Clearly I haven’t been back to blogging for a bit. I confess, I was pretty frustrated by the alpaca debacle. I launched what I thought would be a fun and interesting investigation in pursuit of a tidbit dangled by Judith Mackenzie, fiber expert. Instead I found myself, as well as Judith herself, to be the recipient of derision, scorn, and animosity from alpaca breeders. Doods! I am not saying that your most wonderful California or Virginia alpaca is somehow inferior! I’m just saying that I ascribed to “alpaca is prickly and drapey”, but Judith’s words made me want to challenge that assertion by figuring some things out on my own. That’s it!
Here are some things I wrote in rebuttal to comments here and in my Ravelry inbox.
“Yesterday I watched part of Judith’s DVD on Spinning Luxury Fiber…Based on that viewing, I am going to presume that when she told her Northwest audiences that Northwest alpaca is unique, she meant that North American alpaca is different from Peruvian traditional and commercial flocks, and that the Pacific climate happens to be a good place to grow high-quality alpaca fiber — but not necessarily any different from that grown elsewhere in North America by careful breeders. I also think that when she says that all alpaca fiber is medullated, she is working on outdated information. All alpaca fiber is *capable* of being medullated, but any given fiber can be completely, incompletely, or almost not medullated. In this way it differs from sheep’s wool, which was the real gist of the reason for relating medullation/wave to lack of medullation/crimp. Finally, I think that Judith is and remains an excellent judge of the qualities that make a given fiber suitable for different textiles. From novelty yarns to traditional weaving to unusual knits, Judith looks at a fiber — from any plant or animal — and sees its potential. And she wants to convey to her students that North American alpaca has a vast, unusual, wonderful and special potential to become incredible textiles in the hands of a fiber artist. It’s really frustrating to me that so many alpaca breeders I’ve come across during this discussion seem to think that this is a negative thing.”
“I think this just underscores the difference between the handspinners’ market and the commercial textile industry. We (spinners) are always searching for extraordinary fibers and using each individual fiber, each source, from each separate animal, to ITS best effect. The industry is looking for uniformity and suitability for mass production. So that might be why I hear Judith’s message to be, “Check this stuff out, cherish it because it’s local, it’s unique and worth investigating!” where you hear it as “This product is different and different is bad.””
This is on my mind lately because I’m finishing up watching the Spinning Luxury Fiber video, which I’d purchased solely to cross-reference the alpaca information during the discussion in September. But re-watching now, with the extensive information about silk, camelids, and bearers of down undercoats, I’m struck by two things. One is once more to marvel at how Judith’s entire repository of life experience serves to make her a MAGNIFICENT judge of fiber for handspinning. Be it a tent worm cocoon or a fireweed fluff or a bison undercoat or an unusual batch of bleached tussah or a new strain of Corriedale, she sees the fiber and categorizes it within an enormous mental database of fibers and how they behave as yarn and fabric. She might not be a party to the latest information on alpaca breeding trends or know precisely why the silk brick she bought has longer better-quality bombyx than typically produced by brick-makers, but when she touches and feels and spins it, she KNOWS that it is different and special.
Two is to be so grateful for the Interweave set of videos. Because do you know, nothing replaces in-person instruction. I do not regret spending hundreds of dollars to sit in hours of classes with Judith this year. But almost everything she covered, is presented in the videos. You can drop $30-some bucks and get a world renowned instructor RIGHT in your living room, for HOURS. And then you don’t have to take my word for it that she’s not just pushing some agenda in a get-rich-quick scheme or in cahoots with specific alpaca breeders. She is sharing the knowledge that will benefit the world of handspinners. And the Judith effect, that incredible spark of inspiration and sudden infusion of skill that hits any time you’re in a room with her (I spin more finely and more smoothly every time), it’s available DIGITALLY. And that inspiration is priceless. I highly recommend that the detractors who’ve been reading here, should check out at least the luxury fiber video. It’ll be a good use of your money, I truly believe it. And no, I’m not affiliated with Interweave…yadda yadda.