A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

August 25, 2009

A Small Fiber Distraction

Inca's The Llama's Fleece  - Washed

Inca's The Llama's Fleece - Washed

While looking for a document on my computer the other day I came across some instructions for washing alpaca fleece that I had kept from a couple of years ago.  Usually we don’t wash our fleeces before sending them to processing.  Often when I prepare alpaca fleece for hand spinning I don’t wash the fleece until after the yarn is processed, but I tend to use the cleaner fleeces for hand spinning projects.

The article I had kept had piqued my interest when I read it.  I know that prior to preparing sheep’s wool for spinning washing the fleece is a must in order to remove the lanolin from it.  As alpacas don’t have lanolin in their fleece that is not an issue with alpaca fleece.  Still that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t wash alpaca fleece prior to processing for fiber arts projects at home and the article had some points on what to do and (probably more importantly) what not to do.

I have one alpaca fleece in mind to wash, that of our black alpaca Queen, but I thought that before I tried my hand at washing fleece that I really wanted to use for a specific project, perhaps I should find some other fleece to practice on first.

Down in our shearing area are several bags of llama fleece from shearing customers who just didn’t want to take the fleece with them.   I hate to see all of that fleece just thrown away, some admittedly was not the best or is too laden with vegetable matter to be useable, but other llama fleeces had a nice soft hand and were relatively clean.  Those llama fleeces make good candidates for experiment and I will probably get something nice as a result too!

Looking over the llama fleeces I decided to first try one of our own.  Our silver gray llama Inca has a lovely soft fleece in a pretty color (that’s her fleece in the picture) so I pulled out an amount of blanket fleece from her bag and off to the kitchen I went.

Before anyone starts to get concerned about the hygiene of washing fleeces in the kitchen sink I have to explain that our house has two kitchens.  One we use as our food kitchen.  The other is used for our alpaca medical supplies and various craft projects.  This second kitchen is large and has a large center pedestal making it a great work area.  I love having the two kitchens and if we were ever to think of moving I am afraid I would want to kitchens in the next house too!

The llama fleece washing commenced and the first step involved setting the fleece in hot water that had either shampoo or a soap such as Dawn dish soap or Orvus.    I have a lovely soap that I use for washing my fiber arts projects and so I decided to use that.  You should have seen the color of that water!  It was a lovely shade of Clovis orange (courtesy of the fine red sand in our area).  I was amazed at how much dirt came out, so amazed that I decided I had better repeat that step just to make sure all the dirt was removed.

The rest of the process went smoothly; I did find that some of the fiber felted a little.  Perhaps I had a little variation in the water temperature, or perhaps I had too much fleece in the water at one time.  Next time I think I will try the process in cold water just to see how different the results are.

So now I have a nice quantity of washed llama fleece sitting on the work surface in the big kitchen.  I have already decided that I am going to use my five point English combs on the fleece to produce roving.  From there my intention is to make some felted balls that can be used as cat toys, but… if that roving looks really nice when I have finished it then I may just have to spin it into yarn.  On that note excuse me while I go off to the kitchen to play whoops I really meant work on that fleece.


April 11, 2009

Where Did You Get That Hat?

Side view of my felted alpaca hat

Side view of my felted alpaca hat



Top view of felted alpaca hat

Top view of my felted alpaca hat









Where did you get that hat,
Where did you get that tile,
And isn’t it a nobby one,
And what a proper style.
I should like to have one
Just the same as that;
Where’re I go they shout, Hulloa,
Where did you get that hat.



Those words are the lyrics to a Ballard written by Joseph J. Sullivan in 1888 and then re-written by James Rolmaz in 1901.  I’m not sure anyone will burst into that song when I wear my hat, but you never know!


In the picture you can see the hat I made during my felting weekend with Judy Sims-Barlow of Spanish Peaks Alpacas.  What you can’t tell in the picture is how soft and how light it is.  Compared to Ric’s regular cowboy hats the alpaca felted hat is very light indeed.


The process of making the hat was not difficult, but there are a series of steps that have to be taken to get from raw fleece to a smooth felted hat and a few more tools were needed than were used for the scarf.


Again I was fascinated by the process of watching the raw fleece turn to felt beneath my hands.  This time we used hot soapy water for the felting process.  The one thing I will need to watch out for when making a felt hat on my own is getting the felt to the correct texture where the felt will hold together well.   I am sure with time and experience it will come.


With this hat there are a couple of weak spots where I didn’t get the felt as thick as over the rest of the hat.  One area Judy was able to fix for me by needle felting a patch of fiber over it, the other spot is on the crown of the hat and will not be directly against my head and so for now it has been left as is.  If over time I find that area does wear through Judy has offered to help me repair it.


The hat took a good day to make from start to finish.  The finishing touches of the hat (adding the sweatband, putting wire on the brim and edging the brim with grosgrain) seemed to take almost as long as the felting.  It is worth taking the time on those finishing touches though as if not done well they will detract from your hat.


Felting turned out to be a lot of fun, I liked that if necessary I could put my felting project to one side for a day or so and return to it without a problem.   I also liked the fact that when felting alpaca fleece you can see the results of your labors almost immediately as you work on the felt. 

Felting certainly provides a workout for your hands, arms and shoulders, but also brings with it time to think and reflect while you are working on the felt.


Working with alpaca fiber is an enjoyable part of the alpaca business and can give you products that you can sell to bring additional income to your alpaca business.  I am sure in time I will be producing more felted alpaca hats, thanks to the excellent tutorage of Judy who so freely shared her tips and techniques helping me to be so successful in my first felting adventure.


Now all I have to figure out is when and where to wear my hat.  Not doing chores I think, but I am sure there will be other occasions when I can wear my hat with pride!



April 9, 2009

What is Nuno Felting?

Part of the Nuno Felted Scarf I Created

Part of the Nuno Felted Scarf I Created


Having written a little about my recent felting weekend I realized that some people might not be familiar with the term “Nuno Felting”.  I definitely did not have a clue what Nuno Felting was until this weekend (which was marginally better than my brother who is not familiar with the art of felting and questioned my grammar when I wrote to him that I was “going to felt alpaca”!)


According to Wikipedia the definition of Nuno Felting is:

Nuno felting is a Japanese fabric felting technique. It melds loose fibre, usually wool, into a sheer fabric such as silk gauze. This creates a lightweight felt that can totally cover the background fabric or be used as a single decorative design.

The Nuno felting process is particularly suitable for fine garment making, since silk-backed felt ensures a stable felt that will not stretch out of shape like normal felt. Because it is lightweight and easy to manipulate it can also be dyed more readily than traditional felt. Other fabrics or open weaves can be used as the felting background, resulting in a wide range of textural effects and colours.

Retrieved from “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuno_felting



For my scarf I was felting alpaca fiber and decorative yarn onto a silk background.  The silk I used has a lovely iridescent quality that does not show up well in the photograph, and the combination of the silk with a fine layer of alpaca  fiber really does work well.  Not being the most creative of people my design is fairly basic, but I wanted to be able to concentrate more on the technique of Nuno Felting rather than have to worry about a complicated design.


It was fascinating to me to see how the alpaca fiber felted, it would soon turn from loose fiber to starting to have some solidity to it and then becoming felt which was attached to the silk.  As the alpaca fiber felted the silk would start to crinkle making a nice effect to the scarf.


The only things we used to get the alpaca fiber to felt were some cold soapy water (sometimes with felting you use hot water but for my scarf cold water was a better option) and elbow grease.  Felting is a good workout for the hands, arms and shoulders!


The end result of my Nuno Felting project was a soft, lightweight but warm scarf, with a unique design that might be considered attractive depending on your point of view.


I am sure I will be trying Nuno Felting again, it is a fun technique and you can add as much or as little felt design over the scarf as you please so there is plenty of room for creativity.  Now all I need to do is find plenty more time to play with felting (along with spinning, knitting, crochet – the list goes on and on!).



April 8, 2009

A Weekend of Felting Fun

 My weekend in Colorado was a great success and a lot of fun too.  The weather behaved and while the drive up on Friday was a little windy, the snow cooperated by arriving on Saturday and being gone by the time I left on Sunday.  Those who know me know that I am not a fan of being out in the snow and even less of a fan of driving in it, so to enjoy the beauty of a snowy mountain landscape while having the luxury of staying inside and working on fiber arts was a treat.


Friday evening and Saturday morning were spent working on a silk and alpaca felt scarf using the Nuno Felting technique.  The combination of silk and alpaca is a great one and it was interesting to feel how quickly the alpaca felts beneath your fingers.  This was my first venture in felting alpaca this way, I have felted alpaca before by knitting and then putting the knitted product in the washing machine, but have not felted by hand until now.  The felting process was really not hard at all and under the guidance of my friend and teacher Judy Sims-Barlow I soon produced my first silk and alpaca scarf.


Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning we moved onto the next project – making an alpaca felt hat.  This was a little more involved and sadly I was unable to use either of the two fleeces I had taken with me.  Both Chamberino and Ma Cushla’s fleeces were deemed to be too hairy and so they will need to be dehaired before being used.  Fortunately Judy had some alpaca batting from her alpaca Ruby Moonlight that was suitable for hat making.


By Sunday afternoon I had also completed the hat.  It’s amazing what you can do when you have the time available to work on nothing but that one project. 


I will post pictures of my two creations in days to come, for a first time attempt they came out really well.


A big Thank You goes out to Judy and Will Sims-Barlow of Spanish Peaks Alpacas for accommodating me over the weekend, for the wonderful meals they provided and for teaching me new skills I am now eager to put to use.



April 3, 2009

North To Colorado


This morning I will be headed north to La Veta, Colorado.  There I will spend the weekend with Judy and Will Sims-Barlow of Spanish Peaks Alpacas and receive lessons from Judy in how to make an alpaca felt hat and a silk and alpaca felt scarf.


Judy is extremely talented with her felting, I saw some of her hats a couple of years ago when I delivered one of our girls to their farm for a breeding to one of their males.  The hats Judy makes are beautiful with such a lovely smooth finish.


Ever since I saw Judy’s hats I have been asking her to show me how to felt alpaca, and now we finally have a weekend when we are both available!


I am taking two fleeces with me – Chamberino’s (a dark brown/maroon fleece) and Ma Cushla’s (a pretty medium silver grey) plus some fawn roving from one of our boys, Homer, and some white roving that is a combination of several white fleeces from the herd.


When Judy sent me information on the type of fleeces to use for felting she mentioned that the micron count of the fleece for the hats should be around 27 micron.  That made me happy as we still have Chamberino’s blanket fleece from 2008 and dear Chamberino is a consistent 30 microns across his fleece.  For an alpaca 30 microns is not a desirable figure.


Chamberino’s fleece still spins up to a soft yarn and has a lovely handle to the yarn partly due to the consistency of his fleece.  It will be great to have something different to use that fleece for and I am looking forward to seeing the end product.


While I am away learning how to felt alpaca, Ric will be home looking after the herd.  We don’t have any cria due yet and all that needs to be done is routine chores so it shouldn’t be too much for Ric to handle – except of course for the 75 mph wind gusts we are expected to get in Clovis on Saturday which might just make chores a little bit challenging.



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