the Appleton-le-Moors Alpaca Back to Back Challenge

The weekend of 9 and 10 May saw the Appleton-le-Moors Back to Back Challenge, possibly the first back-to-back involving alpaca fleece.

The concept is simple; the fleece makes its way from the animal's back to a person's in the shortest time possible. The modern challenge involves a sheep's fleece, a team of eight people (including the shearer) and a target of eight hours. The record stands at below six.

The Appleton challenge was a less formal event with the aims being to spend a weekend bringing together the local and wider community, to promote the alpaca industry, to demonstrate the crafts involved and to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support.
John and Katrina Lane's three alpaca were sheared in a public demonstration on Saturday morning.

The carding team used drum carders to blend the various colours together. Time didn't allow for washing the fleece. Alpaca don't produce lanolin, but the locks hold a remarkable amount of dust, a lot of which dropped out during the carding but there was enough to cover the spinners and knitters.
 The team of spinners, one on plying duty, started spinning at 11:45 with the first stitch cast on around half an hour later.

 The knitters continued through Saturday, with the jumper being sewn up Sunday afternoon. Raffle tickets were sold for the jumper and time allowed to make a matching pom-pom hat and scarf, which were also sold at the celebratory supper on Sunday evening.
The event was a huge success in every way. Everyone involved had a great time, people were inspired to learn to spin, the jumper was finished during the weekend and an amazing amount was raised for Macmillan. The final figure is expected to exceed £4,000.

English combs and worsted preparation

I recently managed to buy a set of what I believe are Martin Hills combs. A couple of weekends away have meant that it took a while before I was able to watch this series of four videos and then set about some washed fleece (risking life and limb in the process, those tines really are huge and sharp)
You'd expect these mahoosive combs would eat through fleece in no time, but it took much longer than expected. In her videos, Amanda makes half a dozen passes of the combs, pulling out a rough roving half way through. I'd spun some of the same fleece previously using mini-combs which were even slower work and I don't think I took anything like as much trouble.

But when you spin, you discover that the time spent has been an investment. My roving, pulled through a diz, was already fairly thin. The combs leave you with the best and longest fibres and they're very well aligned. I had to do very little work, it actually felt like cheating! With the high-speed kit on and treadling furiously I got through half a dozen of my painstakingly-prepared nests in the time it took to listen to Duke by Genesis.
The result is very fine and even. So fine I may make a 3-ply. This zwartbles wool is very bouncy and when plied it springs out into a very squishy yarn. I can't wait to have it finished, but it's going to take more patient hours with the combs.

Handspun Alpaca Polar Bear Chullo

I'm so chuffed with this hat, it's my second colourwork project. I'm still not a big fan of stranded work but I'm slowly warming to it. Warming being the operative word because with the floats at the back the fabric is almost double-thickness. Very cosy. Plus the earflap design (slightly oversize I have to admit) engulfs my massive head. It's unusual for me to have a hat that fits, let alone generously.

This project started with a request to take part in the Appleton Back to Back Challenge (please support if you're able, it'll be a fun event for a very good cause)

Worried about making a fool of myself when it came to the spinning, I asked for a sample of the fibre for practice. John, the owner of the alpacas sent me a very generous amount in three beautiful and complimentary shades; jet black, mid and dark brown (I'm sure that in the alpaca world these colours have official names - I'll have to ask).

The spinning went far better than I'd hoped and produced far more yarn than I'd expected.

Alpaca doesn't contain lanolin, so even straight off the animal it feels very clean. It's tempting to simply spin the locks without washing. However, the locks contain a surprising amount of dirt which (even after carding, during which much dropped out) turned into dust, went up my nose and covered my wheel and the room generally. In future I'll try washing before carding. Unfortunately that won't be an option at the Challenge because the beast will be clipped and we'll have to start work right away.

While spinning I was searching for suitable patterns. The gorgeous colours obviously ask to be used in a colourwork project, and I had enough for a hat and thought that an alpaca pattern would be perfect. After much searching I spotted the polar bear chullo and fell in love! The link between alpacas and polars eludes me but that incongruity amuses me. (I had to spin some white from white locks that I had already.)

Mary Jane slippers

This is the first time I've knitted with multiple strands and I love it! It makes a quick and very chunky knit and I also love the way that it blends the colours.

This is some yarn I made during Spinzilla. It's been waiting for the right project.
I used some similar fibre for this cowl. In that case I navajo-plied to keep the colours together and went for a striped finish. This time I wanted to mix the colours up, but even with 2-ply there are blue areas and pink areas (and other colours too this time).

Knitting six strands was easy - I made three centre-pull balls and pulled from the outside and inside of each.

Taking many strands at once really blended the colours together. You get a 'heathered' look close up and a more blended look from a distance:

The pattern is Leethal Mary Janes. They're not dangerous - that's just a play on the designer's name, but you may want to add some Sock Stop to be on the safe side. I found the pattern while compiling the forthcoming Hand Spinning News and fell in love with it. It was so perfect for this yarn, I had no choice but to drop everything and cast on!

A productive year

2014 has without doubt been my most productive year ever. Below are nine finished projects.

Not all are made using handspun yarn but most are, including the two cardies, both using Glacial from Ruth Garcia-Alcantud. One uses fleece washed, dyed, carded and spun by me, the other uses luxury fibre artisan-dyed by Picperfic, one of my favourite indie dyers. Weaving and crochet make an appearance but knitting with handspun yarn is clearly my favourite craft.

More info about these projects is in my notebook on Ravelry

p2tog for iPhone

The shop is now available as an iOS app (iOS7 and higher). It's currently available for iPhone and the iPad version will follow shortly.

For a limited time, orders received via this iPhone app will have free postage and include a project bag and other goodies.

Silly Shark Sock

My friend Ruth is a great sport - she hinted that she’d like this for Silly Sock Day (in aid of Autism) - having lost a leg makes this an even more wicked joke!

It’s a real shame I couldn’t get hold of a copy of the best shark sock pattern, Shark Sock Week, this is the best of the alternatives that I could find at the time.

I’ve not done much crochet so this was a nice challenge for me (and the reason that the tail is untidy and gets neater closer to the front!)

I absolutely love it and think mine looks better than the pattern (tips - use a blue/grey for the body, embroider small eyes and sew some blood-red yarn around the teeth) 

Ravelry project here