Monday, April 26, 2010

I’ve got nothing to wear……!!

After owning alpacas for nearly five years and my herd now standing at 30 animals it is a shocking fact that I do not possess one single item made from alpaca. I can’t count the number of times I have extolled the virtues of this wonderful fleece and exquisite yarn so why is it that I own not a single sock, a scarf, or even a simple bobble hat?

The main stumbling block was fear.

Fear that I didn’t know how to sort and skirt,

Fear that I didn’t know where to take it; mini mill versus large scale mill

Fear that I will make the wrong decisions and end up with yarn that is not fit for purpose and yet has cost me a fortune to process.

However I have tackled these issues one at a time. I have attended fleece sorting workshops run by my regional group as well as a more intensive four day course. I have visited a variety of mills in neighbouring counties, learnt to hand spin and am now attending knitting classes.

This long journey of discovering culminated on a cold winters morning in February when I drove from my home in Cambridgeshire to Suffolk to work alongside Giles at his mini mill.

I had previously taken my bags of carefully sorted and skirted fleece to him in December which had been scoured when I arrived. (washed to you and me). The plan was to set me to work on all the machines (with supervision) over the next two days so that I could follow my fleece through the whole process. The fleece that we were going to be working with was white grade 1 which I wanted blended with 10% tussah silk. I had also sent some grade 2 which was to be blended with merino and grade 3 with bamboo.

After being with Giles for two days I began to understand the reasons for the processing costs. The whole process is very labour intensive and if done well (which this was) requires understanding, expertise and patience: none of which can be gained in two days. Giles has been spinning yarn for over six years. He mainly works with alpaca but has done all varieties of sheep, and even some yak!

It was great to be really involved in the spinning and plying process and to start to gain an understanding of all the variables that affect the finished yarn. This is the point that required the most experience and patience. When I was happy with the “feel” (that’s about as technical as I get!) we were away. It is so important to know what you want to produce with your yarn even at this stage so that you can tell the processor exactly what you want. If possible take a sample so that the spinner has a reference point. To go in with a vague idea or unrealistic expectations can cause disappointment.

I wanted to share this story with you not only to encourage other alpaca owners but also to highlight that your journey need not be as long or as daunting as mine thanks to the newly formed British Alpaca Society Fibre Committee which I am a member of. (

The committee is made from representatives from the regional groups throughout the UK who want to raise the profile of the fibre produced from our wonderful animals. We want to help and encourage you to get out there and promote and use your fibre whether you have a few alpacas or hundreds.

The BAS Fibre Committee has some great plans and ideas afoot so please watch this space to keep informed.

Frances Bath


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