue Faced Leicester yarn
So pretty! I really want some more of this!
(When I am done de-stashing of course!)
I found the silk caps pretty hard to draft but I love the color so I would buy silk to spin again.
(When I am done de-stashing of course!)
Since I paid $5.25 per oz. for the Yak top, I thought it would be very good quality but now I am not sure. It was neither as fine as I thought it would be nor was it smooth like top usually is. Despite saying, "top" on the label, I am thinking is seems more like roving. In other words, it seems carded not combed. Yak is supposedly much finer than alpaca on average but this Yak certainly doesn't feel finer. That coupled with the super short staple length, about 3/4 of 1 inch, made it difficult and unpleasant to spin.
Now I am knitting it into a hat requested by my son, Nick, and it is not fun to knit either! It's kind of heavy and dead on the needles and does not slide easily. And it has a slightly unpleasant smell even after having been washed. All in all, I'll take alpaca over this stuff any day!
hand spun Yak yarn
Maybe if I had a photo and a name to go with this particular Yak, I'd feel a little better about it. Since I'm used to knowing the animal my hand spun yarns come from, I find it's not as much fun without that personal (animal?) connection.
Ingeo? Also expensive, also a nightmare to spin! Why does anyone buy this stuff? The ingeo would not draft well. It's got no give at all and it doesn't slide easily through the fingers. It tends to break off in little tails here and there. Very annoying! Here is is on the bobbin:
hand spun Ingeo yarn
Ingeo is supposed to wick moisture really well and also be "antibacterial" but is THAT really a big consideration in clothing? maybe if you live in the jungle or something.
I am deeply un-concerned about antibacterial qualities of clothing right now. Here's where I am living right now, snowy, icy Maryland:
ice covered branches outside my window
Today is day two of a winter storm. First is snowed huge, fat flakes and many birds and squirrels camped out on the trees near our 3 bird feeders waiting for a turn at the food.
puffed up dove waits to eat
Squirrel uses tail as snow shelter
Then we got freezing rain that covered everything outside with 1/2 inch of ice and split my favorite Mimosa tree by a third.
my favorite Mimosa tree split by ice
The kids out of school again and driving is really not a good idea so what else is there BUT fiber fun?
I spent most of the day plying singles into 2 ply yarn, winding skeins from my bobbins, winding balls from various skeins to start knitting with and knitting up swatches to pick a needle size for my next project, a turquoise alpaca/wool blend cardigan.
Meanwhile, I got alpaca baby photos
this week from Other Kate (McKelvie) showing the crias born to 3 of my old girls, Latte and Primrose and Morgan, this past Autumn. A little late on those photos Other Kate, but I will forgive you because the babies are soooooo cute. Thanks!
Morgan's daughter, Caramel
Primrose & Latte's boys, Precipice & Cadillac
Good job girls! Mommy's very proud of you.
stay tuned for the next blog: alpaca sock experiment....(insert suspensful organ music here)
PS. any OTHER alpaca breeders want to complain to KnitPicks about this chart in their current issue? They hear it from me all the time.
knit picks chart
Yellow highlight and red text are mine of course.
PS> SORRY IF ANY OF YOU ARE GETTING PINGED BY TONS OF UPDATES ON HERE - THE HOST'S BLOGGING SOFTWARE IS NOT WORKING PROPERLY!
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