Sunday, February 20, 2011

Alpaca - are calling

The Alpaca stars are lining up and calling me. First, I heard a fascinating modern-day story  about the olden days in Peru and it centres on the Alpaca. Twenty years ago, Jane Wheeler, an archaezoologist (read about her and the history of the organization she started--Conopa) was asked to investigate some mummified alpacas who had been buried with reverence and honour. Why? What was special about these alpacas? I believe that at the time of her study, alapacas were raised for primarily for meat and wool was a bit of a by-product, useful of course but not so much for the value of the wool compared to what their meat provided. Their fibre, was somewhat coarse, and according to one article, was only suitable for rugs. But the mummified alpaca had the finest, softest hair, much finer than the modern day alpaca.  
It appears that in history, alpacas were treasured and bred for their fine fibre, elevating alpaca as the backbone of the economy.  The Spaniards, when they arrived, destroyed alpacas and hence the economy.  When the alpacas lost their worth, they lost their breeding programs and the fibres lost their fineness.  Along comes Jane, her discovery, and her resolve to bring back the economy, the fine fibre, and all of a sudden after hundreds of years, an alpaca revival begins. A fascinating story. Read more of it here:
Next, I read about an indigenous weaving conference to be held in Peru. A Gathering of the Weavers (it also included other textile arts) of the Americas/Tinkuy de Tejedores de las Americas held in Cusco Peru in November 2010. This event was spearheaded by Nilda Callanoupo Alvarez, a leader in supporting traditional textiles in the Andes. More information on the hosting organization can be found here What an opportunity to see people from all over the America's, mostly indigenous weavers, gathered in one place sharing their knowledge. In hindsight, I realized I should have just quit work and gone. Alas, I was foolish and stayed. But here is an interesting account of one woman's trip, blogger, author, inspirer-er, student and teacher of indigenous weaving techniques, Laverne Waddington on her blog Backstrap Weaving.
Another coincidence. At the Duncan Distaff Day, I met a woman who volunteered for a month helping organize the hanging of the textiles which would be on display at the conference. She had met Nilda years ago at a weaving convention and Nilda had asked her to come and help. She shared her photo album with me and the colours in every photo was spectacular!
And even more coincidences. A very good friend returned from a holiday in Peru, and by coincidence was in Cusco, the town the conference was in. She is not a fibre nut but kindly bought me an Andean drop spindle in the market and some Alpaca to spin. And another whose graduate student was in the very same area, working with a weavers co-op also brought me a gift of Andean weaving done with superfine Alpaca yarns.

[Photos by Laverne Waddington from her blog at
Recently, SpinOff magazine created an interactive magazine called SpinKnit. The magazine contains articles, interviews, and a ton of multimedia: slideshows, photos, and videos. Their first issue has a great section on Spinning and Knitting in the Andes and another section on Alpacas and Vicunas. The 'e-mag' can be purchased for just under $15 but be aware of the humongous file size, weighing in around 500 meg! This is fine if you have a high speed connection but don't even try if you are on dial-up. The video below shows one of the videos from that issue: Andean women spinning.

And to round all this up, it has culminated in an Alpaca Spinning workshop I just took, but this blog is getting far too long, so I will save the workshop for another blog.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Commute

[Photo: Ferry crossing to Salt Spring Island]
Sat 8:40 am. 
I am sitting in the car on the ferry to Salt Spring Island, on my way to the Alpaca spinning workshop on Salt Spring Island, thinking about this five-stage, four modes of transportation (golf cart, car, boat and ferry boat) trip and it struck me that it would make an interesting blog. Besides, I have nothing else to do having forgotten my spindle. Dumb, dumb, dumb. In any case here is my day so far.

6:30 am. As I sit at home sipping a wake-up latte, girding myself for the trek, I can hear the rain and the pine cones hitting the window.  It is still dark out and I check the marine forecast. Southeast (bad) winds 20 (not so bad) knots to 30 (bad) knot winds. Pine cone bombs tells me it is closer to 30knots.  I am glad the drum carder, wool, and spinning accessories (enough to fill a suitcase)  are already loaded in the car and all I need to take today is my lunch, backpack, and spinning wheel. I grab them and as the sky just starts to brighten, I jump into the electric golf cart and silently cross the island.

7:15 am. As I carry my gear to the dock where my boat is, I can hear the wind in the cedars whooshing and madly shaking the branches. Small cedar twigs drop around me. All of a sudden I remember a cougar was sighted this week on Newcastle Island (as well as on campus) and then I look over at Newcastle, a mere 200 ft away and think hmmm, cougars swam there from Vancouver Island, a bigger swim than from Newcastle to the island I am on, and in addition to deer, the attraction on this island are cats, dogs, and, um, humans.  Heck, a cougar could saunter over at low tide, no swimming required. I jump and look behind me as a noise startles me and my heart races. It is only more twigs and cones hitting the dirt. The rain has stopped temporarily as I jump into the boat. It's a bit dark under the canvas and I can't see too much. I sniff, checking for fresh mink or otter droppings. Another sniff. Nothing fresh, just the old stale mink musk smell from last weeks visit from a mink. I can safely put my spinning wheel down on the floor without worrying about it carrying the foul smell all weekend.

The wind is protected here but still wind cat's paws are rippling the water. The dock and boat are bouncing at odds with each other, from waves that roll in through the gap between the islands.

I check the gas. We have two tanks. Today is not a good day to run out or to have to switch tanks in the middle of the harbour where you are most exposed. There is enough in one tank but I leave the full spare tank exposed to remind me to switch for the return journey.

I start the engine, push away from the dock and consider my route. Should I go in the troughs or angle the trip to have the waves 3/4 on my port rear?  This would require going 1/4 into the waves and then zigging 90degrees to go with the waves for the second half of the crossing. This would be bouncy for the first half and smooth surfing for the second half as long as I adjust the engine speed to that of the waves.  The white caps are coming more ESE that SE so I decide to ride the troughs between the waves, a more direct route.

[Photo: View from Vancouver Island side
looking at Newcastle Island in the storm]
I enter the open harbour and find a trough to follow, keeping an eye out for floating logs, deadheads, anchor lines of boats and abandoned bouys half sunk and hard to see in the waves. I know the approximate location of two bouys, so I keep a close eye to avoid them. If I catch a line in the prop here, I could end up powerless and the ESE winds would push me onto the rocks at Newcastle and the rumoured new home of a cougar.

I make it across the most open area without a hitch.  Two dozen double crested cormorants fly low over the boat as I turn down the channel to the yacht club where we moor. I glide into the covered moorage, tie the boat up, and carry my wheel to the car for the 40 drive to Crofton and the ferry to Salt Spring to continue my commute.

Friday, February 11, 2011

All quiet on the western front

[Photo: Spinning in Hawai'i]
[Photo: The pink Royal Hawaiian Hotel
with hallways lined with orchids]
You may have noticed a lack of postings lately and there is a very good reason for this as you can see in the picture. We went to Hawai'i for a week where, I confess I did not do much. Very little spinning but what I did do, was done in a very picturesque setting on the lanai of the condo. I wonder if the hotter, sunnier it is, then the more the urge to fondle fibre diminishes? Or was it just plain laziness?
[Photo: A banyan tree where the pigeons roosted
 in nooks and crannies]
[Photo: Seen very close to the surfing hangout 'The Pipeline',
A cat colony with their chicken friends all going for a walk]
I saw a few things that struck me as unusual and interesting and managed to take a few pictures which I have included here.
Now I have to get serious again about my homework, but first, I am off for a weekend of learning how to spin Alpaca and Llama on Salt Spring Island.