“Alpacas love to roll, so the hair gets matted,” Dave says, “so that opens it up.”
Next, the two fiber separators and dehairers — each costs about $40,000 — get rid of the vegetation and course fiber to prepare the finer wool for the carder. The carder aligns the fiber so it’s all in a row, thus producing the roving.
“The hand-spinner will take that and put it on a spinning wheel and make yarn,” Dave says.
The draw frames stretch and pull the fiber. This creates a consistent thickness, so the spinning machines can spin the uniform yarn that Michaelin told me won’t sell on Etsy, where her clients like a more handmade look.
After pointing out the spinner, the plier (which creates a two-ply yarn), the steamer (which sets the twist created by the plier), the cone-winder, and the skein-winder, Dave pulls a large plastic bag from a shelf. It’s stuffed with skeins of yarn. The outside of the bag is marked with the name “Maggie” and other details.
“We pack it up for the customer so it’s all ready to go,” he says. “If they tell us what animal, it [becomes] a great marketing tool for them, because people can sell their animals by saying, ‘This is what Maggie produces.’”
Davies won’t give actual numbers about how much the family business makes per year, but he does say that, since they opened the mill in 2003, “every year, [our income] has grown. I would say by, percentage-wise, at least 10–15 percent.”
Barbara, who has rejoined us during a lull in the afternoon’s onslaught of open-house visitors, says, “Let’s just say it’s what most people can’t live on because they have too much debt.”
Back at Friedlen’s Ramona ranch on a Sunday afternoon, she regales me on this second visit with stories of lamb births and knitting groups. She walks me through her pasture again and through her 3000-square-foot house fruitily scented with air fresheners. I’d never guess she has seven cats, if they weren’t all underfoot and scurrying past. She shows me the just-washed wool on the picnic table on her back deck and her storage room stacked with clear plastic boxes full of fleeces.
Her husband, Rich, watches as she grabs a plastic bag set near the sliding-glass door in the kitchen, to show me a recently washed black-and-silver fleece.
“Who’s that?” he asks, referring not to me, but to the wool in the bag.
“Fish,” she says, referring to one of the Lincoln sheep out in the yard.
I smile and nod, as if I remember.
A moment later, when I ask to go back out to the yard to see little Tina one last time before I leave, Friedlen gets a gleam in her eye and opens her mouth to speak. I head her off before she can get a word out.
“I know, everyone should have three alpacas in their backyard,” I say. “But I live in a condo.”
She narrows her eyes at me, sighs, and says, “Okay then, you’re off the hook.”
For more, read author Elizabeth Salaam's Backstory