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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.

The Growth of Purple Alpaca & Purchase of AlpacaBarns

When we initially set to start our alpaca farm, we had intended to “pace” ourselves.  Purchasing 4 alpaca, with board, prior to our relocation and planning to use them as our primary herd.  This would give us some extra time to set up our fencing, barns, plan for growth.  Three of the ladies were pregnant, aiming to give us a total of 7 and one to be bred before she arrived.  A perfect little starter herd.

Incredibly enough, while aimlessly scrolling Facebook and sitting in our hotel waiting for our farm purchase to close, I found a post by Pat from AlpacaBarns out near Statesville in North Carolina.  Her post stated that it was time for a change and so they were selling their 16 specifically bred accoyo alpacas — with their gear, fencing, fiber, and products.

They have been breeding and working with their alpacas since 2007; starting during the alpaca boom.  During this time, alpacas were a lot about being simply alpacas — breeding and showing.  Creating the best alpacas.  Fiber was involved but the industry money was deeply tied in the quality of the alpacas you were producing.  Alpacabarns were producing beautiful alpacas.

AlpacaBarns alpacas were bred Accoyos.  An accoyo alpaca is one that is bred at an Accoyo Ranch in Peru (where alpaca come from).  Here in the states, the term Accoyo also ties with those descendants of two accoyo parents.  All of Alpacabarns alpacas can be lineage linked to the alpaca source — Peru.  This effort from Pat, and her husband Dave, has led to beautifully strong alpacas with lush and dense fiber.

So interesting, right?  What a unique farm experience and an incredible farm venture by two special people.  As all good fairy tales go, after meeting them and their alpaca, we fell in love.  Can you guess what happened next?

Over the last 3 weeks, Pat & Dave have shared an adventure with us — helping us learn, relocate, and get hands on with our alpaca.  They’re fast and they all didn’t want to travel.  Running boots required.  As of this past weekend, we now have 19 alpaca on site.  16 girls and 4 boys.   We got some fences up fast.  We are still in process of doing some final equipment transfers but working with Pat & Dave has been amazing.  They’ve shared with us as we went through some difficult transitions (the loss of Vivian, another blog for another time) and in all the good momments.

We are really excited to announce our purchase of Alpacabarns Accoyo Alpacas and business and hope that we can serve both their customers and their alpaca as well as they have all these years.  When opportunity comes knocking, it’s good to open the door and leave our preconceptions behind.  You never know what amazing things are behind it… and now, we have the perfect little starter herd.

Open for Business!

 

We’re open for business! We are so excited to announce our launch on November 30th, 2020 with our website.

2020 has been an interesting, adventure filled, journey that has led us to this farm in Boonville, North Carolina. It has been humbling, exciting, but also given us back the calm that comes with being part of nature. This was something that we found we were missing where we were and something we wanted to, not only get, but to give to others.

Tours start Dec 2020.

Thank you for reading and we hope we get to share our alpacas with you locally and through our products!

 

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