Have Ewe Any Wool?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Rivanna River Alpaca Farm and the Central Virginia Fiber Mill

We had a FABULOUS time visiting the Rivanna River Alpaca Farm. The farm is nestled in the woods - an absolutely beautiful setting.

We were greeted by Dee Dee and Bill, the shepherds. This farm has been a labor of love and is absolutely beautiful. They're a delightful couple and they dearly love their alpacas as well as their farm. We felt right at home.

The two Great Pyrenees, Dolly Madison and Thomas Jefferson, were extremely friendly. Their job is to guard the herd and chase away predators. Thankfully, they didn't view us as predators - they're built like bears!

A few "alpaca facts" I learned while visiting:
  1. Alpacas generally have an 11 month gestation period although it's possible for that period to last MORE than a year. Can you imagine?
  2. They can be bred again two weeks after giving birth.
  3. The bottoms of their feet are soft...much like a dog's pads (double click for a closer look)
  4. There are twenty-two natural colors of alpaca.
There were so many alpacas of all different sizes - it was amazing! I quite a few photos to try to give a good representation of all the lovely creatures. I believe they have a total of 44 alpacas in their flock (if I'm remembering correctly.....).

I just love this "buck toothed" beauty! I love her "mop" of hair. Isn't she precious? (double click on the photo to see her face close up)

Here are some shots of "the boys". They reside in the other field...away from the females. They were very sweet and docile and loved attention!

There were even a few chickens - very beautiful and colorful. My favorite is the rich brown bird - I love the contrast of the dark and light on the feathers. Just beautiful!

Next, we toured Dee Dee's studio - it was fabulous! It's my dream studio....running water, a bathroom, kitchen area with sink, and a large area that houses yarns, a work table, a couch, and various looms and fiber equipment. Talk about Nirvana!

Check out these lovely yarns - all from Dee Dee's alpacas. Of course, I broke down and bought two skeins of lace weight yarn as well as a skein of the alpaca/wool/silk sock yarn - it's incredibly soft and luscious! I also had to buy a couple of fleeces...I just couldn't resist! I got a light brown and medium brown fleece. I'm not sure if I'll spin them up separately and ply the two colors together or create a light brown and a medium brown yarn.

Dee Dee's husband, Bill, makes peg looms - they're absolutely fascinating! Lisa is admiring the rug that Dee Dee had created using the peg loom.

Check out this video of Reggie using the peg loom - it's awesome! (I need to add this to my fiber tools wish list!)

Central Virginia Fiber Mill

After we left the alpaca farm, we headed a few miles down the road to the Central Virginia Fiber Mill. Check out the Virginia Tech garden gnome that stands just outside the mill....guarding it.

Mary, the owner of the mill, took us on a tour of the facility and the machines.

First, the fleeces are laid out on this screen and skirted. Next, it's washed and laid out to dry.

Next, it's run through the picker - quite a dangerous looking machine. Gorgeous fluff comes out the other side.

Then, it's into the carder. The wool is put on the conveyor belt and fed into the elaborate carding mechanism. There's a bit of waste that falls out and is gathered up in a bin and saved. It can be used for felting...or some other activity that can make use short/miscellaneous fibers. This machine produces batts.

On the left, you can see all the mechanisms and pulleys that drive the carder as well as the carding elements. Once it's complete, the roving comes out on the roller as shown on the right. If roving is needed, the front part of this machine is replaced by another that will produce roving. This is the end of the process if roving is desired.

If the customer desires yarn or wants their wool pin drafted, it would go next into the pin drafting machine. It can produce up to four "streams" of pin drafted roving, but Mary typically runs only one or two.

Closer views of the entry side of the pin drafter.

You can see the four channels for the pin drafted roving in the photo on the right. (Double click for a closer view)

After that, it's on to the spinning machine. On the back side, the singles are spun. This set is set to the optimum speed and tension for spinning the singles. This side of the machine can handle up to 8 singles at a time.

On the front side, the plying is done. This side is set to the optimum speed and tension for producing the plied yarn. I find it fascinating that the same machine can accommodate two different requirements.

After that, the yarn is skeined using the electric skein winder shown here.


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