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St. Distaff’s Day

Just a quick little pre-post. St. Distaff’s Day, traditionally celebrated January, 7, is being observed by many Spinners Guilds this weekend. St. Distaff’s Day is big in the fiber world because it is the day women traditionally returned to their spinning. If you’re at all interested in spinning, weaving, yarn, or anything fiber related, check out listings with spinners guilds near you. I’m attending ours this weekend, and will post on it next week.  Meanwhile, here’s a little article about the history of the day.

http://www.tellinghistory.co.uk/resources/distaff.htm

whimsicalewe.com

whimsicalewe.com

 

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Redmon Review 2014

I’ve never really been one to review each year, but this one has been a doozy!  Moving to Redmon Woods in mid-2013, we had puttered around with enough different ideas that we were ready to get to work January 1, 2014. Lucky timing for us.

We started with a large empty space and a few ideas. By April, things were really shaping up. We tore out old fencing, built our goat/chicken shelter, sunk new posts, installed fencing, tilled the garden area, built raised beds, and started the garden. Yep, Charlie and I, all by our little ol’ selves.

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finished yard

While we were building, the chickens got busy laying eggs. After a lifetime of store-bought eggs, we’ve supplied all our own eggs, and lots of Carly’s, since February.

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I also got into the world of fiber, and oh, what fun that has been! I had no idea what I was doing, so I joined the local Spinners Guild, met an absolutely wonderful group of people, and learned the fiber world is quite diverse. Once I was convinced I could actually learn to spin, we got to work finding a spinning wheel. Charlie is an eBay ninja, and I had my first wheel within just a couple of weeks. I learned to make felt, needle felt, spin yarn, and crochet. With a left side that doesn’t always cooperate, I figure this took me longer than most people, but that’s OK. I got it.

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In the spring, all the local feed stores stock up on ducks. We were doing well with the chickens, so it was time to give ducks a try. I don’t know if it was just our ducks, but they weren’t really happy in the water. Peanut and I decided we would need to teach them to swim before we let them romp around outside.

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The first few months of the year, Charlie and I attended every animal show there was at the fairgrounds. In an agricultural area, that means something every weekend. We learned about goats, rabbits, sheep, and alpacas. After lots of research and investigation and research, and considering my new fiber adventures, we decided we would rather have alpacas than goats. (Goats are still on the to-do list, but they had to wait.) We got involved with Cross Creek Alpaca Rescue. The two founders, Shari and Jackie, allowed us to come help with their annual shearing. We met their rescues and learned about their organization, and we were hooked. We’ve worked on a few rescues with them, and continue to learn more. Meanwhile, Spike and Tajo have moved to Redmon Woods, and we LOVE them. They make me smile everyday. Next year, we’re hoping to expand their yard so we can bring home some more. There are so many beautiful, sweet alpacas that need homes, we want to do everything we can to help.

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Cross Creek Alpaca Rescue

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Spike and Tajo Come Home

Charlie started the majority of our garden from seeds. He then did all the transplanting. Eventually we decided I would take care of everything with legs, and he would be responsible for everything with roots. Charlie’s hard work paid off big-time. By summer, the garden was producing more than we could have imagined. We were thrilled, but that meant I had to figure out what to do with all these garden goodies. I spent months harvesting, washing, freezing, pickling, and making jam. All new things for me.

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My summertime “final exam” was making lasagna. Now, I’ve made lasagna several times in my life, but this was different. This time around, I made the tomato sauce, cheese, and pasta. I added veggies from the garden and sausage from a friend who makes his own. Judging by how fast the lasagna disappeared, I’d say I passed my exam.

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The garden has long since been put to bed, and the chickens and ducks have taken a little winter break. We’ve been  busy with the holidays, and Charlie bought me a drum carder for Christmas. I’ve been working on carding and spinning alpaca, gearing up for the new year’s projects.

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So much new stuff! Hard to believe we had done none of these things at the beginning of this year. It’s been our greatest adventure, and we can’t wait to tackle our to-do list for 2015.

And, of course, through it all, these silly kids kept us on our toes and made it all that much more magical.

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If interested, many of these projects can be found in previous posts.

Homemade Christmas Homecoming

I’m beyond excited for Christmas this year!

First, we’re heading to California. Charlie and I haven’t been back at the same time since we moved to Washington a year and a half ago. Tori is coming with us, and Carly and Joe are taking the kids down, too. Tori has friends from work who want to live on a farm some day, so they’re getting a week in the country, and we’re getting awesome farm sitters.

We’re all driving down, and get to stop and see friends along the way. Yes, I said driving. It’s a long drive, but we have packages to take down, and Tori still has some things to move back up here with her. Fortunately, it’s an easy drive…for Charlie. 🙂

While the daughters moved up to Washington with us, the sons stayed in California. The California granddaughters are 4 and 6 this Christmas and I’m really hoping we can get all the kids together while we’re there. Combined, the grandkids have (at least) six different households to visit, so it’s going to be challenging getting them to the same place at the same time. Uncle P.J., our youngest, will make sure he’s around as much as possible to play and eat.

We’re so lucky that our family gets along! My aunts and uncles will be in town, too. It doesn’t matter how accomplished or civilized we can all be in our everyday lives. You get us all together and our redneck flag is flying high! (Some certain members of the family will swear that we ARE NOT rednecks, but they’re wrong. We are.) This is going to be ridiculously fun.

This is the tricky part because family members wander through my website from time to time. Let me just say, I started early this year, and have handmade gifts for everyone. For me, giving is the most fun, and I’m really looking forward to this Christmas.

This week, I’ll be baking cookies, making candy, and making sure all the critters are situated for our time away. I hope you all have a Merry Christmas!

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Happy Birthday, Carly!

Yep, I have one of those Christmas-time babies. It’s her own fault, really. If she hadn’t been 2 weeks late, she wouldn’t have to compete quite so closely with Christmas. I think it’s worked out pretty well for her, though.

Carly was the one who started the ice cream-for-breakfast-on-your-birthday tradition. She’s 25 this year, and I bet Joe is still expected to get her ice cream. She also started the White Christmas tradition. Back in the day, there were only so many television channels available in the hospital. The choices were football, news or White Christmas. After 17 hours, she arrived during the finale of White Christmas. Every year since, we’ve made sure to watch the movie, even if we’re not watching it together.

We were all determined that our Carly Claus would never have a combined birthday/Christmas. As a result, she thought the entire month of celebrating was all about her, until her brother and sister came along. The festivities started every year with the Holiday Light Parade. She actually rode in the very first Festival of Lights Parade in Palm Springs because Grandpa was President of the Chamber of Commerce that year. Unfortunately, she saw me standing on a corner watching, and screamed for the parade to be stopped so she could go to Mommy.  I had to run out in the middle of the parade and rescue Grandma and Grandpa from my screaming toddler. That’s my girl!

Carly has gone from a headstrong toddler, to a rebellious teenager, to an absolutely wonderful mother. She has the biggest heart, and is fiercely loyal and protective. We are so very proud of the wife, mother and person she has grown up to be.

Happy birthday, sweet girl!

 

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Feed Bag Tote Bag

Charlie and I have been making a concentrated effort to reuse items, rather than just throw them away or toss them into the recycling bin. Surprisingly, one of the most reusable things we have is feed bags. They’re now made of a woven plastic, instead of paper, and can be used for any number of things. I’ve already used them for patterns and drop cloths for felting, and now I’m hitting up my stash to make tote bags. A lot of feed bags also have really colorful designs on them, which makes them fun to work with.

My mom always said there was no such thing as too many tote bags. Until I was a mom, I just rolled my eyes at her, but she was right. With grandkids, crochet projects, felting projects, carding and spinning supplies, pets and farmers markets, I can always use another tote bag. These bags are also handy at the grocery store if you happen to live somewhere that required reusable bags.

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We have 50 and 25 lb bags, and either will work. I used one today that I had forgotten to shake out and rinse, and I was cutting through leftover feed. The bags can be rinsed out and they hold up just fine. The measurements I’ve give are for the 50 lb. bag. See note at bottom for 25 lb. measurements. *

A good size to measure out for the bag is 22″. Flatten out the bag and cut off the top and the bottom, leaving the part of the design you want to show in the middle 16″.

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Turn the bag inside out and stitch across the bottom, using a 1/2″ seam allowance.

The next part is hard to describe, but check out the picture. Fold the side of the bag toward the bottom seam, so there is a corner, with the seam running through the middle of it. Measure 4 inches from the corner and draw a line to follow.

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This picture shows the two corners marked.

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Sew along each line, then cut off the extra.

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With the bag still wrong side out, fold the top edge over one inch, then again one more inch. I thought this part would be a pain, but the plastic folds easily and stays in place fairly well after pressing the seams with your fingers. The straps should be 22″ long and 1-1 1/2″ wide. I have some webbing straps on hand, so I used those. The cut off strips of the feed bags can be sewn into straps, or fabric strips can also be used.

(If using fabric, cut a strip 22″ long and 3″ wide. Fold the fabric in half, lengthwise, right sides together. Stitch the length of the fabric, using a 1/2″ seam allowance. Use a safety pin to help pull the fabric right side out. Smooth with your fingers, or press, and you have a strap. If using feed bag strips, they don’t go from right sides together to wrong sides together nearly as easily. Cut the feed bag strips to the same 22″ x 3″ as the fabric. Fold one side over 1″, then fold the other side over 1″. This should make a 1″ tube-ish shape. Stitch the length of the strip to hold the sides in place.)

Measure 5″ from each side, and tuck the ends of the strap under the folded top edge. At this point, the straps should be hanging down into the bag. Make sure the straps aren’t twisted and that they go all the way to the fold. Pin the straps in place.

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Sew all the way around, 1/4″ from the bottom edge. Once the straps are sewn into place, fold them upwards and stitch again, 1/4″ from the top edge.

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Turn the bag right side out, and that’s it! Peanut had to check out my work to see if there was anything yummy in there for her.

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The first bag I made took about an hour. Part of that was messing around with the tension on the sewing machine. Sewing plastic with heavy duty thread takes a little bit of adjustment. The other bags only took about 20 minutes each.

Don’t have livestock? Dog food bags are made of the same woven plastic, and also make a cute tote. Now, I just need to find a bag of alpaca chow that’s plastic, not paper.

* For a 25 lb bag, measure just 3″ along the bottom for the corner seams. Measure 4″ from each side to attach the straps.

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Wanna Make Marshmallows?

Several years ago my friend Tracy taught me how to make marshmallows. I had no idea you could make them at home. I’m sure I’m not the only person who thought they just magically appeared in the grocery store, delivered by the marshmallow fairy. One more case of having no idea where our food comes from, or how it’s made.

Marshmallows have been Raymond and Reta Jean’s favorite treat since they were able to say “shmallows.” Knowing that, I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to make them again. I think I just forgot how easy they are.

Yes, they require ingredients that aren’t normally hanging out in my pantry, but I made sure to pick things up this weekend. All it takes is gelatin, corn syrup, sugar, powdered sugar, water, vanilla, and salt. Yep, that’s it.1210140808

 

I wanted to make mine Christmasy, so I ground up peppermints to sprinkle on top.

Step 1: Spread butter, or spray cooking spray on 9 x 13 pan, sprinkle with powdered sugar. Really. Do this first. If not, there will be a goopy, sticky mess setting up in the mixing bowl if this gets done later.

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Step s: Sprinkle gelatin into 1/2 cup water. Let it absorb while making the syrup.

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Step 3: Pour sugar, corn syrup, water and salt into a pan.

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Step 4: Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.

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So far, so good. This is where I get a little antsy.

Step 5: Continue to boil until sugar syrup reaches 240 degrees. The directions say not to stir, so I didn’t. Much. I was afraid it would all burn to the bottom of the pan, so I had to stir, some. This takes 10-15 minutes.

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Step 6: Using stand mixer, start mixing gelatin. It should be sort of crumbly.

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Step 7: Pour the REALLY hot, REALLY sticky syrup into the gelatin mixture. CAREFULLY.

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Step 8: Mix on high for 15 minutes. When done, add vanilla.

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The marshmallow mixture gets really thick. I was afraid my mixer was going to overheat, it was pretty unhappy.

Now, for the messy/fun part: Getting this goopy mess into the pan. Using a spatula or spoon really doesn’t work. That just sort of smushes all the sticky marshmallow mush all over the bowl.  The best way to get it out of the bowl is by hand. At this point, it’s cooled off enough to handle. It works best with WET HANDS. Yep, that’s the trick. Whenever marshmallow started sticking to my hands, I rewet them.

Step 9: Spread marshmallows into prepared pan. Again, do this with wet hands. It will just stick to a spatula.

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Step 10: Sprinkle with anything you want on top! I used crushed peppermint with this batch. The last batch I made, I sprinkled with snowflake cake sprinkles. The standard topping is powdered sugar.

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Leave the marshmallows out overnight to set up, then cut into 1″ squares.  Using a knife dipped in hot water makes them cut easier, but dry the knife a bit before cutting with it, or it makes a big, sticky mess.

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For a little extra fun, I tried cutting my last batch into snowflakes, using metal cookie cutters. It worked, but was a pretty sticky mess. Using a wet, or hot cookie cutter may work better.

Nothing is better in hot cocoa than homemade marshmallows!

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If you check out “homemade marshmallow recipe” online, there are plenty to choose from. This is the recipe I used.

http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/homemade-holiday-marshmallows

As always, everything to make marshmallows can be found at my Amazon store.

http://astore.amazon.com/redmwood-20

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Christmas Cookies

As a kid, my favorite thing to bake was oatmeal cookies. In my memory, it seems I made a batch at least once a week, but I’m sure it couldn’t have been that often.

Most of my adult life, I lived in a house with a little bitty, useless kitchen. Seriously. It was a hallway – and a short hallway at that – with a sink, stovetop, oven and refrigerator all jammed in. I could sit on one counter and put my feet up on the other counter across the kitchen. Not that I did, but I could. This kind of kitchen setting is not conducive to cookie baking. Charlie and I tried to bake Christmas cookies for a few years, but it ended up being a lot of hassle because of the lack of space.

Now, I have kitchen space again! All summer I used the kitchen for canning and freezing, now it’s time for some real fun.

I always wanted a cookie press, and this past week I went out and got one. I’ve made two batches already and have plans for more over the next few days. I’m pretty impressed that I can make 8 dozen little cute cookies so fast. With the cookie part being so easy, I’m looking forward to getting a little more creative with decorating. Sugar, icing, chocolate covered, peppermint sprinkled. Oh, the ideas!

Every idea makes me think of the grandbabies. What will they like better? Which ones will become a favorite? Will they look forward to Gabba’s cookies every year? When Raymond and Reta Jean get treats from Gabba, they’re always excited. They have me trained well. When they get excited, and jump up and down, and do little happy dance, and Reta Jean says, “Thank you for my presents, Gabba,” and I get hugs and kisses, it just makes me want to get that reaction more.

I picked up some little cookie tins in town today and I’m going to have fun filling them up. I’m going to have even more fun getting hugs and kisses from the kids.

You can find fun cookie supplies at my Amazon store.

http://astore.amazon.com/redmwood-20

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Four Years Out

December 7 is a day most people remember as Pearl Harbor day. For me, it was a different type of life-changing event. Today, it has been 4 years since my brain injury. I don’t remember 12/7 because of Pearl Harbor, I remember 12/7 because my birthday is 7/12. It’s always seemed ironic to me that the day my life got flipped around is the flip-side of my birthday.

I’ve talked to lots of brain injury patients, and have learned that, while everybody’s recovery is different, there are many things that are the same. Many of us experienced what the medical community calls “Mild” Traumatic Brain Injury. When I first received the diagnosis, I thought, “Cool. OK. It’s mild, so it will go away soon.” That’s not exactly how it works. The term mild simply means the person either didn’t lose consciousness, or was only out for less than a couple of minutes. There isn’t necessarily bleeding in the brain, and it isn’t necessarily life threatening. All of those are good things. Those can also be the bad things.

When diagnosed with something “mild” it’s very hard for the injured person, as well as the people around them, to fully understand what is happening. In movies, books and on TV, someone gets a knocked out, and they’re back up to speed in no time. In reality, several different things start happening.

The list includes, confusion, short-term memory loss, balance issues, specific weakness, vision problems, easily overwhelmed, fatigue, depression and anxiety. “Emotional lability” is especially fun – rapid, often exaggerated changes in mood, where strong emotions or feelings (uncontrollable laughing or crying, or heightened irritability or temper) occur.  The laughing for no apparent reason could come across as quirky, or maybe inappropriate. I get the crying for no reason. It’s really hard to convince someone that absolutely nothing is wrong when you’re sobbing like a toddler having a temper tantrum.

The first couple of years, I waited for the symptoms to go away. By the end of year two, I was devastated that I wasn’t all better. Year 3 was spent learning how to work within my new limits. Now, by the end of year 4, I’ve settled into my new normal.

One day I may remember something, then the next I don’t. If it’s important I write it down. If it’s really important, Charlie makes sure he can remind me, and he does this tirelessly. The bad part is, I sometimes forget things that I really needed to remember. The good part is, I can save lots of money on books, because I can read the same ones over and over and never know how they end.

My left side is weak. This means I crochet, instead of knit, because it only requires one hand to be coordinated. I spin yarn “backwards,” using my right hand where I should be using my left. Sometimes my left leg doesn’t want to go the direction I want it to, so I may stumble backwards or sideways. Fortunately, I’m right-handed, but I’ve still had to learn how to work around my left side.

I can’t watch movies with too much action, and 3D is totally out of the question. Windshield wipers even get distracting, if they’re moving too fast. I can’t drive at night because the lights are too much, and sometimes the world goes “flat.” If I’m playing solitaire on the computer, I have to look away when the game is over and the cards go flying all over the screen. I spend a lot of time looking away from things or closing my eyes. It’s fairly automatic now, and not something most people would notice.

Initially, I got lost quite a bit, even in familiar places. That still happens, but I don’t think it happens as often. Hard to say. I’ve gotten used to not always recognizing where I am, so I don’t panic about it anymore – usually. Every trip to the grocery store is like visiting a store in a new town. I read every sign in every aisle, and sometimes I wander around trying to find something simple like milk. This is the grocery store I visit at least once a week. If I happen to be driving, and don’t know where I am, I either keep driving until something looks familiar, or pull over and enter the home address into the GPS.

Charlie can read my face like nobody else can. He knows when I’ve had too much, and need to leave, or take a nap, or just have a little break. When I’m frustrated or aggravated because I’m having trouble learning something new, he’ll remind me that I’ve learned part of it, and to just keep trying. Or, to put it away for awhile and come back to it later. He knows what I can and can’t do. He knows when to push, and when I need to quit for awhile. He makes sure my world is safe, and works so hard to provide this new life I love. Most people won’t see me on a bad day, so they don’t get that it’s not always easy. Charlie gets me through all of it.

For quite some time, things were hard, and we needed to make a lot of adjustments. The doctors don’t expect there to be much more improvement. In their terms, I’m “permanent and stationary.” Despite the challenges, I love my new life, and couldn’t want anything more. Without this injury, I wouldn’t have this life. I hope that people who are at the beginning of this journey understand that it does get easier. I hope that people who are caring for someone with a brain injury understand how important they are.  More than anything, I hope that Charlie knows how much I love him and appreciate everything he does to make Redmon Woods my safe, magical place.

 

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From Farm to Yarn – Where Do Socks Come From?

 

 

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Ever wondered how fiber from an animal ends up as a sweater? I can now do all the steps from home – if my spinning was better, and if I could knit a sweater – so I thought I’d share how it works.

When I first started spinning, I used roving. That’s fiber, all combed into one direction, then formed into strips that make it easy to pass into the spinning wheel. Charlie and I had seen raw fiber, and then roving. The big question was, “How does it get that way?”

The first step is to pick the fiber. Wool is the most commonly used, but there are so many more! My favorite to spin is alpaca, but it tends to need to be blended with something, like wool, to add some body and stretch to the yarn. Llama can also be used, but I haven’t gotten my hands on any yet. Angora rabbits produce angora fiber. Easy enough. Angora goats produce mohair. Seems like they should maybe call them mohair goats, but no. There are also a lot of more “exotic” fiber, like silk, yak, buffalo. All kinds of cool stuff.

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There have recently been articles on the internet about certain celebrities never wearing wool again because of the mistreatment of sheep during shearing. I don’t know what other people have seen, but  I’ve been to a few shearings, and I’ve seen no mistreatment. Of course, I’ve been to small local farms, days grazing in peaceful pastures and being treated more like pets. At The Pines Farm, people could even pick out which sheep they wanted fleece from, and it would be sheared right in front of them.

 

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5 (500x340)Sheep are pretty clean, compared to alpacas. Alpacas love a good dust bath. Either way, the fiber needs to be skirted and cleaned. During skirting, the fiber is spread out on a screen. All the yucky fiber, guard hairs, dirt, and grass/hay is removed. Well, as much as possible. Some people like to spin it right from this point, but I need it to be more organized, and I’m not a fan of my hands getting all sticky from the lanolin on wool.

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(The above two pictures are from 2 different alpacas. The color doesn’t change from washing.)

Once the fiber is skirted, it’s time to wash it. It would be super easy if the fiber could be thrown in the washing machine, but that can’t happen. Too much agitation – which is very little – will cause the fiber to felt, and then there isn’t much that can be done with it. Instead, the fiber is put into nylon laundry bags, and submerged in a tub of hot water, with dish detergent. Allow the fiber to soak long enough for the water all the locks of fiber and break down any dirt. After 30 minutes or so, drain the tub, gently squeeze water from the fiber, and do the whole thing over again. I find that 3 times is usually good. Each time the water will run cleaner. Some people will lay their fiber out at this point to dry. I’m in Washington, and it’s wet and cold right now. I run the fiber through just the spin cycle to remove a lot of the water, otherwise it may not actually get dry until spring.

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When the fiber is dry, it can be carded. Once upon a time, people would use hand cards, brushing the fiber from one brush to the other, until it was fluffy and all facing the same direction. Some people still use hand cards today, but a drum carder makes it so much easier. Charlie just bought one for me as an early Christmas gift, and it’s WONDERFUL. Plug it in, feed the fiber between the drums, and the machine combs it all out. Originally, I really wanted to do the whole process by hand, but my left hand has difficulty with the hand carder, and it takes a really long time.

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The carder can process quite a bit of fiber. When the big drum is full, the fiber can be separated horizontally, and the fiber just lifts off. This is called a batt, or batting. The batt can be used to make felt, spun directly from this point, or pulled into strips to spin.

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Fiber is spun into singles on the bobbin. Using a Lazy Kate to hold individual bobbins, the singles can then be plied into what’s recognized as yarn. I typically use two singles, but some people will use three or four, to make a chunkier yarn, or even ply strands of doubles, then ply those together.

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When the yarn is spun, it’s removed from the bobbin, onto a Niddy Noddy. (Half the fun of the fiber world is the names of some of the equipment.) The Niddy Noddy also serves to help measure how long the yarn is. I’m not at that point yet, so for me it’s just a way to get the yarn off the bobbin in an organized fashion. The yarn is tied in several places to keep it from getting tangled, removed from the Niddy Noddy, then submerged into cold water. This “shocks” the yarn, and sets the twist.

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That’s it! Once the yarn is dry, it’s ready to use. I have the most beautiful brown alpaca fiber (the fiber shown drying, above) that I was planning on sending to a fiber mill. This is my dream yarn, and now I get to do the full process right here. I will have a whole blanket, made from the fiber of animals I’ve actually met. It doesn’t get any cooler than that!

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