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Spinning Prepared Alpaca Fiber
Alpaca has an undeserved reputation as a fiber that is "difficult" to spin. Well-prepared alpaca spins as easily, quickly and smoothly as any other longer-staple, lustrous fiber. Many people prefer it to other fibers because it is so easy to spin an even, beautiful yarn from alpaca. There are two types of commercially prepared spinning preparations commonly available, combed top and what is generally referred to as roving. Top is a combed sliver with fibers running parallel, which lends itself well to worsted-style spinning. Commercially prepared alpaca top can be quite dense and requires a little work before spinning. The top should be split into convenient lengths and then torn apart lengthwise into thinner strips (about as thick as your thumb) or drafted by hand to a similar thickness. A good top should be easy to spin, with the fibers moving smoothly out of your drafting hand to the point of twist. Roving is a woolen preparation with fibers run through a carding machine, which aligns the fibers somewhat, but not to the same extent as combing does (and carding does not remove inconsistent fibers as combing does). Carding makes an airier, less dense preparation than combing, and the roving may not require splitting into strips or much in the way of drafting out prior to spinning. If you're spinning a roving and find that it is not drafting smoothly, pre-drafting should solve the problem. Rolags you've carded yourself can be attenuated by hand and spun for a woolen-style yarn. You can also make a worsted-style roving on your hand card: starting at one end of the carded fiber mass that is still on the card, pull it off through a diz, working your way along the card from one side to the other. A carded batt can be separated into strips lengthwise, or pulled apart across the batt into several sections to be rolled into "rolags".
Determine what the average length of the fiber in your top or roving is, and remember that your hands shouldn't be closer together than about one and a half times that length while drafting, otherwise you won't be able to draw the fiber out to spin. The photo shows a comfortable hand position for a roving made of 5 - 6" staple. Alpaca lends itself to various spinning methods, and can be spun thick or thin. For a thin yarn, worsted-style spinning works best, and for a thick yarn, choose a woolen method of spinning, or the density of the yarn may be much heavier than you were hoping for. Because of the silkiness of alpaca, give it a little more twist than you would most sheep's wool, so that it doesn't drift apart. Keep the drawing-in tension on your wheel as light as possible (increase it only if the yarn is kinking up before it goes through the orifice). If you're drafting and treadling rhythmically and the yarn is moving smoothly onto the bobbin, you're likely to have the right amount of twist for the diameter or yarn and length of fiber that you're spinning.
Stop and check occasionally to make sure you're not overtwisting -- the yarn should be sleek and soft, ready to ply on itself a bit loosely. If the yarn has a lot of bristly-looking ends sticking out of it and it is wiry and plies together hard and tight, it's overspun. Even a lace-weight yarn, which requires more twist because of its fineness, shouldn't feel harsh, just firm. Alpaca yarn can be either bulky or fine, but will have the characteristic "drape" and luster that make spinning the yarn such a pleasure.
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