The Spin Doctor

The times I hear the words “Alpaca is so difficult to spin”. No, it is not. This sentence should read “Alpaca is different to spin”. By Jean Field.

Certainly, compared to sheep wool, it is a different animal when it comes to hand spinning. Hand spinners nearly always learn to spin with wool as it is so forgiving for beginners. It has well defined scales which allows the fibres to cling on to each other as you twist it. Think of baby elephants holding on to mum’s tail when out walking. This is wool. Alpaca has less well defined scales and the fibres tend to slip past each other more easily.

For me there is nothing better than preparing a beautiful baby fleece from shearing, skirting, assembling the locks, carding or spinning directly from the staples to creating this amazingly soft yarn that is incredibly tough and resilient. However, I do acknowledge that most hand spinners these days prefer their fleeces ready to spin in the form of clean tops.

Alpaca has virtually no lanolin in it which makes it a comfortable fibre to spin “in the grease” as it is normally dusty rather than greasy. It has been my experience that the little beggars manage to find a dusty spot in the field to roll in just prior to the shearer’s visit, if you give your fleece a good shake you will be surprised how much dust drops out prior to preparation. If you decide to wash the fleece first it may become static and fly away; in this case spray it lightly with water as you spin. Suri is a big culprit for this.

Huacaya fleece is a long staple fibre between three and eight inches long making it an ideal fibre for worsted spinning. Suri alpaca fleeces are often shorn every second year giving the fleece lengths of up to 13 inches. However, more and more breeders are shearing suri each year giving a shorter more manageable fibre.


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