When I began this fiber journey I didn't quite see myself getting this involved. For the first three years I was more than happy to pay an excellent shearer to do the hard (and most rewarding) work of annually harvesting the fiber from my alpacas.
2015 had a way of pushing me beyond my comfort zone. This would include the opportunity to attending an intensive 3-day shearing seminar hosted by Alvina Maynard of River Hill Ranch.
Alvina lives, works, and makes things happen on a 30+ acre farm that specializes in Suri Alpacas. Throughout the weekend we took turns shearing members of her herd while painstakingly trying to remember every detail that our instructor Franc taught us.
Shearing is not for the weak of heart, mind, or body. It is also not a solo endeavor. Every member of the team works in a choreographed dance around the shearer, all focused on the safety and comfort of the animal on the mat.
The first few hairdos were pretty homely. I would like to think that the quality of my hair cuts improved as the weekend progressed, though my main concern was avoiding major arteries and eyeballs while maintaining some level of control over an animal that outweighs me.
Franc could do this in his sleep. When he sheared he would time himself: when it was our turn, he timed us. To be honest, I wasn't a huge fan of the added pressure of a stop watch, but it did add an element of realistic expectations, as there has to be some sort of standard to hold yourself to.
If you don't know where you stand, it's hard to make goals to improve.
For this reason, the use of a stop watch made pretty good sense.
We spent three full days covered covered in fiber, spit, clipper oil, and sweat. We sheared to the tunes of the local country radio station: by the end of the weekend we had all memorized the words to those ten songs they tend to play on repeat.
Endless gratitude to the best hosts ever (Alvina + Rob) and to Franc for sharing his knowledge with us newbies. This shearing season I will be taking care of my own herd as well as offering my services to neighbor alpaca and llama farms.
This venture will be conducted in correlation with an ongoing endeavor to better understand the amount of raw fiber being produced in the Southeast via a wool inventory, following in the footsteps of the California based Fibershed. Conducting this type of data driven campaign will allow this information to be available to both designers and local manufacturers, with the end goal of creating sustainable relationships while connecting the dots from raw fiber to finished goods.
If you are a fellow fiber farmer, designer, knitter, weaver, or spinner in the Southeast and would like more information, please feel free to get in touch.