Monday, July 18, 2011

Washing Alpaca Fiber

I've been on summer vacation this month, and have decided to work on cleaning up some alpaca. Here's how I clean it, and what you will need:

Lingerie bags (2-4 do nicely)
Liquid dish soap (not soap used in a dishwaser) I use plain old Dawn
A large container of hot water

Below is some of the fiber I want to clean. I picked through it by hand removing grass, short bits, and other unwanted things. Besides being really dusty it was relatively clean stuff. 

I stuffed a few handfuls into a lingerie bag. You don't want it too full, if the bag is stuffed with too much it will be hard to get it clean.

Next fill your sink with the hottest water you can get. Our water heater makes some very hot water so I just use that. Next pour in your liquid soap, I use about 4 liberal squirts of Dawn. Make sure to add this after you've filed your sink, you don't want to make suds. Here's my water ready to go!

Now, the first time I washed some of this fiber I did two bags at once. It came out clean, but it was a lot more work. This time I soaked 1 bag at a time. All you have to do is lay your lingerie bag full of fiber on top of the water and let it just absorb the water on it's own.. Don't go swishing it around, you will felt it (although I have found this particular alpaca fiber I am using can be treated pretty rough without felting)! After a few minutes, I have a dowel rod that I use to gently poke it down into the water.

After it is fully immersed I set my timer for 30 minutes and just let the soap and hot water do it's stuff. Most of the dirt, and dust will simply sink to the bottom. As you can see from the picture below the water gets quite dirty.

After 30 minutes I pull the bag out of the water, I hold it up for a bit letting the excess water run off. I have another hot, soapy bath waiting on the other side of the sink. I just pop it in the next bath for another 30 minutes. Here's what is at the bottom of my sink after the first 30 minutes!

I repeat this process until the water is basically clear and there is very little dirt at the bottom.  A,fter all the washing is done, I squeeze the excess water out of the  lingerie bag (gently now, don't go ringing the heck out of it) and lay it on a wide screen just for this. Lay it in a sunny spot, and after an hour or two you will have beautifully fluffy, clean fiber.

After that I card it, and it is ready for spinning. Here's some of the yarn I have made using the fiber above. I am really please with it. It is incredibly soft, and slightly silky in texture.  I'm working very hard on creating a balanced yarn, so far so good.

 This is a video of me using my electric spinning wheel.

I hope this little tutorial is helpful.

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