Just the Facts – Fleece Preparation for Beginners:
by Kate Perez
Trying to shear a wet alpaca annoys the shearer and ruins the fleece. Lock your alpacas in the barn if you have to, but keep them dry.
Cleaning “on the hoof” is MUCH more effective than cleaning AFTER shearing. We use “Kwik n Slick” © wands, followed by an industrial blower, a shop vac, and hand picking if necessary.
Stay close during shearing and use your cupped hand to scoop out any second cuts before they fall into the fleece. Second cuts are the short, itchy pieces of fleece created when a shearer goes over the same spot twice. If allowed to fall into the fleece, these will quickly disperse throughout it and reduce its quality and value considerably.
Even previously dry alpacas can sweat profusely or have a nervous bladder. Do not bag up a damp or smelly fleece. A fleece that is stored damp will often end up partially felted rendering it unusable. Lay it out on a table to dry completely. We use a mesh topped “skirting” table (home-made) with a clean sheet over the top of the fleece. The air circulates underneath, drying the bottom and then we turn the fleece over. We “skirt” by removing any edges of the fleece that are coarser, shorter, have more guard hair or don’t match the rest of the blanket in color or crimp. Once dry, bag your fleece but do not close the bag; just fold the top over. I place a dryer sheet in my fleece bags to repel bugs. The pleasant scent is nice too.
Selling Your Fleece For Beginners:
What should you do with your dry, clean, bagged fleece? You can show it, sell it, process it yourself, send it out to be processed, join the Co-op or do all of these. Not everyone wants to be a hand spinner or knitter but, if you want to sell raw fleece for a good price, you should know the basics about your product.
Know the answer to questions like, “Do you have to mix it with sheep’s wool to be able to knit a woolen-type garment that has bounce or holds its shape?”
Answer: Huacaya – No! I wear a hand spun, hand knit huacaya sweater or vest when selling fleeces. If you don’t spin, try to send out one of your fleeces to be spun up into a woolen-type yarn and knit into a garment. This sounds like a lot of trouble but spinners and knitters who have been convinced that alpaca MUST be blended with sheep’s wool for the garment to hold its shape, will only believe what they see and feel for themselves. Alpaca fleece is much easier to process than sheep’s wool because it does not have body oil (lanolin) and, therefore, does not need to be washed before spinning. If the spinner thinks that alpaca must be blended with sheep’s wool, the alpaca fleece seems much less attractive. Huacaya processed in a large mill, will not be woolen but worsted or semi-worsted making it less bouncy.
Answer: Suri – N/A. Pure Suri fleece is not suitable for a woolen-type garment. Tell any hand spinner or knitter to treat it like silk but silk that comes in many luscious natural colors. Suri is perfect for dressy, drape-y worsted-type garments. Suri breeders, wear a flowing, woven shawl or scarf when selling your fleece.
Common Question: How much of this do I need to make a sweater. The answer is NOT “I don’t know!” Practice saying, “If you weigh your favorite sweater, you could use that as a guide for how much fleece you need to knit up that size and style of sweater. The one I am wearing, for example, is __lbs. __oz.”
Question: Is alpaca allergenic? Answer: No. Ask them to rub a piece against their cheek and you’re done with this question.
Other things to mention: Alpaca is far warmer by weight than most sheep’s wools. The long staple length makes for a smoother, dressier yarn. Alpaca fleece garments will “breathe”, retain their warmth when wet and last for many years. Huacaya can make a garment with high loft (lot’s of warm, trapped air.) Suri has shine and takes dye wonderfully. Both come in many more natural colors than sheep’s wool, silk, mohair, etc.
Where to sell? Any sheep and wool festival or fiber arts show is great. Farmers’ markets work for some. Invite any local spinner’s guilds to have a meeting at your farm. You can find a listing of them on the Internet at:
I have sold fleeces from my website and even seen them sold on eBay. Don’t forget the Co-op! Go to http://www.afcna.com/ for more information on joining the Co-op.
So this year, please don’t leave your alpaca fleece in the corner of your bedroom or barn! Show it, sell it, wear it, send it out, or all of the above.