Skirting Day

A while ago I was given a huge bag of raw alpaca fleece. So far I’d only processed a very small amount of it, which I spun and knitted to make baby socks and hat as a gift. Today I did the first stage of processing the rest. This is known as skirting. The fleece (known as a blanket when it comes to alpacas) is spread out on a mesh table and agitated to remove dust. Any stained fibre and pieces of vegetable matter (hay, pieces of grass, seeds etc) are removed as well as very short second cuts, (where the shearer has gone over a second time), which are too short to spin. The fibres are then sorted into the various grades, from the finest longest fibres on the animal’s back through to the shorter pieces on the neck and sides – well that’s what the professionals do. I can’t say I did such a thorough job!

I think the alpacas like to have a good roll about because the fibre is very dusty – everywhere in the conservatory where I do all my crafting was covered just from processing a tiny amount. Lesson learnt, I needed to sort through the rest outside! K has made me this little skirting table. It’s basically a wooden frame with chicken wire stretched over it – he’s added tape and some pipe insulation to stop the edges of the wire catching. This just rests on a couple of garden chairs.

It’s not quite big enough to spread a whole blanket out but it’s perfect for my purposes.

I’d been waiting for a sunny dry day without much wind. Alpaca is light as a feather and if I’d tried doing this in the gales we’ve had recently most of it would have ended up in the next county! As I tipped the fibre out on to the skirting table there were clouds of dust. I kept agitating the blanket to release as much of the dust as possible.

I picked out the larger pieces of vegetation – there wasn’t a great deal of it and some of the tinier fragments will come out of the fleece during the later stages of processing. You can see a couple of small pieces of leaf towards the bottom of the next photo.

I separated out the best long fibres, which are around 5 inches long, from the rest This is mostly around 2-3 inches long so still perfectly good to spin. Now most of the dust is out I can sort this more fully indoors and not need to rely on the weather. You can see the layer of dust left where I ran my finger across the green tape.

I’ve now got all the fibre in labelled plastic bags.

Buddy took great interest in what I was doing.

As you can see there was quite a lot of spillage, mostly the very short second cuts. He did offer to sweep the patio though!

I’ve been promised more fibre from Aero and Wispa, our friends’ alpacas (how lucky am I?). I think I’ll definitely wait until the Spring for my next skirting session. By then the birds visiting our garden during the nesting season could really make use of the bits of fibre that I drop!

Lockdown Crafts: Pressed Fern Pictures:

For yesterday’s Crafty Monday session I opened up the flower presses to see what I had. I’ve been pressing flowers since I was a kid, when my lovely grandfather made me a press. He even put my name on it. I also have a tiny flower press that’s ok for smaller items

I’ve made pictures and greetings cards in the past but nothing recently. Earlier in the year I came up with the idea of doing pressed fern pictures as they would look great with the curtains in my living room – the fabric has a fern design.

I picked and pressed a few different kinds of fern, mostly from the garden , but also some I’d found growing wild – I’m always careful only to pick what is growing in abundance. For the best results choose perfect specimens, free of insects and completely dry. Most leaves dry quite well. Flowers are more variable. Fragile petals are even more fragile when pressed and very full double flowers such as roses are too three-dimensional to preserve in this way: flat blooms work better. Brightly coloured flowers tend to keep their colour. White ones go brown. You don’t need a flower press – you can press flowers, leaves and ferns inside the pages of a book, preferably weighted under other books. Put the items between sheets of scrap paper to protect your book from pollen or other stains. Within a few weeks the plant material will have dried out and you can use it.

The presses revealed quite a selection. These cranesbills were a bit too fragile and pressing them had separated the petals from the flower centre.

The cosmos worked really well. The centres of these are quite thick so I cut holes out of the centre of several paper sheets to place over these to ensure that both the petals and centres were properly pressed.

I was really pleased with the way the ferns turned out. They have retained colour well through the pressing process.

I wanted to recycle the frames and mounts from some prints that I no longer use. I cut sheets of card to size and for each picture I positioned the fern frond until I was happy with the placement within the mount. In some cases I trimmed off the lower part of the fern to get a better fit.

Using a small paintbrush I applied clear PVA glue sparingly to the back of the frond and stuck the fern in place.

I allowed the glue to dry thoroughly before reframed the pictures. Framing always takes me ages. It is so annoying when you seal the picture inside only to find there’s a large speck of something stuck on the inside of the glass! I take the time to make sure everything is clear and free of dust before I close the tabs or tape on the back of the frame.

I’m happy with the way the pictures look. I haven’t decided exactly where to hang them yet but I will put them somewhere out of direct sunlight to help them retain their colour.

They work with the curtains too!