I recently took advantage of a VERY good deal through Alpaca Direct and ordered myself up some beautiful 100% alpaca fiber, 12 oz of dark brown (Sarah) and one pound of soft white (Victoria). Oh, and a pound each of Merino / Bamboo blend and Polworth / Tussah blend, ya know, for good measure. The blends will be dyed eventually and put up for sale in my shop, but the pure Alpaca fiber I plan on spinning as is.
This is by far the largest amount of one type of wool I have ever set my mind to spinning. I hope to produce a pretty hefty amount of yardage from them, but since I’ve never spun more than about 8 oz of wool into one set of yarns, there’s a lot to be thinking about.
One is that my drive band was in a truly deplorable state and I had to change it for the first time since I got my wheel about a year ago. I should have changed it before now. I have shameful upkeep habits.
Another is that I’m sure my hyperactive brain will get bored very quickly and I’ll have to take a large amount of breaks from the project. And the longer you spend in between spinning sessions, the more your muscle memory fades and the harder it is to find the sweet spot where you are spinning consistently NOT ONLY within your current ply, but from skein to skein as well.
I found that out first hand with my most recently finished set of handspuns, where there was about a month-long gap between the last skein and the first two. The last, though appreciably close in size and look, just doesn’t FEEL exactly the same. Since this is a novelty set that includes size differences on purpose anyway, that’s not a problem.
Overall, exacting consistency is really not tantamount to handspinning success. If you wanted perfection in a yarn, you’d buy expensive commercially produced yarns. I like my handspun, even when consistency is the goal, to LOOK like it was the loving work of someone’s hands and heart. It’s the little imperfections that make it unique and beautiful (just so for people). But because I have spun little else besides art yarns since I got my jumbo bobbin and flyer kit, I have to adjust a little so that I’m at least not spinning all wacky on purpose.
The alpaca fiber itself is lovely combed top, thinner than the commercial roving I typically get and less densely packed as well, which makes it just perfect for what I’m doing with it. And HOO BOY is it soft, and fairly heavy as well! Normally I draft on the wheel with some sort of bastard combination of short forward draw and long draw (if that even exists?) – I just sort of go by what works. With this roving, I find my motions trending a lot heavier toward simple long draw, and only using short forward drafting if I get to a clumpy patch.
For the record, long draw is a method of drafting that uses the twist of the fiber and the tension of the wheel to pull out the fibers into a ply. Your active hand holds the fibers, and pulls the wool backward away from the wheel as you treadle, so that the twist and the tension draw out a yarn. Craftsy has a good overview of this technique here. And here’s a good video, since explaining it in words is basically useless if you’re not an experienced spinner.
Long draw isn’t the most consistent method of drafting, but it works well for this fiber and I’ve been producing something that is sort of consistently inconsistent, which mostly evens out when plied. Plus, it’s FASTER. Which I will take considering the amount of fiber I’m trying to get spun for this batch.
One of my favorite spinning bloggers, Ask the Bellwether, has some tips for spinning consistent yarn.
One other thing that I would like to note is that this would be an ideal time for me to already have hand carders (or preferably a drum carder, but I am sooooo close to running out of space for my hobby equipment as it is!). The 100% alpaca is lovely, but the density of the fiber make it a good candidate for spinning from rolags or batts rather than from the commercially carded roving – ya know, because carding again would fluff the fiber more and more air would get trapped inside during spinning making the final product loftier. *sigh* Oh well. Someday I will have an actual studio, in which all the wonders of the fiber world will easily and comfortably fit.
Haha, just kidding. I would find a way to fill that, too.