Sunday, November 11, 2012

What to Do with Raw Alpaca Fleece

Raw Alpaca Fiber
Raw Alpaca Fiber
I went to the Kid 'N Ewe fiber festival this weekend in Boerne, TX just north of San Antonio.  I had so much fun!  Being new to the whole spinning thing, it was amazing to see so many people spinning and the variety of wheels out there.  There were almost no two alike.  There was also roving and more roving.  Lots of yarn, which now is boring.  And there was raw fiber.  What I've been waiting for!

UPDATE: It is much easier to just spin dirty fleece than to wash it, then spin it.  Alpaca is not that dirty.  There's little oil, unlike with sheep's wool.  There is mostly just sediment and some vegetation.  I wear an apron.

After you spin it, you would still follow the directions I've got below to wash your yarn.  You would not need to use the bag, though.  Washing the yarn also helps the spin to set in better.

Now that I've spun a whole bunch of alpaca, wool is soooooo easy to spin.  Happy spinning!!

If your alpaca is super muddy dirty, I figured out that you can actually wash the fleece by hand in cold water as you would hair.  You can agitate it with your hands.  Then dry as specified later in the post.  

Do NOT use the washing machine with color or hot water.  Learned that the hard way.

You'll need to wash it again after it's spun so that you can open the fibers with the hot water to get all the dirt out.

Now back to your regularly scheduled blog post

I spoke with Suzanne Baker of Cibolo Creek Alpacas.  She was very friendly and knowledgeable about alpacas.  Here's some of her herd:
Fluffy Alpacas
Fluffy Alpacas

Sheered Alpacas
Sheared Alpacas

The Alpacalyse
The Alpacalyse

She wasn't too sure about the spinning aspect since she hires that out to someone else.  However, she introduced me to Gabi with Shear Diligence, who is one of the people who shears her alpacas.  Gabi also spins alpaca fibers.  She was very well versed on how to prepare the fibers and what to look for when buying the fleece.

So, I picked her brain on how much I should buy to make a sweater or hat etc., what the process is for preparing the fleece, and lots of other fun shtuff.  Being a newbie at all this, I figured I would relay what I've learned to you, my dear readers.  I think writing all this while I'm learning will address more of the questions that beginners have.

Without further ado, here's what Gabi told me:

What to look for when buying raw alpaca fiber

  • Even lengths of fiber - not lots of short fibers
  • Clean fiber - not much vegetation, debris, or dirt
  • An alpaca who is clearly loved - speak with the owners if possible

Why it (might be) better to buy raw alpaca vs. raw sheep's wool

  • Sheep are dirtier in general
  • Wool has lanolin (oil) 
  • Dirt + oil = more weight = less bang for your buck
  • You can spin, without combing/carding, a good alpaca fiber
  • Alpaca is so soft you can barely feel it on your skin.  Wool can be itchy.
  • However, alpaca is so soft that it is slippery and harder to spin.
I was sold.  I bought this big ol' bag for a good price:

raw alpaca fiber
Huge bag of chocolate brown raw alpaca fiber

How to Wash Raw Alpaca Fiber

***Do NOT agitate the fleece while washing it.  
This means no washing machine or scrubbing.****

raw alpaca fiber
Here's some raw alpaca fiber

raw alpaca fiber
Break the big pieces into smaller chunks about like this.

raw alpaca fiber
Sort by taking out small fibers that are too short to spin.
Suzanne Baker said that I could sort it before buying it, but I wasn't sure what I was doing and just wanted to bring it home to work with. When you sort it, take out any vegetation and debris as well.

raw alpaca fiber
You can see the fleece looks almost like hair.

raw alpaca fiber looks like hair
I put the fleece up to my hair so you could see how similar they are.

raw alpaca fiber
Lay the small chunks of fiber out flat side by side in a lingerie bag.
washing raw alpaca fiber
Close up the bag well.
Boil water in a teapot
Put some water on to boil.
fill sink with hot water
Fill a sink with your hottest tap water.

add boiling water
Add the boiling water.


washing raw alpaca fiber
Squirt dawn or shampoo very well over the bag.

washing raw alpaca fiber
Submerse the bag.  I used a potato masher because the water is HOT. Do NOT agitate the bag.

washing raw alpaca fiber
Don't add water after the dawn.  You don't want suds!

30 minute timer
Let sit 30 minutes.
washing raw alpaca fiber
I used a plastic cutting board sheet to slip under the bag to take it out flat in  one piece.
washing raw alpaca fiber
Move the bag to the other side of the sink.

washing raw alpaca fiber
This is the water.  Really not too bad given it came off of an outside animal.
washing raw alpaca fiber
Fill the sink again with hot tap water only.

washing raw alpaca fiber
Move the bag back into the filled sink.

washing raw alpaca fiber

washing raw alpaca fiber

washing raw alpaca fiber
Let sit another 30 minutes.
Refill sink

This time add a splash of vinegar.
washing raw alpaca fiber
Repeat the rinse cycle and sit for 30 more minutes.

washing raw alpaca fiber
Take out the bag and lay it on a towel.

washing raw alpaca fiber
Roll the bag inside of the towel.
washing raw alpaca fiber
Put the rolled up towel in the washer. 

washing raw alpaca fiber
Run the SPIN CYCLE ONLY.  It's ok to spin it, just no rinsing or agitating

washing raw alpaca fiber
Take the bag out of the towel and lay it out to dry.

washing raw alpaca fiber
It looks and feels like damp hair.

washing raw alpaca fiber
Here's a closeup of the clean fiber

That lingerie bag held a tiny bit of the huge bag of fiber that I bought.  While I'm in no hurry and am a fan of the journey vs. the destination, I would be using a whole lot of water, which in San Antonio is scarce.  So, I've been getting creative on how to wash it in more bulk.

washing raw alpaca fiber
I put the same layered fiber in a Mexican shopping bag.

washing raw alpaca fiber
I basted the top closed. It easily comes out when I want.

washing raw alpaca fiber
This holds a lot more fiber.  I have another one that I'll also use at the same time.

washing raw alpaca fiber
Repeat the same wash and rinse cycles, but use a bathtub.

washing raw alpaca fiber
This alpaca was cleaner than my dogs, I think!

 Creating the roving by hand is my next challenge.

  • The fibers are shorter than the wool I've worked with
  • It's slippery
  • But it's a stronger hold when spun
  • I generally don't predraft because of the whole, I can't look down thing - may have to adapt

Other shtuff I've learned

  • Alpaca is extremely warm + TX = won't wear it much = plying with other fiber good

I will update with more info as I explore the wonderful world of alpaca fiber!


Lynneth said...

Great post! So do you card the unwashed fleece before spinning?

MuttNut said...

You can card it or comb it before you spin. Or if it's still nice and neat, just shape it with your fingers. It's pretty easy to work with.

Anonymous said...

Are you by any chance looking to purchase raw alpaca fiber?

college paper said...
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Rusty Gate Alpaca Farm said...
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Rusty Gate Alpaca Farm said...

Why do you add vinegar? Thanks!

MuttNut said...

The vinegar is supposed to add a nice shine. It also works on human hair.

Suzanne Edwards said...

thinking of attempting the transition from fleece to roving. Have you had success. Can't wait to read how you achieved it. Suzy Edwards,

MuttNut said...

Suzy, I tried to make my own roving, but really, it's much easier just to use raw, dirty (but not mud caked) fleece to spin with.

Carl Stone said...

I beg to differ about the whole don't agitate thing. Alpaca is very much like hair and as such i have successfully hand washed it as i would hair. The first thing to remember is use hot water and mild shampoo or soap. If your alpaca is dirty, as is common with white alpacas, and you want it to actually look white you will have to run gently in one direction then submerge and separate the hairs underwater. Sort of what i call wet drafting. If I'm using a bar of soap(organic), i will run it along the length of each dirty lock and then submerge and separate as i go along. It's certainly not as rough as scrubbing dirty clothes but i handle my alpaca throughout the whole procedure. My goal is to get it visually clean. After rinsing i roll inn a towel and stand on it too press out water. Then i unroll it and finger pick it into a damp cloud and spread it on a flat surface to dry. The method is a tad bit different for suri alpaca. I think what every one should take into effect is that it is hair. Felting is greatly misunderstood. Treat the alpaca like it's hair just remember that it has two ends rather than being attached at one end. This means you can pull the hairs apart as you would during drafting. For suri i actually use a hair comb after it dries. All of this is labor intensive but think about it does our hair felt? Black women have many levels of crimp curls and waves and there's a difference between felt and tangle. For more tips on how to handle your alpaca or defelt it or prevent tangling, check out some African American natural hair cair videos on you tube. I've been doing experiments on so called felting during washing and successfully defelted or agitated while successfully preventing felt in super hot water many times. I have had zero fails.

MuttNut said...

What you are doing is not agitating the fleece. You're carefully keeping the fibers in one direction. Agitating it would be to put it in the washing machine and let it agitate or to scrub it with your hands. Alpaca is not quite the same as human hair. If you cut non-African human hair and agitate it, it won't "mat" as easily. Alpaca fibers are especially good at sticking together. They're also extremely fine. Because of those two things, the alpaca fleece can keep the animal much warmer than human hair, which has more of a tendency to stay in strands, can on our heads. I think it's great that you are able to handle the fibers as not to felt them, but I wouldn't say that you're agitating them either. ;)

Diane B Reed said...

I live at Canyon Lake, and bought 3 Alpaca males from Suzanne & George. We love them, but I have yet to do anything with the fleece for the past 7 years. One is black, one is chocolate, and the other one is the color of nougat with cinnamon spots. Let me know if you need any new raw fiber.

MuttNut said...

Hi Diane, thank you so much for the offer. I absolutely loved the fleece I got from Suzanne, and if you are getting rid of it, I'll take it off your hands. Do you ever come into SA?

alpacas for sale uk said...

I know that Alpacas wool are very soft and warm. Vinegar added a nice shine to wool.

Diane Reed said...

Thanks Becky, I'll try that hint.

SpiderWomanATL said...

If Dawn is so great to remove grease, I surely would not use anything like that on alpaca. Maybe you'd want to use something like it on sheep wool but no...a big no. Treat it like hair if you must wash it at all. There is nothing wrong with spinning it first and save the washing until it is yarn or even knitted. It might be different depending on the conditions for the animals.

Roving? It might be easier to spin from it but I have about twenty six pounds of raw fleece and I have no plans to turn it all into roving. If I want to do that, it will go to a mill for further processing. I might run some of it through a picker to get rid of any other VM there might be and turn that some might be in clumps to something a bit easier to work with.

With some of the things I knit with I might wash them afterwords and soak things in a solution of water and hair conditioner. It helps to give a nice softness and a halo. Before that I might use Eucalan or an organic shampoo.

A little benefit for me was that not only did I meet the owner of the animals, I met the animals. There is a special bond there.

MuttNut said...

You can use Dawn with no problems to wash dogs says a vet friend of mine, and of course Dawn has a marketing campaign around removing oil spills from animals. I don't think that it totally strips the fiber so that it's dried out or anything. For washing a bunch of fiber, I think it's cheaper than fancy shampoo. However, because the smell is so phenomenal, I use Aussie conditioner on it afterwards for special skeins. It makes it even softer and smells a whole lot better than wet dog or in this case, alpaca.

I do agree that you can spin some alpaca dirty, but not if it's got caked on mud. For that, I would wash in cold water. Also, if you have allergies to pollen, alpaca fleece collects it. Remember that they shear around April, so right around high pollen season. If pollen bothers you, then you'll want to wash your fleece before spinning.

Good luck with your 26lbs of fiber!

TIMANDTINA Vanderhoff said...

My son has very oily hair and the beautician told me to use Dawn as shampoo so I agree it is probably safe on Alpaca. It also is used in daycares to kill lice, dogs with fleas and house exteriors with boxelder bugs, so with an outdoor animal I think that might be a good protection when bringing the hair into your home?

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