BY STARRLA CRAY
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN For the past 14 years, Margaret Long and her mother, Sue Simonton, have been raising alpacas and perfecting the yarn they produce.
Now, Little Gidding Farm in rural Lester Prairie is selling its yarn wholesale to select stores across the US.
“I’m having the time of my life,” Long said of her growing business. “I’m just getting started.”
Long is an expert at determining fiber quality, and noted that alpaca wool has remarkable potential.
“It dyes like silk, and it feels like cashmere,” she said.
There are two main types of alpacas Suri (prized for long, silky fibers) and Huacaya (which produce a fuzzy, sheep-like fiber). Long and Simonton researched alpacas for about two years before buying their first Suris.
Long’s white and fawn-colored herd is known for its superior genes, and the coat of one of her animals is the densest that’s been tested in the US.
“We provide breeding stock for other farmers,” Long said, adding that her alpacas are registered and microchipped.
For years, raising alpacas and creating fine yarns was a side job for Long, who also worked as a medical secretary at Glencoe Regional Health Services.
But, when Long got laid off in March 2014, her husband, Dean, saw it as an opportunity to take the yarn business wholesale.
Dean walled-off a third of the garage, so Long has space to dye 76 skeins at one time. He also designed and constructed an efficient 75-gallon dye tank that heats the material to 185 degrees F while evenly distributing the coloring.
After the dyeing, the water is clear again, and can be drained into the pasture.
Colored yarn is then wound into a neat skein with a double vertical swift. To achieve a twisted skein, Long uses a small motorized machine that Dean created and attached to the wall.
When the yarn is ready, Long attaches jewel-toned tags printed by Herald Journal, along with a clear label to note the yarn color and type.
Little Gidding Farm currently sells five types of yarn, in more than 25 different colors. Sock yarn, for instance, is blended with other wools and nylon; while the softest yarn, called “ultimate,” is generally used for scarves and other similar projects.
Long and Simonton are both avid knitters, and they enjoy having several projects going at once.
“My mother is a master knitter,” Long said. “She learned how to knit before she knew how to read.”
Long is part of a knitting group at Gert & Erma’s in Glencoe. To join, or for more information about the yarn at Little Gidding Farm, contact Long at (320) 224-4204 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The alpacas from Little Gidding Farm were featured in the July 27 edition of Herald Journal, as the July Pet of the Month.