By Peggy Sanders
BUFFALO GAP -- After working for 26 years as a police officer in Westminster, Colo., and retiring as a sergeant, Judy Cox purchased land east of Buffalo Gap in 1997. As is common in the agricultural world, a house came with the pastureland. The land patent on the original tract dates from 1903. Old photos suggest the house was built about 1905.
“When I moved here the house was in bad shape and it was about ready to be knocked down as far as quality,” Cox said
How she got there is a story unto itself. Five years before she retired she started to seriously look at her three choices. She loved Custer State Park where she had done volunteer work during her vacations, and she truly enjoyed this area. She owned land in Washington state where she could build or she could stay in Colorado. She chose the plains near the Black Hills.
She sold her land in the northwest to give her the funds to purchase the place. The previous owners had purchased a tract then added to it over the years so it more than a small acreage. Judy packed up her house and her llamas and moved to South Dakota July 2, 2001.
She came up with five-year plan to make the house livable and started to that goal in 1997. She accomplished that and then some. Judy renovated the interior often putting up sheet rock alone. Over the years she built a barn, tore down the old garage and replaced it. She hired a contractor to enlarge a very small sun porch on the south side of the house. He looked it over and talked her into a bigger project, fortunately. When he got into the work he discovered the sun porch was becoming dislodged from the house.
The contractor designed and constructed a spacious, high ceilinged room with many large windows that fits beautifully with the house.
Judy finally has a beautiful workroom room with lots of light and a place to spread out the tools of her trades: spinning, knitting and sewing. “The Lord sent me here for a reason, though I don’t know all of it,” she said.
Judy raises llamas, which she shears. She then evaluates the fleece; most are double-coated which means it has guard hair and as well as down. Since llama wool doesn’t have lanolin like sheep wool, it is doesn’t pick up much detritus. The next step is to pick out grass, separate the guard hair from the down, card the wool and spin it. Guard hair is coarse and would make a rough product so instead of transforming it, Judy uses it for mulch in her garden.
She has quit letting her llamas breed in order to cut down on their numbers. Of the seven she has left, three of them are 20 years old. She usually shears half of the herd each year though last year though she sheared them all. Judy said, “I have enough wool to keep me supplied for many years.”
Judy likes to leave some yarn a natural color and dyes the rest, using acid dye, also called commercial dye, which is designed for protein fibers. Vinegar is the mordant or fixative for that type of dye. One year she picked sunflowers by the road, chopped them up, made a dye bath that created a beautiful yellow yarn. Judy has also used onionskins and dark walnuts. The mordant for them is alum, another nontoxic. Her preference is to not use natural dyes, which require toxic mordant such as tin, copper and iron.
Her labels include yardage as well as weight since many pattern directions give yardage requirements. To prepare the yarn for selling she weighs it on a digital scale and puts the fiber into skeins, using a skein winder that is two yards around. Her yarn sells for $6.50 per ounce at Fall River Fibers in Hot Springs, where she works on average one day per week, in exchange for her wares to be sold in the shop. Judy said, “I never dreamed I’d have the opportunity to be part of such a wonderful fiber outlet. It is a treasure.”
Peggy Sanders/Fall River County Herald
Judy Cox of Buffalo Gap feeds a pair of her llamas she raises on her ranch, for which she also uses to create wool.