Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Alpaca Handspun Yarn and Baby Booties

There is a certain romance for me, in taking the fuzz straight off an animal's back, combing it, spinning it, and with two sticks turning it into art. 

But oh, if only it was just like that.

It was almost an epic fail.  (Just a side-note, my teenager has banned me from using the word epic, since apparently, I do not understand it's proper modern usage. In other words, I'm too old. But it's my blog - so watch me go ahead and try it.)

Some kind farmers up the road at Windy A Alpacas gave me some lovely alpaca fiber.  They have a wonderful farm, and we spent a sunny afternoon there with the kids, feeding and admiring the alpacas.

Fiber!!  Woo-hoo!  Everything I had spun up until that point had been spun from purchased roving.

I wanted to experience this entire process, dirt and all. 

The only catch was, of course, that I had no idea what I was doing.  The internet was a maze of ideas.  Everybody dealt with raw alpaca differently.  Some people spun the fiber dirty, some washed it first, some had tools that I didn't have, the possibilities were endless enough to give me a headache.

I chose to start with the bag of black alpaca.  I carded the fiber, but it wouldn't smooth out very well.  I spun it dirty, it turned my hand black.  Not exactly fit for evening spinning along to Downton Abbey. So I washed it, but my washing attempts ended up felting the fiber!  Some of my lovely fiber wasted..... I tried spinning some anyway.

It wasn't spinning very well.  I was getting a bit discouraged.

So I tried spinning from the bag of white fiber.

The white fiber had a very fine crimp to it.  It wasn't very dirty at all.  I used a technique (thank you wonderful lady at the Spring Fair) called Flick combing, with a cheap dog brush. 

Lock by lock, this stuff fluffed and cleaned out in seconds before my eyes into the loveliest fiber.

It spun up beautifully.

Even considering my fumbling and my rough skills.

I know, crazy, but so far I haven't actually knitted anything out of all this yarn I've been spinning. 

It is time consuming to produce just one skein of the stuff.  So I have lots of odd skeins of yarn right now.  After all my hours of spinning I had come to a point where I really needed this whole process to finally come full-circle.  I needed a sense of completion.

I decided on a quick and small knitting project, my favorite stay-on baby booties.

I had just knit a purple pair.  They are knit from lovely sock yarn.  They are perfect. The yarn is smooth and even.

Then of course, I knit the same exact booties from my luscious handspun.
My handspun yarn has thick and thin spots and spots that are a little too twisty.  It doesn't look the same as commercial yarn at all. But these booties are just as lovely with all the little imperfections in the fabric.

I don't know how to find the words to describe how I feel about these little baby shoes.  Obviously I knit in the first place because it is rewarding to me, because there is this excitement I feel in the creative process: in finishing, in the feeling of 'Hey, I made that'.  But this takes that feeling to a whole new level. 

There is so much joy in art!  Lest you think my life is full of days with my children happy and smiling while I curl up next to a cozy fire spinning and knitting - you are wrong!!  We have five kids, and two with special needs. We don't even know what a normal family life is like.  Every day is hard, and many days bring me to tears.  I have to fight for my art.  Even if that means sometimes fighting my own guilty feelings about leaving other things undone or putting myself first.  Some knitting projects are pulled apart by my little ones, other times I find myself scrambling for the time to knit a single stitch - but it is all worth it.  When my needles are clicking along I feel more balanced, and my kids see that motherhood and womanhood isn't all martyrdom and tiredness and frustration.  And when my children need balance in their own lives, I see them go and begin some creative process of their own. 

In the end, it is what reminds me that a life without art or creativity is not a life at all.  I may not paint or draw, but a creative mind always finds a way, EVEN, when it is hard.  Especially when it is hard.

So here you have my first hand-knit, hand-spun, hand-processed, locally grown, art-yarn project.

From start to finish.  No, I'm not up to spinning enough yarn for a sweater yet.

But it feels so satisfying to have gone through this whole process, from start to finish. 

For the first time in my life.

To have a sense of what it really took to produce clothing from fiber as people have done for so many thousands of years.  I admire the tenacity of those people so much. As I figure this stuff out, I feel connected to those who have gone before me, sewing and knitting and spinning and stitching.  It slows down the rhythms of my way-too-busy life even for just a few seconds so that I can make something that no one really needs, but brings me so much joy to create.  I am so grateful to be connected to this art. 

Sharing this week with:

Frontier Dream's Keep Calm Craft On Tuesday
Ginny's Small Things Wednesday
Natural Suburbia's Creative Friday
Wisdom Begins in Wonder's Fiber Arts Friday


  1. Thanks so much for your kind comment.
    Your knitting and blog are wonderful! I hope you will return to madebyjoey for Friday's Sharing Creative Ideas link up.
    ~ joey ~

  2. I know the feeling completely. Currently spinning alpaca right now I watched them shear off the animal. Not sure what I will make yet, but the feeling of satisfaction is wonderful. Keep spinning and enjoying this wonderful art.

  3. This post is near and dear to my heart!! A friend at work gave me a bag of alpaca wool from his farm and it is just sitting there, staring at me! I have no idea where to begin as a barely know how to spin. Your post has helped! I think I will practice my spinning first, and then give it a try. Thanks for a great post.

  4. What a beautiful post! Your words touched my heart! I am expecting my fifth in January and I have a burning desire to spin my own wool,and knit it up into something beautiful. Someday! In the mean time knitting, crocheting sewing, scrapbooking all bring a measure of balance (despite the fact that these artful things happen very rarely!) You put into words exactly how I feel.
    I LOVE the handspun booties the best!

  5. Love to read your blog and the booties are darling!! Especially the locally grown, hand spun pair!! So cool you are!! :-)

  6. those booties turned out perfect.

  7. I love knitting with alpaca and those bootees are so sweet. Deb x

  8. That is one lucky baby! Lovely photos of your amazing alpaca handspun baby booties; thanks for sharing your process and pictures.

  9. I understand that fight for creativity and art in life! I have three kids under four and my friend commented the other day that she is amazed at how much knitting I can get done but I can no longer imagine hanging onto my joy without the peace and rhythm of the needles, the joy of accomplishment and creation, and the happiness it gives JUST ME. So much of "me" (as I defined myself before children) is gone from my life now but to knit gives me something that I delight in and an identity that is not dictated by my other roles in life. I love motherhood and my children but knitting is a good, non-intrusive therapy that helps me process and think clearly. Thanks for giving me food for thought as I go about my day today.

    Your yarn is beautiful - and the "imperfections" of it may make it even more perfect. Both sets of booties are also adorable.

    I see from your bio that you live in the rural NW - we do too (although I find that people on the west side of mountains in Washington don't tend to count Eastern WA as the PNW - but we do!) Always pleased to stumble across a neighboring Yarn Along-er!

    1. Hi Sarah,
      We do live on the err, West, side of the mountains, but my husband is from Eastern Wa, so we definitely count you guys are Northwesterners. We love it out here, but could use some of your sunshine.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  10. I think you used the word "epic" *perfectly* ;)
    I've heard that alpaca isn't the easiest stuff to spin, so I don't think that you're alone!
    I haven't spun anything myself yet, I desperately want to, but still need to get or make a wheel! ( i have a drop spindle that seems to do the trick for now.)
    Your booties turned out so sweet, and you're right, there's something so special about seeing a project through, truly from start to finish. Congratulations!

  11. Oh those booties...both of the pairs, but really those handspun ones are perfect!!! I so appreciate the work that goes into scouring, picking, carding, spinning and then, whewf!, knitting. I am happy to have stumbled upon your lovely blog...I'll be back!
    xo Jules

  12. Those booties are precious! Knitting does have a balancing effect so does pounding bread dough! It is amazing how these ordinary things can bring us peace and joy and restore our spirits

  13. They are gorgeous and making a project from pasture to product is the most rewarding experience. I love to wear my handmade goods out to the barn and look at my alpacas and say, "this came from you!"

    In time, you will develop a better process for preparing your fleece. keep it up. Those booties show why it's worth it!

  14. That yarn is positively squooshy and some lucky kiddo will have toasty tootsies this winter. :-) The booties are perfectly wonderful. :-)