Tag Archives: Alpaca

From Seamstress to Artist and Businesswoman

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When I started out with a FeltLOOM, my intention was simply to sew alpaca clothing for breeders. I wanted to make clothing for them that they could show others, as a way to talk about their products and showcase what can be created with alpaca and other fibers.

I have been a seamstress for many years, but at that point, I was not a felt maker at all. I started researching wet felting methods, because that was all that seemed to be available. Of course, even the best quality wet felting methods would still result in squares versus yardage. In the course of my search, one of the mills told me about someone in Kentucky who had just developed a new loom, and it sounded like it might work for me, because it could produce felted yardage.

I got in contact with Don and Lanette at FeltLOOM, and immediately I could sense their sincere investment in the FeltLOOM community. They were so welcoming that they invited me to come out to their farm and try it out. To make a long story short, I traveled from Michigan to Kentucky so I could try it myself. Just two hours after I arrived at the farm in Sharpsburg, Kentucky, I had already processed 20 pounds of fiber! Imagine how that one day changed this seamstress’s life.

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Originally, I just wanted to sew, and making fabric was simply a vehicle for creating clothing. I never intended for it to take me on the path that it has. Now my business is so much more than what I thought it ever could be! These days, I literally paint with fiber. It’s remarkable. This is a world that I couldn’t have imagined.

Because of all that I’ve learned and can do now, my business isn’t limited to sewing clothing for breeders. For example, I speak to groups about felting, I run seminars for people to design their own fabric, helping them explore their own creativity, and then I make it into felt for them. I also work with the equine industry to create horse-themed apparel and Western wear. This includes horse blankets, show garments, and many more products. These are just some of the new ventures that the FeltLOOM has helped me develop.

This is all so new and there are many more things that can be done with the FeltLOOM. The people who are using FeltLOOMs are modern pioneers. When people see something I’ve made on the FeltLOOM, at first they don’t realize that not only did I make the jacket (or blanket or other product), but I also designed and created the fabric itself! Their reactions are priceless. In a world of paper shuffling, many of us have forgotten what it feels like to really create something with our own hands. No matter how I use the FeltLOOM, it takes me back to that feeling of creating with my own hands. Even more, I make useful, creative, original products that people love.

Judy Petrovich

Fabulous Fibers Alpaca Farm

Holly, Michigan

Expanded Mill Capabilities Open a New Market

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No one is more surprised that Terri Stramba owns a fiber processing mill than Terri herself. While working her corporate job in federal business development management, which included consistent stress and travel, Terri and her husband purchased a small herd of alpacas for their hobby farm in Wampum, Pennsylvania. She enjoyed the herd and spent the next two years learning about raising and breeding, in between her work and travel.

Like many Americans in 2009, Terri found herself suddenly laid off and looking for a new direction in her career and life. In the meantime, she spent her newfound extra time caring for her alpacas, knowing that she was on a short timeline for turning the expense of maintaining alpacas into a profitable business. It didn’t take long before she realized that the waiting time for fleece processing was up to a year! Terri saw a need for fast, high quality fiber processing. This was the beginning of Stramba Farms.

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Terri began to assemble the right equipment, and the customers followed. Fast forward three years, and every day you will find Terri and her daughter-in-law at Stramba Farm, busily processing fibers. Now Terri has a new career –and life. Recently she incorporated the FeltLOOM into the fiber processing services that she offers her customers and has successfully integrated felted fibers into the products that Stramba Farms can offer.

In Terri’s words, “We were looking for another way to provide quality fiber processing to our customers. Sometimes our customers have purchased alpacas just for breeding and showing, and now would like to capitalize on the ‘harvest’ as much as the animals themselves. The FeltLOOM gives them a way to utilize the fibers from their herd in a new way. With one trip down to the farm in Kentucky, I knew we had found a new way to felt and provide processed fibers to our customers.”

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And what makes Stramba Farms unique? According to Terri, it is her ability to work closely with customers to process their high quality fibers that is most satisfying.” We’re at a point where we are able to do business with like minded people, where we can share ideas and creativity. I am excited about developing new products for them and in partnership with them. We want to be the mill that customers rely on to get really amazing fibers processed, and that translates into felt as well. We have customers who are very creative, but are not necessarily knitters, spinners or weavers. The felt created with a FeltLOOM gives them the opportunity to have their fibers processed in a way that they can utilize. They might sew, or be interested in any of the other things that can be produced, such as rugs or blankets.”

On any given day, you will find Terri experimenting with the FeltLOOM. “Most recently, I’ve spent time making rugs with the FeltLOOM. This has been a blast. A friend has some leftover fibers from sheep and angora goats that couldn’t be used for other purposes. We’ve been able to vary the thickness, of the rugs we make, so the result can vary from thick and cushy to light and thin. They also can be large. With needle felting versus wet felting, we’re learning that we have more control over the end result. There are so many possibilities!”

Stramba Farms, Wampum, Pennsylvania

No Fiber Is Left Behind at Evergreen Fleece Processing

Fiber’s the Product

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Though Chuck Armstrong of Evergreen Fleece Processing in Washington State has 45 Alpacas with great pedigrees, he says he’s always been more interested in the fiber side of things than in the breeding and selling of animals. “I’ve always felt that the fiber’s the product. Long term, breeding’s not going to mean a darn thing if you don’t have some product from the animal,” he says. “Otherwise you spend a lot of money on a pet.”

He’d found, as most breeders do, that blanket fibers were easily sent off to make yarn, but that they only accounted for about a third of the clip. “I’ve always felt that all the fiber’s good for something. But even a year ago there really wasn’t anybody addressing the seconds and thirds [which are] 50% to 60% of what you clip off your animal.”

No Fiber Left Behind

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With fiber stored in the barn and the trailer, he adopted the motto “No Fiber Left Behind” and researched equipment for processing ALL of his product. That’s when he found FeltLOOM. “We went into the processing business with felting in mind. My goal with the FeltLOOM, what I’m really after, is make fabric that people will then take and sew into something.”

He’s now making fabric from many fibers. He’s particularly proud of the sheets that are “really, really thin so that it’s easy to sew.”

Beyond Fabric

But fabric made directly from fiber is not the only use Chuck’s customers have found for the FeltLOOM. Local artists and crafts people who wet felt have found it useful for finishing. One brought him a wet-felted rug. The outside was felted, but he could feel that the interior of the thick fabric was cushy and loose. One pass through the loom packed it tighter and made it consistent.

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Another felt artist brought him a wet-felted piece with an overlay accent of silky Angora goat fiber. He explained the problem, “It just kind of sat there on top of the piece. We took her piece and started running it through the FeltLOOM . . . and it made it part of the fabric.”

He’s experimenting on a regular basis. “I play with all sorts of designs and patterns and textures,” he says. “I found a whole artistic part of my personality that I didn’t even know I had.” He says the possibilities “are only limited by your imagination.

About all that Stored Fiber…

When asked if he’s catching up on using all that fiber he has stored, Chuck laughs, “Only a little bit because the processing business is taking off. When I started the processing business, the FeltLOOM was just going to be an additional service. Now the FeltLOOM is driving the processing, rather than the processing driving the FeltLOOM.”

Creative Passion Realized

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Arturo Alonzo Sandoval, a fiber artist whose influential work with non-traditional materials is recognized internationally, is also a professor of art at the University of Kentucky. It is evident when talking to him that he not only inspires his students, but is also inspired by them. When discussing their use of the FeltLOOM he says, “It’s a highly functional and creative tool, and the students really do like it. And that’s what I like, when they get a passion for it. I’m very excited by them getting that passion for it.”

He explains that it was a student, Laverne Zabielski, who introduced him to the FeltLOOM and encouraged him to purchase it for the university art department. “Because of her encouragement and the way she works, we began working with silk and wool together, silk and alpaca, silk and merino wool, and there’s a variety of methods that we’ve used mainly because of Laverne’s own experimentation.”

A New Technology

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Using this new technology Professor Sandoval and his students were on a shared path of discovery. “”We were learning as we were using it,” he says. He cites two examples, “We did discover is that there’s a lot of shrinkage that we didn’t anticipate. And so, especially when you’re starting to do art-to-wear clothing, you’re trying to make yardage, you really have to be aware of that.”

And at one point, in their enthusiasm, some students ran excessive material through that resulted in a surprise. “We saw some broken needles in their wool,” he says, and then cheerfully jokes, “That was s surprise, a little unintended mixed media.”

Creative Experimentation

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Creative experimentation is clearly what truly excites this professor. Speaking again of Laverne Zabieslki, his student who also teaches non-credit night courses on the loom at the university’s Fine Arts Institute, he says, “She began to create on her own . . . new fabric and new patterns, new ways of running silk merino combinations. She’d bring those items into the classroom and that [made] a huge impression with the students.”

Professor Sandoval has chosen the work of another fiber art student, Christine Levitt, to be featured along with his in the fall show, Art Envoy, that opens at the Louisville Visual Art Association in Louisville, Kentucky on August 24 and runs through October 7. Ms. Levitt has created what he calls, some of the “most spectacular pieces to come out of my class.”

The university is only beginning its second year with the FeltLOOM. In the spring it is introduced to students as another technology for making 3-D fiber art, and in the fall, it is used by students who choose it for creating some types of art-to-wear material. If the first year is any indication of the future, we are in for some exciting, vibrant creations as Professor Sandoval and his students continue to experiment with their magic machine.

See many more amazing creations in the FeltLOOM Photo Album!

Knowledge Sharing and Community at the 2012 FeltLOOM Owners Conference

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What an amazing weekend we had, when about 30 FeltLOOMers gathered on the pcturesque Lanmark farm in Sharpsburg, Kentucky, home of the FeltLOOM, September 14-16. The energy was palpable as everyone gathered to talk about what they were already creating and accomplishing with their FeltLOOM. We also learned all of the expanded possibilities for our FeltLOOMs, both for business and creative pursuits.

Each day was filled with interesting speakers and topics, including: how to choose the best needle for your projects; batting designs; marketing your fiber business; fiber blends and how to choose them; cutting devices; FeltLOOM features; steaming, pressing and finishing your felt; the jury and market process; quality standards; and much more. We unwound each day with wine, laughs and great stories, all while enjoying the farm from the wraparound deck at the lodge. Saturday evening we had the FeltLOOM Creations Showcase, which was likely one of the best parts of the weekend. We all got the opportunity to see how we were each using our FeltLOOM in our own way, branding the output to our business, whether it is a mill, breeding business, or fiber art business.

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Because we all live and work in our own corners of the world, meeting and talking with fellow FeltLOOMers is an amazing experience. The knowledge sharing among FeltLOOM owners was priceless and the vision that Don and Lanette put forth inspired us all. The conference was full of speakers and topics that were practical and also expanded our vision for what the FeltLOOM can do. We also learned about plans for new models and how the FeltLOOM business is growing.

Much more will come out of the lively conversations we had about topics such as alpaca quality standards, achieving new effects with blends and needle variations, new product and business ideas, breeding trends, and so much more. We all reluctantly left on Sunday, loaded with more knowledge, experience, and a greater sense of the FeltLOOM community. At the same time, Don and Lanette were so grateful to everyone who came out to spend the weekend, because the energy and learning that took place further fuels their own research and vision for the FeltLOOM.

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Here’s a snapshot of Don talking about the incredible contributions and leadership Lanette has lent to the FeltLOOM vision, right from the start. And while we all believed him, he definitely understated his own knowledge, business leadership, and product engineering expertise!

While it’s safe to say that everyone learned a lot throughout the weekend, the takeaway was much more than the practical FeltLOOM knowledge that was given to us. This is a group of positive people with ‘can-do’ attitudes, who are growing their businesses, and the FeltLOOM is one of the tools they are using to fulfill their goals and dreams. What an amazing community!

See the photo album of speakers & events.

Take a photo tour of the FeltLOOM farm.

Fibers: An Evolving Industry

Fibers: An Evolving Industry

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Raising alpacas is still a new industry in this country, an evolving industry. As a result most alpaca breeders have had to be adaptable. Denise Coonley, of Crestwood, Kentucky is just such a breeder. Although she has been raising alpacas for only four years, she has changed her business plan four times. “We got in when it was all about breeding and selling the animals. Of course the market crashed right after that. So I had all this fiber and had to figure out a way to make money.”

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She took every kind of lesson that she could, first learning to spin and then studying weaving. Though she enjoyed both, they weren’t for her. It was on a tour of Flaggy Meadows Fiber Mill that

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she first saw the FeltLOOM. ThDeniseSmall2ey made her some fabric that she used to cut out and put together a jacket for her husband. That was when she knew that fabric was her niche.

Before long she had her own 36-inch FeltLOOM. Now she makes everything from translucent, gauzy shawls to winter coats. “I think my favorite thing about the FeltLOOM is that you can run from very thin to a nice winter coat thickness fabric out of it. There’s very little that you can’t make. And it cuts and sews and doesn’t fray. It’s really wonderful.”

Something New

Denise isn’t finished evolving. She is constantly experimenting with fiber blends to give the alpaca elasticity and memory. “Every time I turn around I’m trying something new.” And she has just started a new venture with two partners, Roni Perkins and Annette Browning. Using the initials of their first names, they call their new business R.A.D. Fibers. They launched an Etsy Store in July at www.Etsy.com/shop/radfibers and are planning a fiber retreat for the spring of 2013.

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And that 36-inch FeltLOOM? She’s already upgraded to a 48-inch. Though she says that the 36-inch was a “wonderful, wonderful machine,” she adds, “Commercially viable fabric for patterns is 45 or 60 inches and so [with the 36-inch machine] I couldn’t offer someone a piece of fabric that they could just take to a pattern . . . so I went ahead and upgraded.”

So far in this young industry, change is the only constant; and Denise Cooley is clearly up to the challenge that constant change presents.

Catch the Spirit!

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“Behind every successful ranch is a good job in town.” Every rancher in the country has probably heard that one. Lee and Sandy Liggett of Whispering Spirit Alpacas in Sandia Park, New Mexico have heard it, and they’ve lived it. But their experience with their FeltLOOM is showing them a profitable road ahead for this young industry through the manufacturing of clothing. Lee says that when he and Sandy got into the Alpaca business five or six years ago the industry was mostly a show ring operation based on raising and selling animals and collecting stud fees.

DSC_6158 They saw that model as more of a hobby than a business. But Sandy is an artist and was interested in the fabric. “That’s really what compelled us to go into Alpacas because it has such a nice fleece.” They started offering yarns and roving, but Sandy wanted to get into designing and manufacturing clothing. That direction also especially appealed to them for philosophical reasons. Lee says. “So much manufacturing in this country is gone. It’s offshore.”

They liked to idea making a contribution to bringing some of it back. Sandy had her eye on the FeltLOOM for some time. They took the plunge and purchased the largest model in 2010. Lee now works on the loom, creating fabric and experimenting with blends. Sandy creates the prototypes for their clothing, which is then constructed by three local seamstresses. They sell mostly through juried craft shows, but also through some galleries. Lee says, “I really think the use of the fleece is going to drive the industry. If a person believes that they can shear an animal and at least cover their costs . . . that’s going to help everybody.” Lee says that one thing that they’ve really enjoyed is, “getting a business started where there really is no blueprint.”

WhisperingSpiritAlpacas_copy They like the challenge of solving problems and creating their own road forward. Sandy still has a good job in town, but maybe the day is coming when that won’t be necessary because Lee says the business is gaining traction.

Visit their website at www.whisperingspiritalpacas.com to see more images of Sandy’s designs.

Holiday Possibilities

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Heather Blanchard says that she and Norris McAuslan, owners of Edy’s Mills Fine Fibres in Oil Springs, Ontario, Canada have had their “48″ since March of this year. As she puts it, the FeltLOOM gives them another option that they can offer the fiber farmers whose fleece they process. She says that, as the customers learn more about the loom, they’re starting to get excited about its possibilities.

But their processing customers aren’t the only ones learning about the possibilities. Edy’s Mills also organizes and offers FeltLOOM workshops for others to enjoy. They have worked with people to create wall hangings, purses, slippers, scarves, and many other creative items.

For the wall hangings they provided a base background for each participant as well as colored roving, yarn, and other interesting material. Heather ran the machine. She says that workshop was a big hit. “Everybody had lots of fun and every creation was absolutely different from the next. That’s always the fun part.”

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They organize some of the workshops, but also allow others to put together their own groups. Some bring their own materials and are only renting time on the machine; others ask Edy’s Mills to provide materials, such as slipper and tote bag bases. They must have a minimum number of participants and Heather always operates the machine.

We got the scoop on an upcoming holiday workshop that hasn’t even been announced yet. Heather laughs when she tells us, “I’m letting the cat out of the bag on this one. We’re going to host a Christmas tree skirt workshop, so people can create their own tree skirts.” When asked if we could post her plans, or if they wanted to keep them under wraps, she replied that she was willing to share. She said, “That’s one thing that we all appreciated when we were at the feltLOOM gathering, everybody sharing what creations they’re making.”

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Do you have plans for creative holiday projects on the feltLOOM? You can share them by posting them in a comment. We’d all love to know what you’re up to. Learn more about Edy’s Mills Fine Fibres on their website.

Farmer, Breeder, Mill Owner

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Heather Blanchard and Norris McAuslan co-own Edy’s Mills Fine Fibres, in Ontario, where they run their mill, raise alpacas and farm 500 acres of soy beans and wheat. They also grow their own hay. Heather runs the fiber mill, which processes fibers into roving, felt, batting, jute core rug yarn, and other yarns. Heather, who has a maintenance background in large industry, combines her technical skills with her experience in raising livestock and an interest in crafts and creating things to bring the FeltLOOM to her mill. It has given her the ability to offer new products to her customers and it has given her the inspiration to make a variety of innovative products herself.

Heather and Norris originally started their fiber operation with two huacaya females. Heather reflects, “As we researched their care and maintenance, we realized that there weren’t enough processing services, and that started us thinking about starting our own mill.” Over the years we’ve had as many as 130 and right now we’re down to about sixty. “The nice thing about alpacas is that they live for a long time, produce a product every year, and let’s face it, they’re so darn cute. They each have their own personalities, and we know every one of them as an individual.” Like many people, Heather stumbled upon the FeltLOOM. “I heard about FeltLOOM by accident.

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I used to have a wet felting table, but I kept thinking that someone should make an industrial needle felter for small mills, and there it was. We were able to sell our wet felting table and move forward!” We are a mill that does custom processing, and we need to speed that process up. Depending on what we’re making, it takes several passes. The FeltLOOM gives us that, and now we that have explored different needles, we can expand the kinds of end products we can create and offer to our customers. We talk with our clients and find out what kind of felt they want. We talk with customers to find out what they plan on doing with their felt. This is really important, because even with spinning, we need to know what customers are going to use the fibers for, in order to create the right product for them.

In Heather’s words, “Over time, we’ve had requests for everything from a quilt liner, to saddle pads and boot insoles. We also have a finished line of products. We also create felted vests, slippers, wall hangings, and more. We have all kinds of products that we’ve been working on. We even have made cat tunnels! People are constantly coming up with ideas. Every process has been sped up. As you can imagine every one of those items were being wet felted by hand, and we would add some embellishments by hand with a hand needle felting process. As you can imagine, the FeltLOOM has revolutionized our capabilities!” Learn more about Edy’s Mills Fine Fibres at www.alpacascanada.com or visit their etsy store at etsy.edysmillsfinefibres.com

Designing with Felt: Natural Edges

Here is an idea from the FeltLOOM desgin vault:

Design your felt so that there are nature edges that do not require sewing. For example when making sleeves, or jacket edges, design the batting with the colors you want at the end of the sleeve and felt the color and edging to your desired look. After felting, the edge can be sewn and the end left alone, because it will not ravel and will provide an artful look.

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