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Fussy McFussy-Pants (or why your yarn is not yet spun).

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I am there. My staff is there. It looks like we’re all headed to the looney-bin together.

“Her Majesty” as she was introduced to me, is a Roberts Arrow 14 spindle spinner/plyer built somewhere around the early 20’s. I was under the impression the title was a pet name, a moniker bestowed as a testament to her supreme power and poise.

Nope. “Her Majesty” is a disparaging, taunting label ripe with sarcasm for this persnickety, hoity-toity temper-tantrum of a machine. If you’re going to call her “Her Majesty”, you have to say it in the tone of a 13 year-old boy referring to his little sister who just got away with not doing chores because she has to go to dance practice. Most days, I have a hard time referring to her as anything but Fussy-Mcfussy Pants.

To take a fleece from sheep to yarn, you must first shear the animal. By all indications, some farmers choose to do this by first herding their flock into the workshop and rolling the sheep around in the wood shavings under the table saw, then a quick trip through last year’s rotting leaf pile for good measure.  (The milling process will not magically dissolve all that vegetable matter…you either have to pick it out before you bring your fleece to us or expect it to end up in your finished yarn. Pretty much.) (Sorry, I digress. Back to the process.)

We gently wash the fleece to get it clean. We lovingly spread the fleece on racks to dry. We put the fleece through the picker to open up the staple. We feed the fleece in to the carder and tenderly coax it into sliver. We painstakingly guide it through the pin drafter to line up the fibres and make them presentable for… “Her Majesty”.

There are many variables to be decided before we can even approach Her Majesty. What is the weight of the roving we are working with? How many twists per inch is suitable?What weight of yarn has the customer requested? How many plies will there be? This in turn determines the speed of the back roller, the speed of the front roller, and the speed of the spindles. The roving must be presented in a perfectly tidy and suitable coil. It must be fed “just so” over the dowels, under the rollers, through the aprons and the eye and finally though the traveller. Her Majesty is a ring spinner. Things have to be just so.

And we think we have it all good, hit the start and she laughs! Cackles even! Spits the roving back in our face. If she had arms, they would be folded, a head, it would be tilted up and off to the right in disgust. A “humph” in distaste of our mortal efforts.

And so we try again.

And again.

And again.

We adjust slightly, tweak a bit here, fiddle a bit there. Try again.

Every once in a while, she will actually spin something. A little tease just to keep our hopes up. Something to encourage us there is hope.

We are Charlie Brown. She is Lucy with the football. Please bare with us as we struggle to figure out a way to get her cooperation.

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Heather, attempt #347 & still smiling.

 

 

 

 

 

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Working out the Kinks

Ah, the joys of working with old equipment! We are all learning and tweaking and learning some more as we get to know this quirky, finicky and somewhat particular old equipment. Not being experienced enough yet to know whether our stumbling blocks are equipment or fibre related, we are giving all the equipment a run for it’s money. We managed to put a 7-8″ staple alpaca fleece through the picker, carder and pin drafter last week – a challenge all round. We have not yet found the sweet-spot with the pin drafter and the poor carder has a completely bare stripper that is affecting the whole process – we’re anxiously awaiting our replacement cloth from the states. This week’s focus: the spinner/plyer. We want to be confident in our ability to provide a variety of yarn weights specific to the type of fleece and the requests of our customers. Luckily, I have a good inventory of my own rovings to test out the settings with. Experiment, experiment , experiment! (Who’s idea was it to buy old used equipment anyway?)

We are now accepting orders for April 1st. If you are contemplating sending us your fleece, feel free to email us and we will reserve your spot in the queue and let you know what date to have your fleece to us by. Can’t wait to feel like we’re in full production mode!

 

 

 

Whodathunkit?

Inca Dinca Do is almost a mill! (Almost.)

Lots of time being spent on getting the machinery all cleaned up and running smoothly this week. So much excitement as each piece of equipment roars to life and begs to be put back into production! There are some quirks of course, and some parts that need attention or even replacement but who wuddathunk a non-mechanical, can-never-remember-which-type-of-screwdriver-is-which kinda gal like me could be so satisfied by the whirring of a bunch of gears? I am learning so much.

We had some concerns from the electricians over the lack of CSA certification on any of the machinery, including the 2 brand-spankin’ new pieces I just bought from Belfast Mini-Mills. Every electrical cord and plug had to be inspected and almost all of the replaced or upgraded somehow. Luckily, Mike and Wayne from Current Electric are both incredibly hard-working and up to the challenge. Matt, John and all the guys from Rimfire Construction have all put in some very long days doing everything and anything else that demands their skills and Dan and Murray the plumbers have shown up more than once over the weekend just to get things caught up. I have much appreciation and respect for all of these fellas.

Meanwhile, I believe I finally have all of the fibre-in-progress that Anna’s lovely customers had dropped off with her. It is an impressive pile of fleece in any and every stage of processing!! I will be sorting, organizing and detailing every bag this week and hope to confirm all orders as soon as possible. Those of you that have contacted me about sending more orders have been slotted into the queue – I will follow-up to let you know when to begin shipping/dropping off your fleece.

Getting closer!

Electricians are getting equipment hooked up this week, plumber hopes to finish connecting all plumbing by Tuesday. I have been blessed with a bunch of friends helping to clean the equipment and things are starting to look like a mill!

I will be contacting each and every customer who had unfinished orders with the mill in Qualicum this week to confirm requests and to let you know where you’re at in the queue. I will also contact the many lovely people who have inquired about dropping fleece off – I am keeping track and reserving your space! If you have not heard from me by Monday Jan 22, PLEASE email me at incadincado@gmail.com.

 

 

 

Mill Update Jan 5

Sigh. It seems the road to success is paved with delays.

Dry-walling delays have set everything back this week. Equipment move-in had to be rescheduled (again!). I am hoping they can get dry-walling completed and cleaned up today, floors sealed on Monday and equipment moved in by Friday.

This means we are now looking at mid-January for a week of equipment set-up, cleaning and testing. We want things to be right before we start playing with your fibre!

I thank-you all for your patience. Can’t wait to get started!

Tracy

Construction joke

 

Washing Alpaca Fleece

Fall is here. The leaves have all turned and the mornings are suddenly crisp enough to need a sweater. I love this time of year. Growing up, we had a cabin on Windermere lake and all of my very best childhood memories involve my time in that place. No phones, no TV,  no radio. My bedroom was an old canvas army tent set up next to the cabin. We ate, slept and lived in our bathing suits all summer long.

I still hear that train whistle from across the lake in my dreams. Sometimes an image will flash across my mind and I swear I can smell moldy orange canvas life jackets.

Fall was my favourite time at the cabin. The lake grew quiet as the “city-folk” all headed home and it always felt like those early days of fall belonged just to our family. The water seemed to get darker and more still, reflecting the vibrant oranges, reds and yellows of autumn leaves. The incredible solitude of an early morning swim. May we all know that peace at some point in our lives.

To wash a sorted, picked alpaca fleece, I use 20 gallon buckets filled with the hottest water I can get out of my tap. Add dish soap without allowing any suds to form. Divide the fleece fleece into 3 mesh laundry bags and lower each bag gently into each bucket. Let this soak for 30 minutes. Gently lift the bag out of the bucket, refill the water and soap and repeat. At no time do I allow water to run onto or off of the fleece – always lower it into the water and remove from the water. Keep the temperature of the water consistent throughout. When the water runs clear (expect this to take 5-6 repeats), replace the dish soap in the next rinse with vinegar. (This will help to neutralize the soap so that it doesn’t weaken the protein fibres.) The final rinse should be water only, to remove the vinegar.

If you have a top loading washing machine, you can use the drain & spin cycle to get some of the water out. (Mine has a glass top so that I can see what is happening.) A salad spinner also works well. Be very careful at this stage – you have a warm fleece and are introducing agitation, the risk of felting is high. Spin only long enough so that your fleece is no longer dripping, but still wet. Skip this stage entirely if it makes you uncomfortable.

Remove the fleece from the mesh bags and gently spread it out a bit to dry. (I use plastic utility shelving for air flow, away from direct sunlight.) Do not handle it any more than necessary right now – leave it in clumps for first 12-24 hours, then spread it a bit more, repeat until dry. Your small ‘clumps’ of fibre will grow back into full fleece size each time you spread it out more.

Now, go for a walk in the woods. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear a train in the distance.

 

thesandhill

On Green Llamas & Gentle Persuasion

Sometimes life gets away on us. We all get busy tending our day-to-day obligations and suddenly realize we’d meant to clean out the chicken coop last week, the weeds are taking over the garden and the dog has gone yet another day without a proper walk. Farmers are not slackers. We work hard.IMG_0511

But still, sometimes life gets away on us.

So it was without judgement that the Vancouver Island Llama and Alpaca Club (VILAC) put together a team of volunteers last weekend to take on the task of helping 4 llamas who had not been sheared, or even handled, for at least 5 years. All 4 were heavily matted, dirty and full of all matter of debris. Snowdrop, the big white, had a distinctive green tinge, the after effect of 5 years of our mild & moist west coast climate. Makes me think Bigfoot might exist after all – given time, this llama would have all but disappeared against the forest’s green backdrop.

Rosemary agreed to do the shearing.  We used a chute and did our best to keep all 4 animals as calm as possible throughout. We started with Snowdrop, using hand shears to figure out where the fleece stopped and the animal started. The weight of the fleece as it was cut off meant extra hands were required just to support it while we worked. Snowdrops fleece alone must have weighed about 50 pounds!IMG_0512

The difference in these llamas before and after shearing was astounding. What might appear to the uneducated as 4 very large, very intimidating, unapproachable animals would later reveal themselves as the sweet, gentle-natured beasts almost all llamas truly are. They seemed to know we were there to help and they reacted accordingly. Ask any camelid owner and they will tell you, llamas and alpacas know what you’re saying. They watch what you’re doing. And yes, they can read your mind. You have no choice but to work with them rather than against them.

Our shearing team consisted mostly of women. I believe that we have an advantage over men, in that we tend to rely more on technique than strength. Camelids are stubborn! Pull hard and they pull back harder. In the long run, respect and gentle persuasion will always get you further than the old cowboy mentality of overpower and control.

Nessa, Molly, Voldemort and Snowdrop are now pronking happily in the woods at the top of the Malahat on Sali & Bill’s farm. Sadly, this situation may be brief. The island highway is being widened and as a result, the old road to their farm has to be rerouted – the new one will be smack dab in the middle of the farm. In order to get the llamas from the barn to the pasture, Sali & Bill will have to halter them up, lead them through a gate, across the road and through another gate into the pasture.  Twenty years ago, this might have been manageable but Sali & Bill are no spring chickens – both are dealing with their own health issues. They would like their llamas to go to good homes as a group or at the very least, in pairs. For further information, please visit www.VILAC.org.

Snowdrop

Snowdrop, 50 lbs lighter and practically hugging Rosemary.