Category Archives: alpaca

Bradner Flower Show — Sheep-to-Shawl demonstration

Last weekend the Langley Weavers and Spinners Guild spent time at the Bradner Flower Show doing a sheep-to-shawl demonstration.  The fibre we used was actually alpaca, but that doesn’t have the same alliteration as sheep-to-shawl, and the idea is the same.

A sheep-to-shawl is a popular competitive event amongst spinning and weaving guilds. Yes, competitive.  You have a clearly defined team, four spinners, one plyer, a weaver and an interpreter.  The interpreter is the person who speaks for the team, answers questions and helps the general public understand what’s going on.  The loom is warped ahead of time, but the fibre, while washed, is unprocessed.  The task of the team is to card, spin, ply and weave the yarn into a lovely fabric:  a shawl.  The team scores points for completing their shawl within the timeframe, usually 4 1/2 to 5 hours.  The also get (or lose)points  for the quality of the yarn, the complexity of the weave pattern and the finishing. 

We didn’t want to be part of a competetion, but thought that this kind of event would be just the match for the Bradner Flower Show. 

Here’s a photo essay of the various aspects of the sheep (alpaca)-to-shawl event.  Below is stage one: after the shearing that is.  This is the carding phase.  This is where we take the fibre shorn from the lovely alpaca, see her photo there?  and card it into fluffy, manageable batts for spinning singles.

This next photo is a shot of one of our guild members spinning the alpaca into a fine single.  The weave pattern for the shawl is a twill pattern with different coloured warp threads, so we wanted the warp and weft yarns to match.  Near her wrist you can see the lovely fluffy, carded fibre.

This is the plying stage.  We take two bobbing of freshly spun singles and ply them into a balanced 2-ply yarn that we can weave with right away. After this is done, the yarn is loaded onto the weaving bobbins and handed to the weaver.

And the weaver weaves.  The cream coloured alpaca matches wonderfully with the purple, green and yellow of the warp yarns.  Making for a wonderful, springtime shawl.

We finished this shawl on day 2 of the flower show and started on a second one.  The second one has a slightly different weave pattern — still using the twill idea, it is a zig-zag twill.  I am sure there is a better name for that pattern, but I’m not a weaver (yet) so I have to name them as I see them. 

After it’s taken off the loom, it will be washed and fulled and the fringe will be twisted.  The completed shawl will be actioned off at the Beyond Fibre — Annual Artisan’s Sale that the Langley Weaver’s and Spinner’s Guild hosts every year.  This year it’s taking place on Saturday, November 3rd and Sunday, November 4th at the Community Hall on Glover Street in Fort Langley BC.  Hope to see you there.

Back to the 100-Mile Skirt

After fiddling round for a while with various cabled yarn experiments, I have finally decided which one I want to make for the 100-mile-wear version of the Claudia Skirt

The one on the far right is the prototype.  It is a cabled yarn.  This cabled yarn is constructed from a 2-ply grey alpaca single and Placid Waters (50% merino, 25% bamboo and 25% silk ) single.  That 2-ply yarn is then plied again to make a 4-strand cable.  It’s a lovely yarn.  It has a wonderful drape and from a distance looks a bit denim. 

So I devoted last Sunday afternoon to combing alpaca nests, and here is what I got  — 22 grams of combed nests.  I haven’t yet done the complex math to figure out how much I need to make the skirt, and therefore how much I need to comb, spin and ply and cable.  Part of me just wants to comb up all the grey alpaca that I have and hope for the best.   It is extremely fine fibre and is to be spun up fine, so this amount, small as it seems, will go a long way.

I am going to comb up another serious batch of it and start spinning.  Here’s to lazy, rainy Sunday afternoons and a challenging fibre project!


Blending Fibre — Photo essay

I started with a pile of wool of various colours.  Pinks, burgundys and some natural brown.  Blended that together and made two good sized batts. It’s the dark coloured batt at the top of the picture below.

I had two good sized batts of cream coloured alpaca in my stash along with a batt of pink and purple mohair. Divided the wool, alpaca and mohair into six equal parts that I would blend.  All this fibre is locally sourced.

I put the fibres through the drum carder in layers.  On the second pass through the carder, I pulled fibre off the end of the batt so I would have a chunk the length of the staple.  I put these clumps through the drum carder sideways.  This makes the fibres blend quickly and evenly.

The final pass through the drum carder is done to straighten out the fibres and blend them one final time.

This is batt #6 coming off the drum carder.

I have six of these batts for a total of 1/2 pound of blended fibre.  That was time well spent.

Experiments with cabled yarns

A while ago I started spinning up some samples to make a cabled yarn for another Claudia Evilla skirt. I wasn’t happy with the first sample, seen on the left. The battleship grey is just too dreary for me, so I abandoned any idea of using the grey alpaca exclusively. I did like the feel of the yarn so decided to continue experimenting with cabled yarns. 
Cabled yarn, as a re-plied yarn, has unlimited possibilities.  For these samples I spun a two-ply yarn (singles with a Z -clockwise twist and plied with an S-counter clockwise twist). Then you take the two-ply yarn and ply that again using a Z twist.  In these samples there are 4-singles.  Because of that, there are wonderful opportunities to add colour and other fibres.  Which is exactly what I did.

If you haven’t yet played around with cabled yarns, I encourage you to do so.  A four ply cabled yarn has more strength than a regular four ply — which is pretty strong.  Taking the first plied yarn and plying it again adds another level of strength.  And if you are using a coloured single along the way, it has a way to tucking the coloured single into the yarn, giving a dotted effect as opposed to a barber pole striping effect that you get when you ply two yarns of different colours.

The first skein on the left is the very first, all grey alpaca sample.  The middle skein has a double grey alpaca ply, plied with a grey and blue fibre from Sweet Georgia Yarns called Placid Waters.  It is 50% merino wool, 25% bamboo and 25% tussah silk. Nice combination for the grey alpaca and to create a fabric that has a good drape.  So altogether that one used 3 grey singles and one blue one.  The skein on the right uses two double ply grey and blue for a total of two grey singles and two blue singles. 

You can see the effect of adding one more blue single each time.  The battleship grey falls into the background and the luster of the bamboo and silk start to take over.    It’s starting to look a bit like denim — and for a skirt, that may not be a bad thing.

Now I have to knit up a sample or two — it’s such a dreary, rainy day I just may get around to that.

Grey Alpaca: Sample #1

The grey alpaca spins up beautifully and effortlessly.  This is important because I have a lot to make if I want to knit a skirt.  I spun this up on my Abby spindle, it’s a simple, inexpensive and highly effective spindle that Abby Franquemont offers as part of her materials in her classes.  I like it because it’s light, fast and I don’t worry about busting it up in my travels.  I take it with me where ever I go and spin when ever I have time (and energy).
For my first sample, I spun  it fine with a “Z” twist.  That’s turning the spindle clockwise to spin. I made sure the fibres were locked, but I didn’t put a great deal of twist into it.  My goal is a soft, but strong yarn to withstand the pressures of being a skirt. I can’t remember exactly how much I spun, but enough to make a good sized sample.  My goal was to make a cabled yarn.  That is a 4-ply yarn, so I needed a lot of yardage on this single.  
After I felt I had enough for the sample, I wound it off making a centre-pull ball, then I plied it, “S” twist – turning the spindle counter-clockwise.  I put a lot of twist into the 2-ply, as much as it could handle.  This is important when making a cabled yarn.  This 2-ply yarn is going to be plied again.  Yes, again. 
In the second ply, it is going to lose some of the twist so you need extra.  I wound the 2-ply yarn onto my hand in the Andean style, making a bracelet so I could spin from both ends of the yarn.  And I plied the 2-ply yarn with a “Z” twist.  Cabled yarn has a lovely texture.  The 2-plies lock against each other giving a purly texture.  The resulting yarn was soft, still fine — which is surprising because it is a 4-ply yarn.  The photos below show it. Not the best images I know.  I am in a hotel room and I took the pictures with the camera on my phone.  To gauge the thickness of the yarn, those needles are 3mm.  

The final sample yarn is 17 metres.  Enough to knit up a good sized piece.

My assessment: while lovely, strong and soft, it is not a beautiful yarn.  It reminds me of a scene in The Sound of Music — when upon arrival at the home of the Von Trapp family, the Captain asks her to change her clothes.  She declares she can’t because she gave all her clothes to the poor.  He looks down at the dress she was wearing and asks, “what about that one” to which she replied, “the poor didn’t want this one.”

I don’t want to make that kind of skirt.

So onto sample #2.  My plan is to introduce a single of tencel/silk, with a bit of colour.

Stay tuned.

Project A: 100 mile skirt with handspun local alpaca

For my 50th birthday, my husband organized a trip for us to the Taos Wool Festival in Taos, New Mexico.  The gift also included a three day workshop “Spinning for a Purpose” with Abby Franquemont.  He scored big with this gift! 

We flew to Albuquerque and drove to Santa Fe right away.  We tooled around the historic plaza area, had a terrific dinner and stayed the night.  The next morning we headed north to Taos, with a stop along the way in Espanola to rent a spinning wheel for the workshop. We took the scenic route to Taos which took us along winding mountain roads.  In the far distance, those are the hills we were heading towards.

The workshop was three days long, from 9 – 5pm and it was heavenly.  Imagine being in the company of 15 other advanced spinners and headed up by the queen of spinning — Abby Franquemont.  She is fun, funny, irreverant and very, very smart.  The course was called “Spinning for a Purpose”, she called it — “Being the Boss of Your Yarn.”  Here’s a shot of the white board on Day 3.  I should have taken a shot of it every day, but alas.

I came back from that workshop newly inspired to make better yarn. I won’t be making the same defaut yarn over and over again.  So here’s my first project:

I am going to take the “nasty alpaca” from the last post, spin it up and knit myself a Claudia Evilla skirt.  I wore the cotton/linen one I made earlier, to the Taos Wool Festival and it was a hit. In fact, I could very well be responsible for a burst of sales of the pattern.  Ruth Sorensen, you can thank me later.

Before the workshop, I would have just dove into the spinning.  I have an ounce of the alpaca combed up, and I would just start spinning it, and then ply it — making the same old double ply yarn that I make over and over and over again.  Not this time.

This time I am going to spin a very soft and fine single, then ply it with a lot of twist in it, and then ply that again, making a cable yarn.  The yarn will be 4-ply, and hopefully very soft.  I’ll knit up a sample and see what it looks like.  Then I’ll try some other spinning technique. I am looking for a fingering weight yarn (fine) that has strength — as a skirt takes some wear and tear from sitting and moving about — and good drape.  It’s a skirt and I want it to flow.

I’m heading downstairs to get working on it.  Will post some shots of the samples tomorrow.  I promise.

Nasty Alpaca Made Nice

I call this “nasty alpaca” but let me assure you, it has nothing at all to do with the animal, only the fibre.  I never had the pleasure of meeting the beast, but if I did I would ask him/her why he/she insists on rolling in blackberry brambles.  Those are difficult and painful things to remove from fibre.

Here’s the story of it.  At our last guild executive meeting before the summer break, a member of our guild was given a dozen bags of alpaca fibre.  Apparently there was an alpaca enthusiast in her network who finally decided to shear his animals, and when he learned that the fibre was good quality, donated it all to our guild. 

I selected a grey fleece — see below. It’s a lovely cool grey that will look fine on its own, but grey fibre dyed is magic.  Tones down the colour and adds a depth that’s hard to obtain on white fibre alone.  At least for rookie dyers like me.

It’s a good sized fleece and the staples are long.  Really long — between 10 and 12 inches.  My first experiments with combing the fibre were so frustrating, I left it in a bag (unwashed) on the backporch.  I deliberately left it right where I would see it every time I walked into the house.  I knew the guilt would build until it became action.  The guilt trip worked — just in time.  When I finally opened the bag to tackle the fibre, out flew several moths.  If I had left it any longer, those lovelies would have laid eggs and the larvae would have started munching their way through the fibre.

I threw it into a bath of very hot water with Orvus paste.  Let it soak for 1/2 hour and then did that again.  Then I did hot water rinse baths with a bit of white vinegar.  It dried in the sun over two days and then I assessed it.  Much better.  No moths, no more “wet dog/old animal” smell.  Time to tackle this fibre.

The staples are long, much too long to deal with comfortably.  There is so much debris in this fibre, I decided I needed to comb it with my wool combs.  The debris is what makes this fibre so nasty: pieces of blackberry bramble buried deeply enough that you can’t see it until you grab a handle of fibre and stick yourself with it;  some kind of seeds that have nestled themselves deep in the soft down of the fibre; and of course sticks, hay and other mysterious grasses.  No problem, this is a job for wool combs.

I solved the problem of the length of the staple by cutting it.  I cut off the tips where most of the embedded seeds were and then cut the rest of the staple in half, resulting in a 4 – 5 inch staple.  Quite manageable indeed.

Here it is loaded on the combs.

First pass with the comb.

After a couple of passes, it was lovely and clean.  This is it being pulled off the comb.

Here is the result.  From a couple of locks of fibre, here’s what I got.  A 3.3g nest of clean, combed fibre and 1.9g bundle of waste fibre.  Not the ratio I like, but I’ve got tons of this stuff — I don’t care.

A half hour later — and not a very effecient one as I did each lock one by one and stopped to do “photo-shoots” — I had a total of 28.6g (one ounce) of combed, clean fibre ready for spinning.  And 17.6g of waste fibre.  I also had stab wounds from the brambles and a severe dislike for this nasty fibre.  I will feel differently when I spin it up — so I won’t throw it into the compost quite yet.
We’ll see.