“Why you’d use a hose and some soapy water, wouldn’t you?”
I chose to wash my alpaca after the fleece was off the animal. I did a lot of reading about washing fleece and fiber and figured I knew it all. So I got some lingerie bags and fiber wash and set to work. I put some of the fiber in the bag, filled the laundry sink with hot water and a few squirts of the fiber washing liquid and immersed the bag of fleece. The water was very hot so I had to use a big plastic fork to push the bag down and get all the fiber wet. And boy, was that fiber dirty! The water turned an orangey-gray color almost immediately!
Now I read the instructions on the bottle of fiber wash liquid so I knew what I was supposed to do. But did I do that? Why no! Who in their right mind would actually follow the instructions! So I let the fleece soak for a few minutes, then I came back and poked it with the plastic fork again to make sure the water was getting to all the fiber. I also swished and squeezed the bag in the water to get it good and clean. More soaking, more poking, more squeezing, and more swishing. After about 30 minutes, I drained the water and did a second washing soak (i.e. poke, squeeze, and swish). Next came a rinse with just water and for the final rinse I added the animal equivalent of hair conditioner. Now it was time to see the sparkling, clean fleece. I hung the bag to drain but since that was taking too long; I squeezed the water out of the fiber and soaked up the excess with a towel. I opened the bag and dumped the soggy mess onto a drying rack and tried to spread out the fiber to dry. Tried being the operative word. What I had created was a knotted mess of felted alpaca fiber. I had literally agitated the life out of the stuff!
Back to the drawing board. I decided that I needed a different washing apparatus. Since I couldn’t see in the lingerie bag, I couldn’t tell what was happening with the fiber. After a day or so of thought, I came up with a custom-made washing basket made from window screen and PVC pipe.
For my second attempt, I filled the basket about half full of fleece, filled the laundry sink with about 5 inches of WARM, not hot, water and fiber wash. I set the basket in the sink, gently pressed the fiber down to make sure it was wet all the way through and WALKED AWAY! I came back 30 minutes later, gently pressed the fiber down to circulate the water, then lifted the basket and let it drain while I cleaned the sink and filled it with water for the second wash.
I followed this procedure with a water rinse and the conditioner rinse. As I lifted the basket for the final draining, I could tell this procedure was a success. The fiber was clean but pulled apart easily (as easily as wet hair will pull apart). I dumped the wet mess on the drying screen and spread it to dry.
After a few days of drying, during which I tried really hard to leave it alone, the fleece was ready to comb and spin. I did a test on each type of fleece I washed. The pictures show, left to right, the fleece unwashed, washed, and combed with a strand of spun fiber in front. The white fleece was very orange from the “good ‘ole Virginny” clay soil before washing but turned out a creamy white when spun. The brown fleece ended up a lighter shade of brown with some gray mixed in.
I have washed all the fleece and have lots to comb before I can start spinning but the finished product is so soft and silky, it will be a labor of love.