My last Tour post talked about picking the wool for my blend. The wool had already had a lengthy, if somewhat unconventional washing – but the alpaca got no such exalted treatment. I think I said already that this is the seconds from what was probably a cria’s first shearing; this, like the blanket, is lovely and soft, but it is very, very short:
This is better than it could be: seconds are from the neck and legs of the animal, and often include a lot of stiff, straight, prickly guard hair. This contains almost none of that, so it’s mostly the length that distinguishes it from the rest of the fibre.
I used my trusty Louet Junior drum carder to blend one part alpaca fibre with two parts picked wool. I discovered quickly that the extremely short alpaca fibre cannot be fed into the drum carder in the usual way: it all becomes embedded in the licker in (the small drum), and none makes it onto the larger drum. And at this point, I started to realise I was in this for the long haul…
If you have a fibre that cannot be carded ‘normally’, you introduce it into the blend by making a layered construction on the large drum. After carding a layer of wool, I had to apply tufts of the alpaca onto the drum cloth:
And push it down onto the drum (or else it would just be lifted straight off onto the licker in, just like we were trying to avoid):
The pushing is accomplished by using the cleaning brush/burnishing tool, held so that the backs of the tines push between the tines of the main drum cloth.
A layer of wool; a layer of alpaca. A layer of wool; a layer of alpaca. A layer of wool.
The astute will notice that we haven’t actually blended anything yet. We’ve got wool and alpaca in the same batt, sure, but they are not really mixed together. Now that they’re in this sort of sandwich formation, with wool on all exposed faces, we can card it more normally. The alpaca starts to mix in with the wool, slowly but surely:
After the fiasco that was my last big carding/blending project, I’m quite paranoid about getting the colour even throughout the batts. I’m fine with localised variation – but I don’t want big sections that are noticeably different to the others. To avoid this, I prepared the first and second pass batts in batches of three. I weighed out enough wool and enough alpaca for three batts, and then subdivided that, still using the scales, for the first (sandwich-building) round. Each of the batts in the batch was split into three, and the thirds mixed up, so the second pass batts contain a bit of each from the first pass:
This photo shows all the second pass batts, in their sets of three. Next, I mixed up the rows, so that each row contained batts from three different batches, and no row contained batts from the same three batches as any other row. (Why yes, I do tend to overthink these things! Thankyou for noticing!).
Again, each batt was split into three, and mixed up with the others from its row. The second pass batts are much more blended than the first pass ones, but distinctly stripy. To help get rid of that, I pulled short sections from the batts and fed them into the carder edgewise. That means the carding action will be perpendicular to the direction of the stripes, smudging them out, and producing a much more even blend – or at least that’s the theory.
And it works! These batts are evenly blended enough to spin. However, they do contain quite a lot of neps – short, nubby pieces of fibre. You could just give in and consider these to be added interest, or pick them out as you come to them in the batt, but I’m spinning this long draw, which means that they actually get in the way of the twist as it flows through the nascent yarn. You can still pick them out as you come to them – but for me, the spinning is smoother and much more fun if I don’t have to. Also, the fibre seemed to flow better after a fourth (yes, a fourth!) trip through the carder – so back they went again, this time in the same direction as the previous pass. Luckily for me, neps seem to ‘float’ to the surface of the fibre as you card, so I could pick them off as I went.
Now, can anyone tell me what there is in that that took me a week and a half to finish?!
(Joking. That was a lot of work).