Alpaca Direct Sock Knitalong

Sock Knit-A-Long!

We’re excited to announce our first ever Alpaca Direct Knit-A-Long! We’ll be knitting the wonderful Universal Toe-Up Sock pattern by Amy Swenson, which is a free pattern from Knitty, Summer 2006. We’ve chosen this pattern because it is a great recipe for creating a well fitting sock for any size foot with any weight yarn and any size needle! So, join us for this adventure whether it’s your very first sock or your 407th sock we’re sure you’ll enjoy embarking on this adventure with us!

What’s a Knit-A-Long? 
It’s like an online knitting group! We’ll be helping each other as we work on our socks, share our projects and experience, and get to know each other! We’ll also be giving away prizes throughout the KAL, and there will be multiple chances to win yarn and needles!

How do I join? 
We’ll be posting blog posts here on the Alpaca Direct blog about our progress here at Alpaca Direct, answering questions and hosting chatter in the Alpaca Direct Ravelry group, and sharing photos on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter. You can share your photos with us by using #ADsockalong

Which yarn and needles should I choose?
You should choose needles that are appropriate for your chosen yarn. Since this pattern is a recipe style you can choose anything from a fingering weight sock yarn to a worsted weight yarn. If you’d like your socks to be machine washable make sure you choose a superwash yarn. We’re so excited about this KAL that we’re having a huge sale! Here’s a list of our featured sale yarns just for this KAL:

(Note -We originally intended to provide a coupon for just these yarns but decided instead to discount them right on the website so no coupon is needed!)

Cascade Heritage Sock–A great option if you’d like to make fingering weight socks! One skein is enough for most sizes.
Cascade Heritage 150–A sport weight superwash sock yarn with nylon that will ensure your socks will hold their shape and last for years!
Cascade 220 Superwash–With 77 colors we’re sure there’s one you’ll love! This worsted weight is a great option for a heavier sock.
Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Sock–A hand dyed yarn that’s available in both solid and variegated colorways this yarn is extremely soft and a joy to knit with.
Sweet Georgia Tough Love Sock–Another great hand dyed yarn for knitters who like colorful socks!

This pattern looks hard! Can I handle it? 
Yes! If this is your first pair of socks you might find it easier to work with a heavier weight yarn. We’ll be answering questions and helping each other in the Ravelry group, so we’re here to help if you get stuck! Join the fun and make a new group of online knitting friends!

Sounds great, sign me up! 
The KAL officially starts on Thursday, July 31 and runs through Aug 30. Now you can order your yarn and make your gauge swatch. Don’t forget to start a project page on Ravelry, and tell us about your yarn choice in the Ravelry group!

ADsockalong

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The Ranch to Alpaca Roving Journey

Each year we shear our alpacas and harvest their fiber to make into roving for our customers.  Our animals have been carefully chosen for their fiber quality, color and great personalities. As the summer heats up, it is important to remove the fiber so each alpaca can stay cool and comfortable.

Alpacas waiting to be shorn

Alpacas waiting to be shorn

During shearing we separate the fiber into 3 bags for each animal.  The blanket is the “1st” fiber, the neck and belly are “2nd’s” and the legs are “3rds” On our ranch, we process 1st and 2nds while using 3rds for felting and other craft projects. This means the softest, cleanest fibers are used to produce our rovings.

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The first step on the way to roving is called sorting where we inspect the each fleece, clean out debris  and properly classify the fiber with each animal.  We then skirt the fiber on  a skirting rack by laying each fiber on the rack and allowing hay and vegetation to fall through the rack.  We again inspect the fibers and bag and tag each skirted fiber based on the quality grade and name of the animal it came from.

Off To The Mill

We are fortunate to have a fiber processing mill just 15 minutes from our ranch and store. The mill is run by Karen Goodson of Fibers First and she is a long-time fiber enthusiast who does a great job turning our fleece into roving. Fibers First is a local, family run business here in Northern Idaho. Some of the machinery they are utilizing was manufactured at the turn of the 20th century!

Before the fiber can be fed into the machine it needs to be washed and dried to remove as much dirt and debris as possible. All the fiber is thoroughly cleaned, sometimes requiring two or more washes. Fibers First contracts with another local fiber producer to wash the fiber processed at the mill.

Once the fiber is dry it is run through the picking machine to agitate the fiber and remove more debris caught in the fibers.  It is then blown into a room where if forms a fluffy pile of alpaca with the extra debris settling on the ground below the picker.   The picker used at the mill is a Davis Furber and was made in 1940.

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Feeding raw fiber into the picker

 

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Fluffy Alpaca Fiber after going through the Picker

 

The clean fiber is then fed through a carder. The carder is a Davis Furber and is two machines hooked together.  The front half was made in 1919 and the back half was made 1911.  This is heavy duty machinery and Karen depends on her husband and son to keep this amazing system running smoothly. When parts occasionally fail Karen and her team need to fashion their own parts and repairs to keep the  machines running. This mill is a piece of living history!

 

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Combing the fiber

The pin drafter is a Warner and Swassey machine and is monitored closely while the fiber is fed through the process. The process is closely monitored by hand and each batch is kept separate in these barrels and tagged with the fiber type and animal’s name.

 

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Feeding the pin drafter machine

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Guiding roving as it comes out of the pin drafter

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Pin Drafted Roving Ready To Be Spun

Once the yarn is pin drafted, the mill can spin it into yarn.

 

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Spinning machine making yarn

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Spinning yarn onto a spindle

With our fleece we chose to stop the process at the roving stage to allow handspinners the opportunity to spin the fiber into the yarn of their choice.  Through the entire process we keep each animal’s fleece separate so the roving carries the unique qualities of the specific alpaca for that year.   When our customers purchase the roving,  we can provide a photo of the animal so they can see where the roving originated.  Often times our customers will create a unique hand-made scarf or sweater and include a picture of the alpaca when presenting it has a gift.

 

Annabelle Roving

Annabelle Roving

 

Boomer Roving

Boomer Roving

This is an amazing opportunity to grow fiber, process it locally and the end product can proudly be labeled “Grown and processed in Northern Idaho, USA”.  We are so pleased to offer these beautiful, luxurious alpaca rovings on a limited availability basis. Each alpaca is sheared just once per year, so the supply is limited. If you see something you just can’t wait to spin…better get it quickly!

 

 

AD heels

How to Choose Your Sock Heel

AD heels

When knitting socks there are a lot of options. You can work your socks on double points, magic loop, or two circulars. You can knit one at a time, two at a time, or two at a time with one nested inside the other. You can choose to knit toe up, top down, side to side, or from the heel out.

Today’s post is about the heel of your sock. This is a part of your sock that takes a lot of wear, and is critical in the comfort and the fit of your sock. To become a true sock expert we encourage you to try as many sock constructions as you can–and we’re here to help you review some of the options! All of the options we cover today were worked from the bottom up, as if you were working a toe-up sock. However, there are top-down equivalents for all of the techniques.

Afterthought Heel

afterthoughtThe afterthought heel allows you to knit the whole sock as a tube, then work the heel afterwards.
Pro: It makes knitting your sock super easy–whether you’re working from the toe or from the cuff  90% of your sock will just be knitting without any shaping.
Con: It’s not the most comfortable heel, and has a tendency to slip off the foot.
A great tutorial from The Yarn Harlot on the afterthought heel, and another one from Knitting Up A Storm.

Heel Flap

heelflap

A sock with a heel flap is the classic knit sock. You can work a slip stitch pattern on the flap to make it even more durable.
Pro: Fits well and it’s easy to customize and work a pattern on the heel.
Con: If you’re working with a self striping yarn the yarn will pool on the heel.
Here’s a great tutorial from Miriam Felton on creating a better fitting toe-up heel flap, and here’s one from Knit Better Socks on how to work a top-down heel flap.

Short Row Heel

short-row

The short row heel is a quick and easy heel that doesn’t require a gusset. That means it’ll probably be faster to knit. The fit is usually more comfortable than an afterthought heel.

Pro: It’s fast and fairly simple to work, there are many variations so you’re sure to find a technique that works for you.
Con: It tends to create holes in the heel, and is less sturdy than a heel flap.
Here’s a detailed tutorial on working a short row heel on a top-down sock from Laura Chau. Here’s a no wrap version of the short row heel from Happy Knits.

Fleegle’s Heel

fleegle

Fleegle’s heel is a combination of the short row heel and the traditional heel flap.
Pro: Fleegle’s heel is more subtle in look than the heel flap and provides a heel without holes.
Con: Following the directions is not for the beginner knitter, we recommend knitting a more traditional sock before trying Fleegle’s heel.

Fleegle’s guide to her toe-up no-flap, no-hassle heel, and here a guide to working the heel from the top-down by Knitters Brewing Co.

We’d love to hear about your favorite sock heel! Leave us a comment and tell which of these is your favorite, or if there’s another technique you prefer.

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A Passion for Fashion!

olga2Meet Alpaca Direct customer Olga Babenko. A graduate from Kharkov institute of technology (Ukraine), she worked in the fashion industry in New York for 10 years and now  runs her own fashion business in Philadelphia.  She recently sent us a few pictures of the items she creates and they are amazing!
Olga describes the art she creates with fiber:
“When creating the clothing, I prefer, and as much as possible, tend to use all natural materials such as: cotton, linen, rayon, silk, wool, etc.  I incorporate knitted and crocheted elements with vintage fabric, lace, and buttons which aren’t commonly found.”
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I enjoy both sewing handmade clothing as well as creating designs with handmade felt, depending on the season and my inspiration.
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The styles I create are often dictated by my mood and I tend to make clothing ranging from the Victorian era to urban and many other styles.
I use Alpaca Direct wool roving and other fibers for hand felted coats and scarves; yarns for needle felted accessories.
If the gray days of fall are dragging you down, why not wear the most colorful clothes in your wardrobe?olga10
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“I prefer vibrant colors and floral motifs in clothing I create; it may be because I grew up in the far North of Russia, where there was a lot of snow and very few flowers.”
Thanks Olga… for sharing your passion for fashion with us!

A Little Hand Knit Gift For Mom

With Mother’s Day fast approaching, I decided I needed to start thinking about what to get my mother. Seeing as she was the one who taught me to knit, I thought I would try to knit her something. In the past I have made her hats, gloves, scarves, etc. Now, however, she lives in an area where the temperature does not get low enough for her to use any of those, so trying to find the perfect hand knit gift was a little tricky. I searched my stash and in my muddled basket of yarn I found some leftover balls of Zitron Pro Natura sock yarn that I had used on a pair of socks for my grandfather.

I had chosen the yarn, but I still didn’t have a pattern. It was to the internet I went, hoping to find something easy, cute, and different. As I was browsing through the pages on Ravelry, I found the pattern Sock Monkee 2.1.  The pattern, if you can guess, was for a sock monkey. It was perfect. My mother loves sock monkeys. I mean she LOVES sock monkeys. The pattern was cute, seemed easy, and was something I had never made before, so it would be an adventure. It was everything I was looking for and more.

This was my first foray into knitting a toy, so it was an courtney1adventure, but the pattern was fun and simple enough. The one area I had a little trouble was with the Turkish Cast On. I had never used this cast on method before and I found the written instructions a little confusing. I’m not sure if the confusion was due to how the instructions were written, or because there were no pictures (I find it extremely difficult to learn something knew in knitting without pictures). With a little help from the internet this issue was quickly resolved and I learned the new cast on quickly.

 

 

courtney2The Turkish Cast On allowed me to cast onto both of my needles at once. It leaves the work seamless, which is nice when making the limbs of a stuffed toy. Because the cast on places the yarn on both needles and has me working in the round between these two needles, it was great because I could stuff the toy easily when the time came. This became especially pertinent as I worked on the head and body because I could stuff the toy as I went along.

Moving past the new cast on, the pattern was very easy. This project was a fast finish for me. He turned out cuter than I could have asked for, and I am sure my mother will be thrilled. I knit all the limbs of the monkey, the tail, the body, and attached them all in just a couple of days. With plenty of time to spare before Mother’s Day! I only wish I could see her face when she opens up the package with this lovely creature inside.courtney 3

Courtney Berge, Alpaca Direct Staff

 

 

Honoring the one who took on the World’s Hardest Job for you

Kjirstine Prickett

By Kjirstine Prickett

Customer Service Manager at Alpaca Direct

 

 

Senior Pictures: My Grandmother 1946 and me in 1991

Senior Pictures: My Grandmother 1946 and me in 1991

 

That’s my Grandma. Her senior picture, taken around 1946. That’s my senior picture next to it, taken in 1991. The photographer who took my picture had never seen the photo of my grandmother.  Astounding, isn’t it?

Each of us has someone in our life who slowed the pursuit of their own interests, career, or plans to take on what has been called “The World’s Hardest Job”.  You’ve probably seen the viral video where a man pretends to interview candidates and their look of disbelief as he lists the requirements, tasks and rewards associated with the job he is offering. Many of the candidates describe it as “inhumane”, or “Illegal” and none of them look as if they are willing to accept the terms he offers. He then makes the big reveal. “It’s motherhood”, he says.

I’ve been blessed to have my mom, my grandma, my mother-in-law, and several other women in my life. My mom was a full-time, stay at home mom, and the amount of time she invested in my life is huge. I am forever grateful for the things she taught me… the biggest one being that she taught me to love learning. “Go get a book about it, “ she would say. (Pre-internet days, of course!)  Because of her I can teach myself almost anything. Spinning, knitting, tatting.

And then there’s my Grandma. She taught me the value of family, heritage, and hospitality. She took time to learn and teach all of us the crafts and foods of our Scandinavian heritage. (She was awarded “Norwegian of the year” from her Sons of Norway chapter one year.  Her family is German and she married a Norwegian).  She taught me that things made by hand are precious. Her home was always open to all of us, to her large extended family from North Dakota and the even more extended family from Canada and Norway. Around her table, I met family I would never have known otherwise. She made every holiday…every holiday, an event for us. That’s why she is so close to my heart every Mother’s Day. My grandma doesn’t notice holidays anymore. She’s losing her battle with Alzheimers. But I haven’t forgotten the things she invested in my life.

Take time this Mother’s Day to honor the person in your life who made a difference,  who steered you to where you are, the one who gave you the skills and resources you need to live. It’s not always your mom. But there’s someone who took on that role for you. Get them flowers, cook them a meal, give them a hug, buy them a gift.

And if you’re a mom, thanks for taking on the World’s Hardest Job.  We’re all at different stages. I have a child in each High, Middle, and Elementary school. My challenges are balancing schedules and carpools. My sister is anticipating the birth of a longed-for second child this fall. She’s juggling much-needed rest for her hardworking body with caring for a toddler. My mom has an empty nest and is learning to live in that newer aspect of life. But we’re all moms. We all know what it is to live the World’s Hardest Job.

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

My own rainbow

Dyeing in the Kitchen

Koolaid and Easter Egg dye. Inexpensive, brightly colored…perfect for dyeing wool.

With the sun shining today, I decided to pull out the dye pots and have some fun.

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Here’s some of my stash that I thought might work.

I don’t pretend to be an expert in dyeing, I used Google liberally to look up instructions and directions. On the stove top, I dyed 12 ounces of Targhee roving with  “Ghoul Berry”(blackberry) Koolaid.

 

 

Dye pot on the stove

Dye pot on the stove

I decided not to pre soak it, but added it to the dye pot dry. I was hoping for a mottled look. It didn’t quite come out as I hoped, but I am hoping it will spin up nicely. I may also re-dye it, because a dye disaster is never the end. You can always dye it again!

Targhee roving, dyed with Koolaid, drying

Targhee roving, dyed with Koolaid, drying

I also had my roaster pan going, for painted yarns. I used Easter egg dye for these. After I mixed the dye, I put plastic wrap on the counter and laid out the pre-soaked roving and yarns.

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Grey wool/alpaca painted with purple egg dye.

After each one was painted, I secured the plastic.

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Handspun Targhee yarn, dyed with egg dye and koolaid

They steamed about 45 minutes in the roaster.

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I took them out and cooled them to room temperature before rinsing, spinning the water out, and hanging them to dry.

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I used the dip dye/jar method for this yarn, also with egg dye.

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Handspun Targhee, dyed with egg dye

I steamed it in a stock pot, on a rack. When the color was right, I sat them on the counter to cool to room temperature too.

After lots of rinsing and spinning out, I hung them to dry out side.

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Handspun yarns, dyed with koolaid and egg dye. Completely non-toxic and easy!

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Wool/alpaca roving painted with purple egg dye.

 

I also put some handspun grey yarn to soak and then put it in the crockpot with koolaid:

Soak yarn before dyeing, about 20 minutes.

Soak yarn before dyeing, about 20 minutes.

I placed the damp yarn in the crock pot and gently poured hot dye over it, making sure the fiber was completely covered.

Crockpot set on high.

Crockpot set on high.

Let it cook until the dye is exhausted, or you get the color you want.

Natural grey and brown wool, dyed with Blue Raspberry Lemonade Koolaid

Natural grey and brown wool, dyed with Blue Raspberry Lemonade Koolaid

I used the same technique for some Suri Locks. These I contained in an onion bag, but soaked and poured the same.

Suri alpaca locks, dyed with Lime Koolaid

Suri alpaca locks, dyed with Lime Koolaid

The dye studio

The dye studio

This was a great one day project that yielded some wonderful colorways.  Now on to making some knitted creations with my hand dyed yarns!

 

 

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A New Challenge with Fingerless Mitts

Recently a friend sent me a photo of a pair of fingerless mitts and asked it I could knit her pair. The photo intrigued me and when I located the pattern on Ravelry, the construction techniques fascinated me.

It’s called “Pieces of Eight”. I couldn’t wait to give it a try, so I checked my stash and found some Shooting Yarn Panda Sock in colorway “Hey Mister!”.

I cast on and although I got hung up on Step 5 the first time through, I figured it out. The first mitt is a bit lumpy:

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But I started on mitt 2 and I am really enjoying practicing this figure eight construction!

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I will be knitting a set for my friend (she wants a wool-less set), and I would love to try a pair in Zauberball Sock. Notice my favorite Kollage Needles. I found that having a 40″ circular and a set of DPNs was really helpful.

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I knit a lot. And I mean a LOT. Sometimes I just need a new challenge, a new technique or unique yarn to relight my enthusiasm. This pattern was just exactly that. Quick, fun and rewarding. I love the finished result and feel rejuvenated.

What new challenges are you attempting in your knitting?

A Stretchy Sewn Bind-Off Tutorial

AD-stretchy-bind-offToday’s post is about a lesser known stretchy bind off. It’s a variation on Elizabeth Zimmerman’s sewn bind off, but stretchier! This bind off is great for toe up socks, and anywhere you’d like a nice stretchy edge. It’s also a near perfect match for the backwards loop cast on! We suggest trying this on your next cowl too, as you can have perfectly matching and stretchy edges on both your cast on and bind off edges.

This bind off can be difficult if worked over really large numbers of stitches, like on the bottom edge of a shawl. Because the yarn is cut and pulled through the stitches you need a tail that’s four times the length of your fabric where you are binding off, which can be quite large on the bottom edging of a shawl!

This bind off is, however, faster and easier than some of the knit alternatives, so we’d recommend trying it on smaller projects that have a moderate number of stitches that need to be bound off.

This bind off is great for any pattern you’re working. Our swatch here is knit in stockinette stitch, but this bind off works on all stitch patterns equally well.

Alpaca Direct Stretchy Bind Off

Step 1: Measure out yarn to about 4 times the length of your fabric, then an extra 10-16″ for a tail, cut yarn and thread through a blunt tip tapestry needleAlpaca Direct Stretchy Bind Off

Step 2: Insert  the tapestry needle purlwise into the first stitch, pulling it off the needle.
Alpaca Direct Stretchy Bind Off

Step 3: Insert tapestry needle knitwise into the next stitch, leaving the stitch on the needle. Alpaca Direct Stretchy Bind Off

Step 3: Pull yarn through the two stitches, leaving a loop before the first stitch (the one that you just dropped off the knitting needle). DSC_0653

Step 4: With the yarn in front bring the tapestry needle through the loop, from front to back, making sure the loop is not twisted. Alpaca Direct Stretchy Bind Off

Step 5: Pull yarn and tapestry needle until the loop is snug.  You’ve bound off one stitch!Alpaca Direct Stretchy Bind Off

Repeat Steps 1-5 until there’s one stitch left on the needle, and just slip that off the needle. It won’t unravel because you’ve already passed yarn through this stitch, since the sewn bind off pulls the yarn through each stitch twice, (once when you pull through and leave the stitch on the needle, and again when you thread the yarn through the stitch and pull it off the needle). The first and last stitch will only have the yarn passed through once, but that’s enough to make sure it won’t come unraveled. If you try this bind off we’d love to hear about it!

If you knit socks cuff down be sure to take a look at our Super Stretchy Picot Cast-On Tutorial!

Is there another technique that you’d like to see us write about on the blog? Leave a comment and let us know!  In the meantime, happy yarn shopping at Alpaca Direct!

 

mom-daughter-knitting

Knitting Helps Mentor a Healthy Lifestyle

By: Kelley Hobart:  Owner – Alpaca Direct

Kelley HobartMentoring others to knit and crochet is a great way to share one aspect of a healthy lifestyle.   In this day and age we parents need to be positive mentors to our children to promote healthy crafts.  What does being a mentor mean?  It means someone who imparts wisdom to and who shares knowledge with the less experienced. Who better to mentor children than their parents?   Afterall, we are the ones who would lay down our lives for them at a moments notice.

We will do almost anything to ensure their safety and comfort in life. We spend a large part of our lives grooming them into responsible adults.    We live by sound moral ethics and promote healthy living so that they will do the same when they are adults. We encourage giving back to the community and helping our fellow neighbors whenever possible.

Mom and Daughters in the parade last summer

Moms and Daughters in the parade last summer

For my childhood, parental mentoring had it’s challenges. There were seven children in my family, four boys and three girls.  My twin sister and I were the youngest.  My dad left my mom and our family when my sister and I were 11 months old. He took the keys to the car, and I’ve never seen him to this day.  My brother, Todd, was two days less than a year older than us so mom had three babies in diapers,  no job, and no support system. Those were rough times for us, but mom kept us all together and I never remember mom sitting down when we were little.  She mentored a very strong work ethic!

My twin sister Shelley and I were inseparable

My twin sister Shelley and I were inseparable

I did not have my birth dad as a mentor, but I had many other positive role models during those formative years.  One mentor was Mrs. Hupp. She was an older woman who had lost her husband and visited the coast to stay at her cabin during the summer months. I would spend weeks with her during the summer. Her cabin had no running water, and we baked many pies on her wood fueled oven. I remember the deer in the back yard and the raccoons that we fed and watched with a spotlight that shone brightly over the tree trunk that we placed the scraps on. Those were some wonderful times! I still miss Mrs. Hupp and how she mentored me to appreciate the simple things in life.

Then when I was in high school my counselor, Steve Jurist, helped me find a way to realize my dream of going to college. I was the first to get a college degree in my family and was able to change my life and lift myself from the poverty that my biological father had left us in so many years ago.

My graduation as an RN

My graduation as an RN

Never miss an opportunity to help and mentor others. Show your children that you care by spending time with them. Whether you teach them to knit, bake a pie, or ride a horse, you will impact their lives. You may not realize it today, but the result will be the same. Their lives will be improved because you took the time to share a little of yourself with them while mentoring a healthy lifestyle.

 I love to see mother and daughters in our store learning to knit together. It is fun to see them mentoring patience, perseverance and just sharing stories about life while they craft a hand knit item together.

My daughter and I training the Alpacas

Our daughter Lauren and I training the Alpacas

At Alpaca Direct we are proud to be part of the mentoring process when it comes to learning the fiber arts of knitting, crochet and hand-spinning yarn. We carry a full line of fiber art accessories, including hundreds of needles and thousands of yarns. Our unique selection of products also includes Peruvian hand-loomed lace scarves, luxurious alpaca socks and cuddly alpaca teddy bears.

 Our building is handicap accessible, with ample parking and is easy to find.  We are located on Hayden Avenue, just two blocks west of Hwy 95 at 1016 W Hayden Ave. in Hayden.

Our store is open 10am – 6pm Monday through Friday and 10am – 3pm Saturday. Visit us at 1016 W. Hayden Avenue or online at www.AlpacaDirect.com – your local destination for luxury yarn, socks, apparel & gifts. “Like” us on Facebook and Yelp for exclusive coupons, product spotlights & news!