Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Shear Terror!

The clouds parted, and the gentle sunlight spread over the little pastures and driveway of my friend Linda's alpaca farm. The fluffy heads were erect, like glass-headed pins stuck into round, fuzzy pin cushions, as the animals gazed with curiosity at the row of cars, parked diagonally, like the parking lot of a strip mall. What were so many humans doing, coming to visit Linda? Little did they know...

Monday was shearing day for the fluffy alpacas at Linda's. It had been scheduled for the week before, when I was on the road, but postponed because of rain, so I got to attend and help. My job was to sweep the loose hair away from the body of the animal being sheared, so the shearer wouldn't slip on it.

We started with the young males, all under one year. The animal was led in and the front feet put into loops in a couple of ropes that were part of a pulley system. Then the back feet were tied the same way. The shearer showed Tom, the helper, how to hold the animal by his ears and straddle the head. He pulled on the rope, and the animal's front legs went forward, and the back legs went back, so the body was exposed.

Alpacas are prey animals, and as such fear being led away or tied down. Fortunately, the process doesn't take long, and they are back in the pasture almost before they know it. While it's going on, though, they seem to think they're going to be butchered. Some of them carry on throughout the whole process, making whinnying noises. The females sometimes spit, requiring the application of a sock to the muzzle.

The main part of the fleece--the part that covers the animal's back and sides--is called the blanket. It comes off pretty much in one piece, and goes into a bag labeled with the animal's name and "#1." The fleece from the neck goes into a separate bag, and that from the legs into a third one.

After shearing, the dazed animal is led back to the pasture. I followed the young males back to the pasture while the older males were being brought in. The little boys frolicked around, happy to be rid of all that hair, but sniffing each other as if they didn't recognize their friends.

The females spend 11 months of the year pregnant, and some of them showed the swollen belly that indicated a birth in the next couple of months. All of the animals seemed happy to get rid of their winter coats, though, and the last one was finished at about 12:30 PM, well before the return of the rain. We looked around and surveyed the usable fleece, which by then covered the floor in one corner of the garage. Not bad for a morning's work!

I promised a report on my WooLee Winder, and here it is: This gadget is worth it's weight in gold! I'm glad I didn't have to pay that much for it, although it was expensive enough, as each one has to be made by hand. I ordered the walnut stain to match my Kromski Sonata, and got a couple of extra bobbins, so I can use them to ply the yarn as well. (It comes with one bobbin.) Here's what it looks like in use:

I'm really enjoying not having to stop every few seconds to move the yarn from one hook to the next. My spinning seems faster and more even, but I'll know better after I ply my first two bobbins of singles. I use the long-draw method of spinning, which was taught to me by one of my spinning buddies. It works well for my arthritic hands, and has been the only possible way of spinning since my surgery. Here's what it looks like:

This photo was made when I still had my cast on, so you can see how easy this method is. I have a T-shirt in my lap, which helps me see the fiber better. (Use something dark for light fiber.) The way I do it, both hands are relaxed. The twist goes through the fingers of my left hand into the fiber source in my right. (This is left-handed, BTW. Right handers need to flip the photo over.) Some people pull straight back, and can even go as far as the hip. Others pull way out at t 90-degree angle. I use the right-angle method, but only for a few inches or so. When you feel the yarn tighten the fingers closest to the wheel, you know it's time to let the yarn go into the orifice of the wheel and start again.

What's on my needles? Same as last week, but I've made some progress. I have about 6" of the CLC body done, the pattern rows for the Kristi sock are almost complete, and I'm on row 12 of the Nonna. (I need good light for the Nonna...something that has been in short supply here lately with all the rain and overcast.) I'll try to post photos soon. My current quilt is languishing. I need to bring it upstairs, I guess!

Happy knitting/spinning/shearing/quilting everyone! --Peggy

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