When an admitted fiber fiend goes to two fiber festivals within a week, what do you suppose happens? Well, I confess that I am three fleeces richer (or is that poorer?). I found a lovely black alpaca fleece at the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival at the end of September? There weren’t many alpaca fleeces for sale so I limited my purchase to just one. Then a week later, I went to the Fall Fiber Festival and Sheep Dog Trials at Montpelier and found my way to the fleece tent. I perused the bags of sheep fleeces and found my way to the alpacas. I’m not a sheep snob; I just like the oh-so-softness of alpaca. There I found a beautiful dark, chocolate brown fleece! I checked the cut ends of the fiber to make sure they were really brown and not just dirty and knew I had to have this one. Satisfied I was ready to pay and take my prize to the car. My companion was still looking so I turned around and found myself face to face with the llama fleeces. There, right in front of me, was a bag of llama, light brown with white mixed in. I sunk my hand into the bag and was rewarded with softness with just a little edge to it. I looked at the tag for the quantity and price and thought about it.
“Hmmm, do I really need this one? I was only looking for black and brown alpacas. I have those. But llama is so exotic. And the price is a great deal.”
Needless to say, the devil’s advocate won out and I came home with both.
Purchasing a fleece is the easy part. Washing it is a little more taxing. I decided to start with the brown one since it was the smallest quantity. I put about half in my homemade wash basket and after a few washes and rinses; I spread the fleece on my drying racks to dry. (For more details, read my post “How to Wash an Alpaca” from December 2012.) After about three days, it was dry so I started to pull apart the tangles and remove the little pieces of vegetation. I spent about four hours working on the fleece on just one rack! I should have remembered the old painter’s adage, “Surface preparation is the most important part of the job.” I decided to spend some time separating the locks, shaking out the loose dirt, and pulling out the bits of vegetation on the remaining unwashed portion. What a difference it made! I only had to wash once, rinse once, and condition once. The first half required four trips in the water. Every time I wash some fiber, I always refine my technique. I wonder how long it will be before I get it right.
So while I was spending time picking out the straw, leaves, and sticks that alpacas seem to love to adorn their fleeces with, I started to think about a Robo-wash for alpacas. Can’t you see it? Put goggles on the alpaca, hook its harness to a post, and give it a shampoo before the shearing. Comb out all the vegetation and tangles. A little blow dry; and then off to the barber for a haircut. Sure would save me a lot of work!