Thank yous to everyone for the congratulations on the house! It’s one of the most “grown-up” things I think I’ve ever been a part of, and I’m really starting to look forward to the move now!
Sadly, I have very little knitting to report today. I should probably just go join Ann’s Slogalong. Things are moving, but veeerrrryyy sloooowwwwlllyy. Ah, well.
Happily, the reason is that I’ve been preoccupied with a new project that I’m ready to share…
Meet my alpaca collection!
Ha! Almost tricked you into thinking I was adopting live beasies, didn’t I? Not anytime soon. Rather, I’ve managed to amass fiber from five different local animals during my stay in Alaska. Moving counter-clockwise from the lightest hank of yarn at the left, we have Chili B., Sandara, Eli, Ghiradelli, and finally a hank of yarn spun from Clover. There seems to be an abundance of alpaca in Alaska for the handspinner to take advantage of. The only obstacle is that much of the fiber is not “prepared” as some of us (the more pampered spinners, like myself) are used to.
Now, I have certainly heard that you can spin alpaca straight “from the lock,” but two of the bags of fiber I have were “brushed,” so the locks are not very discernable. I tend to prefer a smooth yarn anyway, so I’m combing it using some Dutch wool combs I bought off eBay last July. (They were an excellent price, my mother had given me some money for my birthday, and I figured they might come in handy someday… for once I’m prepared!) Dutch wool combs have one stationary comb that you bolt down onto a (sturdy) table, and one handheld comb that you, well, hold in your hand.
So, this is what I start out with – a fluffy cloud of camelid’s finest:
The fleece is speared onto the stationary comb a little at a time, layering the fiber and trying as much as possible to get the “butt end” facing the back side of the tines, with the loose fiber hanging off the front.
The first sweeps with the hand-comb are from one side to the other, and most of the fiber is trasferred to the hand comb.
The fibers that stay on the stationary comb are the shortest or tangled fibers, and they are removed.
Being a “waste not, want not” kind of girl, I save this fiber to be carded and spun into fluffy yarn later.
Combing makes a lot of “waste” fiber; there are over 2 ounces in these two bags.
After combing side-to-side the hand-comb is full, and the fiber is combed back onto the stationary comb using a downward-sweeping motion, while holding the comb in the same sideways postition.
It’s a little awkward at first. I usually flip the hand-comb 180-degrees every few swipes so the tines point in the opposite direction – it seems to help the fiber move to the other comb better.
Once the fiber is back on the stationary comb, the two steps are repeated again… and again – first combing side-to-side, then combing the fiber back on to the table-comb, removing the “waste” fibers between each step.
When the fiber is tamed to the desired smoothness (I have a feeling my impatience leads me to acheive a less-than-perfectly-smooth product, but I’m not too worried about it. It spins up just fine.) the fiber is gathered to a point, and pulled off the comb through a diz (which is a small piece of wood, metal, or ceramic, with what seems to be an impossibly small hole through it.)
The end result is a length of fluffy ready-to-spin fiber. (I believe it’s called a “sliver,” differentiated from roving by its lack of twist.)
I gently wind the sliver around my hand, making a nest, and then it waits in my spinning basket for its turn on the wheel.
The scary part about all this is that that basket is holding about one hour’s worth of combing work, only about 1.5 ounces of fiber. Given that I’ve got about a pound and a half of alpaca left to play with, the scope of this project is quite staggering. But the yarn is so going to be worth it. It’s spinning up to become about a sport-weight two ply.
I’m keeping the colors separated for this part of the spinning, so I can have the “full spectrum” of alpaca colored yarn. I’m hoping for enough combed-and-spun fiber (I guess you’d call it “semi-worsted spun”) to knit myself a shawl, or maybe even a sweater. Then I can carry my Alaskan alpaca friends with me everywhere… The waste fiber is a mix of colors and, once carded, will make a soft, fuzzy, fluffy, tweedy or almost-variegated yarn, which I plan to use for hats, mittens, and scarves. As much extra work as it is, I find I’m enjoying getting into every part of the process. Not that I’ll start preparing all my wool this way, that would be too much for me…
Hannah says she’s exhausted from just watching.
All for now.