Thursday, April 28, 2011

Washing Raw Fleece

This is Maybelline.  She is a  Huacaya Alpaca female and is about 4 years old.  She likes to go heavy on the black eyeliner so hence the name.  I had the extremely good fortune of finding out she is my neighbor, right here in Douglassville, PA!  She lives at Caliope Creek Alpaca Ranch in Birdsboro, PA.  This is a story about washing her fleece.


Here is a picture of her unwashed fleece that I was promised by her owner would come out quite white after washing and it did.

Fleece Before Washing

I bought 3 yards of mesh fabric from Joann Fabrics and made 4 mesh laundry bags out of them that measure 32' tall by 22' wide.  I divided up the fleece into the 4 laundry bags but I had to limit how much fleece I put into each bag so I had to wash half of the total amount of fleece first, then the rest later.  I used large safety pins to the top edges down to keep the fiber from spilling out into the water. 

Fleece in Mesh Bags

I filled the washing machine with the hottest water on the largest capacity load to get the most water in the machine.  I have a top loader machine.  Then I added 1/3 cup Dawn (original blue - gentle enough to clean animals after an oil spill) dish detergent and stirred it around to dissolve in the hot water.  I waited until the water had stopped filling to add the detergent to keep it from bubbling and frothing too much.  Very carefully, I placed the 4 mesh bags around the central agitator and gently pressed it down with an old kitchen spoon so that it would wet all the fibers.  I DID NOT ALLOW THE MACHINE TO AGITATE - EVER!!!!!  If I had, I would have ended up with clumps of felted wool and ruined the whole fleece.

Second Wash

I left it to soak for about an hour.  I drained and spun the mesh bags in the machine to squeeze out all the water and then removed them from the machine until I filled the tub again with hot water and Dawn for a second soak.  I removed them while the water filled the tub because the action of the water falling on the fleece would felt it and the soap would not dissolve evenly with a full tub of fleece. 

Waiting for Rinse

I soaked the fleece again in hot water and Dawn, spun out the water, and then removed the mesh bags from the machine.   I filled the machine with plain warm water to rinse the mesh bags in, let them soak, spun out the water and removed them from the machine.  I did this one more time to really rinse off the soap and dirt so the fleece actually had 4 changes of water to wash and rinse them. 

While they were spinning in the machine, I set up a drying area.  Here I used an clean old screen door propped up on 4 colander bowls I got from the Dollar Store. 

Drying Rack

I laid out the fleece to dry on the old screen door, in front of a fan.  This is what it looks like when it is still wet.  I turned it several times so it would dry all the way through the fibers.

Wet Fleece

After 24 hours It was completely dry and it was beautifully soft and fluffy.

Fluffy Alpaca Fleece

I repeated the entire process to the rest of the fleece and laid it out on another screen door propped up on salad bowls I got from the Dollar Store.  When it was dry, I took it all up to my studio where I will card it over the next couple of weeks and will show a photo of the tall pile of batting it will make when it is completely carded. 

Ready for Carding

Then I will dye it and the finished result will be similar to the previous alpaca fleece I dyed last year.

Dyed Alpaca Fleece

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Blending Fibers with a Drum Carder

Blending colors on the Drum Carder was much easier than I thought it would be.  Before I bought this large machineI called the complany who made it (Fancy Kitty) and Ron, the creator, assured me that I could card a little or a lot with this machine.  I didn't want to have to card large batts if I only wanted to mix small amounts of color and it did the job beautifully. 

Here, I started with green and blue commercial Merino roving.

I peeled off thin layers of green and blue fibers and mixed them together in my hand beforre placing them on the bed of the Licker In.  I just tore off fibers, mixed them, tore off some more, so that the carder would pick up mixtures instead of chunks of color.

I watched to make sure the Licker In was picking up thin strands of fiber so that the colors would build up on the drum blended together more evenly.  I also made sure I applied the fibers to the Licker In right in the center so that a rope of roving would emerge when I removed the carded fibers.

After I carded all of the fibers I wanted, I stopped the machine and began peeling off the roving with the wooden Doffer Stick or knitting needle pushed along the edge of the metal seam of the carding drum.

I ended up with a perfectly blended rope of roving in a blue/green color - a perfect mixture of the blue and green Merino I started with.

Below is a photo of the roving I started carding on the outside with the carded roving placed between the two of them.

Blue plus green equals Blue/Green.  Amazing!!