Bendigo Sheep and Wool Show

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The annual Australian Sheep and Wool Show in Bendigo  is in it’s 139th year (15 years in Bendigo) and is the largest event of it’s type in the world.   With a reputation like that I’ve been intending to visit for years but have never made it.  Last Friday, I joined two friends, Michelle and Carole, to spend a wonderful day wandering around, not to mention shopping.

Both of my friends have visited the show in previous years and it was their recommendation that we go on the Friday for a couple of reasons.  For one thing, the show gets very busy on the weekend.  There were plenty of people around on the Friday but we were still able to see everything without rudely elbowing or way through.  The other reason was that some vendors run low on stock towards the end of the weekend.  If you’re looking for a particular item or colour, visiting on the Friday is the way to go.

The first hall we entered hosted a fashion parade twice a day.  The morning and afternoon fashion parades are different.  We found seats which offered a good view of the runway and armed ourselves with coffee.  What we hadn’t bargained for was women edging around our seating and virtually standing in front of us.  By wriggling a bit, we did manage to see most of the parade.  This year’s theme for the parade was May Gibbs so there were lots of gum nut inspired creations.

After the parade, we moved from colourful stall to colourful stall admiring the beautiful tops, rovings, batts (all used for spinning or felting), yarn and equipment.  You could argue that I have plenty of alpaca fleece at home just waiting to be washed, carded, spun, perhaps dyed and knitted.  And I do have lots of fleece.  But the were so many gorgeous colours that I couldn’t resist! It was hard to stop with what I did purchase. A couple of items are ready to knit but the rest needs spinning or felting.

There were plenty of food stalls for lunch which was eaten sitting on hay bales.  After lunch, more halls/marquees awaited.  Finally we’d browsed everything we wanted to see and i was surprised to find that it was spot on 5pm! And we didn’t even visit the sheep!

Each year, I usually go to the Craft and Quilt Show at Jeff’s Shed in Melbourne.  This year, I don’t need to go.  The wool show met my every need.  I had a wonderful time as it was more geared to what I’m interested in.  Going with two friends made the day even more enjoyable.  Whoever said that knitting is dead, hasn’t visited this wool show.  Knitting (felting etc) is very much alive and well.  I’ll definitely go back to the show next year.

 

Annual alpaca shearing

Our alpacas need shearing once a year.  Usually  we try to shear them before the end of the year but this year, time got away from us.  This was partly because we weren’t impressed with the shearer we hired last year.  There are plenty of shearers out there but most of them are sheep shearers, not alpaca shearers.  Sheep shearing and alpaca shearing involve different animal handling techniques.  Alpacas are also much larger than sheep.  As to the cost, a larger animal, that needs extra handling, takes longer to shear therefore the rate paid per alpaca is much more than the rate paid per sheep.

I’ve been to plenty of rural shows where they demonstrate sheep shearing.  Generally these shows also have alpacas.  I never understood why they didn’t demonstrate alpaca shearing.  After participating in alpaca shearing, hearing the noise etc, I can understand why there is no alpaca demonstrating – it’s not a pleasant experience.

Alpacas need to be dry for the shearing.  Unfortunately, it rained the day before the shearing and we had to round them up and lock them into stalls. I didn’t like having them confined in such a small space overnight but it was necessary and they were nice and dry for the shearing.

alpacas

It took two of us to man handle each alpaca out of the stall and into the shed for shearing.  The shearer, aptly named Bruce, then tied up the alpaca in what looked like a torture device.  They’re too big to shear against your body as you would shear a sheep.  We also covered their heads with a towel to avoid them spitting at us.  Alpacas generally don’t spit very much but it is one of their defence mechanisms when they are stressed.  Shearing certainly counts as a stressful experience!  Some also make so much noise that if you were walking past the shed, you’d swear that they were being tortured.

alpaca shearing

After shearing, their toe nails were clipped.  Some of the toe nails were quite long but others were relatively short.  Then it was onto the teeth and tusks (I didn’t even know alpacas had tusks!).  It’s pretty gruesome watching an alpaca have it’s teeth ground down.  I don’t like the dentist at the best of times but I just couldn’t watch alpaca dentistry.  The smell was also pretty off putting and I wasn’t standing that close.  Finally, each alpaca was given their injections and drenched.

We bagged the fleece of each animal and there are now many bags stored in the garage. I still have untouched bags of fleece from last year. I have a lot of spinning ahead of me!

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The alpacas look so scrawny after they’ve been shorn, not at all like their usual fluff ball self.  But they will be much more comfortable in the warmer weather without layers of fleece.

We were very happy with Bruce the shearer.  He was patient with the alpacas and explained exactly what he was doing.  If possible, we will use Bruce again next shearing season.

New Angel Cross Stitch Pattern

I am excited to finally reveal my new cross stitch pattern. This is my very first one with a person and it was certainly a challenge! Alas, my camera does not do it justice.
AngelCrossStitch

A PDF version of the pattern is available for purchase.

KiraI started this shortly after Kira the dog died. She wasn’t what you would call a Good Dog but she was full of love for her family and I miss her.

 

Angel cross stitchFrom conception to framing it’s taken well over a year to complete. As usual with my original designs, I started by creating a pixel art piece and manually converting it into a cross stitch pattern. Then I spent months figuring out how to make it actually work in cross stitch form. It’s both a frustrating and satisfying process. It might not seem like it but most of the cross stitch has deviated from the original pixel art. Pretty much all of it has been unstitched and redone to get it just right.

My main challenge is working with a limited colour choice, particularly as a bundle of threads might look good together but don’t work well once stitched next to one another. Another issue in the precise placement of the threads – often a single square of colour is just not right (to me, at least) and I just have to change it. This is fine for pixel art – all I need to do is one simple tap of my tablet pen. And if I change my mind, there is always Ctrl+Z. With cross stitch, changing a single stitch requires unpicking the entire thread, followed by restitching. Heaven forbid I change my mind again and have to unstitch it all over again. But the end results make it worth it. :)

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Alpaca scarves and beanies

alpaca1Majacraft spinning wheel copyIt’s nearly that time of year when you need a nice warm beanie or scarf to ward off the chills of winter.  Alpaca fleece is incredibly warm, soft and it’s not itchy.  Alpaca fleece comes in a natural colours ranging from white, fawn, beige, brown, grey and black.

I bought my first 6 boy alpacas in September 2010 as paddock munchers but also hoping to one day learn to spin their fleece. I learnt to spin the following year by going on a short course and received my Majacraft spinning wheel for Christmas.  I love my spinning wheel – it’s made out of New Zealand Rimu and is a double treadle wheel.

Currently, I have 19 adult alpacas and 9 cria (baby alpacas).  Clover, my first cria, was born in July last year and it was an exciting moment to see a newborn in the paddock. My family take turns naming these adorable furry bundles.

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alpaca2So many alpacas create a lot of fleece waiting to be spun.  First, I card the fleece.  Carding separates and straightens the fleece to make spinning easier.  Next I spin the fleece by drawing it rhythmically into my spinning wheel to form one continuous yarn which is wound onto a bobbin.  When I have two bobbins full of yarn, I spin the two yarns together to ply them.   I then wash the finished yarn to remove all the dirt and set the ply.  Alpacas love to roll in dirt patches so their fleece is pretty dirty.  I either knit up the yarn as it is or sometimes I’ll dye white fleece to create a more colourful scarf.

It’s very satisfying when I complete a beanie or scarf knowing that my alpacas provided the fleece.  A large range of scarves and beanies are available at the gallery all throughout the cold months. Who will you choose to wear? Perhaps a black scarf from Sarge? Or maybe you’d prefer fawn from Moptop?

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Spinning

I’ve been thinking about learning to spin for a while but have done nothing about it.  With six alpacas, I have a reason for learning.  A local lady offered to teach me but then I discovered the Handweavers & Spinners Guild of Victoria.  They offer spinning classes which which include preparing the fleece, dyeing, and spinning.  You can borrow a spinning wheel and try out different types to find what suits you.  I’ve tried a few and have my eye on one with a double treadle (not the wheel pictured which has a single treadle).  At first I thought I wouldn’t like a double treadle but I did really like it.

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