Friday, September 5, 2008

I wasn't going to

When visiting farm last year I swore I wouldn't be one of them that had bags of alpaca fiber sitting in my basement/garage/attic. I got into this business because I want to use the fiber. I taught myself to knit and have been eager to get my hands on our own yarn. Here it is, almost fall, and I have bags of fiber stacking up. South Haven Alpacas gave us bags of last years shearing from Snowstorm, Victoria and Kateri. I kept them in bags thinking I'd have it all made into yarn after this year's shearing. Well, that still hasn't happened.

There are 3 types of alpaca fiber. The Prime is the part that is along their back and sides, referred to as their "blanket". This is the best part that is made into great yarn. The neck and thighs are what are called "seconds". This usually isn't that good for yarn, some people throw this away, but other uses include making it into batting, filling cria coats with it, or felting it. I plan to felt it. The third type is called "thirds". This is from the legs and belly. It has more guard hairs (what makes it scratchy like wool) and does not have good crimp or conformity. Most farms throw thirds away (we composted it). It can be used as batting but rarely do farmers bother to do that. We opted to compost it thinking the birds may find it for making nests.

This is my pile of seconds, placed on top of my carding table. I have six bags of seconds:

Pile one of Prime bags:

The process is shearing, then picking out the debris (ie hay, weeds, clumps of dirt or whatever else stuck to the fiber). Carding it (which I have not done yet so I can't explain it yet). Then it can be spun into yarn. You can spin it yourself or send it to a mill.

Well, since the shearing was done, I have not gotten to cleaning and carding it. I have a table to do it on, I just need to find the time to do it. Plus, our alpacas are very dirty, so there is a lot of debris to take out. I'm dreading this job. We had the blankets of Sommerfield, Mattie and Maxito done for us. We were hoping to show their blankets this fall. Here we ran into a first year learning mistake. We did not realize if you want to show the blanket it has to be shorn in one piece and kept intact. Unfortunately this means we lose out on showing their blankets this year. At least the prime for those three is already cleaned for me. Here they are in the box (pile 2 of prime):

This is what the raw fiber looks like in the bag:

Up close:

It feels soft like cotton balls. It's warmer than wool but because only the best parts are used for yarn, it is not scratchy like wool (wool has guard hair throughout, which is what makes it scratchy). It is also hypoallergenic (from what I've read wool has lanolin in it that people can be allergic too, alpaca does not. There may be more to that than what I remember, but I do remember it is hypoallergenic).

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