Little Golden Notebook

Where fiber art, inspiration, and words meet.

Fleece Aquisition: Alpaca Edition

This morning I drove to Keymar, MD to look at and buy some alpaca to spin for the Sustainable Cloth program hosted by Chesapeake Fibershed. I found this particular small family farm via an ad placed on Facebook Marketplace advertising the fleece for sale for $20 a fleece, which is a really good price. How could I pass it up?

The farmer wasn’t forthcoming with lots of information about her alpacas but she was a delight. She doesn’t do anything fiber-art-related and had a stall in her barn with probably 15 fleece. I didn’t want to stick around too long and disrupt her day by taking pictures while I was there, otherwise I would show you some of the alpacas the fleece came from/from which the fleece came (sorry, I’m having a moment where neither phrase sounds right, kind of like when you look at a word so long it looks like it’s spelled wrong).

You can see above that I came home with four fleeces, each a different color/colors (one of the alpacas is spotted). I didn’t inspect the fleeces very well, I just did a quick snap/tension test on them. They all passed and the bits I pulled out of the bags were long and fine enough, so I bought them and toodled back home. Driving through Waterford on my way back, I saw open daffodils, which seems excessively early. A woman I know in DC said her neighbors daffodils opened in January – wild!

Back to the fleece …

I would have like to know more about the animals. I only know that they are huacaya, the more popular of the two types of alpaca and their best part of the fiber is 3-4″ or shorter. The other type of alpaca is suri, which have long fibers, 6-8″. I also don’t know how old these alpacas are, when they were sheered, or who the shearer was. I say that as if I know anyone in the shearing community, but I do have farming friends and the Fiber Guild of the Blue Ridge to ask.

So color. Alpacas and their fleece have very Official Color Names as you can see from the graphic below that I found via the New England Alpaca Fiber Pool, Inc. They had the best graphic!

The 16 Standard Colors of Alpaca Fiber is the title which is shown in a green banner with white writing across the top of the image. Below are 4 rows of 4 alpacas outlined in black and different colors, from White to Dark Rose Gray. Also, the alpacas vary by row: rows 1 and 3 are huacaya alpacas, rows 2 and 4 are Suri, with coats that dust the ground because the fiber is so long. At the bottom of the image, in green, are the words "Mother Nature's Finest Fiber - USA Alpaca"

As you can see, there’s a really wide range of beautiful neutral natural colors, which is perfect for my project as I probably won’t dye it. If I did want or need to dye my fiber for the Sustainable Cloth, using locally grown dye plants is encouraged by the Chesapeake Fibershed, but one can make exceptions for natural dyes sourced from out of the area. Synthetic dye (Jacquard acid dye, Procion, and Rit, just to name three) is really discouraged by the organizers.

I theoretically have time to grow my own dyestuffs but would likely have to purchase it because this year is very busy for me: my middle son is getting married in Virginia Beach in June, my cousin’s wedding is at the end of May, I have a weekend retreat in April, possible international travel in July-August (to Albania & Greece) and possibly again (to New Zealand) at Christmas. But travel isn’t the only reason; work and non-work projects are popping up and I want to do as many of them as I can.

But back to the fleece: let’s look at each of them.

Alpaca fleece
The darkest of the four fleeces

This fleece is darker than it look in this photo. That said, I suspect it’s more of a dark silver gray than a true black. If I decide to incorporate color work of some kind, I’ll likely use this for the body of the garment.

Alpaca fleece
The gray fleece

The gray fleece is also a bit brown thanks to the sun changing the color of the tips. But I think this one is a medium or light silver gray.

Alpaca fleece
The caramel fleece

This fleece is mostly light fawn (the official name isn’t caramel) with some white spots. I’m really looking forward to working with this one!

Alpaca fleece
The lightest of the fleece

Could this one be light fawn and the one just above it more of a medium brown? I don’t know. And I guess I won’t know until I clean them and compare them to a color card made from yarn or fleece samples with more depth than this cute color card with alpacas.

An alpaca with different colored sections showing how the fiber is categorized. The best or prime fiber comes from where a saddle blanket might go on an alpaca (please don't try to ride one), the back and ribs, basically. Seconds are the neck and bottom/hips around the tail and the poop chute. Thirds are basically everything on the belly and the bottom part of the front and back legs.
Alpaca fiber grading, from

The next step will be taking the fleeces out of their dusty bags, spreading them out, and seeing exactly what I’ve got and to dispose of the bits I can’t or won’t spin: the thirds and the seconds. I’ve done this with sheep fleece but not alpaca. I’m hoping the shearer disposed of the thirds, but am guessing I’ll have seconds in there that I’ll need to pull out.

A really great 20 minute video about micron count and yarn in general

Then I’ll wash a handful from each fleece to see the color and quality of the fiber. Fiber is graded according to fineness and the micron count. The 20 minute video above goes into all the nerdy detail about what micron count is and how to measure it. But if you don’t want to watch the video, the higher the micron count the coarser the fiber.

After that, I’ll spin those handfuls into yarn samples in the approximate gauge that I’ll spin the rest of it and finally, I’ll knit a swatch. But I’ll need to make some decisions before I spin: I need to decide on a sweater design because that will determine how fine or chunky I need to spin the singles along with how many plies in the final yarn. I think I’ll write more about that later though – I have some technical diagrams I need to work on for the book I’m helping an old colleague and his colleagues on.

I hope this is handy, somehow, and that if you didn’t know much about alpaca fiber, now you know more. <3


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