I hear and read a lot of negative comments from other people about wet felting with alpaca fibre. “Too hairy. Too long to felt. I have to shave it. I have to burn it!” (what the?) …yadda, yadda, yadda. Felt makers all love wool, especially merino wool but with every material you work with, there are pros and cons.
I get quite huffy and defensive when I read negative comments about alpaca fibre in felting forums. Yes, some alpaca fibre can be very hairy and difficult to felt but it generally depends on the quality of the fibre. Guard hair is coarse and very undesirable. It should be skirted out of the fleece at shearing time. Even if I miss some, I can still remove it when I pick the fleece prior to carding. This is a benefit of processing your fibre yourself.
Merino fibre is fine and beautiful but it does have drawbacks. The main one is that it is very difficult to remove the lanolin (grease) in the fleece. Merino requires super hot water and lots of scouring product. Even with multiple washes, the lanolin level in the fleece can be high.
I used to scour (wash) all of my alpaca fleeces before carding but during the severe drought in Australia a few years ago, we were running out of water. So, the decision was made to forego scouring.
Alpaca is easy to process in comparison to sheep wool, and especially merino. It has little to no grease and the little bit of dirt in the fleece makes it easier to pick (separating the locks of fibre in a fleece). We save on water, power and product by not needing to scour my fibre.
Are you grossed out, yet? I know I was when I first saw someone felting with raw, unwashed alpaca fleece. Because I am wet felting with the alpaca fibre, I am actually washing it at the same time. In the process, I use homemade olive oil soap. This is gentle on the fibre and gentle on my hands.
I really love working with my alpaca fleeces. Each one is unique, which can be a delight and a challenge. I choose to celebrate my alternative felt creations. It is not wool felt, it’s alpaca felt and I am not trying to make it something that it can never be.
I am a bohemian so I don’t want to fit the mould. To the beat of my own drum, I march…
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