On one of the rolling hills along Highway 50 from Pueblo to Canon City, at Cedar Canyon Ranch, is where John Vollmecke has found tranquillity.
His journey began when he read an advertisement for alpacas during his lunch hour at a federal prison complex, where he worked for many years. The job took a toll on his nerves and he said he needed to find a way to relax. That’s why the idea of the alpaca captured his imagination. Raising the South American camelids seemed like a hobby that he would enjoy and would have a calming effect.
“The first time I saw an alpaca, I fell in love right away,” he said. “I talked to (my wife, Glenda) ‘Glen,’ (who) was a little bit hesitant about it.”
After doing some research, the couple drove to Parker to look at three alpacas which were corralled in a barn. As the couple entered, the three alpacas turned in their direction to look at them.
“That just did it for Glen (and I),” Vollmecke added.
So they purchased two females, which were pregnant, a male and a small alpaca known as a cria then returned home, where they built a fence, shelter and set up everything to raise them.
“(The alpacas) started having babies,” Vollmecke said. “When I was at work, Glen delivered the babies.”
As time went on, he had the alpacas sheared and wondered what to do with the fiber. The most obvious answer was to use it to make yarn and clothing.
Alpaca fiber is luxurious and ideal for clothing because it’s hypoallergenic and lacks the scratchiness often found in other fibers. It’s softer than cashmere, nearly indestructible and lighter and warmer than wool. Each year, an alpaca can produce seven to 10 pounds of fleece — that’s about five or six inches sheared from an alpaca.
After taking several spinning tours around the state, he met Dawn Hall, who had a yarn shop in Florence.
“Dawn Hall taught me how to spin, but I flunked her course three times,” he said. “I couldn’t get my feet and hands to work together.”
Then, he attended a fiber festival in Estes Park, where he saw a woman spinning the fiber on a double treble machine, using her feet and hands together. After taking a quick lesson, he was up and spinning after just 20 minutes. So, he purchased a spinning wheel, a carding machine and a nibbly nobby to stretch the yarn. He also purchased a knitting machine and took classes to learn how to use it.
“That was the beginning (of learning) how to knit,” said Vollmecke, who got involved with a machine knitters group. “They took me under their wings and gave me lessons and a bunch of patterns, and I started getting better and better.”
He continued his trek with having the alpacas sheared once a year then shaking the dirt, straw or hay out of the fiber before shaking the rest of it off in a tumbler then washing it in a product called a Kookaburra.
“It also treats it in case there’s any mites or moth eggs that might be in the fiber,” Vollmecke said.
After he learned to spin the fiber, he learned how to knit on a machine. Now he could do much more with the alpaca fiber.
“The first thing I made (was) a shawl that came over your shoulders and pulled over your head,” Vollmecke said. “It was kind of a neck warmer, but also a scarf.”
Since honing his skills, he has sold them online and through local shops.
He finally learned to relax. It’s easier now that he is retired, where he can spin, knit and mix the yarn with a variety of color from the alpacas–alpaca fiber is classified into 22 different colors– into scarves, hats, sweaters, shawls, socks and other merchandise, which is available at alpacasrus.net. The website also features webcams of the alpacas and Vollmecke’s spinning room.