Combed alpaca

Cathy, Kim, and I had a sort of 3-way conversation about alpaca not too long ago, and Cathy sent a sample to help educate me about the goodness that is alpaca. Her fiber came from Bliss ranch. My 1 previous experience spinning alpaca was with combed top from Ashland Bay. It was kind of hard and somewhat wirey when I spun it into a 2-ply fingering weight yarn. I still have it somewhere, maybe I could beat it into submissive softness. Or maybe the fibers came from older animals, in which case beating is a lost cause.

Anyway, this was my first experience working with raw alpaca. It had a long staple (4″ or so) and medium crimp. I washed it 1x in hot water with a squirt of Dawn dish detergent (because raw fibers and my Drudik wheel do not mix), and it dried overnight. I turned the sample over after it was dry and noted a lot of dust and VM came out. Now I am horribly picky about VM – I hate it to the point that I am willing to pay many dollars to avoid it. Hm, what to do, what to do…First, I used Cathy’s suggestion of putting it in a mesh bag and tossing it in the dryer on air fluff for a while. It helped, but there were still a lot of crunchy bits in the fiber. Second, I combed it!

In the back is my green bottle of diluted hair conditioner (about 2 T of conditioner in a pint of water, shake to mix, spritz lashed fibers very lightly before combing). The combs are from here. I bought mine used, but even new, they are worth every penny.

Lash on, spritz, comb back and forth for 4 passes. I always think of Don King (really, how can you not?) when I comb fibers.

When I comb fiber with visible bits of dust and VM particles, I blow very gently with every swipe of the comb. If I see a noil or a speck of dust, I use my fingers (tweezers would probably be better) to pull it out. I do have a high percentage of waste (on the order of 33% or more), but I recomb all of the waste for 6 passes to bring the net loss down to about 20%.

Look how much stuff you can coax out with combs!

And look at what remained!

21 thoughts on “Combed alpaca

  1. So pretty! I’ve spun alpaca twice – first was a small 1oz fleece sample from an alpaca farm, so soft and wonderful to spin, 2nd was prepared/dyed from somewhere, and it was much less soft and more wiry like you describe your prior experiences. Have fun, this stuff looks like the good stuff.

  2. Gorgeous! That’s Prophecy’s (older female) fleece – pretty clean in the raw – for an alpaca. There’s more where that came from if you need it.

  3. Beautiful prep! The balls look like clouds that fell out of the sky. Send me your tangible addy and I’ll venture into my attic for a bit of black/brown to stuff in an envelope for you. It’s a commission so I can’t part with much, but the fiber is worth seeing because it’s gorgeous..

  4. Mmm. Looks lovely! Heavenly alpaca. I have been eyeballing combs for some time, but wasn’t sure what to get, and if I was willing to spend the $$. Your combs look great, they’re priced very reasonably, and obviously, they work well.

  5. Yum. I think I’m going to pull out my combs as soon as they and I are in the same state (sometime around March 30) and one of the many unprocessed fleeces that are on a moving truck somewhere between MA and VA to do some fiber prep of my own.

  6. wow, gorgeous! I will be interested to hear about your alpaca spinning– I have had the wiry experience, but also a fluffy experience, and I’m not a good enough spinner to recreate either one reliably.

  7. Be still my OCD heart. I have but to wonder about a technique, and LO! you illuminate me.

    Comb the waste. I would not have thought to do that.


  8. Great June. Thanks. I have a complaint. Now, I have to write a blog entry in response.

    And, I have a second complaint, too. Now that Cathy has sent the fiber, I probably ought to be a proper member of the blogging community and send you some alpaca fiber. Because I’m a bit competitive — and because it’s the alpaca community way of doing things — I have to one-up Cathy by sending softer fiber. Fortunately, I’m a bit of a stash hog and I’ve never really worried about being socially proper …

    Regarding that VM, alpacas and VM are synonymous. Alpacas love to roll! LOVE to roll! The only way to remove the vegetable matter is to pick it out — be it on a skirting table, a drum carder, batt, or at the spinning wheel. The only other method is carbonization and who wants to carbonize lovely, soft, alpaca.

    Yes, tweezers work well for picking out VM. I use them on the skirting table and while carding. With some fleeces, I keep a pair handy while spinning.

    Much of the sand and a lot of the VM falls out in carding.

    I know spinners who card their comb waste and recover spinnable fiber that way.

  9. My combed alpaca does not look fluffy at all…very slippery and slick, in fact. I find it damned near impossible to spin it on a wheel. I’ve only been able to spindle it. I wonder if recombing it would help…

  10. I’m sure that you already know this but the key to nice handspun alpaca yarn is to not overspin the singles. It turns in to rope really easily. Sorry if I’m preaching to the choir!

  11. I have about 45 pounds of alpaca here all needing to be cleaned, come on over!! It is worth the labor to get it ready though. One note, I have found that items made from alpaca do not get one too warm always just the right temp, don’t know why.

  12. Lovely clouds you have created! I also know of those who card the combed fibers to decrease waste. The resulting fiber is quite nice.

    Older alpacas, huh? Didn’t know that.

  13. I haven’t spun with alpaca–yet–but I do have some fiber that is full of VM. I took so much out from 2 ounces that I started collecting all of it into a baggie and well, one day I’ll finish cleaning it!

  14. Hi June,
    Do you always spray your scoured fiber with the conditioner solution? Is it for general storage purposes or specifically for combing?
    The alpaca looks lovely by the way!

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