Clara Boulton – 3rd November 2021
November is by far the most (for the wrong reasons) predictable month for weather, in my opinion, and after just a few days of it I feel like we have entered what I dub ‘monsoon season in West Lancashire’. Which is flooded roads, pictures of cars floating and sodden boggy fields (or towards the marshland, the fields just turn into lakes, literally you could stick a boat on them!).
For a while now we have been trying to find a way to substitute the lost income during the seasons where West Lancashire challenges the Lake District for the amount of standing water, as we like to stop our alpaca treks really from November onwards for a few months. We do the odd weekend walk, weather dependent, but that is it, and we ideally would like to see some sort of profit from the business all year round. So I had the fabulous idea that we WILL process the pile of beautiful saddles that I keep in the garage. Not only will we process them, we will do it in our home… This did make Shaun, my partner, turn a funny colour, especially as currently the only hours I have ‘free’ are between the hours of 9pm until whenever we decide is a reasonable bed time, ready for the early start the next day (sensibly 9.30pm, realistically 11pm). So I cracked on with skirting fleeces between treks whilst waiting for customers over October, and now I have a fabulous system that involves fleece drying from most radiators in the house and most sinks having some amount of fleece washing in them in the evenings. With regards to carding, I recruited Shaun as my main carder (after insisting we don’t need to invest in a drum carder just yet, he will be just fine with the hand carders). However, I did insist that I absolutely needed to invest in an electric spinning wheel. We have 4 dogs; two working border collies, a 13 month old chaotic Dobermann and a very stubborn Tibetan Terrier who likes to rearrange the house when we aren’t looking. A wheel going around would be invitation to cause destruction (or in their eyes, ‘fun’). The e-spinner is small and boring looking enough to not peak their interest.
In the two weeks we have had our little system going, I can honestly say it has been really, really challenging and actually quite tiring (less so when I found I could make my spinning wheel go quite fast!). However, I am already devastated we didn’t start it sooner. We have a great local ‘crafting’ community which has meant we have had a huge amount of interest in simply buying the skirted, washed and carded fibre. Our hand spun yarn has been a huge hit with our loyal customer base, and we even knitted some little keyrings which we sold for a really tidy profit, and we are only a few fleeces in!
All in, I really think that if you aren’t doing anything with your fibre, particularly if you run a trekking business and probably have a great local following, why not? I would really recommend being a sensible person and sending it to a mill for processing, if however like us you like the idea of a bit of DIY (and in my case I now find the spinning itself hugely therapeutic and relaxing after a long day on my feet, now we are in a routine with it) have a look into joining a local spinning group. Not only will it be a great environment to learn how to spin, it will be a great way to gently start advertising your own beautiful alpaca fibre.