I sit with my laptop on my lap, coffee fresh from the pot, Pandora playing my David Bowie channel over my tablet, while I look at my phone and find myself thinking of a time before technology. A time where in order to keep your family warm, you had to process wool from sheep to roving, to spindle to spindle again because yarn is 2-ply (something I never noticed some how). For non-knitters this means sheared, hay and poop picked out, washed, carded and turned into a soft, fragile bundle of sheep fibers just waiting to be twisted together. So here I was thinking that sounded nice, and how hard could it be really. I think I can spin. Why wouldn’t I be able to spin…
Well because it is a beautiful old art form and it appears to be the one subject that confounds youtube. My favorite thing to do is to check with ‘the google’, it is how I taught myself to knit in fact, but in this case it was fruitless. Very little information exists on the internet regarding processing wool and spinning. That which does, seems antiquated and poorly presented. This is not to say there weren’t some good sites. It is just a subject that is used to being passed down through generations, not uploaded to youtube, and it hasn’t transitioned well. I did find some good information and it is with that research that I began my process.
Luckily for me I have a wonderful, beautiful friend who loves me so much she sent me a bag full of fresh sheared alpaca fiber because ‘of course I could spin, why wouldn’t I be able to spin…’ (If you are not lucky enough to have one of these friends in your life, I would search for one. There is nothing quite as comforting as a friend who believes that you will succeed where ever you passions take you. Never questioning your rationale or qualifications.) So here it was a bag full of alpaca hair.
She also sent me a shot glass some jam, and persevered beets and jalapenos. They were delicious. The alpaca fiber came complete with hay, poop, bugs and dirt as promised.
Luckily after the long trip and the time wrapped up in the plastic bag, the bugs were all dead.
So as mentioned above, I was unable to ascertain the exact correct way to do this, but this is the way I did it so far.
1. Sheared alpaca. I was not responsible for this part of the process, this was done by a friend of my friend. I will say that it was literally sheared, stuck in the bags above and sent directly to me so the amount of processing was minimal.
2. I received the alpaca fiber. As you can see above it was sent to me in bags, and it was my responsibility to pick it. I did that by spreading the alpaca out on my dinning room table, pouring a beer (I think it took closer to two) and going for it. Two notes before pictures. 1) This will leave your dining room smelling like a barn, so be prepared. I ended up actually liking the smell a lot, which was both weird and comforting. 2) If you have any animals in the house, be prepared for them to go a little bit crazy as the smell will make them want to eat what ever is on your table.
3. Next comes washing. So half of the articles/videos I researched said wash first then card and spin. The other half said card and spin then wash. Curiosity got the best of me, so I washed a batch. I used my sink, as you can see below it is plenty big. Alpaca fibers lack lanolin (the oils created by sheep fibers and found in wool), this makes them much easier to clean than traditional sheep fibers. The temperature I used was close to bathwater, so warm/hot, but not to hot to put your hands in. I added a little bit of all natural dish detergent, just to help get some of the dirt out. With all fibers you have to careful not to over agitate, this can lead to felting. The method I used was more of a pressing. I gently pushed the fibers down and then let them naturally rise. I did that several times, then let the fibers sit for 20 minutes. I then drained the water, added new water same temperature but without detergent, pressed again, let them sit again for 20 minutes, and then drained the water. I put out a towel and let the fibers air dry on that towel. Upon realizing how long I would have to wait for it to dry, impatience got the best of me and I continued on with out washing the rest.
4. Carding. This is hands down the most tedious and annoying part of the process and I am honestly still in the middle of it (hence part 1 and 2). Carding is a process of simultaneously disentangling the fibers and realigning them to make them into a continuous web, known as roving, sliver or rolag, which will make them easier to spin. It can be done several different ways, but I choose hand carding. The process is actually very simple, however it takes a certain rhythm and the correct tools. My husband will tell you that I lack the first, and as a musician he would know and while I would love to have some carding brushes, they run anywhere from $60 to $100 and that is unfortunately not in my current crafting budget. Turns out I am not alone, and crafters by their nature are ingenious, so after doing a little more research, I found that a similar effect could be achieved using dog brushes, two of which cost only $16 total. I will say though after trying carding in a yarn shop with actual carding brushes, it is definitely easier that way. Some day I will definitely invest in some proper carders! These gorgeous ones can be purchased at Etsy shop Saorisantacruz.
Now for the actual process… You take one of the brushes and put your fibers across it, you want to make sure the brush is mostly covered lengthwise. When it comes to the thickness, you should be able to press lightly on the fibers and still easily feel the bristles beneath it. You take the brush with the fiber on it, set it on your leg, and then using the other brush just gently brush the opposite direction. It takes about 5-7 times, and then you will start to notice that the fibers on the original brush have all began lining up. At that point you roll the fibers off the brush, making sure to keep the fibers aligned and there you have a rolag!
I think they look pretty good, though obviously the true test will be when I try to spin them. As you can see by the large pile of fiber behind them, I still have a ways to go. So for now that is where part 1 ends. If you have any questions I will do my best to answer them. If you have any advice I accept it with open arms. 🙂 Happy crafting friends.