Amazing Alpacas at Northumberland County Show

As I mentioned in a post last week, we went to the County Show last Friday, the first time this event has been held for three years. I spent quite a while watching the alpaca competition.

Since the last time the show was held I learnt to spin yarn and was lucky enough to be gifted a large quantity of raw alpaca fibre, much of which has been prepared, spun and knitted up into various items. For this reason I’ve developed a bit of an interest in these charming animals so it was really interesting to watch some of the classes.

It’s always fascinating to hear an expert share their knowledge and that certainly happened here. The judge took to the microphone after giving the results of each class and explained the reasons for his choices in detail. He described the good (and less good) points on each of the animals. He began by saying what he thought of he conformation of the animal (its basic shape and proportions, as with all animal judging): he wanted to see a straight back, strong legs and good build for the age of the alpaca (youngsters will still be growing). He was also judging the alpaca’s fleece: its length, density, fineness and condition. Some animals seemed to like the process better than others. some were happy being led into the ring by their owners and stood beautifully still while the judge felt their body shape through that lovely thick blanket of fibre. Others protested a bit!

I got chatting to one of the exhibitors who had won an earlier class. Her small herd is a fairly recent venture. She was absolutely delighted to get such a result at her very first show and didn’t quite believe it when the judge placed her animal first.

I have been spinning and knitting with Suri alpaca for a while since some was given to me by some lovely friends of my brother and his wife – it’s quite different in texture to the much more common Huacaya alpaca. Having got to know the fibre well, I was delighted that there were some classes for Suri – I had never seen one of these alpacas in the flesh so I waited around to watch them in the ring.

A couple of the Suri competitors

They look quite different from the fluffy Huacayas, . The locks of fibre hang down like dreadlocks. The Suri breed are quite rare, making up only about 10% of the population.

The Suri class

My other reason to visit the alpaca tent was to pick up a fleece. I’ve previously plied hand dyed alpaca singles with black sheep wool and I love the effect when it’s knitted up. At some point I’d like to do a bigger project like a sweater on similar lines in pure alpaca. I have used black acid dye but it seemed a better idea to use a natural black fibre. A couple of weeks back I picked up some grey alpaca for one of my online knit and Natter Group from someone who keeps a small herd near here. She had no black fibre herself, but put me in touch with Debbie Rippon from Barnacre Alpacas. There is a large established herd of some 300 at Barnacre, including black animals. Debbie was exhibiting at the show and agreed to bring a couple of fleeces with her for me to have a look at.

A corner of the marquee was set up with a few stalls selling knitted items in alpaca, made by some of the exhibitors. I’d arranged to meet Debbie there and she showed me what she’d brought – two gorgeous fleeces, one brown-black and a stunning blue-black which I chose. This came from a female names Hippolyta, her first fleece as a youngster.

Hippolyta (photo D Rippon)

I’m looking forward to prepping and spinning this beautiful black cloud of fluff!

Also located in the alpaca tent were members of the Tynedale Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers, demonstrating their work. It was lovely chatting to some fellow spinners and they invited me to come along to a future meeting, which I hope to at some point over the next few months.

Considering the alpaca were only one small part of the show, I certainly got a lot out of spending some time there.

Knit and Natter Round Up: April

Over the last month the group have been busy making all sorts of items.

R completed a cardigan in a beautiful patterned yarn in pale blue, fawn and white.

Y made an amazing pink cabled sweater and some trainer socks.

She’s currently crocheting flower hexagons which will be joined up to make a very cute triceratops toy like the one in the picture!

With her first grandchild due later this year, A is busy making baby clothes in a range of colours and white.

Last month L completed her sweet pea blanket. She’s using the left over yarn to make another smaller blanket.

She’s also making a cardigan for her granddaughter, made in one piece, which alternates rows of white with a rainbow of colours

C is working on a blanket for her dog. He’s a very lucky boy!

I’ve been continuing with a cardigan in dark brown Suri alpaca and some alpaca socks

I wonder what the group will be working on next month.

Knit and Natter Round Up – March

The group continue to knit, crochet and sew all manner of beautiful things. Here are a selection of their makes.

L has now completed her colourful Sweet Pea Blanket (pictured above), by adding the border.

This was a kit she received from her daughter at Christmas.

L has also been loom knitting this hat.

R has been making herself a cardigan in a self patterning yarn in soft shades of blue and beige.

She’s also been continuing a patchwork project that has been on the go for many years ands wondering how to do the border.

L came to the rescue with some advice as she’s made hexagon quilts before, including this lovely pink one.

That’s the beauty of social knitting/crafting. All that pooled experience means that there is seldom a question that cannot be answered.

We also put our heads together on this project that Y has been working on.

This is one of a pair of gentleman’s kilt stockings in a cable design made in very fine yarn. It involved purl twisted cable, which took some working out! Y is definitely the Sock Queen – she also made these colourful self striping socks, with bright shades alternating with black.

It took me longer to make my alpaca socks than she took to make both of these pairs!

C has made these lovely blue baby bootees….

…and has been working on a pink teddy bear!

A has been crocheting baby blankets, including this one in pretty pastel shades.

She also asked someone skilled in amigurami crochet to make this bunny – isn’t it lovely?

Another crafty friend, who is not in our online knitting group – showed me something she recently completed from a kit: a crocheted Harry Potter! The kit included the tiny broomstick!

Have you made any toys recently? I’d love to hear about them.

A Sock Knitting Revelation

Fresh off the needles today, one pair of socks in handspun alpaca and wool. This is the first pair I’ve made from the toe up.

This pair began its journey last summer with one of my first dyeing experiments. I gradient dyed a braid of alpaca in shades of blue, navy, purple, pink and red. You can read about where my alpaca fibre came from here

I spun the yarn and plied it with black zwartbles sheeps wool.

As I wasn’t sure about the yardage I’d need I decided on a toe-up pattern. If I’d knitted a top down sock it would have been a catastrophe if I’d run out of yarn before I reached the toe. On the other hand, working from the toe up could end up ankle or knee length without it really mattering! This pattern is Route 45’s Basic toe-up socks. It gives lots of options for needle size, and works whether you prefer DPNs small circular or magic loop. There is also a measuring guide so you can create perfectly fitted sock.

The other resource I used was this book I got for Christmas.

Who knew there were so many cast on/off methods? Several ways of starting off sock toes are included. The pattern uses the Turkish cast on, which was a first for me.

The book came in again for the cast off on the cuff – I used Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Bind off, which is a pretty good description….very stretchy.

I’ve really enjoyed knitting these. I love the the way the colours work, Both the gradient and the way that plying with black tones down the colour and gives a tweedy effect when knitted up. The gradients don’t match but I can live with that.

Toe up construction has been a bit of a game changer. I always disliked picking up stitches on the gusset with top down socks and there’s none of that here. I don’t think I’ll be going back to top downs after this.

And as for worrying that I might run out of yarn….well there’s just about enough for another pair!

Lull Before the Storm

Yesterday we headed up the coast to Newton by the Sea. It was a glorious, if blustery day. K and Buddy set off for a walk along the beach while I stayed in the car with my knitting.

The sunshine had brought people out and the beach was quite busy.

On quieter winter days the shoreline is peppered with wading birds, but not today. There were too many walkers and dogs for that. Several oystercatchers and redshanks had gathered on some rocks just offshore, an altogether safer place.

I also saw a whinchat on the marram grass at the top of the beach. They are quite common on the dunes here and I always love to see them.

When K returned he reported a large raft of ducks, mainly widgeon, at the southern end of the bay. It seems that overwintering wildfowl are beginning to gather prior to the spring migration

Of course I love to knit with a sea view. Today’s knitting on the dashboard is the second of a pair of toe-up socks in my handspun alpaca and wool.

It felt good to be out on such a beautiful day, in between this week’s storms.

Back to Blogging: Knit and Natter Round Up and a Milestone

I have been on a break from the blog . My last post was on 1st November and for a while I seemed to have nothing much to write about, then it was Christmas and as time went on it simply got harder to return to it. Today I got a notification to say that my blog has had 10,000 views. That seems to be quite a milestone and was just the push I needed, so here comes my first blog post of 2022 – thanks to everyone who’s read my blog, especially those who like, follow and comment – I always love to hear what you have to say.

The online Knit and Natter Group continues to meet every Friday on Zoom. This grew out of a group that used to meet in our local doctors surgery, which began to meet on Zoom during the COVID Pandemic. The organisers have now found a venue for in-person meetings to resume. Fortunately it is on a different day so both groups can continue with the choice to attend either or both.

Our Zoomers have continued to knit and crochet a load of fabulous items. Here are just a few they’ve been working on since the start of 2022.

Even though R has moved to the other end of the country, she is still part of the group: that’s the beauty of meeting online. She recently completed a cosy Christmas blanket made-up of knitted squares in different patterns, using a red/white/green/gold palette.

R’s first new project of 2022 was this purple scarf. One end is sewn down to form a loop – to wear it you simply pass the other end through the loop and adjust the fit. R had trimmed the scarf with some striking square buttons

R is now working on a cardigan for herself using a self-patterning yarn in shades of grey and pale blue.

A has been busy with baby blankets.

She stockpiles these as new baby gifts and recently raided her blanket stash for a mutual friend’s baby girl. A’s latest blanket is a big white one, crocheted in a shell design. I wonder which lucky baby will end us with this one!

L received a blanket kit as a Christmas gift from her daughter in the most beautiful sweet pea colours.

She is about to crochet the edges to complete her “sweet pea” blanket.

Y has been knitting socks!

She made a pair for a work colleague, who kindly modelled them for this screenshot!

Her current project is a pair of gorgeous cabled stockings.

Y’s husband is a proud Scot who wears a kilt on every special occasion. At dinner during a holiday, a fellow guest admired his stockings and Y agreed to knit him a pair. They include a rather challenging purl twisted cable – we put our heads together on that one – I love that we pool our knitting/crochet knowledge to help each other out with our projects.

We also have a new member. C likes knitting socks too.

She’s also been making baby hats for newborns.

I’ve been sock knitting too – just finished the first of a pair made with my handspun yarn , pictured at the top of this post.

It’s good to be writing again and describing our work. There’ll be another knit and natter roundup soon….. and other blogposts too.

Silent Night Socks

I’ve been working on this pair of socks on and off for most of the year, but finally finished them!

I bought some pretty yarn last winter: a Christmas limited edition Signature 4 ply from West Yorkshire Spinners in Silent Night. It’s in shades of blue and navy with a hint of silver shimmer and knits up beautifully. The yarn is a blend of 75% wool and 25% nylon making it warm, soft and hardwearing.

Socks are one of those little projects that you can slip in a handbag to do when you are out and about and this has been useful for that, but I had ignored it for several months so I thought I really should finish it. It’s a top-down pattern that a friend gave me.

I wore them for the first time today and they feel lovely and warm.

Knit and Natter Round Up – September 2021

Our online Knit and Natter Group members have completed a number of projects over the last month

Y is such a prolific knitter. She completed this commission – an adult sweater in a deep raspberry shade, with a complex cable design

She’s also nearly finished making this man’s sweater – just the neck and the side seams to go….and probably finished by the time I write this.

She’s also been working on a Childs sweater – it’s a project from her Knit In A Box subscription.

If all that wasn’t enough, Y has been spinning too and recently made this beautiful black (Welsh Black Mountain) and white (Dorset) yarn. She spins in the grease and it looked quite yellow when it was first spun but now it’s washed the white has come out really bright. It’s stunning!

R has been making squares for a blanket. These are knitted in different designs, either textured or multicoloured, using a palette of red, green, gold and white

L finished a crocheted blanket for her step granddaughter, in black and grey with a touch of sparkle.

A has been working on a waistcoat for herself in this lovely soft grey yarn.

I finished the scarf I’ve been knitting on Friday. I used my handspun, hand-dyed alpaca yarn. I wore it over the weekend and it’s lovely and warm.

I also started spinning some black Shetland wool.

It’s always fun to see what everyone is working on.

Castles And Coast (With A Bit Of Knitting)

Today’s trip out took us first to the village of Etal. It’s a pretty estate village with a castle, which dates from around the 14th Century. Northumberland has many castles, a reminder of Anglo-Scottish conflict during the region’s violent past

Etal also has a thatched pub – thatched roofs are pretty unusual here in Northumberland.

We wandered down the road which ends in a ford over the River Till I’m not sure how safe it is to cross here as the water runs quite swiftly. We certainly didn’t try it!

On the riverbank we found Himalayan Balsam. This is an attractive plant with hooded pink flowers, but not a native species. It has become established in many areas (probably initially as a garden escape) and is now an extremely invasive weed. Its success is probably due in part to its method of seed dispersal. The ripe pods burst quite violently, spreading the seeds some distance.

Back in the village we had lunch at the Lavender Tea Rooms. I love the teapot sign! Behind the hedge is a pretty paved garden edged with rose bushes and lavender of course, with tables, so it was a perfect place to eat as we had the dog with us. We’ll not be able to lunch outside for much longer this year as autumn approaches.

We drove towards the coast in search of a beach walk for Buddy the Labrador. On the way we passed the imposing ruins of 12th Century Norham Castle.

We stopped for a dog walk at Cocklawburn beach.

Limestone was once quarried here and there used to be alLimeworks with a railway to transport the lime and workers cottages. The lime kilns can still be seen.

The sea was quite rough with some big breakers but they didn’t deter Buddy.

I got on with some knitting.

From An Alpaca’s Back to Mine!

If you read my round up of recent Knit and natter group projects you’ll have noticed that I finally completed my striped alpaca sweater.

It’s been a long process – I washed and carded the fibre, then spun it until I thought I had enough (with plenty to spare) I chain plied the singles to get a more consistent thickness. It stands to reason that the more strands you ply together, the more even the final yarn will be as any variations will average out – I find plying with more than two bobbins a bit fiddly so chain plying seemed like the way forward and my technique certainly improved plying enough for a sweater.

The next stage was to dye the fibre , also something of a learning curve (you can read more about that here)

I was trying to reproduce the colours of a bought sweater I had years ago but always loved. I almost got it right though the coral pink should have been much paler.

I chose a simple V-neck pattern with set in sleeves as I didn’t wasn’t to worry about matching up the stripes where the sleeves meet the front and back. Unfortunately I hadn’t noticed that there was some shaping there and when I completed the first sleeve it looked totally wrong (and was too long). I fell out with the project for several weeks, then bit the bullet and did some calculations to get the sleeves to the right length and match up the stripes.

This time it worked just fine and it was soon finished.

I’m really pleased with the result. It fits well and the V-neck is just right – not too deep.

This is my biggest handspun project so far, and the first where I’ve dyed the yarn. it’s even more satisfying that I made it from scratch from the raw fibre.