It is such a cold and windy day here today. The thermometer reads 45′ but the wind is just relentless and it feels much colder than that. But it has been a beautiful day anyway, the sun is shining and after all of this rain that we’ve had, it’s not a bad trade off to be cold and sunny.
This morning we took a ride through Lexington to check on the fiddleheads. They are up and being picked in Kingfield, but it is still winter in Lexington. We found very few sprouts poking their heads up through the sand and leaves.
Fiddleheads have a very short season up here. A week at the most, so when they are up you have to pick them right then or you miss out. We will have to check again in a few days if it warms up.
I have been doing a bunch of things this afternoon, and in between I have also been washing some alpaca fiber. This is done in small batches. I could not imagine doing a whole fleece at one. Some do, I’m sure, but it would be hard to handle when it is wet in a larger quantity. Alpaca is much cleaner than wool, but it still has lots of dirt in it. What it does not have is lanolin. Lanolin is the grease in sheep’s wool. I would not wash sheep’s wool in the kitchen sink. It would clog the pipes, just like pouring bacon grease down the drain. But alpaca is dry. Dusty and full of VM (vegetable matter–seeds and hay and bits of junk from the fields) but it is not greasy and poopy like wool can be. Alpaca will actually poo all in one pile. Isn’t that very civilized of them? The whole herd, one pile. Sheep are not that organized.
When fiber is purchased as a whole fleece, whether sheep or alpaca or whatever, it is not generally washed first. That is up to the person who buys it. Sometimes it could have been cleaned first, but I would think that you would pay way more than you would want to for it. This is raw, dirty alpaca. You can see the bits of stuff in it. Some animals have more of this VM than others. And some parts of the fleece are dirtier than others. But a lot of this comes out in the washing, and most of the rest comes out in the drum carder. This amount of junk does not bother me too much.
In this photo you can see the beautiful crimp in the fibers. This is exactly what you want.
How I do this cleaning is to fill a salad spinner with hot, soapy water, then load it with fiber. I used to just use a bucket or basin, but from the dump I have acquired two salad spinners and they work great. The basket makes it easy to lift the fiber out of the dirty water without agitating it too much. The dirty water gets emptied, then filled again with clean, hot, soapy water. For this batch it has been taking 4-5 soakings to get the dirt out. Then a final rinse in hot water, no soap, then a spin dry. The spinning removes a lot of the water that is still in the fleece.
This is a first soaking for this batch. Look how dirty the water is. In the bag it doesn’t seem that dirty until you start washing it. And it smells kind of “sheepy” too.
After spinning out the “salad”. You can see more of the VM in this photo. This fleece really has a lot of bits in it.
This wet fiber can be dried inside or out. I have done it before using an old window screen across the tub, but this takes several days to dry. And you have to move it every time you take a shower. I like to dry it outside better. A windy day is actually better than a sunny day. The wind is more drying than the warm sun. A warm sunny windy day is ideal, but this is April in Maine. Today we have wind.
I put each batch into a laundry bag and clip to the clothes line. Each time I hang another bag I shake and fluff up the previous bags, this will separate the fibers and help them along in the drying process.
My comforter is on the clothes line because all of the feathers seem to migrate to the edges, with nothing but fabric in the middle (not very warm!). Every time I go out there to add another bag of fiber, I give it a good shake from the edges. The feathers eventually go back to where they belong. I think I am done washing fiber for today though. There are four bags on the line. I don’t know how much fiber that will be, it has not really even made a dent in the big bag of dirty fleece. I will weight it when it is completely dry. I will show you the carding process too, but not today.
Happy Sunday everyone!