Monday, 21 July 2014


Alpaca belong to the Camelidae family, along with Dromedary Camels, Bactrian Camels, Llamas, Guanaco and Vicuna.  They are large animals with slender necks and long legs and are strictly herbivorous.  They all run in a rather comical way, with both legs on the same side of the body being moved simultaneously causing a swaying motion which is especially noticeable amongst the larger species ridden by humans.  All Camelids have three stomachs, which allow them to digest fibrous plants like grasses and legumes and they all chew cud, burped up small wads of food that they re-chew. They all also fold their legs directly beneath themselves by bending both front and back knees (known as kushing).  All Camelids have upper lips which are split in two, which each part separately mobile and all of them can spit and will do so when annoyed, scared or stressed and what they spit is a combination of saliva and cud.

All Camelids produce fibre which is technically hair because of its structure and can range from very coarse to very soft.  Some are double coated and some are single coated.  Some contain a large amount of guard hairs which are very coarse, which is useful if you're making a rug but not good for next to skin garments.  Luckily Guard hairs can be hand-picked from a fleece, a time consuming job but well worth taking the time to remove if you don't want them.

Alpaca have been bred for fibre for thousands of years in South America and are smaller than Llamas and most Alpacas do not have noticeable guard hairs, although they may have thicker hairs on certain parts of their body.  They come in a wide range of colours including white, black, a range of greys from silvery to charcoal, cream, very light to very dark brown and a range of reddish browns.  They can be one single solid colour or they can be spotted.  There are two breeds of Alpaca; the Suri Alpaca and the Huacaya Alpaca, with the Huacaya being the most common and making up approximately 90% of the Alpaca population.

The Suri Alpaca grow long, lustrous curly locks of hair with no crimp of up to 11 inches per year with no elasticity and can be tricky to spin.

Suri Alpaca in Peru

The Huacaya Alpaca looks fluffier with varying amounts of crimp and grows to 2-6 inches per year and may have a small amount of elasticity depending on the individual fleece and the spun yarn will bloom when washed.

Huacaya Alpaca

Alpaca is heavy compared to sheep's wool and it will felt.  It is also warmer than sheep's wool and has no lanolin, making it hypoallergenic. It is also naturally flame resistant, as is wool.  Fibre can be carded with fine teeth carders or can be combed depending on the length and your preference but it is recommended that you use mini-combs for Suri Alpaca.  Alpaca has very little or no elasticity so blending with wool will make it easier to spin and add elasticity, although pure Alpaca yarn is delightful and is best spun as a finer yarn rather than a thicker one.  You will need to add more twist when spinning pure Alpaca due to it being slipperier than wool but be careful not to over-spin as it will become stiff and wiry.  If you don't get your gauge right when making a garment it can be disastrous.  Too loose and it will stretch and sag, too tight and it will be too stiff.  If you get it just right it will be heavenly.

Hampshire Down X Dorset Horn Part I

Every now and then you come across a fleece that is a cross-breed, in this case Hampshire Down crossed with a Dorset Horn.  The Hampshire Down is quite a dominant breed of sheep in terms of numbers, around the world.  The Dorset Horn, however, is a Conservation Breed.

This one I got for the princely sum of 99p plus postage, which was significantly higher due to weight and bulk.  Yeah, go on, laugh and ask "What's wrong with it?".  I thought that when my bid wasn't challenged only to be surprised when it arrived at how relatively nice it felt for my bargain price, although worried about that yellowish line half-way up the staple.  This was from Ebay and came from Chandlers Ford, Eastleigh, Hampshire and was sheared in June 2012.

It arrived at 2kg and after a quick sort and washing weighed 1.35kg.  I discovered that this fleece had 3 distinct qualities to it and separated the fleece based on these qualities.

Type I

Short curly locks, very much like Shetland, but with a lot of short black kemp like fibres in it.

These are pretty much combing out but those that don't fall out can probably be picked out later.  This part of the fleece weighed 265g and after combing and spinning I made a Double-Knit 2ply yarn of 114g/390m.  This was a yield of 43%.

It turned out that I couldn't pick all the black hairs out and so I wasn't happy with this and decided to dye it.  For some strange reason I picked the Lime Green shade ColourCraft All in One Dye.  I was initially horrified at the colour as I lifted the yarn out of the dye pot but then as the excess water ran out it lightened to quite a nice pastel shade of Lime, which made me quite happy.  That happiness didn't last though.  As I added the skein to some plain warm rinse water, most of the dye went for a swim in the water and I was left with a very sickly yellowish colour.  It couldn't be left in that state but I wasn't sure what colour to over-dye it with.  Whilst I deliberated that, I dyed the next lot of fleece Ultramarine Blue and then decided that I would add this skein to the dye that was left over from that dye pot.  Hey presto, a beautiful colour I think you would agree.