All about the Alpacas

I’ve been a bit absent from the blog for the last week or so; it’s all the fault of the alpacas.

Last Monday, I was selling and demonstrating weaving at Houghton Hall Alpacas.  I’d intended to get two looms set up: the rigid heddle loom with a ‘give it a go’ project, and my Klik with an 8 shaft project.  I ran out of time, though, so the Klik spent the event sitting elegantly, with a warp chain draped over it, so people could see how a multi-shaft table loom differs from a rigid heddle loom.

I ended up putting a plain cotton warp on the RH, and taking along lots of miscellaneous blue and white scraps.  I wove a firm header (using the same cotton, doubled), and then went for random blue and/or white stripes in the weft:

The idea was that weft-faced would be graphic, not difficult to weave, and easy to get decent selvedges on.  A few people had a go, but most were convinced they could never do anything ‘so complicated’, and were scared of ‘messing it up’.  Those who did give it a try seemed more than pleased with the experience, though!

It was a relatively small event, from a fibre point of view; apart from myself, there were two spinners (demonstrating rather than selling), and Purl Alpaca Designs:

As always, their stand looked wonderful.  I think they were previewing their new designs for Autumn, and had done a lot of work telling their fans about the event: a lot of die-hard fans had come to see them, some from quite a distance!

Even a small event takes a lot of time and energy to set up, though, and I had difficulties for this one.  We were told, two days in advance, that we needed to bring our own tables and chairs.  Since I was already planning to bring two looms on stands, my stock, shelving, books and samples (oh, and I drive a Polo!), it just wasn’t possible to fit much in.  I took my sewing table, which is effectively a large bench, and built a low display area out of straw bales.  Looking at the photo of my area, I can see now that it was too ‘spread out’ from the point of view of people coming into the building: something to remember for next time:

Sales were low, but I met some wonderful people, and we had some wonderful chatting time, all day long!  (Oh, but it was cold!  August Bank Holiday it might have been, but we were working in a wind tunnel, and it’s been feeling autumnal here, lately…)

The real attraction of the place, though, was the alpacas.  Lots and lots of wonderful animals were for sale, and I couldn’t resist taking a few minutes for some snaps (even though I’d left the good camera at home – no room for it in the car!)

Alpacas are, of course, desperately cute, and they hum!  Which is also cute, but one of these little black beauties did not shut up all day.  Even a cute noise gets a bit wearing after the fourth hour or so, I can assure you.

72) That was the week(end), that was…

Recently, time does not seem to be flowing smoothly.  One afternoon seems to hang around forever, stretching out into infinity – then four days seem to be go past in a single lump.  This makes for sporadic blogging.

Nevertheless, the last week has been rather productive, all things considered.  I have:

  • started seaming coppertop (ravelry link) – my two-week sweater, haha;
  • finished plying the spindled silks;
  • finished plying the Sweetgeorgia BFL/silk, featured mostly in this post;
  • started spindle spinning some of my own batts ('Titania' – mixed purples with holographic angelina – here);
  • made copious notes about what has and what hasn't worked in the garden this year.  However, these are all currently on the back of an envelope, so I can't share them with you yet;
  • reached the crunch point on the Peacock shawl. I will be omitting one full repeat from the middle section.

Several of these items deserve blog posts of their own, but I am rather fond of the plied BFL/silk photos I took on Sunday, so I'm sharing those now:

That is a UK 5 pence piece tucked behind the yarn; that's slightly smaller than a US nickel (18mm as compared to 21mm, according to Wikipedia).  That's some pretty fine spinning!  In fact, this is the first time I've managed to get over 1000 metres of yarn from 100g of fibre, so it's a genuine milestone.  I'm not interested in spinning ultra-fine thread, but I am keen to spin true laceweight knitting yarns, and also yarns that could be woven into garment-weight cloth.


The glamour shot.  This yarn is one ply of silk and one ply of blue faced leicester (a lovely, soft, fine wool).  The flash on these shots really shows off the sparkle of the silk against the more matt texture of the wool – click for bigger to see it properly!

And don't you love that little wooden bowl?  It's maple burr, turned by a local craftsman, and I'm hoping it'll work well as a bowl for using with a support spindle.  It's taller and narrower than the ones I've seen in use, but I love it anyway.

I bought it on Saturday, at the Willingham Feast Market, where I and several others from Rampton Spinners were demonstrating spinning.  Geodyne originally organised the event but unfortunately couldn't make it on the day.  I'm pretty sure a wonderful time was had by all four of us who did make it, even though I dropped my phone down the loo (oops! – time for an iPhone, perhaps?)

DSC05287 This is the demo area as it looked just before the marked opened – we had wool, flax and silk on display, including a progression of flax from dried plant to spun fibre, and a lot of interest was shown by the public.

DSC05288 The left hand side of the display, showing Jo's range of spun and dyed fibres, plus tools and fabrics, (and books!!  I never thought to bring books..) along with my new toy (wool picker) and a bag of clean but unteased wool, and my Rampton bag from last year.  The wool picker deserves another post of its own, but was quite the hit with young boys; it relies heavily on long, black nails for its function, and looks like a mediaeval torture device on the inside.

Inadvertent amusement – and education – was provided by the nice man who came round offering us tea and coffee before the event opened.  I told him I'd brought my own, but thanked him for the offer.  Jo only drinks hot chocolate, so he talked her into that – then, when she finally agreed, informed her that that would be one pound, please.  Both of us were …slightly gobsmacked.  Bear in mind that we were 'working' at this event for free, and a free cup of tea or the like is a nice (and relatively common) way to say thanks.  It was a funny experience rather than an unpleasant one – but it's a lesson in customer service/expectation management, too.  I don't think that either of us would have minded paying if the price had been clear from the beginning – especially as the proceeds go to charity.  But both of us – even me, and I wasn't the one getting a drink! – felt slightly .. what?  Affronted?  Cheated?  Tricked, I think is the best word.  And the sad part is that I'm sure he didn't mean to make us feel like that.

The really notable part, the one that anyone who deals with customers of any kind should note, is that this is the experience, out of all those I had that morning, that I've chosen to write about here.  They say it takes five positive experiences to outweigh a negative.  I suspect that is a conservative estimate.

Spinning demo TOMORROW and Sunday, Hemingford Abbots

This weekend is the Hemingford Abbots Flower Festival, including an Open Gardens event.  I got the ‘call’ for volunteers for this event (their regular spinner is ill and cannot make it) the Monday after my last demo – and I’ve been looking forwards to it ever since.

I love doing demos.  There is so much to talk about in spinning – craft, design, engineering, physics, history, archaeology.  Pretty much anyone who shows up with even a spark of interest can be sent away with a whole lot more, and I think that that is one of the most gratifying things in the whole world.

I spent part of this evening making a bunch more demo spindles.  These are really simple, unfinished bottom whorl drop spindles, which take minimal tools to create, but which work.  They’re heavy enough for beginners, without being too heavy.  I’ve taken to carrying these around with me whenever I’m drop spindling, because there is always someone – even an established wheel spinner – who will be interested.

I’ve also invented a ‘spot the handspun’ quiz, involving a bunch of my stashed yarn, along with some hand knitted and hand woven projects.  I hope some people play along; I think there will be a few surprises, if they do!

Burwash Manor Open Farm: an impromptu demo

Hellooo!!!  I’m breaking my blog silence(!) to tell you about a weekend which went completely not according to plan, but in a very good way.

I started off well, with a gathering of knitters and spinners on Friday evening.  One of the members mentioned she was in search of an all-wood drop spindle to use on the plane back to the states, so I said she could have one of mine:

I arranged to meet her at the knitting in public day on Saturday, to hand it over  This was my first unplanned event; I’d thought I’d be going to a different location, if any.  So I packaged the wee spindle up with a sparkly batt for good luck, and off I went.  I was there for less than two hours, but had an awesome time.  (I also learnt that I should carry my business cards with me whenever I go anywhere with either knitting OR spindles in public!)

I had so much fun I decided that I really did want to go to one of the Open Farm Sunday events in our area, to demonstrate spinning.

So on Sunday morning, I made seven more spindles, packed up samples of handspun yarn and things made from it, some food and water, my  wheel and a spindle, and trucked off to Burwash Manor (eventually.  I had a bit of a disagreement with the GPS on the way…).

And I’m so glad I went!  No-one else from the group made it to that event, so I had the stand all to myself.  Which, in a way, was nice; I felt fine handing out my business cards (which I remembered this time!), and there were no odd little decisions to make as to who is the ‘group leader’ and who should be talking to whom or anything like that.  I’m very glad I took all those samples, though; if I’d assumed someone else was going to be organising it, and just turned up with myself and a wheel, it would have been pretty lame.  If I’d known, I’d have taken even more!

Overall, I had an absolute blast.  I spent most of the time spindling, and gave away four spindles.  One went to a little girl who was an absolute natural; one went to a lady who has always wanted to learn.  I helped children too young to try spindling to make hand-twisted woolly bracelets, and let several children treadle the wheel (and was glad I had a double treadle wheel; it’s definitely easier to get the hang of).  There was a group including several special needs children there; one boy in particular loved treadling.  He came back several times during the day, and sat and treadled industriously, with an aura of calm radiating from him.  It seemed to be enough, just to press the treadles and watch the wheel go round.

I also tried spinning wool whilst a child treadled.  I only did it once, at the end of the day, and it helped that the wee lad was very consistent in his treadling (and didn’t just want to make the wheel go as fast as possible!).  I was able to spin a short length of yarn which could be plied back on itself and taken as a souvenir.  I’d definitely do that again, with children who can treadle well enough.

I also played the “what colour next?” game with a group of children who were watching me spin on the wheel.  I’ve found in the past that it’s not always obvious that the fluff in my hands is being converted into a yarn which is being wound onto the bobbin; you can’t really see the yarn moving.  So I had small scraps of coloured fluff and asked them to pick the next colour.  They could see each colour get spun up and move onto the bobbin, and I eventually pulled off the multicoloured single and plyed it back on itself.  Two people asked if they could have a scrap to add to a ‘memory stick’ – not the computer kind!  These were something new to me, and I thought they were a brilliant idea.  I think there must have been a craft tent where people were making these during the day.  A memory stick in this case was a sturdy stick, about a foot long.  It had a string wrapped snugly round it in a spiral, about one turn per inch, I’d guess, and tied at each end.  Bits of ‘stuff’ (feathers, straw, wool from the sheep that were being sheared, and my yarn too!) could be stuck behind the straw to make a sort of sculptural collage of the day’s mementos.  The fact that my demo yarn was actually asked for really meant a lot to me.

I met kindred spirits, and the merely curious.  I explained wheel mechanics, and talked about the sheer number of hours needed to provide yarn for a household before the industrial revolution.  I compared the per-minute efficiency of spinning on a wheel with the per-week efficiency of spinning on a spindle, which can go everywhere with you.

Unfortunately, I also managed to trip on a totally flat piece of ground at the end of the day, and do a real number on one of my knees.  I left my business card for the lady organiser, who kept coming round with cups of tea (thankyouthankyouthankyou!) and cake (omnomnomnom!), so with any luck I may hear from them again in the future.

So, what did I learn?

  • That I can pull off a one-woman spinning demo at virtually zero notice.
  • That I could easily have more materials: samples, leaflets, all kinds of things, ready for the future.
  • That the gift of a simple spindle can reduce children and adults to incoherent joy.
  • That I (still) love doing demos, and I should be aware of opportunities to do more.
  • That, really, I ought to remember to use my camera.  D’oh!
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