Spinning & weaving alpaca fleece

I’ve been staring at a bag of alpaca fleece for a while, not really knowing what to do with it. I knew I wanted to use it for weaving and that I needed to spin it. A friend suggested I try using a drop spindle and carders, so I bought some…watched a few Youtube videos…had a go…but got completely stuck!

Raw alpaca fleece

I thought I might have more luck learning in-person and had a look around for a course. I came across a two day spinning and weaving workshop in Norfolk, which looked perfect, so I signed up straight away!

I’d booked it 6 months in advance, so had to wait a while…

Day 1: Learning to spin

The first day was held on an alpaca farm. The textile studio was in a yurt that was alongside the alpaca fields – what’s not to love!

Spinning studio

I love alpacas. Their fleece is incredibly soft as it doesn’t contain lanolin, like sheep’s wool, so it doesn’t itch when worn next to the skin (something I struggle with); it’s lighter, warmer and stronger than sheep’s wool; it’s eco-friendly; and also very breathable.

These are a couple of alpacas on the farm whose fleece we were using…

Alpacas on the farm

We were given fleece that had already been carded and made into rolags. I loved how the rolags had been made from a mix of fleece colours and the owner knew exactly which alpacas they came from!

Rolags (left), Ashford spinning wheel (right)

To begin with I found learning to spin very tricky. It was a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy. The spinning wheel needs to rotate clockwise at a consistent pace (you start it off with your hand and use a foot peddle to keep it going) while you twist and feed the fleece onto the bobbin. If the wheel slows down it can start to rotate anti-clockwise and the fleece gets a bit tangled on the bobbin. If the twist isn’t tight enough the fleece will break; if the twist is too tight the fleece will break – ahhhh!!

After a few attempts, the penny dropped and I got in the rhythm of the process: keep the wheel spinning, feed in the right amount of yarn; and give it enough twist. During the session the aim was to fill two bobbins with roughly equal amounts of spun fleece, which could then be plyed together into a skein.

Spinning fleece (left) and twisting the plyed yarn into a skein (right)
Finished skein

Day 2: Weaving a journal cover

The second day was held in a textile studio in Norwich. Our skein from the previous day had been washed, dried and wound into a ball. We could then chose a few other alpaca yarns to work with alongside our own yarn. I opted for a duck egg blue, slate grey, calico and mustard.

My chosen selection of alpaca yarns to weave

The warp had already been set up on a rigid heddle loom for us and we were ready to start weaving.

I began to weave back and forth, making sure not to pull the yarn too tight at the sides when changing direction.

Beginning to weave

I wanted to weave blocks of colours. I added variety and contrast by weaving a different number of rows in each colour and mixed up the order in which I used them. The piece worked up really quickly.

Final stages of the weave

We were making journal covers for an A6 Seawhite sketchbook, so once the weave was long enough to cover the outside of the book, I cut it off the loom. The inside of the cover was lined with a co-ordinating fabric. I sewed two side pockets into it to hold the journal in place.

The finishing touch was to add an Indian silk bow…

Finished journal cover

Now I have a better understanding of the spinning process, I’ve started to use my drop spindle again and I’m having much better results. It’s just a lot slower than a spinning wheel. I’m now on the lookout for a secondhand Ashford spinning wheel, I’ve got the bug!

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