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!

alpaca

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.

The Cost of Art Glass

bullseye glassThere’s no two ways about it, art glass is expensive.  Some glass colours are more expensive that others due to the different metal oxides added.  Pink is extremely expensive as it has gold in it.  After a recent glass shopping experience, I had a bit of a shock when I saw a 51cm x 44cm piece of deep pink cost over $170.  I use pink fairly sparingly because of the cost, mainly using it for petals or accents.  Any scrap pieces are made into dots then used as design elements.

For fusing, I use Bullseye glass.  It’s taken awhile but I’ve built up a good colour palette and there are certain colours I like to use.  As this glass is made in the USA (no coloured glass is made in Australia), I also face the added cost of bringing the glass into Australia and our ever fluctuating exchange rate.

As well as purchasing glass, other expenses need to be taken into consideration.  A kiln is vital for working with warm glass. Kilns can cost a lot of money for the initial purchase.  With my particular kiln, I needed an electrician to fit in a special power point.  Plus there is the cost of running a kiln.  Then you also need tools such as a glass cutter, circle cutter, groziers, a grinder etc.

Cutting glass can be labour intensive.  This beautiful featured plate (containing my expensive deep pink glass) involved a lot of time spent cutting and cleaning glass.  On top of a base layer of clear glass, I placed 31 individual pieces of pink, lilac, french vanilla and clear pieces.  Once they were laid to my satisfaction, I decorated each piece with either dots or stringer (thin spaghetti like pieces of glass).  All this took significant time.  The piece then went into my kiln to be fused overnight into one piece.  Once fused, the piece was washed and then returned to my kiln to be slumped overnight into a mold.

Next time you’re looking at a handmade glass creation, please take a moment to consider the cost of the glass, the equipment required and the time taken to make a unique piece.  It’s money well spent.

pink delight fused plate

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. :)

ACS1 ACS2 ACS3

Melbourne Bead Expo 2015

lampwork beads

The Melbourne Bead Expo is over for another year.  I spent three days of showcasing my lampwork beads, dichroic pendants and cabochons.  The expo was held in Moorabbin at the Kingston Town Hall.  I’ve been part of the Bead Expo for a number of years now and always look forward to catching up with other exhibitors (many of whom are now friends), beaders that have previously bought my beads and new faces.  Normally I’m located in front of the stage but this year I was in the middle of the room.  Quite a few people did comment that I was in a different spot – it’s nice that people remember me and my work.

Whilst numbers through the door seemed to be down this year, it was still a great show.  I think numbers may have been down as the workshops (which are usually held at another location in the building) were held off-site.  Normally workshop participants pop into the expo either before or after their workshops.  That just wasn’t possible this year.
lampwork beads2

Many people commented on my rice and why I used the rice as part of my display.  It’s really quite simple.  The rice is white and it makes the colours of my lampwork beads stand out more.  The other reason is that I have two beautiful labradors at home.  Whilst they aren’t allowed near my beads, their fur gets into everything.  Fur on a black background is very hard to remove.  So I just pop some rice into the display tray and that problem is solved.  One young girl thought it was cooked rice and wondered if it would go mouldy!  When I get home from an expo, the rice just gets poured into a container and stored away for the next event.

The Bead Expo is run by volunteers and they do a great job.  Each year they also run beading competitions and the entries are all on display.  You can find more information about bead society happenings here.

The big news for the Bead Expo is that in 2016 it will be held at Box Hill Tafe – Elgar Rd campus.  Dates for next year are November 4 to 6.  In the words of Arnie – I’ll be back…..

lampwork beads1

Borneo International Bead Conference 2015

Between October 9th to 11th, I was lucky enough to attend the Borneo International Bead Conference.  Held at the Old Courthouse in Kuching, this is the fourth time the conference has been held. front of old courthouse

My friend Lara Le Reveur is an extremely talented contemporary clay artist and was invited to the conference as a keynote speaker to talk about polymer clay and various techniques to use when working with it.  Lara also ran two workshops.  Lara kindly invited me along to assist in looking after her trade table and generously let me bring some of my lampwork glass beads along.  We had a very simple table set up as it’s hard to bring many display props over in a suitcase.

shared trade table1

Each morning began with presentations by various speakers from all over the world.  Workshops were held in the afternoon.  Trade tables were set up in the quadrangle of the courthouse.  It was extremely humid and my ankles swelled up horribly.  Our tables were sheltered by large veranda’s which kept the sun at bay and sheltered us from the downpours of rain that happened during the afternoons.

quadrangle of courthouse

As the trade tables were so large, we also shared with Margaret Mueller who is the president of the Melbourne branch of the Bead Society of Victoria.  Margaret also facilitated a workshop on using recycled objects in jewellery.

Part of being there for me was educating the local people about lampwork beads.  Many had not heard of the term before and were quite fascinated with my beads.  I explained numerous times how the beads were made.  I just wish I’d taken some books or photos to show how the lampwork beads are made.  I was even asked by several people if I was running a workshop.  Unfortunately the equipment for making lampwork beads would have been very difficult to take with me and I doubt they could have been sourced locally.

Polymer clay beads were also a new concept to many participants.  Lara’s workshops were very popular.  I’m sure some of the workshop participants will continue on with making polymer clay beads. The tools and equipment for polymer clay are a little easier to source.

One of the other workshops that ran was a stringing workshop.  I sold one lampwork bead to the lovely girl below (sorry but I can’t remember your name). She discovered that another focal bead was required so she came back and bought another bead in similar colour scheme.  The necklace was proudly worn to our gala dinner and looked gorgeous.

simple stringing using my lampwork beads

Below is a photo shoot that took place before our gala dinner on Saturday evening.  I’m the shorter one.  We had to wear a necklace made out of plastic beads for the photo.

borneo banner

During the conference, we were very well looked after.  There was morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea.  Each meal had several different dishes on offer and you helped yourself.  As Lara was a speaker, we also went to a welcome dinner which was held at the Sarawak Club and a farewell dinner which was held at a seafood restaurant.  The food was delicious and extremely fresh.

After the conference and before flying home, I managed a visit to an orangutan sanctuary and a long house so I did get a glimpse of the countryside.  Never having been to Asia before, I really wasn’t sure what to expect.  I was pleasantly surprised by the lovely people and the great food.  I could do without the swollen ankles though.  If given the chance, I would definitely do a return visit and see a bit more of what nature has to offer.