Monday, May 13, 2013

The Deep End

Ever since I attended the MN Alpaca Expo on a whim a month ago, I have turned into a bit of an obsessed freak when it comes to my fiber interests, and so my mission began.  I wanted to become a more knowledgeable spinner and fiber fanatic (I can't really say "fiber artist", because I mostly tend to flail around like a novice) by learning more about sheep breeds and how best to used their wool.  I wanted to learn about how animals are raised, the different climates that various animals thrive in, how best to prepare certain fibers for spinning, what the best type of yarn is for a particular project, etc. ad nauseum.  In short, I want to become proficient in my understanding of natural fibers in a way that allows me to contribute to the continued success of this industry.

A few weeks ago I heard about an event in Minnesota called Shepherd's Harvest.  It's Minnesota's Rhinebeck and I immediately and passionately exclaimed (all over Ravelry) "I WILL BE THERE!!!"

...only to discover the next day that my work schedule wouldn't allow for that to happen.  I was so crushed!  I had only just learned that this event even existed and, really, hadn't invested an exorbitant amount of time imagining what it would be like, but I felt so sad.  Luckily, my coworkers are familiar with my wool obsession eccentricities and by the sixth hour of my constant lament of how sad I was that I would have to miss this event that only occurs once a year and allows farmers to connect with those who value and understand the hard work that they put into raising these sheep and other fiber animals, not to mention the teachers who travel from all over the country and the incredible amount of knowledge concentrated into one little space and how could I possibly live with myself if I didn't somehow participate by showing my support and appreciation and... and by that sixth hour, one of my coworkers finally caved and took my shift on Sunday.

And so it was that I attended my first ever sheep and wool festival, and boy, these things do not disappoint!  (Although, somehow I forgot to take a single picture.)  My one and only goal was to buy my first fleece.  I really wasn't interested in yarn or the rainbow of dyed fiber that was available (I'm technically on a yarn diet.  It started on May 1st.  I didn't tell you.  Fiber doesn't count.)  I did a buttload of research about sheep breeds and what kind of fleece would be best for the type of fiber preparation and spinning techniques I thought I might want to use to produce a certain type of yarn.  Armed with this knowledge, I wandered the booths looking for the perfect fleece.

On Saturday there was a fleece judging and silent auction which I was not able to attend because I had a symphony concert to play, and I was certain that every last fleece worth buying would have been snatched up that day.  I am so glad that I was wrong!  I felt confident in my ability to choose a fleece that was right for me based on what I had read and watched about how to pick a fleece, what to watch out for, and so on.  I saw some beautiful fleeces, but passed on them because they weren't a breed I was looking for, they were a bit too dirty for my first fleece, the staple length was too long, the fiber was too coarse, etc.  This whole time as I wandered from booth to booth I thought to myself, "Wow, Peter.  You're being really practical and systematic about how you're choosing a fleece.  I bet this is what it's like all the time."   ...and then I walked into the next booth and was immediately drawn to one of the fleeces on the table and as soon as I felt it, I felt a wave of inexplicable intoxication much like the way one might feel when they have their first taste of the best chocolate in the world, or the first juicy strawberry of spring, or sinking into a warm bath after a long day of work.  I lost all sense and knew that, regardless of any practical reasoning, this fleece was destined to be mine.

I know that this picture is quite disappointing because it doesn't begin to demonstrate the power that this fleece had over me.  The color in real life is rich and gorgeous, the fleece itself is full, soft, and so springy that it feels like a sponge when you press into it and just by sheer luck, it also happens to be exactly what I was looking for.  It's a 5.5lb CVM (California Variegated Mutant) fleece from Crosby Hill Farm and to make things even more spectacular, the sheep was coated which means that the fleece itself is incredibly clean and free of vegetable matter and other foreign objects.  This fleece is sure to provide me with YEARS of spinning pleasure and I can't wait to begin the process.

I would have been happy to have stopped with one fleece because I was so elated to have found exactly what I was looking for, but I had made a mental note to visit the Hollyhock Alpacas booth to see what they had to offer.  The Hollyhock farm raises Huacaya alpacas (the fluffy ones) and I was curious to see a huacaya fleece because the farm I volunteer at raises Suris.  Well, it turns out I didn't just see a huacaya fleece - I took one home with me, too.

But honestly, how could I say no?  This is a cria fleece, which means that it was the alpaca's first shearing (a cria is what we call a baby alpaca.  No, I don't know why) and as I'm sure you all know, baby alpaca is soft, soft, soft!  I was so fortunate to have snatched this one up as it was their last cria fleece for sale.

I also took a three-hour spinning class on Sunday morning and although I was perhaps a little disappointed with the class overall, it did provide me with the opportunity to try a number of fibers that I had never spun before - silk, yak, cashmere, and cotton.  The yak was my favorite.

I'll be back tomorrow to introduce you guys to the four alpacas I've been spending my weekends with.  They're such charming boys, I'm sure you'll love them!


  1. Honey, that's wool fumes.
    Criança is Portuguese for baby; I've always thought that had something to do with the cria thing.

  2. Whoa!

    Are you going to prepare the fiber/fleece yourself or send it out? You should check out Julie in Ravelry (that's her rav name). She's in MA and I met her through friends in VT (Kristen of Gilead Goats, aka countryelvis4). Julie does some fab spinning, and has been sending fiber out to Utah (I think) for prep, but decided this year to send to the place in VT where Kristen gets her shares prepped. What's my point here? Oh, maybe ask around where local farms get their fiber prepped, and find out what they like and don't like about who they use. Kristen sent fiber to 2 places, same fiber, same prep, and the differences between the yarns were night and day.

  3. Woot! CVM! One of my all-time favorites!! Are you really going to prep and spin, or just roll around in those? (Because the alpaca looks roll-around worthy too. Just sayin'.)

  4. It was so nice to meet you on Sunday and I'm thrilled that Johnny's cria fleece went home with someone who will appreciate it. (Yes, cria is the Spanish word for baby alpacas and llamas which are native to South America.) Feel free to contact me if you have questions about preparing the fiber. I'm looking forward to seeing your progress!

  5. You're a goner. Wool fumes have taken over and your brain will never be the same. I've seen the condition several times, but never succumb. Enjoy!

  6. Ooh, lovely stuff. I personally have no desire to start from scratch, so to speak, but I'm more than happy to watch your progress with it. Speaking of which, is it all knit up yet? :-)

  7. Those fleeces look AWESOME! Now that you have done the MN festival it is time for Rhinebeck! (October 19 and 20 - mark your calendar!)

  8. Hey! Thanks for the shout out for Crosby Hill Farm! We how you enjoy your fleece. Thanks so much.

  9. I absolutely ADORE how happy you sound in this post about the same kinds of things I get silly-happy about. :)

    It really is intoxicating, isn't it?

    I'm impressed and intrigued with your fleece, I haven't seen Alpaca with crimp like that before. Interesting!

  10. OMG those fleeces make make my hands shake and crave to touch them!
    As someone else said in the comments cria means baby in spanish (mostly used in animals not people), i got a pound of huacaya cria fleece this year and it is amazing. I'm currently spinning a couple oz of it mixed with silk, wool and firestar and it drafts like butter!