Newspaper caption: In the city of sheep, a town founded upon wool. Scenes in Bradford, Yorkshire's great cloth-making centre, which supplies the world with worsted goods. Date unknown.

In the November 27, 1852 edition of his twopenny weekly magazine Household Words, Charles Dickens gives this lively fictionalized account of Sir Titus Salt’s innovative manufacturing of alpaca fiber. I hope that you will find it as entertaining and enlightening as I have.


The Great Yorksire Llama

SIXTEEN years ago—that is to say, in the
year 1836—a huge pile of dirty-looking sacks,
filled with some fibrous material which bore
a strong resemblance to superannuated horse-
hair, or frowsy elongated wool, or anything
else unpleasant and unattractive, were landed
at Liverpool. When those queer-looking
bales had first arrived, or by what vessel
brought, or for what purpose intended, the
very oldest warehouseman in the Liverpool
Docks couldn’t say. There had been once a
rumour, a mere warehouseman’s whisper,
that the bales had been shipped from South
America on spec., and consigned to the agency
of C. W. and F. Foozle and Co. But even
this seemed to have been forgotten; and it
was agreed on all hands that the three
hundred and odd sacks of nondescript hair-
wool were a perfect nuisance. The rats
appeared to be the only parties who at all
approved of the importation, and to them it
was the very finest investment for capital
that had been known in Liverpool since their
first ancestors had migrated thither.

Well, those bales seemed likely to rot, or
fall to dust, or be bitten up for the particular
use of the female rats. Brokers wouldn’t so
much as look at them. Merchants could have
nothing to say to them. Dealers couldn’t
make them out. Manufacturers shook their
heads at the bare mention of them. While
the agents C. W. and F. Foozle and Co. felt
quite savage at the sight of the Invoice and
Bill of Lading, and once spoke to their head-
clerk about shipping them out to South
America again.

One day—we won’t care what day it was,
or even what week, or month, though things
of far less national importance have been
chronicled to the very half minute—one day,
a plain business-looking young man, with an
intelligent face and a quiet, reserved manner,
was walking alone through those same
warehouses at Liverpool, when his eye fell upon
some of the superannuated horse-hair projecting
from one of the ugly dirty bales; some
lady rat, more delicate than her neighbours,
had found it rather coarser than usual, and
had persuaded her lord and master to eject
the portion from her resting-place. Our
friend took it up, looked at it, felt it, smelt it,
rubbed it, pulled it about; in fact, he did all
but taste it, and he would have done that
if it had suited his purpose, for he was
“Yorkshire.” Having held it up to the light,
and held it away from the light, and held it
in all sorts of positions, and done all sorts of
cruelties to it, as though it had been his most
deadly enemy and he was feeling quite
vindictive; he placed a handful or two in his
pocket and walked calmly away, evidently
intending to put the stuff to some excruciating
private tortures at home.

What particular experiments he tried with
this fibrous substance, I am not exactly in
a position to relate, nor does it much signify;
but the sequel was, that the same quiet
business-looking man was seen to enter the office
of C. W. and F. Foozle and Co., and ask for
the head of the firm. When he asked that
portion of the house if he would accept of
eightpence per pound for the entire contents
of the three hundred and odd frowsy, dusty
bags of nondescript wool, the authority
interrogated felt so confounded, that he could
not have told if he were the head or the tail
of the firm. At first he fancied our friend
had come for the express purpose of quizzing
him; then that he was an escaped lunatic,
and thought seriously of calling for the police;
but eventually it ended in his making over to
him the bill of lading for the goods in
consideration of the price offered.

It was quite an event in the little dark
office of C. W. and F. Foozle and Co., which
had its supply of light (of a very inferior
quality) from the grim old church-yard.
All the establishment stole a peep at the
buyer of the “South American stuff.” The
chief clerk had the curiosity to speak to him
and hear him reply. The cashier touched his
coat-tails; the book-keeper, a thin man in
spectacles, examined his hat and gloves; the
porter openly grinned at him. When the
quiet purchaser had departed, C. W. and F.
Foozle and Co. shut themselves up, and gave
all their clerks a holiday.

But if the sellers had cause for rejoicing,
not less so had the buyer. Reader, those
three hundred and odd bales of queer-looking
South American stuff contained “Alpaca
Wool,” at that date entirely unknown to
manufacturers, and which it would still have
been but for the fortunate enterprise of one
intelligent, courageous man. That bold
manufacturer was Mr. Titus Salt, in those days a
mere beginner, with a very few thousands to
aid him in his upward career, but at present
one of the wealthiest amongst the wealthy
men of Bradford in Yorkshire. His fortune
has been altogether built up by the aid of this
same “Alpaca,” to the manufacture of which
he has for the last dozen years devoted the
whole of his time and energies.

Alpaca is the long hair-like wool, from
an animal something between a camel and a
sheep, found in vast numbers in Peru. It is
of the Llama tribe, and thrives only upon the
elevated table-lands of the interior of South
America, where it roams at full liberty, being
gregarious, but is never kept in flocks of any
number. They have been tried on the low
lands, nearer the sea-coast of their own
country, but, either from the excessive heat
or the extreme moisture of those positions,
always without success. The existence of the
wool, as also of fabrics made from it, has long
been known. Pizarro is said to have brought
portions of the raw and woven articles to
Spain on his return from his American
conquests. Attempts have, on more than one
occasion, been made to naturalize the Llama
in this country, but as yet unsuccessfully.
The late Earl of Derby possessed a few, and
these are at present in the hands of Mr. Salt,
and giving promise of multiplying.

The first sample of this hair arrived in
England in a very imperfect condition. It
now reaches us very clear and lustrous, and
is known by its extreme brightness and softness.
In colour it varies, being black, brown,
grey, and white, and of several shades of
each of these. As may be imagined, many
trials of this new fibre had to be made, and
many modifications of the existing woollen
machinery to be undertaken, before the article
could be successfully and profitably worked
up. Mechanical ingenuity has, however, overcome
every obstacle; and in the present day
we may see very many beautiful and economical
fibres produced not only with this, but
by blending it in its manufacture with cotton,
linen, wool, and even silk.

At first, none but very plain and rather
coarse goods were produced from Alpaca, and
these were, consequently, not in general
favour, although their extreme lightness has
always rendered them most agreeable for
warm weather wear. With time and patience
many great improvements have been introduced;
and now, not only are Alpaca goods
produced in every conceivable variety and
style, but at all prices, to suit the pockets of
almost any class of the community. Blended
with silk thread they are made to look like
a fine lustrous satteen. With figures and
patterns of various kinds thrown up on them
in silk of different hues, they serve as admirable
substitutes for figured silks, both
for ladies’ dresses and waistcoat pieces.
“Backed” with cotton or linen yarn, they
receive a solidity which is very suitable for
many purposes; whilst, with cotton woven
amongst its fibres, the article may be sold at
such a moderate price as at once to bring it
within the reach of the most humble.

There can scarcely be a stronger proof of
the improvements which must have taken
place in this manufacture, than the single
fact—that although, upon its first introduction,
Alpaca wool was but eightpence or
tenpence the pound, and is now worth two
shillings and sixpence, the goods produced
from it are sold at one half the old price.

The principal seat of the Alpaca manufacture,
is at and around Bradford in Yorkshire,
a town which is not only rapidly rising into
importance from the skill and persevering
energy of its manufacturers, but gives every
promise of shortly eclipsing Leeds in general

There can scarcely be a more picturesque
journey than that through the manufacturing
districts of Yorkshire. Approach Bradford
which way you please, you cannot but be
forcibly struck with the beauty of the country
around. Bold hills, gently undulating meadowland,
highly cultivated fields, canals, railroads,
a most charming little river, and all dotted
about with copse and dell, and inoculated
with pretty villas, and lightly sprinkled over
with busy towns—Yorkshire looks like a
somewhat uneven grass-plot stuck about with
bee-hives. It is true the hives are rather
smoky hives; but then the green hills, and
the greener fields, and the fine bracing air,
make one forget the colour of the smoke.
You need not inquire when you are beyond
Lancashire and into the confines of the
West Riding: you can detect the locality
by your nose. There is nothing but wool,
and oil, and water, being knocked about, and
mixed up, and torn asunder, and broken on
savage, unrelenting wheels, and drawn out
into “slivers,” and scalded in hot soap-suds
all day long, and all the year long. It may
rain, hail, thunder, or anything else it pleases,
but it’s all the same to the Yorkshire folk:
there’s no peace for the wool. The whole
county smells fusty, frowsy, and moist: the
length and breadth of the West Riding must
be full of damp great-coats and wretchedly
wet trousers, or I am much mistaken.

Now and then you get a mile or so of fresh
sweet air as you are whisked along in the
train; but only as a short relief from tall,
dark, mysterious-looking buildings, like
county jails or model prisons, with a curling
black stream of smoke above, and another
gurgling black stream of water below, which
would induce one to believe the place to be a
blacking manufactory, and that they were
then busy washing out the old bottles. You
whistle past it, and smell more great-coats
and trousers, and then you come to some more
green fields, rattle over a canal, wind round a
hill, plunge under the high road, whisk round
a corner, and there you are—in the very
heart of damp wearing-apparel—in the town
of Bradford.

If the reader should pay a visit to this
interesting manufacturing town, he will
perhaps feel, as I did, rather surprised to see so
many over-grown school-boys lounging about.
Why, some of those old boys in blue and white
pinafores were really grey-headed. They had
none of their books or slates with them, and,
upon the whole, I thought they were taking
it rather easy. When I entered one of the
large stone factories, I found the ground
floor filled with these elderly lads, and began
to fancy I had walked by mistake into some
extensive national school for adult pupils.
However, this puzzle was soon solved. The
men in pinafores were simply the factory-
labourers, long custom having given them
these long habits, which, however useful, are
far from picturesque.

There is not a very wide difference between
the mode of working up cotton, wool, and
Alpaca, although of course there are many
peculiarities in each set of machines adapted
to the characteristics of the various fibrous
materials. They are all beaten and shaken,
and pulled to pieces, and put together again
and made even and straight, and worked into
“slivers,” and drawn out fine, and then
‘finished,” and finally spun into yarn of
varying thicknesses. In one respect, however,
there is a wide distinction between the working
of cotton, and of wool or Alpaca, the
former never being moistened; whereas both
the latter are not only well washed in hot
soap-suds, but actually put through an oil
bath. Some woollen manufacturers use as
much as three or four hundred tons of olive
oil in one year in the preparation of their
yarns and cloths: very few, even of the
smaller men, but use their tens of tons in that

In the spinning of Alpaca, the process, and
the machinery also, bear a close resemblance
to those of the cotton factories. Except in
some few particulars, a description of one
would be an account of the other. The
alpaca manufacture is, however, chiefly of
interest, from the fact of its supplying us
with fabrics which at once supplant cotton,
silk, and woollen goods, for a multitude of
purposes. Not only have ladies dresses and
children frocks of light summer make, but
the same for autumn and winter. Gentlemen
are provided by means of this fabric
with waistcoating as cool as any cotton, yet
rich and lustrous as the best silk patterns.
Dwellers in tropical countries are thankful to
possess a black coat, which, while it represents
a cloth coat, is not a fourth of the
weight, nor a half of the price. Boots, caps,
parasols, bonnets, trousers, cloaks, and I know
not how many other things equally useful,
may now be composed entirely or partly of
this material.

There is, however, one building of Cyclopean
proportions, rearing its Titan head—or, just
at present, not more than its trunk—above
the green fields of the Bradford neighbourhood,
which deserves a passing notice, inasmuch
as there is not only nothing equal to it in
all Yorkshire or Lancashire—and that is
saying something; but, when finished, there
will doubtless be no factory in the world that
shall approach it in magnificence, in extent, or
in completeness of purpose.

This one factory, which is to be the astonishment
of the manufacturing world, is in course
of erection by the same person who, sixteen
years since, caused so much amazement in
the establishment of C. W. and F. Foozle and
Co. about those three hundred and odd dirty
bales of South American stuff. Mr. Titus
Salt, of Bradford, is engaged in constructing a
factory capacious enough to contain within
its walls the machinery, or, rather, the
equivalent to the machinery, now working in five
of his Alpaca mills scattered over various
parts of the vicinity.

At a distance of two or three miles from
Bradford, the traveller by the Leeds Railway
may observe a sweet spot of country where the
river Aire meanders gently through as pretty a
green valley as is to be seen for many a league.
On that spot, just where the Lancaster and
Glasgow Railway and the Leeds and Liverpool
Canal diverge from each other, is a
block of ground, now fast disappearing
beneath a vast pile of masonry. This is the
Saltaire estate, and is destined to receive
the whole of Mr. Salt’s operations, with new
machinery and engines more than equal to
his present force. The mill or factory is so
situated with regard to the railway and
the canal, that goods may be conveyed to it
by either of them without the aid of cartage
or porterage.

This vast building stands upon six acres of
ground, running east and west, and is nearly
six hundred feet in length, and eighty in
height: the several floors and sheds will
comprise a superficial extent of nearly fifty-
six thousand feet.

Such is, and such will be, Saltaire; and
the whole of this, it must be borne in mind,
is created by the genius and industry of one
quiet man of business. All these vast
machines, these huge piles of works, these
myriads of working instruments, this wonderful
whole, spring from that one source—
those three hundred and odd dirty bales of
frowsy South American stuff.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Grades of alpaca fiber and what they mean

Have you had your alpaca fibers graded and sorted and still not sure what to do with your fiber or confused about all the terminology? Hopefully these charts and explanations can help you out a bit.

WL :   Woolen recommendation for  processing.  Typically fibers under 3 inches in length.   Makes lofty yarns with a fuzzy appearance.  Woolen processed yarns are best used in sweaters and knitted garments where loft and insulation are desired

WR:   Worsted recommendation for processing.  Typically fibers 3– 6 inches in length.   Makes smooth yarn with tighter twist, best used in weaving or lace weight.

Grade:  a group of fibers that have a range of no more than 3 microns.
Below are charts for grades and classifications.
·         Royal Baby:   < 22 (microns)

·         Baby Alpaca:  22.1 to 23

·         Superfine:     23.1 to 26.5

·         Seconds:      26.6 to 31

·         Thirds:        >31.1 to 33

Another chart says:

·            Royal Baby                 < 20 microns

·         Baby (BL)                 21-23.5 microns

·         Superfine (Fine)        25.1-30 microns

·         Adult (Utility)            over 30 microns

·         Coarse                      Short- used to blend   with other coarse fibers 

1Royal baby<20
2Baby         20-22.9
3Superfine  23-26.9
4Adult        27-31.9
5Strong      >32
6Shorts      any
 NAAFP Fiber Grades Chart:

Fiber Grades
(Range of 3 microns)

• < 20          Grade 1 Ultra Fine

• 20 – 22.9   Grade 2 Superfine

• 23 – 25.9   Grade 3 Fine

• 26 – 28.9   Grade 4 Medium

• 29 – 32.0   Grade 5 Intermediate

• 32.1 – 35   Grade 6 Robust

Hopefully these don’t confuse you any more than you might already be! 

Posted in Alpacas, Fiber, General | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

So you are thinking about owning a fiber animal?

I was contacted by someone yesterday that wanted to know what it would take to raise a sheep to the point of fiber harvest. She asked for a brief description. I could probably make it into a short story, but there’s nothing brief about raising fiber animals.

This morning I remembered this video that’s somewhat of a time lapse of the process.

The important points:
Get to know your breed before coming home with it. Can you have just one? With alpacas, I say no less than 3 of the same gender.

Do you have sufficient acreage and housing? Alpacas don’t really like to be cooped up in a barn, so they always need to have access to their pasture. You will need good fencing that will keep away predators and I recommend a livestock guardian dog to keep your animals safe, like our Great Pyrenees, Mia.

What will you feed your fiber animal? Hopefully our brown pasture will be turning green in about a month, so they will have fresh stuff to eat. You will need a good source of hay and grain (if you chose to supplement). Do some research on the vitamins and minerals they need to get good nutrition allowing them to grow great fiber.

Do you want babies/cria? There can be a lot of added expenses when breeding your own stock. Veterinarians are not cheap, especially when it takes them an hour to get to our farm and the nearest hospital is 3 hours away. Medications can also get expensive if needed. Some babies/cria might need 24 hour care. Do you have the time for this?

Don’t want babies/cria? With alpacas, a nice little herd of 3-5 gelded fiber boys can be perfect for a starter fiber farm. They will require less medical attention (hopefully!!) than females and you will still get the fiber harvest each year. They are usually a lot less expensive than breeding females, so that can be a plus if you have a smaller budget.

What to do with the fiber? Know what you want to do with it before you get it. Do you want to shear and then sell it directly to a fiber artist? Do you want to keep the fiber and process it yourself? Do you want to have it semi-processed at a mill, like turned into roving, and then turn it into yarn or felt yourself? I can take alpaca fiber straight off the animal, spin it and make something to wear from it. All these things are labor intensive, but they don’t cost much if you don’t count the money spent on processing tools.

If you want to process it yourself here are some things you will need: You can be as low tech as a dog brush and a spindle. You can spend less than $20 and be ready to go. Our farm is in the fiber business and my time IS my money, so I have to take as many shortcuts as possible to save my time so I can make more money. The drum carder I own is selling for $750. I have two spinning wheels and one electric wheel that cost a total of over $1300. I have other tools like blending hackles, English combs, rigid heddle loom, fiber blending board, triangle, square and rectangle looms. That will easily add close to another $1000.

None of this is meant to discourage you, it’s just to get you thinking and also leave you with an appreciation of how much goes into making a skein of yarn from one of our alpacas and why it will cost more than buying a cheap acrylic yarn from Walmart. There can be a lot of joy sharing your life with your fiber buddies. We even have our German Angora, Mr. Madison, in our house along with our lion head, Miss Wabbit. They make great house pets.

There is so much more to it than what I’ve written above and I will be happy to answer any more questions you may have. Please take a moment to watch the video. It will help you understand some of what I’ve written about now and in the future.

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Videos coming to our website!

We’ve finally bit the bullet and started working on some instructional videos. Today we recorded and uploaded a few on spindles, spinning with a spindle and using a niddy noddy. We’ve previously recorded a welt felting workshop and color blending on a hackle, both will be up soon.

When at the farmers market or other events we attend, we get a lot of questions about how to use spindles and niddies, but it’s not always convenient to give a demonstration. In the past I’ve given out links to other websites or videos on youtube. That’s not a very good way of promoting our farm and what we do here.

Check back often to see what’s new with our videos and other doings around the farm. Here’s the first one describing two types of spindles.

Two types of spindles

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“On Handwork”

“On Handwork” is a 4.5 minute video by Renate Hiller on what it means to be a handworker. I think she does a great job of summing up what most of us feel when we are creating something. The rewards are huge whether you are making something for yourself or gifting to another person, but more importantly we are giving of ourselves. I have such satisfaction in anything I complete.

Hope you enjoy it and please leave a comment about what handwork means to you.

On Handwork


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Pallet tool test post

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Cat toys for sale

1 with bell, 1 round $7.50

1 with bell, 1 round $7.50

set of 3 toys $10

set of 3 toys $10

These toys are hand made with alpaca yarn and stuffed with alpaca fiber.

Bag of 3 with small bag of cat nip  $10

1 toy with bell & 1 round $7.50

2 round toys $7

Individual bell toy $4

Set of 3 with cat nip $10

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Vermicomposting and our first guest blogger

Thanks to Cheryl from KC Farms for this invaluable information. I hope you will look her up and keep reading her articles.

We are finally worm (Eisenia fetida, aka red wigglers) parents again. I know there are few out there that can appreciate that. But that’s okay – we’re excited. Even if worms don’t do anything for you personally, you should have a healthy respect for them since they do have something to do with almost everything you eat, but don’t usually get any credit, kind of like our bee friends. They are truly amazing though. Vermicomposting is awesome!

We had our first worm “herd” in Colorado. And we were quite successful with them – they multiplied exponentially. But we sold them to some like-minded folks when we migrated back to Texas. It’s so interesting to learn about them again and how different it is to manage them in a different climate. They certainly are not hard to take care of, but it is different in Texas vs. Colorado even though t they are inside, and therefore, climate controlled (YES! Our worms live in their high rise “condo” in a corner of our dining room. And I dare say, you would never know it if we didn’t point it out or you didn’t know to specifically look for them.) Even indoors, the heat and humidity are much different here than in Colorado and it just requires different adjustments to keep their environment optimal. My wonderful hubby has built each of our worm condos, and while I might be biased, they really are quite nice. He continues to record changes he’ll make to future worm bins so that we have optimal housing units. 

You could even say red wiggler worms are the perfect pets. They don’t hog the bed; they do shred newspaper, but only the stuff we give them (unlike one of our furry daughters who loves to destroy magazines in our absence); they don’t have to go for walks; they’re SUPER quiet (although our snow dogs are pretty darn quiet too); they don’t shed; they don’t have to be brushed; they eat our garbage, and not $45/bag food; they don’t try to hog your pillow at night (unlike our cat). Recently there was a great article in “Texas Gardener” magazine about vermicomposting. The guy referred to himself as a “worm rancher” because it had a great “Texas” ring to it. We really like that! After all, we’ve always referred to our worms, not to mention the rest of our furry clan, as “The Herd.”

It’s hard to take a picture of the worms themselves to show you. They’re not really the publicity divas you might think. And they don’t show up very well against the background of rich, black compost (Black Gold!) they leave behind as they recycle our kitchen scraps for us. It’s wonderful to use in the garden.

If you’re into composting even a little bit, I’d encourage you to think about trying it with worms. There’s lots of information out there to help you get started. They’re easy to start on a small scale – even in urban environments.

Here are a few things we’ve learned. Do not feed your worms any animal products (meat, cheese, dairy, etc.). Don’t feed them citrus, onions or garlic. Cut produce into manageable chunks – don’t just dump a whole vegetable in there, it’s hard for them to manage that. They are much more efficient with smaller pieces. They like high density. If you throw in an egg shell or avocado skin, you will probably find a TON of worms stacked up in there together. We give them our coffee grounds. Worms need some grit to help break down food in their gizzards – soil or sand work. I’ve read of using corn meal before. For us, the coffee grounds seem to work great and the old boy we got our first herd from claimed that coffee grounds were “like Viagra for worms.” No kidding. I did not make that up. As mentioned in a previous post, we’ve started getting a fresh produce delivery from a CSA organization. They pack our produce on a layer of shredded newspaper (in a plastic tote) each week. We eat the veggies, the worms get the scraps, AND we have a ready source of shredded newspaper for their bedding.

I could go on and on, but that’s it for now. Until next time, worms rock and bees rule!


By Cheryl in Texas. You can find me at KCFarms on Facebook, or blogging at http://wannabepioneerwoman.blogspot.com/ and GRIT magazine http://www.grit.com/blogs/blog.aspx?blogid=4294967729

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The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook and why you need it

I’ve never reviewed a book before, but I’ll give it a try. One of the things I like about
this one is how current and relevant the information is. As an alpaca owner, it’s
frustrating to find so much information that is outdated on our wonderful animals. As a
fiber artist it’s a must for researching indivdual breeds and what they are meant for.

The book contains over 200 animals and it’s not all sheep. There are sections on cats,dogs,
possum, ox and even cows. Now that I’m working at the fiber mill I’ve been seeing lots of
sheep breeds that otherwise I would have no contact with. I’m learning a lot about what they feel like, but that’s not always enough information. A few weeks ago we were trying to make a felt sheet from a carded batt. It just would not full. The mill owner looked up the breed and found that it was not one to felt. The fiber owner would have been much better prepared in what to ask for in processing if they had known that.

Trixie beware! Your fiber looks long enough for spinning!

Between the covers, you will find pages that contain charts, maps, fiber and yarn samples
and some good basic information. At the end of the breed chapters there are sections for
fleece weight, staple length, fiber diameters (micron counts are most important to me), lock characteristics, colors and how best to use the fiber. The photos are well done and very clear. It is co-authored by Deboran Robson who is a former editor of Spin-Off magazine and Carol Ekarius who is the author of livestock books that you may already own and also contributes articles to magazines such as Hobby Farms and Mother Earth News. These ladies have done an exceptional job!

There is no doubt that I will be using this book as a guide for many years to come. I look
forward to exploring different fibers and which ones will compliment the fiber we harvest
from our alpacas. And I’ve saved the best for last, this book retails for $35! It’s hard to
believe that it can be sold this inexpensively. Hope you will purchase it and if you already own it, please do leave a comment about what you like best about it.

Hand dyed local Finn sheep locks, tail spun by me


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