Spinning Wheels and Alpaca Fiber
Marketing alpaca wool to people with spinning wheels or fiber guilds
is a small, but vital, part of expanding the alpaca wool business. Many handspinners, weavers, and fiber artists appreciate using
alpaca fiber on their spinning wheel or weaving loom.
The single factor for success in moving your raw fleece on to someone else's spinning wheel
quality, and quality mostly means cleanliness. Handspinners want the joy of using their spinning wheels
in their homes, not the chore of cleaning dirty fiber that is full of vegetable matter like burrs, seeds, and alfalfa leaf, or filthy with dung or mineral dirt. If you want to compete in the spinning wheel market, you will have to get your alpaca wool clean.
It's easier to clean your pastures, than to clean your animals. Some breeders put sheep covers on their animals, and
I always use a blower on shearing day to blow out and off as much of the debris as possible prior to shearing.
Natural coloured fleece is sought after by handspinners, but the quality has to be right. A spinner may pay $30-$40 or more for a fleece, but will probably put at least 100 - 200 hours of work into it. Their total investment is huge, and they won’t choose to waste their time on an inferior product, or settle for something scratchy and full of prickles.
So if you want to earn big dollars for handcraft fleece, it takes thought and planning and some extra work.
Select and Breed for Quality Fleece
Select each alpaca or llama carefully (especially the herdsire, who will father your crias) for the fleece characteristics you want, because fleece type is largely hereditary:
- “Handle”. This is the most important of all! Put your hands into the fleece and imagine wearing it. Scratchy fleeces are very hard to sell. Even quite a fine fleece can be scratchy and hairy, or have hairy parts, and this is a serious fault.
- Open fleece - spinners like the staples to be easy to separate.
- Crimp should run evenly the whole length of the staple.
- Evenness over the fleece. Part the fleece on shoulder, mid-side and haunch, and compare the staples. They should be fairly similar.
- Colour is the least important consideration. There’s a huge range: all shades of gray, from silver to black, and all shades of brown from palest cream to rich tan (moorit) and dark brown.
- Conformation is important too. An alpaca or llama with a healthy well-shaped body is more likely to grow good fiber.
There are buyers for spinning fleeces of every colour (even white, occasionally!). And while can always be dyed to be purle, red, green, or any color you like
Alpacas must be shorn once a year. Llamas should get at least a barrel or saddle cut once a year also.
- Staple length - 11-13 months’ growth is generally best (the actual length depends on the breed). Second shear wool is not usually long enough for handspinning.
- 2nd cuts - Spinners hate those 1 and 2-inch cuts. Train your shearer to leave tufts on the animals, not in the fleece!
- Soundness - a break (even quite a slight one) anywhere along the staple will probably make the fleece unsuitable for handspinning. So feed your animals well throughout the year.
- Nasties - pen stain, vegetable matter (especially prickly things), dust & dirt are all bad news for a handspinner. Try to keep your paddocks free of thistles etc, but if any do get in the wool, they need to be removed at skirting.
- Extra-heavy skirting - take out anything that doesn’t match the rest of the fleece in length or cleanness or quality generally (but leave colour variations in). Spinners expect 100% usable wool. Your skirting is what converts a commodity into a high-end niche product.
This page was last updated on June 10, 2009.