Spin the Camelids!!

Saturday was a huge outing for me and my spinning wheel. The wheel has been sulking for weeks, but when I strapped it into the car Friday night it perked right up. Saturday morning we headed up to Boulder, Colorado for a class in how to prepare, spin and blend camelid fibers. We started out with half an hour of travel time to spare. Right. We got caught in traffic (An accident? Construction? I never figured it out, but we were stuck on the road for more than a half hour…), struggled to find a parking spot with enough space to allow me to safely pull the wheel out of the car, and then when I finally got the wheel safely to the ground it immediately fell apart.  Parts rolled away across the asphalt. Sigh. Not the best of beginnings.

Look, any day spent in Boulder (which is right at the foot of the Rocky Mountains) is a good day.  I patched the wheel back together and rolled off towards the class with excitement in my heart. The wheel was almost besides itself in anticipation of meeting other members of its species. We were late, but Boulder is one of those places where time is sort of flexible. This was going to be a day in the shadow of the Rockies spent in a yarn store (Shuttles, Spindles & Skeins) spinning exotic fibers with other people who think it is more important to have cool homemade yarn than a new car. In other words, a seriously good time!! OK, I’m a little bit of a fiber geek, but let me tell you, on Saturday I was with my peeps!!

Spinning Book
This class was taught by Chris Switzer who raises these animals (with her husband) on their ranch in the mountains north of Boulder. In the class we learned how to prep, blend, and spin all of these fibers.
Camel fiber
Camel!! This was prepared roving as the fleece is FULL of nasty and pokey undesirable guard hairs. This camel was a dream to spin. I’m in love. I need to get me some of this!!

Chris also had bison fiber for us to spin. Very nice. Very soft. A ton of work to prepare as the original fleece is uber hairy. You will never look favorably on hay and vegetable matter again after a few hours struggling to get it out of the undercoat that is the spinnable fiber. Chris’s advice: if someone offers to gift you with a bison fleece, decline. 🙂

Fleece
Alpaca fiber prep entailed steps that I didn’t anticipate. You need to de-hair the fleece  before you open the locks for carding. Carding has to be done very gently using fine carders. Washing is optional before spinning unless it is obviously dirty (well, they are animals…) This alpaca fleece has some guard hairs that can be seen at the tips of the locks. If you grasp the hairs and hold the lock in your other hand they can just be pulled out.
Guard hairs from alpaca fleece.
Here’s the hair pulled from three of the locks. Once removed the fiber in the locks can be gently opened up from the base.
Alpaca
Look at all the colors of natural alpaca!
Me spinning
By the end of the class my spinning wheel had fallen in love with me again. New parts are now on order.

I really learned a lot. Suddenly I feel like I could successfully spin that paco-vicuna that I bought two years ago. My spinning wheel is practically hopping up and down to get started (even though it really needs its new part installed before we do that; right now the flyer falls off without warning). I felt so positive about all of this I pulled down the alpaca fleece that I had stored in the garage since 2007 (gasp!) and took a really good look at it.

Alpaca fleece
Look at these locks! There doesn’t seem to be very many guard hairs at all. Woohoo!! It is so clean that I won’t need to wash it before spinning. The locks I pulled out to open fluffed right out into a little rolag. I think I was very lucky in this purchase as I didn’t really know what I was doing when I bought this fleece.  

The fleece is mostly light caramel colored with some cream patches. I may even play with dyeing it. Chris really stressed being gentle in the preparation of these fibers since they are easily broken, and favored hand carders and spindles, but I’m going to made the drum carder work somehow. I’ll be using the spinning wheel, too, as with my scleroderma-hands the less I stress them the better it is. Still, I feel empowered to experiment and super-soft yarn of the paco-vicuna and alpaca variety is right around the corner. Thanks Chris! It was a great class!

Cat on fleece.
Of course I’ll have to spin while the cats are outside. MacKenzie moved into my fleece about 2 minutes after I pulled it from the storage crate. 🙂
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Author: Midnight Knitter

I weave, knit and read in Aurora, Colorado where my garden lives. I have 2 sons, a knitting daughter-in-law, a grandson and two exceptionally spoiled cats.

6 thoughts on “Spin the Camelids!!”

  1. I am so glad to start spinning again. It’s even more meditative than knitting. My wheel would totally love guests. 🙂 Now I’m thinking that the loom could use attention too.

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