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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.

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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.

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A Jacob’s Fleece Challenge

A while back I had an email from a friend – someone she knew had some Jacob fleeces available. She knows I spin and wondered if I was interested. It turned out that the lady in question’s daughter was house sitting and looking after a small flock of Jacob’s sheep. They had been sheared and the fleeces would be thrown away or burnt if nobody wanted them.

I asked for four – two for me and two for my friend Y. The fleeces were at the other end of the country but another family member was visiting and brought them back so I could pick them up locally.

I didn’t know what to expect really. I have read about premium spinning fleeces where the sheep are coated to keep the fibre clean and free of vegetable matter (VM). I certainly wasn’t expecting that but when I unpacked the fleece I knew it was going to be a bit of a challenge.

It had been packed away wet and absolutely stank. It was pretty dirty, with discolored tips, lots of VM and a fair amount of second cuts (very short bits of fibre where the shearer had gone over the sheep twice).

I took it outside and put it on the skirting rack to remove the dung tags and as many second cuts and bits of VM as I could before washing it in the sink with washing up liquid and boiling water. Urgh! The water turned the colour of builders’ tea!

After repeating the process three times the water was running clear – hopefully I’d done enough to remove the lanolin from the fibre too. I hung it up to dry and thankfully the dreadful smell had disappeared.

I’ve recently acquired some fibre combs and these have come in handy to prepare the fleece for spinning. There is some wastage (those pesky second cuts). I’ve separated out some of the black and white fibre and combed it separately. Where the colours can’t be separated they blend to a rather lovely grey. The fibre feels quite soft with a lovely crimp……I’m looking forward to spinning it.

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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.

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Knitting With A View: Burnmouth

Today we ended up in Burnmouth, a coastal village just North of the Scottish Border, that nestles at the foot of sea cliffs.

The sea was rough but there were a few birds sheltering among the rocks: greater black backed and herring gulls, oystercatchers and a lone heron.

While K took Buddy for a walk I got on with my knitting – I cast on this scarf earlier in the week. It’s the Ox scarf by Angela Mühlpfordt and I’m using 100% alpaca yarn that I’ve spun and dyed myself.

K is interested in geology and informs me that the rocks here are about 345 million years old, from the Carboniferous Period. He and Buddy made their way south towards where a rockfall had come down from the cliff.

They came across this bed of fossils.

These are the remains of burrows made by an ancient worm-like creature.

There’s always something interesting to find on this coast!

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Dyeing to Cast On

Since my first attempt with acid dyes the other week I’ve been immersion dyeing some of my handspun alpaca fibre. The plan is to make a striped jumper for myself in pink and blue shades. had one in these colours years ago and although it was acrylic and mass produced I always loved those colours so I tried to copy them. I’m using a Drops pattern for the sweater but changing the stripe pattern – I worked out the total yardage needed for the pattern and divided it by the number of colours (6 including natural/undyed to get the amount for each batch (plus more of the colour I’m using for welt, cuffs and neckband). I hope I’ve been generous enough with my estimates!

Never one to throw anything away and always trying to find a second life for single use plastics I cut up plastic carrier bags to loosely tie the skeins of undid yarn using a figure of eight – this stops the strands bunching together so the dye reaches them.

Each batch was weighed to calculate the amount of dye needed and soaked for an hour in plain water.

Immersion dyeing seems to give the best solid colour. I I followed the instructions in the dye kit I have from DT Crafts to mix 1% dye solutions with citric acid. The dye baths were prepared with about 4l water plus the dye solution measured out for each batch of yarn dry weight and heated in the hob to just under a simmer for 20 minutes or until the dye cleared.

The pan was then left to cool and then the yarn rinsed, gently squeezed in a towel and hung to dry. I hook the skeins over the back of a clothes peg so it dries easier and without kinks.

The first batch used Hue and Dye blue, in a 1% solution 100mls for every 100g dry weigh yarn and it gave a lovely cornflower blue – exactly what I wanted. The navy dye in the kit had a hint of purple and I wanted it bluer so I mixed my navy and blue 1% stock dyes 50:50 – the colour needed to be darker so I used twice as much (200mls per 100g dry weigh yarn)

For the deep burgundy colour I used 5 parts red to 2 parts blue with a tiny drop (less than 1ml) of 1% black, at 200mls per 100g – the double strength gave a good deep colour.

The blush pink needed to be very pale – I mixed 5 parts red to 1 part blue and diluted the mix to 0.1% (a tenth of the original stock solution this came out rather deeper than expected, almost salmon rather than pale blush

The final dye lot was supposed to be a fuchsia pink with a violet hue – I experimented with different proportions adding a drop onto kitchen paper to compare samples. In the end I mixed 9 parts magenta to 1 part violet. – it looked perfect on the paper but came out more of a cerise pink – it seemed that the red pigment took to the yarn more intensely than the blue pigment.

My only worry was the two pink shades (I’m very fussy about colours). I could have spun more yarn and done another batch with a more dilute dye mix to give a paler version. I could have overdyed the cerise pink with a dilute blue/violet to give the desired result. I actually love both the pinks I dyed, so I decided to keep them and just make sure that the knitted stripes of these shades are not adjacent to each other. After trying various combinations I decided on this sequence, starting with the navy for the ribbing.

And now I’m cast on! With sweaters and other large items I tend to knit them on and off over several months so it will be a while but I will post updates, This will be the first Item I’ve made for myself from the raw alpaca I got last year – I have done several small Items as gifts – it’s also my first hand dyed garment – so quite a landmark project.

Have you made something from animal (in my case friends’ alpaca) to finished garment? I’d love to hear about it.

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Knit and Natter 7th May

Another crop of makes from our Knit and Natterers were on show on Friday,.

T is crocheting colourful wraps (shown above) for the yarn bombing installation we are taking part in this summer. We hope to identify a site within Alnwick Garden that we’ll be able to decorate with our handiwork. One suggestion was the Chatty Bench – a designated place to sit and chat, which would fit in with what our group is all about. We found out that this was right next to the toilets though, which put us off somewhat! We are now looking for somewhere else but wherever we end up it will certainly stand out with Tracey’s crocheting!.

A has crocheted a baby blanket.

She knitted this baby top (which has a matching hat too).

We’ve seen a lot of R’s gorgeous hexagon patchwork as it has grown over recent weeks. She’s not the only quilter in the group though. This week L showed us a quilt she’s been working on. The fabric prints, in lilac shades, have a butterfly theme.

The reverse is deep pink with polka dots.

Y has had a busy week but has not neglected her knitting. She’s been working on this cabled cardigan.

I’m still spinning alpaca and have tried dying some of it.

All in all a busy week for the group.

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Knit and Natter 29th April

We had another lively session on Friday. Y has completed this amazing sweater for husband, C, made from his handspun yarn. isn’t it amazing. Y joined us from her car as she was out of the house – even the car has some of her handiwork in the form of this crocheted rainbow.

A borrowed my knitting loom set to have a go and made this baby hat. We agreed that loom knitting can be a real yarn guzzler, with several strands needed to get a decent finish.

L has been loom knitting for ages and uses chunky yarn when she can – here are some of her adult hats.

She’s also working on this pretty pink striped blanket.

S has made this barn owl motif, which will be added to a banner depicting endangered wildlife. The banner will be on show at the forthcoming Climate Change Summit.

She’s also finished a pretty baby cardigan and found the perfect buttons.

R’s patchwork is getting huge!

I’m still spinning alpaca for a jumper for myself.

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Knit & Natter 23 April

We had a small but select gathering online for our Knit and Natter Group on Friday. As you can see, we are all keeping busy!

R’s hexagon patchwork (pictured above) is growing rapidly.

A is also working with hexagons – in crochet, being pieced together to make a pretty blanket in shades of pink.

L is making this knitting T shirt top.

We recently heard about an opportunity to take part in a yarn bombing event at Alnwick Garden. We are all rather excited about this and T has started already. This colourful scarf will look amazing wrapped round a tree!

I’m still spinning alpaca fleece. I’m working towards a sweater for myself.

It’s always great to see what everyone is working on.Knitting,crochet

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Spinning With A View: Alnwick Garden

I’ve always enjoyed knitting with a view. This usually entails a drive to the beach. I sit in the car watching the waves (and knitting) while K walks the dog. I recently acquired a battery pack for my little e-spinner, so I can spin yarn anywhere. I took it outside for the first time today for some very scenic spinning at the Alnwick Garden.

We wandered up to the walled garden first of all. In spring this part of the garden has a spectacular display of tulips.

There are a couple of secluded little secret gardens, sheltered by tall yew hedges with a central pool and fountain.

I stopped at a bench here and spun some of the alpaca fibre I prepared. It is such a peaceful spot.

Our next stop was the Cherry Orchard. Here 329 Taihaku cherry trees are planted on a steep slope. At the moment the cherry blossom is at its peak and it is breathtaking.

Every branch is smothered in white flowers which are alive with bees feasting on the nectar .

A path snakes down the bank through the trees in a series of hairpins, past benches and swing seats. I stopped here for a bit more spinning.

On we went past the poison garden and stopped for a coffee on the lawns in front of the grand cascade.

I’d packed my spinning into a little old picnic hamper which also balances on the front of my scooter so I can set up on there.

It was a perfect spring day, with hardly a cloud in the sky and warm in the sun out of the wind. I’m looking forward to a lot more more al fresco spinning this summer.