Sunday, September 29, 2013

Washing Your Alpaca Fiber

I've been meaning to show you all how we wash our alpaca fleeces for a couple of years now.  In fact, these pictures are from the last two summers.  This summer I didn't have any fleece to wash (we were able to sell it), but I washed quite a few fleeces the two summers before.

Washing your alpaca fleece is definitely something you can do yourself with only a few basic items.  I haven't washed any sheep fleeces, and I know that that process is a bit different because sheep fleeces contain lanolin -- so the water needs to be super super hot to get that out, and the fleece is technically scoured.  Alpaca fleece contains no lanolin, so it can just be washed in hot tap water, and we are basically getting all the dirt and dust out.  Some people like to spin alpaca fleece right from the bag, and then when they wash their yarn to set the twist, that is when they get the dirt and dust out.  I prefer to wash my fleece before I process it.

First the fleece is skirted to remove any second cuts, and a lot of the VM (vegetable matter), hay, etc.  We also give our fleeces a bunch of really good shakes to get as much dirt and dust out that we can.

We use these basic items to wash our fleeces:
  • A sink
  • Hot tap water
  • Fibre Wash - you can also use a bit of dish soap
  • A mesh lingerie bag (available at Target or Walmart)
  • A salad spinner (optional - available at Target or Walmart)
  • Cooling racks (for baking) or old window screens

There are other ways to wash fleeces using a old fashioned top load washing machine, or a bath tub with multiple lingerie bags.  Or you don't even have to use lingerie bags at all - you can place the fiber in a colander.  We have a fairly good sized kitchen sink, and we have found that this method works best for us.

Here is our bag of fiber to be washed.
This is from Bella, or maybe Bosox
First I fill the lingerie bag with fiber.  Don't pack it too full.  The fiber needs room around it for the soap and water to soak in and work.  I don't worry too much about lock structure at this point.  If you want to preserve lock structure, you can make sure each lock is placed carefully in the bag, or you can wash each lock by hand in the sink.  I just grab a handful of fiber and gently place it in the lingerie bag.
Ready to go in the water.

Then I fill one side of our sink about 1/3 full of hot tap water -- the hottest that will come out of the tap.  I add a squirt of Fibre Wash and swish it about to mix it well in the water.

Filling the sink

Hot soapy water

I then place the lingerie bag carefully in the water and press it down gently with a wooden spoon to make sure the entire bag gets soaked with water.  Here is where you need to be careful.  Heat plus agitation will felt alpaca fiber.  So anything you do with the fiber in hot water needs to be very gentle.
Soaking in the sink

I let this soak in the water for 20-30 minutes - or until the water is no longer hot.

I gently lift out the bag and gently squeeze out the excess water.  I rinse out the sink and repeat the washing process another time.
Look at all that dirt!

After the second wash with soap, I gently remove the bag of fiber and squeeze out the excess water.  I rinse the sink and fill it about 1/3 full with luke warm to warm tap water (no soap this time).  I put the bag of fiber back in the sink and make sure it is fully submerged in the water.  I let this sit for about 20-30 minutes again - by now the water is typically no longer warm.  (If you forget about the fiber for longer than 30 minutes for any step, that is okay.  Sitting in the water for awhile won't hurt the fiber or the washing process).  Gently remove the bag of fiber, squeeze out the excess water, and rinse out the sink.

I repeat the rinsing process one to two more times, depending on how much dirt is left in the sink each time.  Each time you remove the alpaca fiber there should be less and less dirt in the sink.  When there is basically minimal to no dirt left in the sink after rinsing, I move on to the next step.

After gently squeezing out the water from the bag of fiber, I open the bag and dump the fiber out into my salad spinner.

My salad spinner (never actually used to spin salad)

Let's go for a spin!

I use the salad spinner to spin out the excess water from the fiber.

All ready to dry

When the excess water is removed, I take the fiber and place it either on a cooling rack to dry, or on a old window screen.  I mostly use the window screens now since I can have more fiber drying at a time then if I would use the cooling racks.

Cooling racks prepped in the dining room.

Fiber drying on the cooling racks.

As the fiber dries you can begin to fluff it up.  I typically fluff it once or twice a day.  In average conditions, my fiber dries in about 3 days inside up in our upstairs bathroom (no shower or humidity from bathing in this bathroom).  If you put your fiber outside or use fans or a heated drying rack it would dry faster.
Fiber on extra window screens.

We got the window screens from my parents when they got new windows.  They sure come in handy!

Using the window screens we are able to dry a lot more fiber at one time.

This is how we wash our alpaca fiber.  I have been quite pleased with the ease and simplicity of the process.  I like that I can be doing this in the background while I go about the rest of my day.  I just have to remember to check on the soaking fiber every half hour or so, so I can switch out the water.

This is by no means the only way or even the perfect way to wash alpaca fiber.  It is just one way to do it, and it works for us in our limited space and busy household.

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