Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Fun With Alpaca

Had to stay home today to take my little pal, Tallulah, to the vet.  Poor baby stayed up scratching and crying all night.  Turns out she probably had a flea, spider, or ant bite and had an allergic reaction.  A shot relieved her itching quickly and now she's dozing while I do some studying.

 By the way, there are lots of people who spin dog fiber - some who even make a profession of spinning it for people who want keepsakes of their beloved pets.  I'm saving hair from Tallulah's groomings to try it out myself.  But that's a topic for another time.  For today it's just a good excuse for putting her picture in my blog.

As long as I'm home, thought I'd take advantage of the quiet to process some of my alpaca stash.  Since washing it requires a lot of soaking time, this is a perfect multi-tasking opportunity for me.

This is my first experience with alpaca, so I've been doing quite a bit of reading about how to prepare it.  People seem to be divided on whether or not it should be washed before spinning.  Alpacas don't produce the lanolin oils that sheep do, so oil and grime are not  big issues.  But alpacas are know for loving a good  roll in the dirt -- so a fleece that looks clean can still be full of dust and very small bits of vegetable matter (VM).  Clean alpaca fiber is pretty slick so letting the fiber be slightly dusty can make it easier to spin. 

I like to be able to spin anywhere without worry about spreading dirt and VM all over, and I don't like finding my hands all dirty after spinning, so I opted for clean and slick.  Stopped by my local 99 cent store and picked up half a dozen mesh lingerie bags and was ready to go.

I tested this on just a small amount of fiber before first -- just to be sure I didn't end up with a wad of felt.  Weighed out a half ounce of fiber.  Although there were only a couple of small bits of VM to be picked out, I noticed my countertop and the bowl I used for weighing were filled with tiny bits of dirt and VM.  Looked just like the junk that comes out of a smoker's purse (saving anti-smoking lecture for another time). Filled the sink with tepid water, added a few drops of Dawn dish-washing liquid (this stuff foams like crazy so you seriously need only a few drops) and dropped in a lingerie bag with the fiber spread as evenly as I could get it.  Turned out not to matter because the fiber migrated to one side of the bag when I removed it from the water.  But I tried...

Fleece Before Soaking

Junk From About Six Ounces of Unwashed Fiber


After the fiber had soaked for 20 minutes, I very  gently lifted it out of the water, refilled the sink with clean, tepid water, and let the bag soak again.  Was surprised at how dirty the rinse water was.  Repeated this two more times, until the water stayed reasonably clean.

Put the bag on a dry towel, rolled it up and pressed out as much water as I could without wringing, and took it out to my beloved dryer.  They don't make this model any more, which is a shame, because it's so useful.  Above the traditional drum dryer, it has a cabinet where you can either hang clothes to dry or lay things flat on racks you can insert.  It dries things slowly with a flow of gentle warm (not hot) air through the cabinet.  No agitation/no felting.

Maytag Drying Center Loaded with Bags of Fiber

After the fiber was completely dried and cooled, I decided to try out the wool picker.  Opinions vary on that, too.  Some experts say mechanical picking can break alpaca fibers.  Others swear by it.  And others say it's not necessary- you can spin from the lock by manually teasing it a bit or go straight for hand cards or a drum carder.  I found the locks in my test batch were still clinging together, and wanted to see what the wool picker would do, anyhow.  You put a small amount of fiber in the front, and get a big fluffy cloud at the back.  You can see the model I'm using in action on the maker's website.  I thought it worked very easily and quickly, and didn't notice any breakage.And a bit more VM fell out of the fibers in the process.

A Half Ounce of Soft Fluffy Goodness

As I write this I have six bags containing two ounces of fiber each drying in my friendly Maytag.  It's pouring rain outside, Tallulah is dozing (and not scratching) on my lap, my sweetheart is in the kitchen making vegetable soup, and all's right with the world.  Time to get back to studying!

Postscript 4/12/12  Warmish wet alpaca smells peculiar.  May have to run the drying center through a few cycles after this project is done.  Just sayin.

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