Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Alpaca fleece and sprouting peas

After two weeks, I couldn't wait to see what was sprouting in the garden!  While not all the seedlings have survived, the bulk of them have so far, and the peas are even starting to flower.  The only sprouting seeds I could find under the straw were also peas.  We've had a lot of rain since the garden went in, which is great, but it will be nice when it gets some sunshine on it!

One of the initial goals of owning land is to have a few sheep to give fleece.  I'm hoping to be able to offer yarn and roving which has been hand spun and dyed with plant dyes grown organically on the farm.  Of course, to do that, I better learn to spin!  I've previously processed a sheep fleece, from cleaning raw wool to spinning it into yarn using a hand made drop spindle.

The last time I visited Nana, she gave me an alpaca fleece which had been given to her.  It's stayed in a vacuum space saving bag ever since.  I pulled it out over the weekend and have started working through it.  I'm going to share the method I use to turn it into yarn over the next couple of weeks.

So far, I'm about halfway through the fleece, sorting through it to remove second cuts (where the shearer has had to cut the same are twice, producing short locks which aren't suitable for spinning), and pulling out grass seeds and, on occasion, dead bugs.  Once this is done, the locks go I into netting bags and washed.  Washing the fleece is done by soaking it and then rinsing it until it's clean.  It's imperative that the fleece isn't agitated or rubbed at all while it's wet, as this will cause it to felt.
I was fleece by half filling the washing machine with the hottest water possible, and add a generous amount of a gentle detergent.  Then, when the machine has finished filling, put the bags of fleece gently into the water and use a wooden spoon or similar to gently press down, allowing all of the fleece to be submerged.  Leave to soak for 45 minutes to an hour, then run the spin cycle only to drain the dirty water.  Remove the bags from the washing machine and repeat again, but without the detergent (if the fleece is particularly dirty or greasy, you may need to use the detergent again).  Repeat the process without detergent a couple of times to make sure any residual detergent and dirt is rinsed away.  Place the netting bags outside to dry, either laying them flat on a clothes aired or pegging them up to your clothes line.  Remember to move the contents around regularly until it's all dry.

The next step is to 'card' or comb the fleece.  I'll cover that in the next post, once I get finished sorting and washing the fleece.

There are plenty of great resources online which helped me learn this process and also gave me ideas for making my own tools for the process for a lot less than you would ordinarily pay for them (although I suspect a lot of the quality of the properly made tools is sacrificed).  Putting the search term 'washing fleece' or 'scouring fleece' into YouTube will give you heaps of how-to videos for cleaning both sheep and alpaca fleece.

If you have any questions as this how-to series continues, feel free to post a comment, or email me.

Good luck with your springtime craft and DIY projects!

1 comment:

  1. This is really interesting, I recently learnt to knit, and I've been thinking the next step would be to learn how to process wool myself (or is that where I should have started?), I look forward to the rest of this series!