From the paddock to a handspun handwoven wrap
Step 1 – Shearing
Alpacas are shorn once a year in spring. So, after 12 months of food, board, husbandry and healthcare and a lot of love and attention, our beautiful alpacas somewhat begrudgingly (it's not a process they or I enjoy) relinquish their fleeces under the skillful hand of our specialist alpaca shearer.
Despite the indignity, they are soon found sprawled out exposing their now not quite bare skin to the warm spring sunshine – after checking out who's who as they all look so different.
Step 2 – Fleece Preparation
The saddle of the raw fleece, separated from the rest of the fleece at shearing, is laid out for skirting. Skirting involves removing less desirable bits of fleeces including second cuts, short staples, hairy bits and particularly dirty sections. Vegetable matter (VM), picked up while rolling, is also removed. A skirting table with a mesh work surface allowing dirt, short pieces of fleece and VM to fall through is helpful.
The fleece is transferred into mesh laundry bags for hand washing. The bagged fleece is gently immersed in warm water with a gentle wool detergent. After soaking the fleece is gently rinsed. The process is repeated until the water is clear. The bagged fleece, wrapped in a towel, is spun to remove excess water then hung up to air dry.
The fleece is now ready for carding. Carding involves combing the fibres so they are all aligned and ready for spinning. Carding can be performed using hand carders or a drum carder as shown. A drum carder produces a flat mass of fibre known as a batt. More dirt, VM and 'fuzz-balls' are removed from the fibre at this stage.
The fibre is now ready for yarn production.
Carding - In
Carding - Out
Step 3 – Yarn production
I spin my yarn on a spinning wheel. Once two bobbins have been spun the single strands are plyed together to produce the final yarn. The plied yarn is then wound around a niddy noddy to form a skein which is washed and hung up to air dry.
Skeins of yarn look beautiful but are not very practical.
A skein swift holds the skein and prevents tangling while winding into a ball (for knitting or crochet) or transferring to a weaving shuttle – which holds the weft thread.
Skein Swift To Shuttle
Step 4 – Weaving
After planning the design of the woven item the loom needs to be warped. I used a rigid heddle loom for this project. The warp passes through a single heddle with the areas of plain weave being created by alternately passing the shuttle through the shed created by moving the heddle between the up and down position.
The texture weave bands are created using a pick-up stick that changes the arrangement of the warp threads to create a third and fourth shed.
The handspun weft in this project gives the plain weave texture and character which is further enhances by the bands of textured weave created with the pick-up stick.
Weaving, weaving, weaving
Step 5 – Finishing
Once removed from the loom the project is finished with a twisted fringe with knot detail. Yarn ends (the beginning and end of each skein used) are secured by weaving them into the fabric.
The finished product is then washed, dried and trimmed - ready to wear.
Washed & drying
Weaving in ends
Final Fringe Trimming