Customer: "How much of this alpaca yarn do I need to knit a sweater?"
Alpaca Breeder: "I don't know."
So I am embarrassed to admit that I, myself, had a pattern for a 50% alpaca / 50% Merino wool cardigan for sale in my booth at MD Sheep & Wool Festival 2007 that turned out to be a less than thrilling pattern. Since this pattern and yarn, inexplicably, did not sell, I ended up knitting it myself. Boo hoo! O how I HATE to "have to" use yarn myself when I can't sell it! - kind of what it would be like for my son, Nick, to own a candy store and "have to" eat the candy that didn't sell.
The yarn, Turquoise Classic Elite "Zoom" is great, but I foolishly thought that a pattern that was written specifically for this yarn and, by an expert!, would somehow be better than offering the yarn for sale with a simpler pattern. Most of these commercial cardigan patterns require the knitter to knit a separate piece for the back, left front, right front, neck band and each arm. That's a lot of sewing up! Being a knit-in-the-round kind of sweater knitter, I never realized until I knit this other pattern that I HATED IT! The size was not right, the directions turned out to be practically un-decipherable and then I was going to have to sew all of these pieces together?!! I don't think so!
I knit all of this cardigan save one sleeve and then tore it out, scandalizing my knitting club. Although, I like to think that there may have been some grudging admiration mixed in there as well. You're not a real knitter until you've decided to just frog it. (ripit, ripit) Three weeks later, some of them are still shaking their heads in amazement and repeating, "I can't believe you ripped out a sweater that was practically done." But, who really wants a sweater that they hate? Not me.
I am a big believer in paying for patterns that are good, but I am finding that more and more of the patterns I really like are things that I found free on the Internet. That's bad news for pattern creators and sellers. Some of them are going to have to work a little harder to make a product that people will happiliy pay for. Here's some advice to you, lady who wrote the pattern for the discarded sweater that I am now calling, "the dis-cardigan:"
Instructions like "reverse all shaping for other side" and "decrease 1 every 4 rows for 7 then every 6 rows for 8 while at the same time k2tog every 2 rows for 10" did not make me happy that I paid $5 for your pattern! You really can't write this out line by line?, or at least indicate which one is for the neck shaping and which is for the underarm shaping? Yeah, I KNOW that it becomes obvious as you're doing it but still, people like a little more information about what's going on. Plus, the dicardigan was going to be 2 sizes too large anyway and, YES!, I did knit the swatch to check my gauge!
So I switched to a pattern called, Top Down Raglan Cardi version 2.0 from the blog, Cosmic Pluto Knits! You can find it here:
YOu knit the neck, back, shoulders, left front and right front in one piece, save the sleeve stitches on holders and boogie on down to the hem. Couldn't be simpler, she has added extra shaping for those who want it AND........ it requires no sewing up! Thanks Cosmic Pluto - You Rock!
alpaca wool blend cardigan
Now that ingenious knitters have figured out how to knit socks on one circular needle, hats and entire sweaters in the round on 2 circulars and cardigans top down in once piece, is there any reason at all to keep making patterns for socks with seams in them and cardigans with 6 pieces that need to be sewn together? Besides keeping the sewing machine people in business I mean? Is "sewing up" so yesterday? If you have some strong opinion on this, pls. let me know.
Meanwhile, back at the Mount Airy Alpaca Company, we are getting ready for the big move to Florida! No more live alpacas, no more deer in the corn field, no more snow! This is going to take some getting used to.
This is the time of year when I'd normally be watching alpaca babies being born and having the thrill of seeing the cria dashing around the fields around my barn. I do miss it but, when you live on a farm, there are always nice animal babies around, you just have to look a little harder.
We see deer practically every day in the spring and summer but I like to stalk them frequently with my camera anyway. It makes for good photography practice. This shot wasn't particulary good but, when I looked at it more closely, I was surprised to see the size of this doe's udder!
bagged up doe
Sure enough, it was only a week later that I got my first glimpse of her twins. They walked right by my office window and across the front lawn. One ran when I pointed the camera, but the other one just looked calmly back at me over its shoulder.
cute baby deer
Recently, I noticed deer hoof prints near the mineral feeders that we have scattered along the sides of our barn. We think of the deer as shy and kind of dumb, but at least one of them figured out that these red containers had some residue in them of the mineral powder that we used to feed to our alpacas. So they have been licking the containers. Pretty smart.
deer hoof prints
alpaca mineral dish
In addition to the thrill of baby deer on the lawn, I like to be super nosy with all of my neighbors, and, basically, just demand to see any baby creatures that they have born on their farms. So, I invited myself over to one neighbor's place last week to see their brand new donkey baby.
So cute! Her name is Mae and here she is with her mama, "Daisy":
mom and baby donkey
Meanwhile, another neighbor has a very pregnant Icelandic horse that I'm keeping a close eye on. Don't call this cutie a pony! That makes Icelandic owners mad because they are small horses - thank you very much.
bred Icelandic horse
I have never seen an Icelandic horse baby and who knows if I'll get this chance again! I helped this same neighbor to move her horses a couple of weeks ago and, since one was shedding, I did what any psycho hand spinner would do. I tugged out a few handfuls and quickly stuffed it in my pocket.
2 Icelandic horses
Don't let anyone tell you that the fiber art thing is not an addiction or at least a nasty compulsion. I have heard of spinners spinning dryer lint (I don't recommend this - It's highly flammable), road kill and even milk weed. The Icelandic horse fur sample was not as soft as I'd hoped. Even washed and fluffed up, it's pretty coarse, so I won't be sneaking over to the neighbor's place with comb and a pillow case after all. That's probably a good thing.
Icelandic horse fur
Also last week, there was a dead groundhog in our paddock. That happens more often than you might think around here but this time I happened to witness an epic struggle on the part of several turkey vultures, a young hawk and a crow, all of whom wanted that same dead ground hog for their dinner. The turkey vultures won, of course. They are quite large and pretty tenacious when it comes to getting what they want. It's hard not to think of them as ugly but they do a useful service in cleaning up dead animals that would otherwise be pretty stinky so we have to appreciate them if not admire them.
turkey vulture gliding
I'm always amazed at how many people think that hawks and vultures look alike when they are flying because they really don't. Besides the two-toned look to the underside of the vulture, there is the gliding way in which they fly. They can go a long time without flapping their wings. The vultures circle a lot and catch updrafts and other air currents while the hawks flap their wings every couple of seconds and, when the hawks do glide, they do it in a faster, more direct way.
flying red tailed hawk
When they are perched, the vulture has a head so ugly that it's hard not to feel sorry for them.
turkey vulture perched
When I bug them by stalking them for a photo, they will calmly fly off. The hawk, on the other hand sometimes gets mad and screams at me.
And the crow? They look pretty perched on a tree in the bright sun, slightly ominous when perched in the dark or near dark, and just plain weird when they are flying:
flying crow silhouette
So, I will miss the animals that I have around me here in Maryland but I look forward to discovering some new photographic subjects in Florida.
We will continue selling our alpaca care DVD.
We may do some lecturing, fleece judging and/or get a vendor booth at a few alpaca shows in Florida.
I will be working as a website consultant for 2 alpaca-related charities.
Of course, I'll be on the lookout for some knitting and spinning buddies.
The other big question in my mind is what will become of our beloved alpaca farm? Some of the people looking at it have been horse farmers and some have been sheep farmers but, so far, no alpaca farmers. Some have not been farmers at all.
I still have hope that our farm will continue to be a farm with happy animals and happy children growing on it, but we'll have to trust that the people who are meant to own it will buy it. And, even if they don't plan to have a farm now, that doesn't mean that they won't wake up one day and realize that they were meant to be farmers. We did.
random dragonfly near our pond
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So, OK I have already posted (maybe) too many photos of the Sheep to Shawl competition which does, technically, happen on the Sunday of the MD Sheep & Wool Festival but I thought that event merited its own entry. Since I've had a booth at the Festival in previous years, I have not gotten to watch the entire event before.
Maybe you don't agree that it warrants all that obsessive interest but, to people like me, who like to grow the fleeces, shear the fleeces, card or comb the fleeces, spin the fleeces into yarn and then make the garments ourselves, there is so much meaning in the wholeness of that creative process. It's not the same when you buy the yarn!
Polartec and combed cotton are OK, but does each plastic bottle or scratchy plant pod have a name and a beautiful face like our sheep, alpacas, bunnies and goats? Nah. We take care of each other. We feed them, they clothe us. Oops! I'm gushing again.
So AFTER the Sheep to Shawl on Sunday, I got to see something ELSE at the Festival that I have always missed, the Working Sheep Dog Demo !!! It was thrilling. The sheep were so prim in their manner that I couldn't help imagining them with fancy, church lady hats and white gloves on.
The sheep dogs, though, were wolfy and super-smart.
The dogs raced around so fast that I could barely get the camera to focus on them and, just as quickly, they'd stop for a moment and crouch menacingly at the sheep who got the message all right! They didn't like that crouch one bit.
Whatever cues were given by the actual humans were not obvious to me at all but the dogs read them loud and clear, herding the sheep around obstacles, into pens and finally, into the waiting trailer. The rest of the crowd seemed to love it as well. People were mesmerized.
I managed to get a quick walk through the main barn with my family, looking at the vendor booths but it was my daughter, Cassandra, who found something she just couldn't live without. While Nick and I waited to hand out the ribbons and trophies to our Sheep Poster Contest winners,
Cassandra, ever the teenage princess, used her cellphone to photograph herself wearing her new Lord of the Rings-style cape so she could send the picture to her friends' cellphones.
The poster kids were excited with their winnings. This one turned out to be the daughter of my next-door neighbor from 11th & 12th grade. She got $3 and 2 ribbons. Not bad for a 5 year old!
We share our space with the, aforementioned Skein and Garment Competition, Sheep Photo Competition and Fine Arts Competition and all weekend long I had been admiring the banjo playing sheep that had won best children's entry in the Fine Arts Competition
So, when the creator himself showed up, I asked him to pose for a photo, which he cheerfully did. What a talented kid.
Speaking of good kids, I found out on Mother's Day that my nice boy Nick, had bought me a super-cool pair of deliberately mis-matched socks at the Festival as my Mother's Day present. Good boy! If you're wondering whose booth he got them in, it was Delly's Delights.
Nick admitted to me that another member of the Festival Committee gave him the idea by showing him her socks. Yet another perk of hanging out with the Sheep & Wool Festival Committee gang, personal Mother's Day shopping assistance for your kids!
Seriously though, as much as I love the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival, I love the committee members even more. It's very hard to move and leave them behind. It's far too mushy to say to their faces, but I will say it here. You have all been so special and precious to me. Thank you for making me part of your family.
Random sampling of committee members I happened to photograph at Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival 2008.
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Now that I have a nice digital camera, I fear that I may be going a little crazy with the photo-taking but, who doesn't think that the Sheep to Shawl Contest at the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival is the coolest thing ever? It's hard to not want to post a bazillion photos of it because every part of it is so amazing!
It starts with the shearing of the sheep, to get the fleeces that the Sheep to Shawl teams will use in making their shawls.
Unfortunately, I got to the Festival too late to photograph the shearing at 8 a.m. I took the photo above at Sheep to Shawl 2007.
Each Sheep to Shawl team gets their own fleece to work with:
The teams have to then card the fleece, spin the fleece into yarn and weave the fleece into shawls. The looms are already warped but that's the extent of the preparation. The teams competing this year were:
3 Wheels Shy of a Loom
Chesapeake Spinners & Weavers
Mount Vernonís Tidewater Treadlers
Butler County Pedalers
Waterford Weaverís Guild
The Wool Fools
Springwater Fiber Workshop
Here, Wini Labrecque (alpaca fleece judge extraordinaire and, owner of Starweaver Farm) in Pennsylvania, cards while other members of the Butler County Pedalers spin.
Here a member of the team from Mount Vernon, the Tidewater Treadlers, winding a bobbin for the weaver while her teammate cards:
Fiber Friends (the eventual winners) had matching chef's outfits and the cute gimmick of using a Mixer to wind their bobbins in keeping with the cooking motif:
How adorable are the outfits of the Mount Vernon ladies? I want one to wear next time I do a spinning demo!:
The weaver from Springwater Fiber Workshop in Alexandria got going almost right away.
Gotta give it to the 3 Wheels Shy of a Loom team, they don't take themselves TOO seriously. It takes a real man to hand spin AND wear bunny ears! Where'd they find this guy?
The Waterford Weavers Guild also had beautiful costumes and I loved their gray fleece!
The Chesapeake Spinners & Weavers team wore beachy outfits and created an, appropriately-beachy, seafoam/sand colored shawl.
The spinning got pretty serious as the teams tried to get their shawls done as quickly as possible:
The Wool Fools worked away:
And so did the Butler County Treadlers but Wini found time to politely answer the questions of many of the onlookers. People LOVE this event and kids seem to be fascinated by it too.
A FEW HOURS LATER, IT'S TIME FOR THE PUSH TO GET THE SHAWL FINISHED, CUT FROM LOOM,
Rush it to the table to be examined:
Clip any loose threads:
Make one final examination:
Then rush out behind the Fair Office, where Mr. Sheep to Shawl himself, Ed Hyland, waits with the hot water still, to wash the shawl.
The crowd was delighted by the happy, shawl-wringing-dance done by the team from Springwater Fiber Workshop:
The Waterford Weavers pat their shawl dry:
Then, a break for judging. The teams get a well-deserved rest before the announcement of the winners and the annual auctioning off of the shawls to the public.
Close up of the winning shawl:
photo of winning shawl - Sheep to Shawl Contest - Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival 2008
If you, also, think this contest is one of the seven wonders of the Fiber Universe, you can see live footage of Sheep to Shawl 2007 on Let's Knit2gether's Video podcast, which I found here:
Video of Sheep to Shawl 2007
For information about the entry rules and judging criteria, go here:
Sheep to Shawl Contest at MD Sheep & Wool Festival
Next entry, Sunday at the Festival starring.....Working Sheep Dogs!
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I dragged my son Nick through the Sheep Breeds Display barn like I do EVERY SINGLE YEAR (as he is quick to point out!) But I don't care, I never get tired of sheep, big sheep, little sheep, white sheep, black sheep, brown sheep, gray sheep, horned sheep I love them all and, also as usual, I took a picture of every single breed that I could get a shot of. I wish I could post them ALL here but, accepting that others may not be quite as obsessed with sheep as I am, I have chosen just a few:
Who doesn't love Jacob sheep with their crazy horns and multi-colored coats?
A lot of people don't seem to realize that Shetland sheep are not boring little, white blobs but actually pretty funky looking. And they are little when compared to the meat breeds.
Horned Dorsets are super cute! I wanted to steal these two.
Hey, Clun Forest, Ewe are adorable! And, since you have 2 lambs,
can I please have 1 ? PLEASE!!!!
Nick pretended he was soooo bored with all the sheep admiration but then I turned around and caught him petting a Blue Faced Leicester.
Of course, I did also visit with alpacas, bunnies, angora goats and llamas. This little alpaca from DAFI alpacas was adored by many little girls (and some big girls!) over the course of the Festival.
And, here is a cute little goat that might look nice in MY backyard in Florida
When I was finished adoring all of the sheep, I cruised through the skein and garment competition to see how the judging had gone. This year there was so much amazing felting!
Then, since I had no booth this year, I got to visit the booths of my
friends! I was both admiring and jealous of Greg Thorne's hand spun
yarns complete with adorable photos of the spinner himself. He blamed
his wife for the genius idea of including these photo labels.
Greg was nice enough to do a spinning demo for me a couple of years
ago when I was running the fiber arts tent at the Great Frederick Fair
and I still use him as an example when guys claim that hand spinning is a woman's thing. I hope he sold LOTS of skeins.
I went into Jane's Thistledown Alpacas booth to catch up with Jane and ran into my favorite alpaca fleece judge, Wini Labrecque. Jane was selling tons of alpaca and angora yarns, and products including 1 pair of alpaca socks that I bought for my sister.
Left to right, Jane, Jane's daughter, Wini Labrecque
Got around to Michelle Reilly's booth, Tripel R Farm in time to get a
photo of Carol Kopp (with a name like Kop, how could she NOT be a hand spinner?!) working there and admire Michelle's beautiful Kromski spinning wheels.
I told myself very sternly that I was not allowed to try out any spinning wheels at the Festival, since I finally own only one wheel (down from a high of 6.) But I may have glanced at just a couple with a look of pure wheel lust in my eye.
My husband was naive enough to point out the Golding wheel (above) to me! He actually thought I had never noticed this hand-carved wheel before, much less tried it out on several occasions. Men are so cute!
Speaking of spinning. I used to run the Jr. Handspinner's Contest at the Festival but this year I was promoted to judge while my friend Toni took over as boss lady. She did a great job and so did the kids.
Here's the gang who ran the JR. hand spinners contest this year. In front is Roseann, the Uber Knitter, who's blog is linked from this one above at right under "Roseann's Amazing Knitting Blog." The two on the left in row two of this photo are SuellaC & Tonilee - those are their ravelry.com names.
I always visit the T-shirt booth even though I do not really NEED
more Festival Gear. It's amazing how many famous fiber arts authors
you run into there, including the one in this photo, the Anarchist
Knitter herself, Anna Zilboorg.
I took class with her at the Festival a few years ago and she found
me to be unbearably dumb about understanding her techniques, but I still had fun and think she's a genius.
However, If I had read her "Knitting for Anarchists" book BEFORE the Festival, I may not have signed up for her class. It's all about not needing instructions to knit. I'm not an anarchist, I'm a computer programmer. We LOVE instructions!
Sometimes the outfits you see at the Festival are as interesting as the exhibits themselves. I saw a lot of political T-shirts and buttons this year including this one which I'm not even sure I get:
But I like this outfit a lot better including the accessory sheep.
The last thing I did before leaving was check out this year's showcase event, run by the Society for Creative Anachronism. These people did a stupendous job and were demo-ing all kinds of fascinating fiber crafts from a warp weighted loom with rocks as weights to this one, which I am embarrassed to say I did not figure out the name of. Is it nallbinding? What ever it is, it's to-die-for beautiful!
Next blog entry --- Sheep to Shawl & Working Sheep dogs!
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