Making an Exquisite Alpaca Garment
Updated: Aug 29, 2020
Obtain royal or baby alpaca fibre from our or other breeders’ alpacas. Producing high quality fibre from alpacas involves daily monitoring, regular hand feeding, selective breeding, quarterly or half-yearly husbandry (trimming toenails, worming, 5- or 7-in-1 injections), and annual shearing.
Once the fleece is removed from the alpaca and chosen for a garment because of the fleece’s handle, lustre, fineness and uniformity, fibre that would detract from the quality of the final garment is removed (i.e. skirted). Then each staple is pulled out of the fleece and sorted into long, medium and short lengths. Then, these staples are washed (often a number of times) to remove grease and grime.
The washed fleece is combed using a pair of wool combs. The combed fleece is then made into rovings by pulling it off the combs through a diz, an object similar to a large button. At times colour may be introduced into a garment during combing by incorporating other coloured yarns.
The rovings are spun into one-ply strands of yarn using either a hand- or an electronic-spinner. Two spinning techniques are commonly used – woollen or worsted – depending on the type of alpaca fleece that the combing has produced. The one-ply strands are then combined into yarn for knitting. Two-ply yarn is used for most garments.
Dyeing the yarn, using dyes extracted from plants (rather than commercial dyes), may be considered at this stage of garment production. The colours that result from the natural dyeing of yarn are often quite unique and appealing.
As each garment produced is unique, the design process is a critical aspect of garment production. Design involves taking the spun yarn and using knowledge and experience to produce a “pattern” that, once knitted, will produce a unique garment. Knowledge is gleaned from studying a variety of books, using the resources of the web, and reflecting on a lifetime of working with various fibres.
Often a design will be trialled before starting the garment, i.e. stitch patterns will be practised and a small version of the garment or a part of a garment will be knitted and examined.
Most garments are produced by lace knitting, taking over 20 hours to produce the final product. The finished garment usually needs to be blocked to highlight the pattern and the garment’s unique qualities. This involves washing the finished product and stretching it to the final shape while it is drying.
Not all garments are produced by preparing and spinning raw alpaca fibre. There are good quality alpaca yarns available for purchase from a few businesses that specialise in alpaca. Because of the time-intensive nature of preparing and spinning fleece, these yarns are also used to produce garments. Using these yarns adds variety to the garment-offering, in particular it enables garments from a variety of colours to be knitted, colours not achievable through natural dyeing or using the natural alpaca colours.