Year: 2021

Knitting with Alpaca Made Easy by Keenan Goldsmith (Knitting Bartender)

Keenan, from the Knitting Bartender, goes on to explain his use of alpaca fibers, modifying his process to make it suitable for all types of projects — including this beautiful Timberline sweater.

2020: all roads lead to Alpacas

Urban Life

We were the typical suburban household. Well, mostly. We came from Concord, CA; a small suburb just 45 minutes outside of San Francisco proper. My husband immigrated here from Germany. We met in Arizona. We’ve lived in Arizona, Seattle, California and now NC in our 8 years together. Tech brought us to California. We had two kids, a home and one dog. We didn’t have local family but our neighbors had taken us in. The girls had just started in gymnastics and we were taking regular trips to homeschool group outings. We were going to NYC for my birthday in March with plans to head to Germany in August for the brother in law’s wedding. Just 45 minutes outside the Bay area, we were always able to find something to keep us busy. Outdoor hikes, fruit picking at farms, trip into SF. We had access to life. We were mostly typical.

Littlest and I at the beach after ankle surgery

The Pandemic

On some level, there’s the understanding that pandemics happen. It’s there but we don’t think about it. The risk of a virus mutating and threatening the lives of people is out there and no matter how you feel about COVID or the current state we live in, I would imagine that you, like me, wouldn’t have predicted the route that 2020 took.

The few months leading up to COVID’s big hit were challenging. Unsuccessful ankle surgery that past November, shoulder surgery in February. By March, COVID was shutting down California and the littlest and I had come down with a pneumonia that wiped us out for nearly the whole month. By this time, NY had shut down and trips were cancelling. Surgeries and recovery had kept us at home. We were already “trapped” at home for my recoveries. Now, we were trapped at home for the well being of everyone. The unknown was intimidating and after that bout of pneumonia, and some high risk conditions, we worked to do the best that we could with what we had.

Babywearing

By May, our family was feeling the at home isolation getting to our brains. The girls missed snuggling and our regular walks with our amazing neighbor. We missed our friends, gymnastics. Being a photographer, I was running out of ways to take pictures of my children in the house. Since my eldest was only a few weeks old, we always “wore” our babies. It was really part hobby. And an excuse to take selfies. Back-pack type carriers, ring slings, woven wraps… we tried every brand, type, style. The online community for baby wearing is incredible — it made it easy to buy, sell, and trade carriers. Every style was different and fit different. With my littlest, I fell into a world of handwoven baby wraps. There are these incredible people in this community that use a floor loom to make delicate, strong, detailed, vibrant and simply beautiful pieces of art that you can use to carry your baby in. As a mother without a lot of time for traditional forms of beautifying, these works of art were both functional and made you feel incredible.

A friend had always suggested that I take my interest in it and try to learn to make them too. Weaving is a complex art form. I had a lot of time on my hands suddenly and I needed somewhere to put it…

Weaving

The owner of Carry Om offered virtual classes and was so supportive and helpful in discussing weaving. She is an incredible and talented woman. Looms, what to look for, where to start. She made it feel less intimidating (even though it was) and into something that could be achievable. Getting into weaving, though, has a cost and with some functional and space limitations, it limited what type of loom I could find.

I shopped for weeks. I watched videos by Jane Stafford, perused all the weaving groups I could find. Finally, mid May, it happened. I found a Schacht 8 shaft Mighty Wolf.

first warp set up. A small scarf.

My re-do ankle surgery had been cancelled and scheduled for two weeks after the loom arrived but I was hooked. I decided I was going to weave a baby wrap, overwhelming myself, and managed to get the loom warped for weaving barely in time for surgery. To my husband’s chagrin, I was weaving with one foot and a propped up ankle.

Baby wrap #1

It was hard. I didn’t set a low bar. I incorporated weft changes, clasping, multiple weave changes. I attempted to use the Fibonacci Sequence to pattern out the wrap.

And it worked!

Eldest in a Traditional Sling Carry

I got a baby wrap! In fact, I got two. The second of which had triple clasping. This wrap here has since become a purse and cowl combo that you can see and purchase here.

Alpacas

How does all this get us here? In the midst of all these things, we were trying to find a way to create our experiences at home. We started a garden. We ordered online all the time; the “experience” of arriving mail to open and products to try, buy. We were trying to find us again when all of our normal us had been put on pause.

I had wanted to move for months at that point, even pre-COVID. One day in June, we were chatting about where we might go if we went somewhere. We didn’t know. The reality being that anywhere we went might be the same situation we were in — but probably cheaper. Moving is a lot of stress. Would that be enough? We needed a bigger reason for change.

We were teaching the girls about farm animals and somehow, llamas and alpacas came up. We wanted to know the differences between the two. The videos of alpacas somehow clicked for us. Beautiful animals and it combined with our love for being outdoors. And they produce a fiber that I already know I love weaving with and babywearing with. They have adorable, curious and gentle ways. They are an easier livestock to manage and are very intuitive to their survival.

We looked at each other and said… well, this sounds kind of ridiculous but maybe.

Farm Tour

We needed to meet these fluffy bundles of fiber. We found Menagerie Hill Ranch out of Vacaville and booked a private tour. We asked question after question. We held a cria.

Soft, fluffy, cria holding at Menagerie Hill Ranch.

I don’t know if this sealed it for us in this moment but it helped. I’m often the skeptic and our tour guide offered information that left me with some concerns. Researching we went.

The Business

We mentioned to our sister in law, Nora and my husband’s brother, Tobias, that we were thinking of doing this. Nora, fairly immediately, was yes! Let’s do it together! The idea grew very quickly from well, maybe… to suddenly, conversations with immigration lawyers and the acreage hunt began. Nora and Tobi are coming from Germany. Our strange little idea suddenly turned into a family adventure with Nora & I running and owning Purple Alpaca.

In full disclosure, I had struggled the past few years with some health issues, coupled with being a new mother and relocating. I really missed having family around. Raising children and living life really does require a village. Like our alpacas, we thrive with our herds.

This wild idea quickly turned into something I had been hoping for… for a really long time. 2020, again, was not what I expected.

Finding our “Be”

Part of our COVID journey has been about mindfully finding ourselves again and accepting that so many things are out of our control. It has come with a lot of soul searching. This blog article is, truly, an oversimplification of all the learning, work, and the journey that has gone into becoming alpaca farmers. The learning is non-stop but the alpacas come with a calm that simply is. They are who they are. You can’t control it. The outdoors is what it is — we trek to them in the mud, the rain. Their calm is the reminder of where our calm is and can be found again when we’ve lost it. We don’t have to keep trying to fill the void. Life was loud and sometimes, we spent our time looking for the loud because, in some ways, it was the quiet — the what was left that can be scary. The out of control, the vulnerable, the moments of just existing.

In their be is their adventure. Now it’s ours. And we are really excited to share it with you.

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