Thursday, July 28, 2011

Alpacas Swimming and Fleece Cleaning

Yes, summer finally came to the Palouse--slow as spring! It's been an unusually cool and wet summer with few days in the 90s. That's good for the alpacas though, since they seem to have a harder time with heat here on the Palouse than they do with the winters. I'm assuming that this is because their homes in South American are at higher, and therefore cooler, elevations.

So we make sure the alpacas have a swimming pool in each pen!  Some of the alpacas just stand in the pools or use their front feet to splash water up at their bellies, but there are "swimmers" who take a full dip and sit down. To each his own!  This is BMCA Jenna taking her first dip of the year.

While the alpacas enjoy the summer grass and their swimming pools, I'm busy skirting fiber. What do I do with it then? I have several options--all of which I use.
Some of it gets sent off to small mills. I used a new mill this year in Lebanon, Oregon--Creekside Fiber Mills. Sent some fiber off this spring and got back about nine pounds of luscious alpaca/mohair/silk from four of my medium brown alpacas (Leroy, Miguel, Dominga and Jane Wagner).  It looks grey on my screen, but it's a great shade of medium brown. I'm selling it on my Etsy site (Alpacaknitter) and at the Yarn Underground in Moscow. 

I like what they did so much, I sent more fiber their way. I'm also trying out a mill in Pennsylvania--Lazy Meadows.

I take some of my alpaca after skirting and wash it myself. I'm lucky enough to have traded my crew's skills at trimming alpaca toes for a used top loading washing machine I keep in the garage. I fill it with hot water using a hose from my laundry room near the garage door. The fleece goes in with some dishwashing liquid and soaks and then gets spun out. I may soak an extra dirty fleece a second time, and rinse it. The usual method of drying is to set the fleece in the sun on screens or the skirting table--that can take a day or two, turning the fleece, rescuing it from bursts of wind, etc.

But this year, I had a great idea! The story goes back about 9 or ten years ago when I accompanied my brother Brad up to an appliance store in Spokane where he was talking/pricing range tops. I got bored with the discussion and wandered around the store. "Brad, come look at this!" It was a "drying system," a "two-story" appliance with a "regular" dryer on the bottom and a second story of shelves and racks for drying/airing stuff. I had never seen anything like it before!

I should have known better than to wax eloquent over anything, because when Brad went up to Spokane a few weeks later to pick up his new range tops, he drove back with the "system" for me! Funny thing was, it wouldn't fit into the house where I was living at the time. So, it's been sitting in Brad's (now my) garage for years, unused!

Lightbulb appearing over my head!! Could I set fleece on the shelves instead of sweaters??? YES!!!! A trial run and it worked! Takes less than an hour to dry fleece. Wonderful!

So now, I can sell washed fleece---so much better than the fleece straight off the alpaca. No matter how hard we try to clean them beforehand, using a shop vac even, there's always dust left! I don't wash the fleece that gets sent to mills, but this skirted, washed fleece is wonderful for spinners!

So I tried something else this year. An inveterate Ravelry-er, I asked if there were spinners who were comfortable with suri and made an offer--I'll send you clean fleece; you spin; you send me half and keep the other half!  I've had quite a few takers.

My first "return" came this week from Raveler Tara from Tennessee--she combined my suri with cormo (wool) and you'll have to take a look at the result on her flikr page:
I'm so happy with it!  Looking forward to seeing what I get from "my" other spinners!