Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Alpaca Cowl - Part 2 (moving to the fiber studio)

Now back to our series on an alpaca cowl . . . the Noro virus had me out for a few days, and a customer of mine joked that it must be because we knit with too much Noro yarn since she also was ill.  (If you didn't get that joke, you must not be a hard core knitter).  :)

Step 5 - Picking the Fleece  (Optional) 
Picking alpaca fleece is an optional step as alpacas do not have the tight lock formation as some wool breeds (like merino) does.  I do pick fleece when necessary such as when the fiber is really full of VM (vegetable matter) or there is a little matting from washing or just from rolling.  I also use my picker to blend fibers and colors.  So yes my picker does get a work out with alpaca - but not in the traditional way wool picking is done.  I do love to pick wool when I get some in (like a beautiful Romney fleece I just picked up) or raw merino or the like.  

I decided to pick Rosalita (rose grey) fleece because she was just FULL of VM and little burrs.  I know that the finer animals are like velcro but she was ridiculously full of VM!!!  I actually was out doing herd health on Sunday and purposely held onto her a little while to see this year's fleece and yes - she is full of VM again - I am not sure if she just rolls in the hay purposely or what.  The other animals in her pen that are in her micron range are NO WHERE NEAR full of VM that she is!!  This is precisely why I have made the decision to coat all my alpacas after shearing this year that are under 23 microns.  I want to keep as much fleece clean and VM free as possible.  It is an investment, but the amount of usable fiber that will be saved will more than make up for the coat cost.  

I did not (because I didn't need to) pick Brandy's fleece.  She was already cleaned and carded and ready to go. 

Here are some pictures of Rosalita's fleece being picked.  The fleece goes into the back of the picker (this is a swing arm triple picker).  It has many, many sharp points to "open" up the fleece.  This is NOT a toy and can be quite dangerous (as all fiber prep tools can be), but is a necessary tool for fiber folks.  

Fleece being loaded into the picker

The fleece goes into the back of the picker and is "swung" through so that the teeth open up the locks.  It does get out lots of VM, but Rosalita was so dirty that there was still LOTS of VM even after picking.  

Fleece after picking, still lots of VM

Here is the picker before picking (clean) and after picking (VM and Sand).  I made the decision right there that this fleece will need to be combed rather than carder to make a usable lovely fiber.  I cleaned the picker after every ounce or so of picking - so it definitely help - but still needed combing to remove the VM further.

Before picking - clean (see all the teeth)
After picking (VM and sand) 

Step 6 - Washing the fleece
Note that this process is for alpaca, if you have sheep it is slightly different (and different for different wools).  After the fleece has been skirted, sorted, graded and blown out to remove even more debris, I take the fleece that I will use for a certain project and wash it.  You can wash in a sink, bath tub, muck bucket or old top load washer. Whatever the vessel is that you use, the process is the same.
  • Add detergent to the vessel (I typically use regular blue Dawn dish detergent).  You can also use many of the wool washes on the market or laundry detergent, but I like Dawn the best.  Just remember, you want to use the regular, un-concentrated Dawn without any of those enzymes boost chemicals. 
  • Add hot water (so that you can put your hands in it without saying ouch) and swish it around to distribute the soap.   You are not looking for bubbles, just distribution of the soap.
  • Now add the fleece.  Sometimes I put the fleece in a mesh bag (if I am doing more than one fleece at a time in a large vessel) and sometimes I just put it directly in the water.  Push the fleece down gently so that it all gets wet and is submerged.  DO NOT agitate.  Leave for 30 minutes.
  • Take the fleece out - DO NOT wring it.  Just take it out and put it aside and repeat the wash step again.  Again leave for 30 minutes. 
  • Take the fleece out - DO NOT wring it. Just take it out and put it aside.  Now fill the vessel with hot water again (rinse the vessel out if necessary).  This is the rinse cycle.  Push the fleece down again without agitating.  Leave for 30 minutes.  The rinse I typically do 3 times. 
  • After the 3rd rinse.  Take the fleece out, squeeze (don't wring) out the fiber and roll it up in a big bath towel to remove the excess water.  Now lay somewhere to dry.  I sometimes use my skirting table, an old sheet out on the lawn or my new favorite, a drying rack I made.  
My process is typically 2 washes and 3 rinses

The fiber mesh bag with Rosalita's fiber inside (not the best pic)

Soapy water waiting for the fleece.

Step 7 - Prepping the fleece

Meanwhile while Rosalita's fiber was bathing - I decided to prep Brandy's fiber.

Because I am a Clemes & Clemes distributor and the new blending board is now a part of my fiber tool arsenal, I decided to prep Brandy's fiber on the blending board.  Brandy's fiber was already carded on my drum carder. . . but it didn't need to be (you can place uncarded fiber on the board too).  I am in love with this blending board and I have been in rolag heaven. . . it is just so much fun!!!

Want your own blending board?  Get it here.  This links to my online store. 

  • I placed a layer of Brandy's fiber on the board as the first layer.  
  • Then I placed a layer of Tussah (golden) silk on the board
  • Then I placed a layer of firestar (red) on the board
  • I continued several times until the board was full 
  • I removed them as rolags (pic of rolags are NOT of Brandy's prep because I forgot to take a pic), but they are representative of the rolags I spin with and spun Brandy's fiber with.
  • I spun the yarn - the first ply is an evenly spun sport weight-ish ply that will be plyed with Rosalita's prep as soon as that is done. 

First layer - Brandy (brown alpaca)

2nd layer - Tussah Silk

3rd Layer - firestar

Some rolags from the board (but NOT for this fiber, forgot to take a pic of Brandy's prep)

The yarn - this is one ply (Brandy, silk, firestar) of a 2-ply yarn

Next time ---- Rosalita's prep . . . .

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