We have a saying here in the North East: “Shy bairns get nowt”, which basically means that sometimes you have to be a bit cheeky and ask for something. When I realised that some dear friends of my brother and his wife have alpacas, I asked if they could perhaps bring me some alpaca fleece next time they visited. Since spinning became my new obsession I’ve been itching to get my hands on some alpaca fibre. It’s so gloriously soft and warm and I love knitting with it so really wanted to have a go at spinning some.
I also thought it would be really interesting to get hold of raw fleece from a known source, prepare it, spin it and knit into a garment, embracing the entire process.
When my brother dropped this large plastic sack full last week I was absolutely over the moon. He said he’d bring some, but I hasn’t imagined it would be so much
When I started to tip the contents out the fibres immediately fluffed up – there must be at least 2 complete blankets or fleeces compressed into that bag – over 6kg of fibre!. He also sent me some photos of the animals that provided the fleece: a pair of alpacas called Wispa and Aero. Aren’t they adorable?
I’ve been reading up how to process the fibre and I’ve partially skirted the first fleece. This involves separating out the soiled fibres and the shorter and coarser parts from the edges and removing second cuts (the shorter tufts where the shearer has gone over the animal a second time). Some of this is perfectly usable – but what is left is the best quality long fine fleece from the back of the animal.
The fleece holds a lot of dust, some of which falls out during the skirting process. The next stage is to wash the fibre. To do this I put the fibre into mesh bags (the sort you use for laundering underwear) . I added some wool wash liquid to hand-hot water and gently immersed the bags. The wet fleece must be handled very carefully or it felts together, so I just left it to soak for 20 minutes, then drained the water and lightly pressed on the bags to remove some of the water. I then added clean water of the same temperature (sudden temperature changes damage the fibres) to rinse the soap away. In some respects alpaca fibre is easier to wash than sheep’s wool ,which is rich in lanolin and takes repeated washing to remove). The water was now clear so I drained it, pressing gently on the bags remove water, then placing the bags between towels and pressing gently again. I then allowed the fleece to dry. It has cleaned up to a beautiful pure white, which offers so many possibilities for experimenting with dyes…..that’s a whole new craft in itself.
I’ve been using pet brushes to comb the fibres (have asked for proper carding combs for Christmas) and have gradually picked through it to remove all the fragments of vegetable matter. The prepared alpaca is the softest fluffiest stuff ever. It’s like a cloud!
Next job – to spin it! I spun a couple of singles and plyed them together to make this 2 ply yarn – 99 yards/49g
There was some left which I plyed with some blue merino to make this little skein (41 yards /15g.
It has been lovely to spin with and I’ve only used part of the fibre I processed there’s still a load more to skirt, wash and card). The project possibilities are endless!
I’m so lucky to have such generous people in my life…..and some of them have alpacas!