Saturday, August 28, 2010

Fir Cone Scarf

When I lived in Riverdale-On-Hudson, yes it's part of the Bronx, in New York City, I used to drive up to Morehouse Farm in the Hudson Valley. They had an open farm day and maybe still do. I recall driving up one autumn with my friend Margie and watching the sheep being sheared by a guy from New Zealand with an an accent and everything. How his back did it, I don't know. There was a excess of unhealthy spinal flexion going on as he simultaneously wrastled the animal and sheared with electric clippers. Morehouse Farm has had a website for a few years, so now I can go visit online.

Visiting this farm gave me my first taste of a primary addiction of choice for both knitting and spinning, merino wool.

Just before I left to move to SC, I found some of the lovely merino in my stash. It must have been frogged from another project, as there were MANY connecting knots in it. Nevertheless, I found a lace scarf pattern from Interweave that I had done before, and started in. This fir cone design is my favorite of the three scarves, as the pattern naturally forms a pointed border on either side.

I finished the scarf and being lazy of course, did not weave in the multiple ends. It had been gracing a buffet table in my front hall with the loose ends on the underside where no one could see. Two weeks ago, I decided to end that phase, and sat down and wove them all in. Then I washed and reblocked. It is now destined to be a holiday gift for a dear friend, who shall remain nameless in case she is lurking here.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Vicuna Chaco in Picotani Part 2

After the vicunas were led into a small corral, we were then lead in to the community center with the entire community sitting around the perimeter of a large room; we honored guests
got chairs! A group of local musicians inmatching vests with intarsia'd vicunas sang for

Then, the children, dressed in traditional costumes which perhaps were Sunday best danced a story for us.

At that point there was more formal dipping of coca leaves in to various alcohols. We were offered small shot glasses of a sweet liquor. I steeled myself and sipped. I was not worried about what I was drinking, rather, the cleanliness of the hands that had washed the glass and poured the drink!

Two one year old vicunas were then chosen to be bride and groom. They were brought in to the large community room and decorated with ribbons, shaking only a LITTLE bit with fear! Then, two of us travelers including myself were chosen to be best man and maid of honor(!) for the pair. Gerald and I got to name them, then ear tags were cut; they did not seem to have too much pain with this! We all had blood smeared on our cheeks.

We then went out to watch the shearing of these two little ones. They were fearful, but did not bleat loudly and fearfully as I have heard alpacas holler while tied down for shearing.
Then, two women demonstrated skirting and removal of guard hairs from the sheared fleece.

After that, that, the women put out their wares, which were similar to those available at the roadside stands: handknits, handwovens.

I bought a beautiful scarf done interestingly in what I think is a traditional Shetland leaf pattern, in natural alpaca. Above is a photo of the knitter, who allowed me to take her photo.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Vicuna Chaco in Picotani: Part 1

OK, so what exactly is a vicuna?

A vicuna is a camelid, e.g. a me
mber of the biological family camelidae. Vicunas along with alpacas and llamas, are descended from guanacos, (all are camelidae). All live in the mountainous regions of South America, in this case, in the Andes. Vicunas have short coats of extremely fine fiber which are only harvested every 2 or 3 years. Communities in the Andes such as Picotani are responsible for their flocks, which is challenging as vicuna do not live in domestication. Vicuna are kept in vast fenced in areas where they can live freely, but occasionally be rounded up for shearing and other purposes, like entertaining foreign visitors such as myself.

So, after a chilly first night at the guest house in Mallkini--the wood stove didn't really suffice to heat the rooms, in the morning I discovered that there was no window which had an inside wooden shutter; the second night they had put the window back in and it was warmer!--we boarded the bus and drove 2 hours or so to Picotani for the vicuna chaco, or roundup. Picotani is in the province of Puno as is Mallkini; Puno is just north and west of Lake Titicaca. This map shows the location of Puno in green.

View Larger Map

Here is the welcome sign to the community. They had a guest book with names of folks from all over, although this place felt incredibly remote. After arriving, we drove up through the fenced in area to an area where there was a ceremony thanking Pachamama, the earth mother, for her gifts. This ceremony involved the burning of coca leaves and sipping and pouring several types of liquor on the ground. There was at this point not a vicuna in sight.

The whole (Quechua speaking) community was there, including women and children, often clothed in handknits of Red Heart worsted, although the adorable little guy in this photo looks like he was wearing a hand knit alpaca. Coulda sold the photo to National Geograhic if my camera had been on the correct setting!
After the ceremony, in which we travellers particiated by selecting coca leaves and dipping adding them to glass of
liquor, and after the remainders of the bottles of liquor were consumed by the men, came the chaco, or roundup. In this process, the whole community of amazing walkers formed a long line, forming a human fence, led by a lucky man who owned a moped. They then walked for about an hour, combing the outside of the property, to round up the vicunas. In the photo you can see the line of walkers at the top of the hill, and the vicunas being led to the opening to the corral.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Peru: Mallkini Alpaca Ranch

Mallkini Alpaca Ranch is located in the province of Puno, which for us was a long bus ride from Arequipa. The ranch has a guest house, and is remote. The elevation was about 15,000 feet and despite the altitude sickness pills, I felt easily short of breath with a quick 30 foot walk. The soft fleeced alpacas above are kept in front of the house, pictured below, for show. The majority of the animals are scattered over thousands of acres and looked after by shepherds. Mallkini is a breeding center, where animals are bred for color and low micron count (fineness of fiber) among other things. The dark brown animals, such as those seen below, are highly prized as they are fewer in number. This website has a nice discussion on breeding for fiber quality.

The herd seen at left is a prized one, that we drove several miles to view one morning. At left is a mama and baby.
The ranch house is pictured below. There was a lovely fireplace to keep warm around after dinner, while

sipping wine or mate de coca tea.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Wing'O the Moth

I finished Anne's Wing 'O The Moth several months ago but today finally a good friend did a lovely photograph for me, worthy of posting. I love anything to do with moths or butterflies or bees, which was the initial pull.

Here's the story of the yarn; a bit of a duplicate from Ravelry (sorry):
I was lucky to go to Iceland (and Greenland, another story) in the summer of 2006. I dragged my poor Mom on the bus out of Reykjavik to Mossfellsbaer to the Istex store. It was a little desolate, no signs like “this way to Lopi” or anything, just the two of us alone on a bus in a foreign country where the driver spoke some non-Germanic language and no English, no wonder Mom was nervous, I was a little too but the call of the fiber soothed me…. I found this great lace weight which I hadn’t seen before. The store is great and the ladies most helpful, after we finished shopping they gave us a ride in the Lopi logo bus to Halldor Laxness’ sort of nearby home-museum, he is Iceland’s Nobel Laureate for fiction. I’d highly recommend the trip out of Reykjavik to go there, lovely shop, lots to look at for us fiber junkies and really at-the-source. Maybe now the bus has an ad for it!

I love the yarn: Loðband Einband. It's crunchy and easy to knit in lace weight. I screwed up the border (sorry, Anne) but like the little peaks.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Laminaria: An FO

I am a big fan of Elizabeth Freeman's designs and happily finished Laminaria on Thursday. I sent a photo to a friend who described it as "fractal!" Now, I'm not smart enough to determine the relationship between fractals and shawls, this or any other, but Ms. Freeman who describes herself on Knitty as a "number cruncher" might like that concept.

The yarn is Shibuiknits merino sock, an impulse purchase from Wild Fibre in Savannah. I was seduced by the colors. Yeah, I ran outa yarn and smushed the final rows together, so the lovely edge of the original design isn't there.

Photos of me and Laminaria taken at Skull Creek, Hilton Head Island, Friday, August 6.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Machu Picchu: A Near Fiber Free Post

While all of Peru was amazing, everyone knows and asks about Machu Picchu. Our group actually visited there towards the end of our trip. No, it was not the highest point that we visited: that was Picotani at 17,000 feet. Machu Picchu is about 8,000 feet, and I was no longer taking altitude medication by the time we got there. The air was a bit thin, however, and there was a little shortness of breath with lotsa walking or climbing stairs, of which there were many.

We took the train from Cusco (11,000 feet) to Aguas Calientes.
Much of the track had been rebuilt since the floods in spring of this year (2010) and discarded tracks were seen along the Urubamba River, which ran along the train line. Above right photo is of our train on a curve; the white area on the mountain is actually a landslide. Aguas Calientes was notable for our incredible hotel, Inka Terra, and for a huge tourist target market ("mercado"). The following day we boarded a bus at 7:30 am which took the switchback laden Hiram Bingham Highway up to Machu Picchu.

Stepping through the entry gate to see the city was pretty thrilling. The Incas built this facing the morning sun in winter. Somehow, archeologists have confirmed the uses of many of the buildings and spaces. Of course, there are terraces on which the Incas farmed, exploiting different elevations for variations in temperature, water, and soil nutrients. Bromeliads seen in the photo at right.

Below is a photo of me next to the Sacred Rock, the outline of which mirrors the outline of the mountains behind it.

OK, so it's not an entirely fiber free post; there were a number of llamas roaming and grazing. No, I was not one of the dopey tourists feeding them crackers.

Llama is not as soft as alpaca and is not bred

for color as alpaca is. But the fibers are soft and lofty for spinning. Llamas are friendlier and larger than alpacas, and look cute in hand knit chullos if one has a mind to dress one up. The lady at left did. She was at a scenic spot where our bus stopped for a photo op. She had her llamas at the ready for a photo in return for a couple of solas.