The Craft Project

On-going Adventures with Camelids

So I have a bit of a history of strange relationships with South American camelids (that group of animals that include llamas, alpacas, vincunas, and guanacos).  For those you of who lack first hand experience with these crazy creatures, I often think of them as a continuation of animals – as you move from llamas to alpacas to vincunas to guanacos they become less hornery (although more crazy), cuter, fuzzier, and I’m told more tasty (I will admit that when I still ate meat I did bring myself to try alpaca and will testify to its tastyness – much better than any beef steak that’s for sure – but in that same week I also ate guinea pig – yet again cementing my belief that the words “local delicacy” in any language really translate to “look what we can get the stupid tourists to eat” – so I won’t blame you if you doubt my culinary reccomendations from that period).

I’ve been to South America on two separate trips – once to Peru and once to Argentina, Chile, and Easter Island.  In both cases I spent some memorable time with camelids.  I met some truly hornery llamas in Peru, wearing some very striking, bright and coluful handmade hats, who chased me literally all over town (luckily in this case “town” was a cluster of buildings on the side of the mountain, unluckily it was at altitude, and it’s hard to run at altitude).  That same trip I met some very deceptively sweet alpacas near a summit on the Inca Trail, I say deceptively because I thought they were sweet right up to the moment when they stole my apples and my chocolate – the apples I could understand, but the chocolate, well a girl has to draw a line somewhere.  In Argentina I spent some “quality” time with a pack of vincunas who tried to live in my bedroom with me – they were a bit put out that I kept making them leave – who knew that with enough persistence a vincuna can open a closed door?  As far as guanacos go – I’ve only observed them from the distance – but I maintain they are by far the cutest (and the smallest) of the bunch.

So lovely – what does any of this have to do with the Craft Project I hear you thinking.  Well…all of these quirky animals produce amazing wool, sought after by knitters around the world.  And it is this wool that I want to focus on today.  In my continued odessey to dye and spin my own wool I came into pocession of a large bag of alpaca roving.  I was so excited to work with it and set off to handpaint it in a range of greens and purples right away.  That’s the moment I realized that alpaca fur maintains some of the character of it’s camelid host – it’s a bit quirky, it’s got attitude, and you just have to go its way, because it’s not going yours and you can’t force it, no matter how hard you try.

Getting the alpaca roving to take the dye took a lot of work, and I do mean a lot – some very concentrated effort resulted in some very pale (although lovely) colours.  After it had dried I set about splitting the roving – in general it split well, although not as evenly as other fibres, and there are some odd tufts here and there to contend with.  After that I started to spin.  Five minutes in I was covered in fur – I looked like I had spent several hours playing with my family’s dog when she is in full on shedding mode.  The good news is that despite the eccentricities of the fibre, the alpaca is spinning up beautifully and I’m excited about how the yarn will turn out.  And it terms of the quirks?  Well, I can’t help but laugh and think that at least the alpaca who’s fur I’m spinning is not stealing my food or trying to take over my bed.

This little vincuna just wanted to be friends

A giant pile of split and dyed alpaca roving

Five minutes in I was a fur ball

The first bit of hand spun yarn from the alpaca fibre (the sparkle comes from angelina fibre that I'm spinning in)

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