We start our fiber preparation as soon as the alpaca is shorn. First we lay out the shorn fleece on a skirting table and we carefully remove (skirt) any pieces of fiber that are not part of the premium quality blanket.
I had a nice alpaca fleece skirting table but, often used the floor in the business office because it was easier to get good light in there.
The blanket includes the back, shoulders, and sides but not the neck, belly, legs or rump area of the alpaca. On younger alpacas, you can fudge this a little bit but make sure you match the length as well as the fineness!
When we are sure we have removed any fiber that is coarser or shorter than that which belongs in the blanket area, we pick out any VM (vegetable matter including bits of hay, small burrs, etc.) and then we roll up the fleece and bag it in an open plastic bag – ie: don’t tie the bag shut! The alpaca fleece must be able to breathe.
This raw, unwashed alpaca fiber can now be further prepared in a variety of ways. Many people ask me why we do not wash out alpaca fiber BEFORE we spin it. The answer is that, since alpaca does not have a body oil such as the oil that sheep have (which is used to produce lanolin, but not really named Lanolin!), there is no need to wash the alpaca before spinning.
The alpaca fiber may contain some dust but this will not make a difference when spinning. Once the alpaca fiber is spun and plied, we wash it in its yarn form. This helps to set the twist in the yarn. And, in its spun, yarn form, the alpaca fiber is less likely to accidentally felt than it would be in its raw fiber form. If you don’t know what accidentally felt means, think of your favorite 100% wool sweater accidentally thrown in the hot water washing cycle and the dryer, and ending up as a doll’s sweater. This accidental felting doesn’t just shrink the fibers, it also makes them stick to one another and become a solid material instead of yarn.
Above is a photo of partially felted alpaca fleece.
Some spinners will spin raw alpaca fiber right from the lock. Others will “tease” the fiber open with a comb or dog brush and then spin it. I use either the drum carder or the combs to process my alpaca fiber. The drum carder makes a woolen type yarn and the combs make a worsted type yarn. Check out the links below for photos of equipment and more specifics on carding versus combing.