Thursday, April 12, 2012
Preparing Alpaca Fibre for spinning (or felting, or whatever)
Alpaca fibre is a lot like wool, if you don't know much about working with fibre. But the more experience you have with fibre, yarn, and textiles in general, the more you come to understand just how different alpaca is.
First off, unlike wool, alpaca does not have much grease in it. This means that you can wash alpaca fibre at a lower temperature using less soap than washing wool. However, alpacas love to roll around in the dirt and have an uncanny ability to seek out the most dusty places. Even though it looks clean, the fibre can hold a huge amount of dirt in it. It's really quite shocking to see such an innocent looking critter get that dirty!
So I do tend towards hot water for washing alpaca, as it seems to allow the individual fibres to relax and realise the dirt.
The first few batches of alpaca I washed, I used net bags. I found that the fibres felted together and for all my efforts didn't get very clean. Now I'm washing small handfulls of fibres loose. It's a bit more tricky and does not retain the lock structure, but the result is easy to tease apart and much cleaner.
Next it's carding.
I like the Ashford Wild Carder for carding Alpaca. If I am careful about how I tease apart the locks and feed the fibre into the carder at an even rate, I can make an excellent batt in only one pass. Although, I usually do two passes to try and blend the brown into the fibre a bit more.
These photos are of Herman's fibre. He's one of our rescue alpacas that lives on the farm.
I'm still trying to decide how I wish to spin this. I think if I was knitting this, I would use it for a light cardigan. Alpaca is too warm for anything heavier than that. Maybe the background for colour work. A fingering yarn would be nice, but should I try a smooth two ply or a lofty one ply? Time to start sampling.
In the end, I'm a huge believer in putting most of your effort into the prep of the fibre. The better prepared the fibre is, the easier it is to spin the yarn you WANT to spin.