Sunday, May 07, 2006

West Valley Alpacas Open House Excursion

Today, my father and I went to West Valley Alpacas' open house. (In the pic: shorn baby in front, unshorn adults, and an unshorn yearling.)

The farm/ranch/whatever is in Esparto, which is North-West of Davis (which is South of Sacramento). It's about a 1.5 hour drive there from SF. YahooMaps had no idea where their farm was- didn't even have a record of the road (it's really middle-of-nowhere). Fortunately, they have driving instructions on their website from just about every direction you can come from, so that was helpful, and major points in their favor.

The open house was from 12-4, and we had a dinner to go to at 5, so we knew that if we wanted to go, we'd have to be there when it opened. We left the house at 10:30 (should have left at ten, because we forgot to account for the time we took eating lunch), and headed up there.

We got to the place at 12:15, I think, or not long after, and as we drove down their gravel/dirt driveway, what's the first thing we see? A tour bus. One of those big ones that you can charter- not the little modified-vans that are used as shuttles. And here I was thinking this was going to be some sort of hideaway, and that we'd be able to chat with the owners, and sort of peruse their wares, and hang out with their newly-shorn alpacas. No; it was crowded in the covered area of the pens.

People had brought their children (maybe they were on the bus, but I sort of doubt it), and there was a lot of them. The owners had set up a covered spot to try spinning on a wheel with alpaca, but I didn't try it out- it was all full of little girls! (Good for them, say I. Maybe they'll become obsessed and make their parents buy them wheels and fiber, and they'll become MiniSpinnersTM.)

So, after looking at the adorable, gangly, freshly-shorn babies (and the adults, but it's hard to not love the crias- they look so silly with their pencil-necks and tuft of head-hair), Dad and I went on over to the store.

Oh God, the store!!

First thing you notice: it's ceiling is low and sloped. (It's a fully-finished room on the side of the barn, and I gotta say- their windows were large, and let in a lot of light; it would've been the perfect place for a workroom.) Of course you notice the wall of alpaca yarn (I think they send it away to be processed, at least, but they may also just buy the yarn, and sell their fleeces separately), and if you could see through the crush of women (I said, "Oh. Here's where all the spinners are; I thought it was all kids!"), you'd see the looms in the back, and the other products (like alpaca-pelt alpaca dolls- cute if you've got a South America theme at your house). After a while (and a few more people in the store- the tour bus, presumably), you also notice the heat caused by: insulating fiber, warm day, spot lights for display purposes, a couple dozen people, and a low ceiling with only a wall-mounted air conditioner at one end to cool us off. But, next to the door, in full sunlight so you could appreciate the natural colors, were bags of raw alpaca fiber.

I looked at the price tag and gasped inwardly. Oy! $70-$90 for 1-2 lbs. of alpaca? Craziness!

A woman was dragging away three (three!) bags of this stuff. My dad said he heard her call it "gold." (Not the color- the value/quality.) Later, my dad saw her sampling some fiber from a basket (obviously meant for that purpose) using one of their 1 oz. top whorl drop spindles, and ended up talking to her pretty much the whole time I was browsing. We learned (during a moment when I was participating in the convo) that the reason the fiber by the door was so great is that it's the first shearing- ever- of a baby alpaca (they're called crias).

My dad is such an enabler- he gets into it, probably against his better judgement, and is interested in things that seem a good buy or of particularly good quality. I rushed off to see if there was any cria fiber left (my mom would have told me not to buy it- too expensive- I have too much fiber already- what would I use it for- is the quality really that important to me- etc. because she's a disabler- a new word!); my dad was just as eager as I was- he'd handled the fiber when he came in, and thought it much softer than the black adult roving they were selling.

I bought (as you can see in the sucky pic to the right): four skeins of Forest Green 2-ply baby alpaca lace-weight for Eunny Jang's Print o' the Wave Stole (a free pattern, I understand), a skein of the same in Baby Blue (for my best friend Selma) and one in Natural Dark Tan, each for Toni M. Maddox's Tiger Eye Scarf (another free pattern), two snack baggies (1oz each?) of sparkle (either Firestar or Angelina- I can never remember the difference)- one in irridescent and one in red, a 1oz. drop spindle, and- the tour de force- a 1lb. 10.7oz. bag of raw, black*, cria fiber from an alpaca named Spartacus ( I love him! It's probably him in the foreground of the first pic.) for $72.

Not bad. Not bad.

My dad (enabler that he is) suggested that I call right before their annual open house next year, and ask for them to reserve Spartacus' fiber for me. (My dad amended later, that I was to do this only if I liked the fiber.)

I'm so giddy! Nice trip, great shopping experience, beautiful day, my dad and I agreed on car music... wow.

*A black alpaca- much like my cat Star- isn't really black, just a really dark brown. And since yarn color is a little darker than roving, who's to say Spartacus isn't true black?


Rachel said...

I have been meaning to respond to your comment on my very first blog post for a while.
I do live in SF, but I don't do any sort of organized knit-along or anything like that here, unless you count me and the cats and the tv as organized. But I have been meaning to check out the Chicks with Sticks meetings in Noe Valley for quite some time now.
I have to ask you, where did you learn to spin? I was just this last weekend at my future in-laws house in Illinois for shearing day of their 15 or so alpacas (will be posting about that soon!), and got a preliminary brief tutorial from my fiance's mother, and now I really want to learn how to do it well. So cool!

Kathryn said...

I learn pretty well by mimicking people's motions, but I took a class at a Girl Scout training event- made a CD spindle and the funkiest 2-yards of yarn. After that, I sort of messed about with spinning (stayed up an entire night plying some soy silk once). So I'm not "classically" trained, but I think I get along OK.

I understand Chicks with Sticks is an excellent group to join. I'm not 21 yet, so I don't think they'd let me into the bar. Heh.

Also: June 10th is World Wide Knit in Public Day ( I'm the organizer for SF, if you have any questions that aren't answered on the website.