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.

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