Friday, July 25, 2014

Pulling out (my) hair: lots of llama

I had a little phase awhile back where I was completely out of anything spinnable.  Once you've gotten addicted to spinning, that's a terrible place to be.  You read spinning blogs and start eyeing the dryer lint.

But a friend of mine helped me out of this rut by giving me about three pounds of llama fiber.  Three pounds!  It was from three different animals -- one white with fawn bits, one light brown, and one chocolatey dark brown.

Llama is very easy to wash, unlike wool, because it has no lanolin.  So a swish or two in soapy warm water is fine -- no need to make it particularly hot and risk felting it, the way you do with wool.  But -- I discovered by trying it -- washing is actually not the first step.

Before washing, if possible, is when you should de-hair the llama.  Yes, llama has two coats -- a soft, spinnable undercoat, and an outer coat of coarse guard hairs which absolutely will not blend in with the undercoat and have to be removed.  There is no cool doodad for this that I know of -- you basically just have to pick it out by hand.  Some people use cards or combs, but it doesn't really speed up the process so far as I can see.

The good news is, it's not terribly difficult to do, if the lock structure is intact (i.e., you haven't tried washing it or otherwise messing with it too much) and it's a basically good batch.  The light brown was in this condition, so I just turned on a good bright light, grabbed the long hairs sticking out of the end of each lock, and yanked them out.  It helped that on this animal, the guard hairs were noticeably darker in color than the rest as well as being longer and more wiry.  Once the guard hair was out, the fiber changed from "hm, kinda scratchy" to "I want to snuggle with this all night" soft.

The staple length was quite short (like two inches tops) so it was a bit fiddly to spin.  Of course I made it harder on myself by spinning worsted (which is easier with longer fibers, I think) and going for laceweight.  It took forever, but hey -- I had no other fiber and a desperate need to be spinning, so it worked.

When I finished that, I wanted to do the chocolate brown, chunky and woolen this time -- only to hit an awful snag.  Either because of bad handling previously, or because the animal itself didn't have as nice a coat, it was basically impossible to dehair.  The hairs were completely blended into the rest of the fiber and virtually indistinguishable.  Then, even when I thought I'd gotten them all, they'd appear while I was spinning, refusing to lie flat and prickling out.  So much for my dream of soft fluffy yarn -- it wound up scratchy as heck.

Lesson learned: llama is more work than wool, because of the dehairing; it can be wonderfully soft; and sometimes you just get a bad batch and there's not much you can do about it.

Anyway, I made a hat out of it.  It wasn't soft enough to be a scarf, I thought, and it was rather hairy, but it was still a lovely color and made a good hat.

The white looks to be in good shape, so I think I've got a plan for it -- a shawl.  Since llama is not at all stretchy -- no good for socks, for instance, not by itself -- it works well in weaving.  I'd like to do a big rectangular shawl that shades between the white and the fawn colors of that fiber.  But I'll have to wait till I have a bigger loom, because I want a BIG shawl, something I can wear to nice occasions over a sleeveless dress.

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