Handmade with love

Ready to go out in the snow.One night when the temperature was hovering way too close to the bottom of the thermometer, I decided to look for a hat.

I like a knitted beanie when it’s cold, but I don’t like the way they slip so easily off my bald pate when I bend over. I had one with braided strings on the earflaps, and I liked being able to tie it in place. I have no idea what happened to it – I suspect I gave it to someone who needed it more than I – but I decided I wanted another.

I remembered there were a few alpaca farms around the county, but when I looked online, none that I found seemed to sell the hat I wanted, so I posted the query on Facebook.

I like to do business close to home, if possible; it’s a “support the locals” thing. I bought our first big-screen TV from the local electronics shop. We like gathering produce and other farm goods from producers we pass on our daily travels. I was raised where my high school physics teacher was of a family that processed corn grown on local farms. Local kids worked on the farms, local workers packed the corn in cans for sale to local consumers. The money in town largely stayed in town.

Fast forward to Walmart and similar businesses that buy wherever the product is least expensive, then take the money in truck loads from consumers in rural Pennsylvania to banks and investors in Arkansas. The world marketplace brings us goods we might otherwise only dream of, but it does so to the expense of local workers being paid low wages to produce those goods.

But if I don’t find what I want, I broaden my search. I finally figured out how to specify my online seeking, and came up with an “alpaca Peruvian hat.” It’s a beanie-style knitted hat with earmuffs as part of the design, and braided pigtails hanging from the flaps so it can be tied on when the wind is blowing hard.

I was about to order an alpaca hat from – are you ready – Peru, when Sally Michael popped into the Facebook conversation. I’ve known her most of the 20 years I’ve lived here, but her offer caught me completely by surprise.

“I’d be happy to knit it for you if you purchase alpaca yarn from Julie at Quarry Critters,” she wrote.

Sally was the second person to mention Quarry Critters, a family-owned alpaca farm in Littlestown. Julie, I would learn, is Julie Wysong. She and her husband David raise alpacas. They are members of a cooperative of alpaca farmers who send their critters’ wool off to be processed and returned to be made into hats, socks, shopping bags and other products.

A friend in California saw Sally’s post and chimed in.

“The best hats are the ones handmade with love and measured to fit,” she wrote. “What a great offer.”

I agreed. I have a favorite plaid wool shirt-jac – a shirt-weight garment meant to be worn as a jacket – my mom made a bunch of years ago – a green one I still wear, and a blue one my son now wears. She made fishermen’s knit sweater I liked a lot, but it was too large even for me and someone more appropriately sized needed it.

When I was much younger than I am, Mom made most of our clothing, but times have changed, and clothing creation is a craft of few practitioners. But my new hat stays on my head and warms my ears, the more so, I am sure, because it was knitted with love.

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