Felting with alpaca
I have been given some brown alpaca batts. Does anyone have any experience in blending the alpaca with merino? Today I tried making a beret with a colored merino roving pattern on the surface. The alpaca 'swallowed up' the colored design and it sheds like crazy. The fibers are long and the felt doesn't feel as stable as merino. I wondered if the fabric would improve if i mixed in merino - but at what proportion? 50:50? Any ideas regarding this, or what alpaca roving might be 'good' for making would be appreciated I'm meeting the owner of the alpaca farm on friday and I'd love to show her something more impressive than my shedding hat!
Thanks very much!
Alpaca fiber has primary fibers, which tend to be straight and may stick out on felt, and the secondary fibers, which are generally softer - for lack of a better word I will say flexible - and felt together very well. Wool has many "barbs" along the shaft of the hair, which allows it to felt much faster than alpaca.
My guess is that the merino felted together faster and that is why it was swallowed by the alpaca. As to the shedding and the long fibers, my guess would be that this is the primary fibers. There are many grades of alpaca fiber, and the owner may be able to shed some light about the grade of fiber you were given.
I have not done much blending of wool and alpaca (I breed alpacas so I have plenty of my own fiber to use!!!) - but I wuold assume that blending would even out the felting process. A 50/50 blend should work well for a beret. If it were something to be worn against the skin, such as a scarf, I would use a higher percentage of alpaca because it has less of a prickle factor than wool.
Hope this helps!!!
Thanks Louise that is super helpful!!
Yes I wondered about the grade of the fiber. I was given the fiber indirectly but I will meet the owner on friday and now I am going to be armed with intelligent questions! As the hat (it's now a rounder hat rather than a beret) has dried I like it more so I'd like to play a little. That was also my first hat attempt and I think I may be addicted!! What types of items do you make with your alpaca? Do you find that if you use more of the secondary fibers you can get a felt that is as strong as merino felt?
Thanks a million for your guidance! I'm printing out your reply!
I think that my reply needs a bit of clarifying. The primary and secondary fibers are mixed together on the animal, and I do not separate these. There are two primary factors in determining the grade of fiber; the softness which is referred to as micron or AFD (average fiber diameter - lower number is softer) and the ratio of primary to secondary fibers. Alpacas that have a higher ratio of primary fibers are often called hairy, since these fibers generally stick out beyond the secondary fibers and create a halo effect on the animal. If you use hairy fiber to felt, these primary fibers will stick out and the result is hairy felt. Also, if there is a wide gap between the primary and secondary fiber AFD, this makes the problem worse. I was trying to be tactful and not assume that the fiber you were given was not top grade.....
Whenever I see someone posting about using alpaca fiber and not being satisfied with the results when the grade of fiber is probably not suited for felting, it is very frustrating for me!!!! I use most of my fiber, but I also sell some, and sell only the best grades - I want satisfied customers. Every grade of fiber has its optimal use, and the fiber that I don't use, either for felting or yarn, I have made into rug yarn for weaving rugs.
Okay, maybe more info than you wanted!!!!
That being said, I felt many different things, and I LOVE to dye. I make bags and wall hangings, snowmen and holiday ornaments to name a few things. I recently made some scarves, will post some photos once I figure out photoshop (I just got it). Here are my Flickr photos.
Thanks so much for the extra information (copied and pasted to the first by me!). I totally understand. I'm going to ask the lady on friday about uM thickness etc. I really know nothing more about it but have the same suspicions you have. I think the lady may just have been seeing if i could do something with it as I was told that they have had trouble selling it. I can educate her just as you have educated me (nicely!). I'm going to ask her about the availability of the higher grade fiber (I do know she has different types of alpacas). Then I think I could make some really nice pieces for her. I can also suggest that she gets the lower grade fiber made up into yarn for weaving rugs like you do.
I LOVE your bags and your use of color! and all your ornaments and vessels. Just beautiful! There are so many things I want to try. That's what's so amazing about felting - there are a lifetime of opportunities for it! I'd love to see your photos post photoshop!
Thanks again Louise. I'll give you an update after I've visited the farm.
with best wishes
I visited the alpaca farm on friday. they are soooo cute (apart from the one who was making gurgling noises and getting ready to spit!!). The manager there is just wonderful and very kind. They usually send their fleece away to get spun and don't have micron testing done. However, they found 1.6lbs of gorgeous fine roving in a cupboard (!). They sent me away with this (brown) and some white roving to have a play! it felted much better! I'm trying a few things and will have a little booth at their shearing day coming up.
Have you tried nuno felting with fine alpaca? I would like to try a few different things with this roving.
Also, I added a beaded merino flower to my 'hairy' hat and it actually looks quite nice! Friends have been falling in love with it! I think I'm a bit hard on myself sometimes! So a happy ending to my tale!
Thanks for your help!
I tried a nuno test on a silk hankie a year or so ago, and was not happy with the results. I think that I used too much fiber and not enough patience!!! I have been reading up on it and just haven't had time to try again. (I got 50 skeins of white yarn back from a mill and have been busy dyeing .)
I have a friend that has a feltloom - the 6' version - and I might try nuno on that. I have seen some gorgeous nuno done on the feltloom, but I think that it was wool. My friend has not done any nuno on her feltloom, so I will need to experiment and start with silk hankies and see how that goes.
Glad that your visit to the farm went well and that you came away with some more roving that sounds like it may be better qualtiy.
I also found alpaca to be too hairy for wearables. I used mine for a teddy bear, and it was perfect! Also, I sometimes use it as a core( waste not, want not) sandwiched between layers of merino. It's still a little hairy, but definately less so, and more stable.