Spinning British Alpaca

Some of you may already know about my love/hate relationship with alpaca.  I dislike it intensely for felting, but I actually love it for spinning.  You can find out more by doing a search for alpaca on the blog.  I recently got a sample pack of wool from Benridge Woolworks.  I came across them through one of the spinning groups on Facebook when I made an inquiry about merino.  I don’t believe they currently sell merino, but we discussed other fibers that I might find soft to spin.  In my pack there was 100g of alpaca.  Before I show you what I got, I would like to share some info about alpacas.

DSCF6871-001Alpacas in Cusco, Peru (2013)

Courtesy of Wikipedia: The alpaca (Lama pacos) is a species of South American camelid mammal. It is similar to, and often confused with, the llama. However, alpacas are often noticeably smaller than llamas. The two animals are closely related and can successfully crossbreed. Both species are believed to have been domesticated from their wild relatives, the vicuña and guanaco. There are two breeds of alpaca: the Suri alpaca and the Huacaya alpaca.

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If you are a felter, you want to get Huacaya.  Although Huacaya alpaca fiber will felt, it is a slow go due to the lack of scales on the hairs compared to wool.  Interestingly enough, the Huacaya has a larger population than the Suri and has shorter but finer hairs and with more of a crimp.  If you want to felt with this fiber, you really need to make a sample first.  I had some that wasn’t felting at all, but when I blended it with merino, it was fine

If you want to spin, the Suri has fine long locks, but the population of Suri is less than that of Huacaya so you really don’t know what you are getting unless you get it from the farmer.  Both will spin nicely.

When I went travelling around South America in 2013, we saw many alpacas. Alpacas are primarily bred for their fiber and used as pack animals, but they are also used for meat.  Here are some cute pictures of Alpacas.

Alpacas come in a wide variety of colors, unlike their wild cousins in Patagonia, Argentina, the guanaco.

Guanacos are mainly wild animals.  However, they are sometimes hunted for food.  I have been told that they must be frozen before cooking due to a particular parasite it carries.  There are not many private herds.  The fiber is very fine and considered a luxury.  Due to its rarity, the fiber can be quite expensive.

Because of my intense dislike of alpaca for felting,  I had saved a lot of it that I had got in a mixed bag of fiber and was going to give it to one of my spinning friends.  In the end, she taught me how to spin, and so I spun it all up.

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And I used it to weave a couple of scarves with some merino and other yarns.

I still have a lot of this spun alpaca left, but it will get used in future projects.  The scarves are very warm and soft.  I have worn the v-cowl a few times at work at this time of year.

So, let me show you the alpaca batt I received.  The first thing is a visual.  I received 100g of fiber.  There was a little bit of VM, but that is to be expected.  I then rubbed it against my face and neck.  The fiber is really soft.  The next thing I did was smell it.  Surprisingly there was no smell.  Really.  I found that quite unusual as I can sometimes get a smell from processed fiber from World of Wool.  When my parcel arrived, I contacted Benridge to find out what this fiber was as it wasn’t labeled clearly.  They told me it is alpaca, so that is what I am working from.

IMG_1609To be fair, I wasn’t expecting this much fiber.  I thought I would be getting 7 different packs of 50g each.  I opened up the batt and it looked like this.

IMG_E1613I am not unfamiliar with wool batts, but this looked a bit all over the place to me.  I wasn’t sure how I was going to spin it, so I decided to re-card it to make it more manageable.  I made two batts.

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The batts are really soft and fluffy.  I pulled off strips and spun from those.  The thing about spinning from batts like these as opposed to my batts or spinning from roving is that the fibers tend to be more crimpy and grabby while the other two are more smooth and can be a little bit slippy.  I find that I can spin a finer yarn and use less fibers in the spin with this type of batt.  I decided to see how thin I could get.  As the batt was really soft and fluffy, it was like spinning from a cloud.  Every so often I would have to pick out some VM and there were quite a few nepps that I just left in, so this will be a nubby yarn.  One thing I did notice during spinning is that my thumb and forefinger on my left hand, the ones I use to pull the fiber, got a bit dirty and sticky.  I am guessing that there is still a tiny amount of dirt and lanolin in the fleece, but since alpaca produces minimal amounts of lanolin, it should all come out when I wash the yarn.  Here is my single.

IMG_1615IMG_1620Here it is ready for plying. It plied surprisingly well considering how thin I managed to spin it.  There are lumps and bumps in it.  When it came to washing, I used really hot water from the tap with some wool wash.  The water got dirty really quickly.  In the end, I had to use washing up liquid and super hot water to get it really clean.  I did that a few times.  When the water started to look clear, I drained my pot and let the wool cool down.  I then rinsed it a few times in cold water once the wool went cold. It is important to make sure you use the same temperature as the fiber at this point otherwise it could felt.  The yarn is considerably whiter than it was before, which was already pretty white.

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As you can see, the yarn is very finely spun, which I am quite pleased with.  However, it is fuzzy and not as soft as other alpaca that I have spun before.  It is still soft, but I am of two minds as to how I will use it.  It might feel really soft to someone else but it does feel a little bit scratchy to me.  This isn’t me being really critical, just that I have sensitive skin and so does the hubs, so I can’t really ask him to test it as he even more sensitive. If I use it in a scarf, I will have to make sure it is near the ends and not in the neck area.   As an experience, it certainly was one as I have not spun carded wool directly from the animal before.  I am not sure I will do it again though. I like the predictability of spinning from commercial roving, knowing I will have a smooth fiber without lumps and bumps.  Knowing I was spinning alpaca, I had high hopes for this yarn having spun alpaca before, but the outcome is completely different.  I am a little bit disappointed as I thought it would turn out better.  It looks better than it feels.

2 thoughts on “Spinning British Alpaca

  1. Every project is a unique adventure! Your white alpace yarn is very pretty. I have found large variation in the qualities and softness of alpaca fiber from various sources. You never really know what you are getting. I think the lack of scales is what makes a fiber soft for wearing, but at the same time less suitable for felting. Also, one time years ago I tried to felt some light yellow commercial wool yarn and it was not working. Later I learned that the bleaches/ dyes used in getting the lighter color affects the felting ability.

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    1. Hi Meg, I will be using the Alpaca in weaving some scarves as it is soft. As this was a sample pack, I didn’t know what was going to be in it. I wrote a huge blog post about felting with alpaca. I do know people who felt with it from their own animals and even they admit it is slow going, like some wool breeds. The lack of scales doesn’t help it. I am also not used to spinning something with so many nepps that it wasn’t worth pulling them out. When buying lap waste you could also end up with superwash in there and that definitely won’t felt, so I don’t buy it for felting anymore only spinning.

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