Since I began spinning during the summer months I've worked my way through a pound of Hienz 57 wool which was conveniently carded and fluffed before it arrived at the door, and then I started working on the gorgeous blue Corriedale I bought at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival -- it's so beautifully prepared that it practically drafts and spins itself; Stacey Rothrock does amazing work. In addition, I've done a bit of dyeing, which resulted in some rather stuck-together-but-not-felted wool; this requires quite a bit of fiddling to get the fiber back into some semblence of order before I even get started spinning. Okay, it's worth it, especially because it helps with patience and allows me to get better acquainted with the fiber.
My trip to the alpaca farm last week was also a learning experience. After I got home I looked up "alpaca" on Wikipedia and read about their behavior, why they do the things they do, what makes them so unique, and about the differences between the two varieties. Being left with two enormous bags of fluffy fiber, I decided I needed to actually DO something with it so that it's not sitting in the living room; this meant I needed to take steps to learn how to card fiber.
Handcards seem to run between $45 and $60, depending on which company makes them and from whom you order them; I hoped to save a little money, so I bought a pair of dog brushes at Hellmart sometime in the summer -- this was mostly done for the benefit of the stuck-together-but-not-felted wool, but it also works just dandy for the alpaca fuzz. Dog brushes run about $4 per brush, but it turns out they're not ideal for the purpose I put them to. More about that in a bit.
Tonight after dinner, sometime in the middle of the first reel of "Spartacus" -- the old one with Kirk Douglas and Lawrence Olivier -- I decided to tackle carding the alpaca fluff. I wrestled, grumbled, stabbed myself on the sharp bristles, overloaded the brushes, said a few choice oaths, and finally got at least a slight handle on what I should be doing. Now, alpaca fuzz is amazingly soft even in its uncarded state; after a few strokes with the brush, it turns into something I can only describe as little fluffy bits of cloud. I'm still nowhere close to being good at this, but I can at least get some of the grass and bits of straw out of the fiber and get it straightened out.
If carding the stuff was difficult, spinning it was truly worth the effort. The little rolag-tufty-things are fairly short, which meant I had to pause and card more when I ran out of fiber to spin, but that was also worth it. Right now I'm working on some of the huacaya fiber; it's a very soft silvery gray when it ends up on the bobbin. I'm convinced it's too pretty to need dye, and I have no plans to ply it with any wool because it's lovely on its own. The yarn I've spun so far is just a single without a uniform thickness; that's something that comes with practice, and I've got plenty of time to practice, and plenty of fiber to practice with. The good thing about it is that mom gets to use some of the yarn I've made. Right now she's using the pokeberry yarn to crochet a hat. Sometime during the weekend I'll make sure to take a picture of what I'm doing, in case anyone cares to see.
There's just something about Hellmart. It's earned its name as far as I'm concerned. A few years ago, my mother had a near disaster with the pharmacy when the pharmacist couldn't read the prescription and didn't bother to call the doctor. Instead, he filled the prescription and gave mom a dose which was double what she should have been taking; when she suffered ill effects, she called the doctor to see if there had been a change in her dosage. The doctor said not, and mom realized that someone had made a mistake. She went back to the pharmacy and asked to speak to the pharmacist; when she confronted him about the mistake, he told her it's a courtesy for them to contact the doctor and that it wasn't his fault, and told her that it was her fault and her problem because she didn't read the label. That was Hellmart's first episode of naughtyness.
Episode Number 2: Mom bought a yard of fabric which should have cost $1 a yard because it was in the remnants bin. She got to the counter and paid for her purchases; she thought the total was awfully high, so I looked at the recepit when we got to the parking lot. They'd charged her $80 for that $1 yard of fabric. This was the pre-Christmas rush, so the store chalked it up to the clerk being under stress. Um.... So off to Customer Disservice we went, only to stand in line for another half an hour. The refund for the difference was issued and we left. When we got home, mom was puzzled because she found she had $200 in her wallet. Turned out they'd given her $100 too much, so back we trudged to return the extra money. Honesty is worth something... right?
Those are two of the worst episodes we've been through, and there are a handful of other unpleasant ones between that and what happened today. To make things a bit clearer, the Hellmart in question has a reputation for being rather troublesome; there are lots of stories about clerks and cashiers being slapped, shoved, thrown against shelving, and being otherwise manhandled by customers who are at thier ropes' ends because of the rudeness and bad behavior of the employees. Granted, not everyone who works there is as bad as that, but it seems like it's the exception for there to be a pleasant, well-mannered employee rather than it being the norm.
Our dog is getting old -- yes, this is going somewhere -- so we decided to get her a comfortable dog bed. Finding a bed to fit an elderly Great Dane is not an easy task, and as it turned out the largest size Hellmart carried was still too small for her, and it was also too hight, so she wasn't interested in using it. We bundled it back to the store, along with another item to be returned; the items were on two separate receipts, both of which I had in hand, and I'd even pointed out the locations of the items on said receipts in the hope of making the clerk's life a bit less hellish. Backfired!
I signed the return slip for the dog bed, and then the clerk began to process the other item, which was a piece of clothing... nothing complicated, right? She finished processing the return and gave me the refund; by this time, mom had gone off to look at something in the Eye Care Center, and I realized I hadn't been paying attention to whether the refund for the dog bed was tagging along with mom. I certainly didn't have it! I had the $12 and odd change from the piece of clothing, but I did not have the $29 and odd change from the dog bed. I asked the clerk if she'd given the refund for the dog bed to mom before she'd departed for the Eye Care Center, and the girl said she didn't remember, whereupon she sent for one of the red-vested automatons to come count her drawer because she was apparently incapable of doing it herself. Eventually three separate red-vested automatons were buzzing around, trying to get the drawer sorted out, trying to figure out why the girl needed her drawer counted, what happened to the return slip, and what had happened to the dog bed. I stood there fuming and knitting -- I was SO glad I thought to bring my knitting with me! -- while mom demanded to speak to someone with more authority. As it turned out, no such person ever materialized; after standing in line at Customer Disservice for almost forty minutes, and after three different red vests came to investigate, we got things sorted out. Mom's theory is that they persist in hiring people who aren't necessarily capable of handling such complicated tasks as dealing with two separate returns. We both agree that we felt bad for them because they get low pay for a high stress, difficult job; it's pretty much thankless.
So... tell me why we're forced to shop there? Why do we keep going back? Is there an affordable alternative? Maybe becoming self-sufficient?