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Friday, 19 December 2014

First attempts at weaving

I finally got my (dismantled) weaving loom last week, and, after putting all the pieces back together, then setting up a small warp (thank you Ashford for your how to video's even though my loom isn't an Ashford, the principle is the same), I got to weaving a couple of small test items with some alpaca wool that I purchased from another alpaca breeder.

We have ordered an Ashford (manual) carding machine and electric spinner (they appear to be the only make available in this country), so, once they arrive we will hopefully be able to process Miranda, Minky and Kris' fibre and I will be able to weave with that in future.
You can clearly see the warp thread that I couldn't
rectify - it had been threaded in the incorrect
heddle when RMan and I set up the warp.  Lesson
learned, Loom :)
It has been a fantastic learning curve.  The most important lesson I've learnt is that the warp (the thread that runs the entire length of whatever you are weaving) must be prepared correctly, be threaded through the correct heddle, and be tensioned correctly.

Whatever you initially do to set up your loom will positively, or negatively, affect the woven fabric produced.  Note to self - "Take your time setting up the loom, Dani".  Being new to the whole weaving thing, it is taking me roughly 4 - 5 hours to set up the loom.  Admittedly, I do not have a warping frame and use a stick tied to the back of a dining room chair to prepare my warp threads.  It's not ideal, and I'm hoping that RMan can knock me up a simple warping frame early next year.
The edges of the piece I was weaving are all
uneven.  No matter how much I try and keep
the tension equal, the edges are scruffy...
I can't get my head round why the warp should be prepared with +/- 10 separate threads at a time, nor why there should be a cross during in the preparation of the warp.  Plus I am having on-going problems with the edge - no matter how careful I am to keep the tension firm, the edges of the fabric are jagged.  Is there a weaver out there who can advise and assist?
Catching the incorrect threads on the shaft I'm
working with results in loose threads.  Again,
I've learned my lesson, Loom
I also discovered when I finished my first test piece that I had managed to catch some incorrect weft threads - resulting in the above picture.

Ah, well - it's all a learning curve :)

I have only woven using two of the four shafts.  I need to google how using all four shafts will affect the fabric produced by the loom.

And I need to find out low I can make the woven fabric more "lacy" and not so thightly woven.

But, with all the hiccoughs, I'm loving weaving, and have the loom set up in the dining room so that whenever I have a free moment I can sit down and continue weaving immediately...

Friday, 12 December 2014

Animals have feelings too..

... and this is amply portrayed by Minky.
When RMan has his morning cup of coffee
outside, Minky can't wait to greet him
Everytime RMan walks anywhere near Minky, Minky shows his pleasure by lifting his tail up high, walking / running over to RMan, and giving his head / neck / face a gentle sniff.

When we first took ownership of Miranda and Kris I asked the breeder if they showed pleasure / displeasure with any parts of their body (similar to a rhiino which lifts it's tail straight up to indicate that it is displeased, etc) - such as their with their ears, mouths, or tails.  She said no.

Minky the alapaca has proved her wrong :)

And this further proves the heading of this post.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

After shearing

Once the alpacas have been relieved of their precious fibre, then the laborious, painstaking work begins.

Alpacas l-o-v-e rolling around in their paddock, which means that all those minute pieces of grass / twigs / dust / lucerne, etc. often get caught up in their fleece.
One of 15 bags of fibre waiting to
be cleaned of vegetable matter
I have three bags of fibre from each alpaca - 1st (saddle), 2nd (neck) and 3rd (legs).  Before proceeding with any of the processing of the fleece all that vegetable matter has to be cleaned out of the fibre.
Slung out on the chicken wire, it is easy to
dispose of the vegetable matter I pick from
the fibre
Do you remember the first solar dehydrator I had made - the one that was off-square?  I was nervous using it as the glass didn't sit well enough and I was fearful that a bump would cause it to crashing down on the floor.  So I had another model made.  Which left me with the first one doing nothing, except cluttering up the place.  Well, it turns out is is perfect as an alpaca fibre sorting table.  All I needed to do was sling some chicken wire over it, and hey, presto!  It created a perfect fibre processing surface / table.
The vegetable matter falls through the chicken
wire to the waiting base of the AFST below
As I slowly and carefully go through the fibre, and find any signs of vegetable matter (and trust me, Minky is the worst offender), all I do is ease it out of the fibre, let go, and it falls into the base of the dryer - which has now been re-named the AFST (alpaca fibre sorting table).  Once there it is easy to remove and throw outside - which is perfect for the birds to swoop down and pick up any small scraps of fibre with which to line their nests :)
Oh - so incredibly soft...
The fibre is almost melt-in-the-mouth soft - oh, I can't wait to start working with it.

As the 2nds and 3rd fibres are not as long as the 1st, I am going to felt them. Felting alpaca fibre is easy, and there any plenty of You Tube videos demonstrating the technique.  Once the fibre is in a felted "sheet", it can be cut to any pattern and sown as per normal fabric.
This is the picture of the loom
I found on Gumtree.  If I remove
the legs, then I can keep it in
the house, and placing it on top
of our dining room table, I can
weave away whilst we watch TV
in the evenings.
And, I am planning to have the 1st properly processed into yarn so that I can weave it on the inexpensive 2nd hand table loom I picked up on Gumtree.  I should get the loom at the end of this coming week.  I can hardly wait to start weaving :)

But, before any of the above can happen, I need to finished cleaning out the VM, and then it is off to the fibre mill for processing.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Shearing time

Alpacas are bred for their fibre, not for their meat.  In the wild, alpacas would move up to higher, cooler ground when the weather gets hot - but, "domesticated" alpacas, being restrained within a paddock, are not able to make that escape.

Consequently, they require shearing once a year - preferably in Spring - which will assist them to handle the heat of the impending summer.  

At the end of last month we had our three alpacas - Kris, an adult male, Miranda, mother and adult female, and Minky, Miranda's cria (baby alpaca), who was born on the 3rd March 2014 - sheared.

Shearing alpacas is a specialist chore.  And finding a shearer who is willing to travel is not always easy.  Last year we only had two alpacas to transport to the shearer, but this year, as there were three of them, we had to try and find someone to assist us, who was willing to travel to our alpacas.  Thankfully, Chris, from Helderstroom Alpacas in Villiersdorp, together with his staff and equipment, was willing to make the 360 kms round trip to our smallholding in order to assist us with the shearing.
Minky - getting the leaf blower treatment to
remove any gritty sand which could cause the
shearing blade to get blunt
It takes approximately 3/4 - 1 hour to shear one alpaca.  First they are given a very good brush, to remove as much loose vegetable matter from their coats as possible.  Then they have a dose of leaf blower treatment, to try and ensure that any gritty sand, which could make the blades of the shears blunt, is not lurking within the depths of their coats.
Miranda - the shearing on the one side of
  the saddle area is complete, now it's time
to turn her onto her other side
Once that is complete the shearing can begin - the alpacas are placed on their sides on a rubber mat on the ground, whilst their feet are held captive within strong fabric coated elastic ties.  However, they still need to be prevented from trying to get up during the shearing process, and a couple of strong assistants ensure that doesn't happen.

The fibre in the saddle area is the most prized fibre - it is called the "1st", the neck is called the "2nds" and the legs are the "3rds".
Kris - getting his nails trimmed.  Note how
his legs are restrained to prevent him moving /
kicking anyone during the shearing / nail
trimming process
Once the alpacas are shorn their "hooves" / nails get attention - like clipping human nails.  Finally, the teeth are examined, and, if it is necessary, the small back "fighting" teeth are carefully trimmed with a Dremel.  Alpaca's only have teeth on their low jaw.

This shearing only needs to be done once a year.  It will certainly ensure that your alpacas are more comfortable during the heat of summer, and, as they are sheared in Spring, there is plenty time for their coat to grow back in order to keep them warm the following winter.
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