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August 22, 2011

By: Theresa Pitts

Hand Processing Fiber - Part II

Washing your Fiber

This is the continuation of my series on Hand Processing Fiber. In the article, I am going to outline the steps that I take to wash my fiber. My goal is to find the easiest and most efficient way to process the large number of fleeces that I have on a yearly basis.

Now, my personal preference is to wash the fiber before I spin it. I would strongly encourage you to do so as well. Although alpacas don't have lanolin they do have dirt!! And lots of it!! They sweat and the dirt gets mixed with it and it makes for some funky smelling and feeling fiber. ***Please note, my alpacas are not housed in a controlled environment on concrete. There are some farms that do this, so dirt/sweat may not be an issue***. I prefer to wash the fiber in my kitchen sink without the mesh bags that a lot of people use. I began washing in my bathtub with mesh bags, but I found that the fiber didn't come as clean and I needed to wash the bags 7 or 8 times before it was completely clean. So, I fill up my sink with hot water and use a combination of Orvus Paste, some cheap nice smelling shampoo and Peroxide. I use a small amount of Orvus and shampoo (about the amount that you would use to wash your hair) with a few glugs of Peroxide. Orvus paste does the hard work. It gets the dirt and sweat out. The cheap shampoo just gives it a good smell and the Peroxide really helps get your light color fleeces nice and bright. It I am washing white fleeces, I use a lot of Peroxide. Being in GA, we have orange alpacas, not white. The clay makes it very difficult to get them that really bright white that is so nice.

I gently push the fiber down into the water. Don't put too much in at one time and don't put too much in a single washing. If you do, then it won't get as clean. This is very important, YOU CAN AND WILL FELT SOME OF YOUR FIBER IF YOU GET IN A HURRY. Don't agitate the fiber. Let the fiber sit for about 30 minutes. Gently remove the fiber from the water. You can squeeze the fiber to get the water out, just don't twist it. Repeat this procedure at least one more time. You may find that you need to do this an additional time as well.

After your are satisfied that the fiber is clean, run a sink of hot water and add some nice smelling, cheap hair conditioner (just a squirt is needed) and a glug or 2 of white vinegar (to restore the PH of the fiber). I find that I only need to rinse once. If you rinse more than once, then save the conditioner and vinegar for the last rinse.

Let the fiber sit for about 30 minutes. Then remove and place in a mesh bag and place in a top load washing machine and use the spin cycle to spin the water out. Make sure that it only spins and does not add any water. I usually wait til I have several bags to spin (saves on electricity).

After spinning the fiber out, I remove the bags and place them outside in the sun to dry.

*****PLEASE BE VERY CAREFUL IF YOU TRY THIS. DSCA IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY DAMAGE THAT MAY OCCUR FROM USING THIS IDEA*****

With that being said, I have been experimenting with using my outdoor AC component (you know, that big box looking thing that has the fan inside and blows hot air out of the top) to dry my fiber. With the fiber in the mesh bag (I only do 1 at a time), I hook the bag to the grate on top of the fan and let the hot air dry my fiber. You need to hook all 4 corners so that the bag doesn't flap around and felt the fibers. Also, if anything were to fall down into the grate, this could SERIOUSLY mess up your AC unit. Which would be incredibly expensive to repair. This does a great job of drying the fiber, but I cannot make any claims that it is safe for your AC unit.