Friday, January 06, 2006

So... Alpacas, eh?

Anyone wondering how my brain makes connections should find this train of thought

New Year's Eve, I spent at the Mainses' beautiful home (truly gorgeous), and in between sucking at Dance Dance Revolution, and gorging myself, I asked Jen to teach me how to spin wool. I had heard ages ago from my FIL that she knew how, and figured I could sucker her into teaching me instead of whooping our arses at the dancing game (she was really quite good).

Thankfully, Jen did have her own wheel (I wasn't even sure if she did), the friend she had lent it to recently returned it after 6 months, and she had a bunch of roving the size of my head which she generously sacrificed to my learning discovery :) Jen's an awesome teacher, so in short order, I was spinning fairly evenly. A couple hours later, I had gone through the roving, and decided to ply it.

Having only one bobbin, I wasn't able to do the regular 2-ply thing, so I did what any novice spinster would - I used a technique which I vaguely recalled reading about it on the internet, but had never seen in person - Navajo plying. Yeah...

I attached the yarn to the leader, tied a slip knot, and reached through the hole to make continuous "loose crochet chains", all the while spinning the new 3-ply and winding it onto the bobbin.

Yes, I am crazy - but it worked :)

I flipped out when Jen offered to let me borrow her wheel. I honestly couldn't contain my excitement - I fell in love with spinning that quickly. The next day, I found the green and orange roving leftover from my thrummed mittens and quickly spun and plyed it in the same manner as the first. Then came the horrifying realization that I was out of roving! What next? I knitted my "rustic" 3-ply into a rather thick 1x1 rib scarf. I think its far toobulky to actually use, even on size 15US needles, but I was able to see the finished results. I was amazed. I was stunned. I was thrilled to find myself holding a (short) scarf which I could have easily bought in a store. I considering frogging the entire thing and casting on half the stitches in order to double the length and make a great "First Spin" garment.

Yes, I'm oh-so-modest :)

So, here I am with no roving left (well, I have White Buffalo pucks, which I tried spinning, but it's just too scratchy - not at all like the silky wool from Jen, or the dyed roving from Fleece Artist), and I've promised DH that I wouldn't buy any more wool. What's a girl to do? Make her own spinning wheel of course! (It made more sense in my head than it does at the moment)

A book on the subject had finally come available at the local library, so I ran down to the Main branch and picked up Spinning Wheel Building and Restoration by Bud Kronenberg. I found a picture of modern upright wheel which appealed to me, (no plans of course) tweaked the design a bit, and then using graph paper cutouts, figured out how much wood I'd need.

I called up my Mum and asked if she wouldn't mind taking me to Home Depot to pick up the wood (I didn't think the bus driver would let me on with an 8 foot plank or two). She reluctantly agreed since she had some shopping to do at Ikea (Mmmm... Ikea).

An hour later, we're wandering though the Swedish store, when my eye spies the Lazy Susan on the wall. Having engrossed myself in spinning wheels for the last 48 hours, all I can see is the perfect ballbearing based hub mechanism thingy for the easier of the 2 wheels I have in my mind. All I have to do is carve a track around the edge of the top plate, unscrew the bottom bolt and attach it instead to the back support of the upright spinning wheel. Voila - instant wheel.

After we get yet more furniture for my brother who is hopefully moving out of my parent's house this month, we make our way to Home Depot on Baseline. They really need more staff floating around - it took longer than it should have to find the (very small) hardwood section at the back of the store. My Mum helped me pick out two straight and nicely coloured 1x8x8 planks of Poplar (an unpopular choice for classic spinning wheels, according to Bud, but half the price of Maple and Oak), and she even agreed to pay for it, so DH wouldn't see the cost of yet another one of my projects...

After we loaded the wood into the van, I took my Mum out for dinner at Red Lobster (I sort of forgot her birthday last month), where I pulled out Bud's book at tried to explain to her which changes I was planning on making to the one pictured. She was a wee bit concerned that I had bitten off more than I could chew - "That's something your Grandfather would have done", she said, "At least you can't say that you don't dream big."

My Grandfather, her Dad, was a highly skilled woodsmith. He was good friends with the owner of Lee Valley Tools. I believe to date, he and my brother are only people to have ever been featured on the cover of the Lee Valley catalogue. I was 4 or 5 at the time - I remember the men with bright lights in Grampa's workshop. My nose was a little bent out of shape that my brother got to be in the picture, and not me :(

Anyway, while we were eating our Garlic Shrimp, my Mum mentioned that if she were to go back to school, she'd take the Heritage Masonry program offered from Perth College. Back in the day, college was frowned upon, as if you weren't good enough for University. Now, graduates of the program are highly sought after, especially in the States, for restoration projects.

So... my Mum drops me off at home, and I immediately Google "perth heritage mason" or something to that effect, and up pops Algonquin's Perth campus. Imagine my delight when I discovered that not only did Perth offer a fantastic Masonry program, but also that they have a Heritage Carpentry program as well.

Forgive my immodesty, but I have always excelled in school projects which require woodworking. In grade 7, we had to use a scroll saw to make a simple name plate. I ended up making an elaborate thing that spun around on this wavy stand - it said "Peace" on one end and "Love" on the other - and I burned little flowers and vines into it, just to emphazise the point. In my University sculpture class, most students nailed together a few blocks of wood and called it modern art. I created a tri-sectioned privacy screen with a maple frame, held together by tension and raffia - no nails, screws or glues.

So, this carpentry program sounded like it was perfect for me. The problem is that I've already gone 4 years though Univerisity... I always knew that I would be going to University some day. When that day finally arived, I didn't even look at the programs offered by colleges. Now... *sigh*... I'm one semester shy of completing a degree I will never use, wishing I could start all over again. I wasn't made to write essays, I was made to work with my hands; to apply my knowledge physically, not just write about it abstractly.

Oh, the other problem is that it's in another city. Ummm... yeah. DH is the type of person who will never leave Ottawa, or at least, the big city. Perth does not appeal to him at all. I'd be moving out there alone.

So... I brought this up with DH, and he immediately dismissed it as one of my "fickle" ideas (He thinks I'm only interested in woodworking in order to make a spinning wheel, and that I'll drop it right after). So now I have to prove to him that I'm serious about woodworking. The only way I could think of doing that was by taking a course which wouldn't require moving 45 minutes away for. Algonquin's Furniture Technician program (Woodroffe campus) sounded interesting enough, and it was only 3 terms over 48 weeks, instead of 4 over 2 years.

While I was filling out the college application form, I figured I should double check if there were any other programs at other colleges I had overlooked. That's when I found the agriculture program at Guelph University, Kemptville Campus. Of course, that sparked my interest again in raising sheep, well, actually alpacas, but raising sheep is much easier to explain to someone that raising alpacas. It sounds too exotic and far fetched. I mean - who raises alpacas? But I've been interested in raising alpacas for a couple years now - even my DH will admit that I've been talking about it since the last time I was knitting (4 years ago). But now I know how to spin, so it makes even more sense to raise alpacas!

So now I'm looking at Alpacas farms with an eye for buying my own little herd, and then I realize I'll need land on which to raise my "sheep". One of the alpaca farms I was looking at was actually selling their farm to upgrade in another city. The price seemed really reasonable, not that I know anything about land prices, but it was still out of our price range (a half-acre vacant lot is out of our price range). When I started looking around for farms in Quebec, I suddenly remembered that my Dad grew up on a farm somewhere in La Belle Province! He still talks about it, and Gramma still owns the property.

I immediately called my parents to ask about the old farm. My Dad wasn't home, but my Mum told me that it was at least a hundred acres, and it was located somewhere near Shawville, but she wasn't exactly sure. I told her I was interested in using the land for alpaca farming - she said my "brain is going a mile a minute" - not too sure if that's a good thing, or a bad thing...

I called back an hour later and reached my Dad. He spent an hour on Google Maps trying to describe to where the farm was located. After a couple of false starts, he was finally able to point me in the right direction. The farm is rather brown in comparison to the neighbouring strips of green. Apparently, it's being rented out for cattle at the moment...

Anyway - that's about 100 acres cleared and 50 acres with forests. Imagine what I could do with even a small parcel of that land...

A large problem would be the native wildlife. The farm backs onto some pretty wild mountains - my Grandfather killed a bear, and there must be a fair number of wolves in the area. I'd have to fence off all the enclosures with 6" non-climb fencing - probably bury a good foot to prevent digging. I'd also need at least one Livestock Guard Dog, and a Guard Llama would be nice too. I wonder if I would have to learn how to use a gun? Maybe it's not as wild as I imagine it being...

The old barns and farmhouse have disintegrated, so I'd need to build some sort of shelter and feeding area for the animals, as well as find a usable well. A small cabin and outhouse would be fine, although a septic bed would be a wise investment ;)

Of course, if we're going to live on a farm, then we might as well make the most of it, and raise a few cows for milk, chickens for eggs and, heck, a team of horses while we're at it... I think bees would be good too - honey and wax for the candles we're going to have to use since I doubt electric wires have been lead out to the property. I wonder if solar panels are cheap enough now... Could I make enough money off of alpaca fleece, or would I have to be involved in breeding and selling? Hmmm... most likely, in which case I'll need a truck and trailer for transporting the alpacas to shows. I'd have to plant a vegetable garden for my family, and hay for the livestock. Could I bring myself to raise cattle, hogs or chickens for meat? Ummm... maybe, maybe not.

Anyway... this is how my mind works. It all started with an innocent offer to lend me a spinning wheel...


Shelley said...

Wow, your mind sure does work! Mine can work like that from time to time, but I usually don't fall through with the ideas because I can't afford them or I know nothing about whatever the idea is LOL.

I've never spun anything but I've been reading about it on the various knitting blogs and it seems rather popular. I don't know if they even have anyone that teaches spinning around here...oh well, I guess I just have to stick to buying my yarn at the store. Maybe when I get out of university and get a job I can look into it then...

Elaine said...

Lack of money is usually the largest obstacle for my plans as well :) However, I'm not usually at a loss for information. The internet truly is a wonderful thing. I Google everything I'm interested in. Right now I'm looking up heritage/heirloom breeds of sheep for wool production.

The basics of Hand Spinning are incredibly easy to learn, once you get the hand/foot coordination down (it's a bit like rubbing your belly and patting your head). If you're a visual learner like me, I would suggest checking out for helpful videos all aspects of spinning. The hardest part is finding a decent wheel ;)