Who’d have thought a bag of alpaca poo
would have changed my life?
During the long, boring summer of 2010 I thought back on my Canadian gap year with painful fondness and nostalgia. I don’t know if it was a whim or whether it was a thought which had been festering in the back of my mind for a while but I decided one morning that I wanted to own an alpaca farm. Until the previous summer I had never even heard of alpacas; llamas being the more commonly known of the South American camelids in my native UK.
It was my first night on the farm on the outskirts of Edmonton when Lady G asked me if I wanted to help her pick up some alpaca poo from a neighbour and I looked at her with bleary-eyed confusion, not having a clue what she was talking about. To cut a long story a little bit shorter, I fell in love with the beautiful creatures the moment I laid my eyes on them…Skip back to 2010 and my thought process was such:
‘They’re awesome and I MUST own my own herd one day… but what can I do with them? I know they’re bred for their fleece like sheep but what does that actually mean?’
A couple of hours of googling later and I had purchased my first drop spindle from a fantastic lady known as the ‘Alpaca Spinner’.
If this was an AA meeting I would pinpoint this moment as the epicentre of my addiction – the moment that changed the way I saw both my present and my future forever.
A few months down the line and I was gifted a beautiful Ashford Traditional spinning wheel for my combined Christmas and 21st birthday (after a lot of hinting and just a little bit of begging) and my addiction was now peddle-powered! Although still a novice I practiced the basics and although I would never call myself a natural I managed to train my foot and hands to work separately from each other, at least enough to produce a few skeins of well-balanced worsted yarn.
After just a few short months, however, I was torn away from my beautiful wheel (by now known as Seònaid), and for the next 15 months I would travel alone, passing through countless towns, cities and countries, with only my knitting needles for comfort. When I finally returned to Aberdeen I was a changed young woman and wanted to break free from the restrictions imposed by traditionalist spinsters.
During my haitus (ok, so I was sent on my year abroad in Switzerland with my university French dept) I had spent night after night reading blogs and searching the internet for spinning tutorials. I was very much inspired by the works of North American fibre artists such as Neauveau and Camaj Fibre Art and the freedom with which they spin their yarns. I love the idea of throwing out the rule book and spinning what you WANT to spin, slubs and all.
It was also around this time that I decided I wanted to get involved with the incredible charity, Childreach International with whom I spent 6 long days trekking to the Lost City of the Incas: Machu Picchu, in August 2013. CI are a grass roots charity which works with local communities in the developing
world and in the last year alone has provided over 70,000 children with an education, healthcare and freedom from abuse and violence. In advance of the trek I had to fundraise a substantial £2450 for the charity… not a small sum by any means! I spent a long time thinking it over and figured that I could combine the opening of my hand-spinning and knitting business with my fundraising and voilà!
Several months down the line and I managed to reach my fundraising target, the first person in my team to do so, through various fundraising schemes (sponsored abstinence from facebook, sponsored vegetarianism etc) but the most fun and lucrative by far was through online and craft fair sales from my Sealy MacWheely cottage industry.
It has given me a chance to experiment with new techniques and I have further increased my fibre addiction to add dyeing, felting and weaving to my repertoire and I also have a penchant for searching out unusual fibres to work with including banana, acrylic, sari silk and all types of animal fibre!
I still dream of owning my alpaca farm and one day I hope this dream will become a reality… in the meantime, however, I am content with spending my spare time spinning away in my small but well-proportioned craft room singing ‘Nam biodh agam gioball bodaich’ (a Scottish Gaelic song about dunking a ragged old man in a river) to myself… it’s a funny old life and all this has sprung from a simple bag of alpaca poo, then again, it is a bloomin’ good fertiliser!