When I first saw Susan Simonton knitting these stockings, I visualized them worn on a wedding day. Their color, fiber and loveliness bespoke of netting and lace. Susan always has a very complicated project on her needles—a project that showcases the fiber which comes from the alpaca raised by she and her daughter Margaret Long. Prior to becoming a mother-daughter team, Susan had a full career, raised six kids and retired the first time when she got into the micron counting business. An absolute stickler for detail and consistent execution of product excellence, Susan has spent the most recent decade of her life in a completely new environment with a different set of criteria. (Or, cria.)
Nestled outside pastoral Lester Prairie, Minnesota, she and Margaret raise Suri alpaca. After tragedy struck their family and each lost a sister to breast cancer within two years, she and Margaret were interested in bringing their relationship closer by working together. A seed of an idea was planted when they saw alpaca at the Minnesota State Fair. Their mutual interest in fiber and textiles and familiarity with owning large animals (horses) made it a realistic option. They call their business and the place Little Gidding Farm. I was curious about the name because while it seems apt for an alpaca farm (the name matched the critter, somehow) it was selected for its connection to TS Eliot’s poem by the same name and a 17th century Anglican monastery which is described as “a place where the problems of time and human fallibility are resolved.” Indeed, it is such that raising and caring for animals sooths the heart.
Now in business for a little over ten years, Sue says their goals remain the same; which is to produce the finest Suri alpaca fiber available. This is no small feat and Little Gidding Farm has been recognized several times for their breeding accomplishments. Active all the way to the national levels of Suri alpaca organizations, Sue and Margaret are very involved with bringing structure and best practices to the fledgling Suri industry. On more than one occasion, I have ‘helped’ on Shearing Day on their farm. It’s a collaborative community event much like barn raising. Now the process goes much more smoothly as many of the people are experienced animal handlers, rope pullers and fiber chickens. I’m a sweeper. It sounds sort of lame, but it’s really important to make sure each animal’s fiber doesn’t mix with another. Sue collects a sample from the prime location on the animal which she has tested for a host of variables that measure the value of the fleece from each animal. Micron count is very important as the textile industry has six grades of fiber. The most valuable level is Grade 1 which has a micron count of equal or less than 20. Along with detailed breeding records, this is how they know if their efforts to make superior Suri alpaca yarn have worked. And believe me when I say their efforts have worked! The yarn is a dream to knit.
Which brings me back to Susan’s extraordinary knitting and the wedding socks. That’s my name for these knee high stockings whose beads wink between stitches and ribbons tie at the top. Knit in naturally white silky Suri alpaca, Sue adapted a pattern written by Jatta Saukko from Finland. It’s available on Ravelry. The model is my niece Megan.
[ale_button url=”https://midwestfiberartstrails.org/listing/name/margaret-long/” style=”orange” size=”small” type=”round” target=”_self”] Little Gidding Farm Info [/ale_button]