Plymouth woman finds art through fiber
PLYMOUTH, Ill. - Destiny doesn't mind getting up close and personal with a visitor.
The Huacaya alpaca gradually moves closer and closer, finally reaching up to give a welcome, if somewhat ticklish, kiss on the chin and allowing a neck rub.
"She really likes you," said Lindsey Moore, owner of Little Creek Alpacas.
Moore raises silky Suri and teddy bear-like Huacaya alpacas, calling each by name, on the farm just outside Plymouth, which she showcased on Sept. 28 and 29, during National Alpaca Farm Days.
Moore bought her first alpaca, a Suri, in April 2007, acting on a suggestion from her stepsister to try raising what she called "glorified sheep" on their acreage near the Quad Cities.
"I researched them, and I just kind of fell in love," Moore said. "I loved the eyes, their personality, how docile and quiet they are. They're easy on the land."
Moore also loves the fiber — the soft silky sheen of Suri and the fluffier Huacaya — from the animals with distinctive personalities.
"Suri can feel like cashmere, which takes away the prickle effect, but the downfall of Suri fiber is because it has no crimp like Huacaya, it has no memory or elasticity," she said. "If you're wanting to knit hats or wearable items that don't continually stretch with Suri, mix in 20 to 30 percent wool or do like a 70 percent Huacaya, 30 percent Suri blend. Suri fiber's great for weaving, with good tensile strength."
Fiber from the farm can be used in anything from socks to dryer balls and hand-dyed yarn to lacy shawls and cat toys.
The farm offers U.S.-grown and made items from spinners across the country and from the New England Alpaca Fiber Coop.
Over the years, Moore has learned to knit and felt, but she "found her art" through the fiber.
Working with a drum carder, "when I make batt blends, to me it's like making a color palette for someone to paint with, but instead they're spinning it into yarn or felting with it," she said. "It makes me feel good."
Moving to Plymouth in April 2011 allowed her to expand the herd, which stood at 63 before selling some animals to new owners in Florida, Alabama and Missouri. "I think I'm down to 53," Moore said.
Make that soon to be 56, with three alpacas nearly ready to give birth after 11½ months of pregnancy. Moore breeds to have the babies, known as cria, born in May, June, August, September or very early October to ensure better weather.
"I got into it for the fiber, then I had a demand for better-priced alpacas in this area and got more into the breeding the last few years," Moore said. "You do have breeders that want $5,000 to $12,000 for alpaca. Mine range $500 to $2,000."
Moore feeds the alpaca grain every day, and hay, mineral and water always are available to the studs, young males and girls kept in separate areas. Their soft padded feet, like dogs, have two large toenails that need occasional trimming.
"If I had to compare them to any animal, they're kind of like a cat. They like to get to know you on their own terms," Moore said. "They're kind of like an aloof cat, kind of shy at first. They like the neck rubs, and some don't mind having their backs petted. If they don't want to be around you, they walk or run away."
Moore recommends a patient approach for new alpaca owners.
"I tell people the best thing to do is sit in a chair at dusk with a camera or a book, and they'll come up to you on their own," she said. "It's really hard to do, but the first time they come up, try not to rub their neck. Let them sniff you, kiss you. Eventually they'll let you do the neck rub. Some let you right away. Some take forever and are always kind of skittish."
Shearing takes place once a year, usually at the end of April. The males produce 5 to 7 pounds of fiber, with the females providing 2 to 4 pounds. Fiber is sorted into blanket or prime quality for yarns used next to skin, seconds for felted pieces or shoe inserts and thirds, or leg hair, often used for purses or rugs.
Before carding the fiber, Moore does skirting, or picking out hay and vegetable matter, along with any second cuts or short pieces of fiber that would stick out in yarn.
"After that I wash it, run it through the drum carder, then felt it or spin it," Moore said. "One of the things that makes alpaca fiber so popular is it's moisture wicking. It's also flame-retardant, stain resistant and antimicrobial."