Monday, September 29, 2014

Y-Knot? Visiting Amazing Graze Alpaca Farm

This is the first in our Y-Knot (for Yarn Knot) series exploring different fibres and yarns and everything we are learning as fibre enthusiasts and knitters.

I had been researching alpaca because I have been working with some beautiful yarn made of that fleece and I'm loving how it feels: soft and bouncy. I discovered there are a lot of alpaca farms are here in Canada, including many here in southern Ontario. That's how I stumbled upon Amazing Graze Alpacas in Stirling, Ontario. Shelagh and I had "Liked" their Facebook page, so when farm owner Marj Brady posted about their open house and the weather man said the weekend would be warm and sunny, Shelagh I decided to visit the farm.

So this past Saturday, we headed out. It was gorgeous! A perfect day for a drive; and we took the scenic route along the Trent River. Most of our directions (from an online map) were good, and we only got lost in the centre of Stirling (we don't think County Rd. 14 was clearly marked at the corner 
of the three main roads, at least, that's our story). But we got to the farm and were thrilled to see the beautiful alpacas grazing around the land.

Co-owner Steven told us about their farm. He explained that their animals are sheared once a year and told us about some of the care they give: toenail clipping, teeth checking. He also relieved me of some of my own misconceptions: alpacas are not pack animals, although llamas are. In their native countries they are bred for their fleece because it is much softer than llama (or sheep) fleece.

Marj and Steven appear to be typical of what I've read about alpaca farmers in general. Their respect for and genuine pleasure they get in caring for their alpacas shines through. Check their website ( to learn their alpaca's names and get a sense of their personalities. 

Steven also introduced us to the two young males in a pen: Zodiac and Jupiter. They are so beautiful with lovely big eyes beneath their curly "Beatle cuts," as Shelagh called them.

Zodiac (foreground) and Jupiter calmly survey the visitors.
We knew Amazing Graze alpacas and their fleeces were award winners; but we had no idea just how many and, it appears, how consistently Marj and Steven's alpacas win. Take a look at their ribbon board! And that gorgeous alpaca shawl: so soft.

Award winning alpacas and fleece are turned into these beautiful yarns, felt balls, and other finished products, such as shawls and scarves. Everything is locally produced.

So, why alpaca? How does alpaca fleece compare to wool?  Here are some interesting facts about alpaca fibres:
  • There are two main types of alpacas: Huacaya and Suris. The former is more common and more commonly raised/bred and its fleece is thick and dense, and grows vertically from the body giving it a very woolly appearance. Huacaya's also have a very crimpy fleece and a fine micron (micron = 1/1000 millimeter). The smaller the number, the finer the micron and a fine micron is sought after for luxurious high fashion garments.
Shelagh checks out a beautiful alpaca fleece.

  • Alpacas do not produce the lanolin that sheep do, so processing of the fibres is much easier on the environment. Add that to the fact that alpacas are raised organically to make this a truly eco-friendly fibre. Lack of lanolin also means that people allergic lanolin or sensitive to sheep's wool may comfortably wear alpaca. 
  • Alpaca fibre has good thermal capabilities, so it's perfect for our Canadian (or northern U.S. and northern European) winters.
As they say on the Alpaca Canada website, alpaca fibre is "as soft as cashmere and warmer and stronger than wool." And I have to add that it is a joy to work with if you are a knitter.

Friday, September 26, 2014

FO Friday: The Rebel Scarf

As I was knitting this infinity scarf, tracking my stitches and my rows, I started to think I ought to name it. For several days I sat in the sunshine in my back yard and knit, watching as the design took shape and how the colours merged differently depending on the stitch I used.
I love how the colours reveal themselves: stripes in stockinette stitch and bold blocks in the open-stitch pattern.

One day an old saying popped into my mind: “Blue and green should never be seen.”

“But these colours are beautiful together,” I thought. And that's when the name revealed itself to me: Rebel.

Yes, initially it was the colour combination that made the name seem appropriate. A colour combination that was considered wrong or incongruous at one time; but one I considered to be beautiful. As I continued knitting, repeating the name to myself, I realized this scarf represented me and where I am in my life. And, yes, “rebel” applies, although you may not see that if you were to meet me. I am not a placard carrier; nor am I living on the fringes of civilized society. I don't stand on soapboxes or rant against people, groups, or ideas.

Close-up of the pattern.

But this knitting adventure I am on gives me opportunities to rebel against a lot. By becoming an entrepreneur, I am rebelling against the corporate world that I participated in for over 25 years. By choosing to design a scarf, I am rebelling against an inner voice that tells me I can't. And by sharing what I make and what I think about this adventure experience, I am rebelling against the fear of failure.

This simple scarf, dear reader, represents a key point in my life: the point when I walk away from my past and look to the future. This simple scarf—using colours that aren't supposed to work together, designed by me, and lovingly knit by me—represents the faith I have in myself to live a creative life.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

WIP Wednesday: Bridges Infinity Scarf

This is an interesting one, at least to me. I had some leftover yarn I wanted to use in . . . something. It was a fine yarn, meaning that small needles were required if I knit it alone. I don't really like small needles: too finicky. But I love the colours in this yarn: purples, blues, pinks, golds, and grays all spun together with a very fine metallic something that gave it a nice sparkle.

If you look online, you can find all kinds of patterns that are “stashbusters,” which means small projects that will use up the odds and ends a knitter often has once the original project is complete. But this beautiful yarn was way more than a small odds and end piece: there was still quite a bit left.

With all that in mind, I knew I wanted to use it along with another yarn to make something lovely. When I visited one of my favourite yarns shops, I found the perfect yarn: Classic Elite Yarns' Magnolia. On the way home I began imagining exactly what I wanted to created with these two yarns, picturing the finished piece and hoping the warm brown would pair as well as I thought it would. And when I got home, whew! They paired up beautifully! The brown of the solid yarn grounds the sparkly multi-coloured yarn; and the sparkly yarn glams up the brown. Perfect!

I started knitting right away.
Sparkling colours and chestnut "girders."

The pattern—my very simple pattern—is designed to let you see the combined loveliness along with just the brown. The reason? That brown yarn is a luxurious mix of merino and silk and looks like what it is named for: chestnut. As I worked through the pattern, I kept thinking of both the Forth Bridge in Scotland and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. You know those rusted-looking girders? That beautiful, reddish-brown? Well the garter stitch in this pattern, using only the Magnolia, reminds me of the girders that sturdily hold up bridges. And the stocking stitch portion of the scarf makes me think of the sparkling water over which both these bridges span reflecting lights in the dusky darkness.

I'm a little over halfway finished and I'll share the finished version on a FO Friday soon.

Friday, September 19, 2014

My first shawl ever!

It's Finished Object (FO) Friday! So I'd like to share my experience knitting my first shawl ever.

A while ago, I was visiting one of my fairly local yarn stores with my sister Irene. She loved to peruse the yarns and patterns there. As I was leaving, I saw this little bundle of wine-coloured fluff. There were 10 tiny 25-gram balls in the bundle. I managed to feel a little bit of one ball of fluff: it was so soft. Although it was mostly nylon, it also had a bit of silk in it. I had never bought anything with silk in it before, and here was a good amount of yarn marked down. Sold! 

When I got the yarn home I realized two things: first, that I wanted to knit a shawl, although I had never made one before; and second, this bundle of yarn meant I had enough to dive in and make one. So I started looking at patterns. But I discovered most of them required me to start at the top and work my way down. Having never done a shawl before, I found the thought of casting on over 200 stitches very daunting. So I put the yarn aside for a bit . . . until I discovered that there was a yarn store in my own town! It was a five-minute drive away and had been there for a couple of years. I don't know what I had been during that time! So, on one of my visits, I told the store owner about this yarn and about my aversion to huge cast-ons; she suggested the "Bottom Up Birch" pattern.

I went home, found the pattern on Ravelry, and started knitting the shawl that night. Then another discovery: I noticed the yarn had tiny clear sequins! I loved it even more then. After all, a girl has to have some sparkle! The sequins have been so subtly placed that they do not take away from the either the pattern or the yarn.

See what I mean about the sequins not overwhelming the pretty pattern?

I have learned much from knitting this shawl. The main lesson is not to be afraid of lace weight yarn. There are many beautiful lace weight yarns and you usually only need 1 skein for a shawl. And, if you really want to try something new, just try it!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Blue and Emerald Waves Scarf

This scarf is special because it is the result of a vision shared by two sisters. Although I knit the scarf, it was our sister Irene who originally bought this 100% Merino wool yarn by Malabrigo early in 2013. She loved the feel of it as well as the play of colours. She always loved different shades of green, but she really liked how these green colours played against the blue background.

Irene held onto this Malabrigo in her stash while she looked for just right pattern for it. If you knit or crochet, you know what it's like to fall in love with a yarn and then search for a pattern to show it at its best. But late last spring, Irene asked me to make something with it because she just couldn't find anything she liked. Plus, she had taken up crocheting and realized she preferred that over knitting. Although she loved the yarn, she thought something knit would really show it to its best advantage.

As well, Irene was starting to be really tired a lot at the time; we didn't know it then, but her health was actually beginning to decline.

The finished Waves scarf using Malabrigo yarn in Blue & Emerald.

I eventually found the "Waves" pattern and showed it to her: Irene loved it. So, I worked on it as one of my many "works in progress" (or WIPs as knitters call them). I am not sure if I finished it while she was in the hospital, but I do know she did see it mostly done and really liked it.

Had I thought about it more before starting it I would have adapted the pattern to work it lengthwise and not width-wise. This would have really made the wool and pattern combination pop even more than it does now, but I think it is still a perfect pairing of pattern, colour and yarn. And I know Irene thought so too.