Dyeing Alpaca Fleece

Recently I went with members of the Bedfordshire Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers to spend a pleasant evening admiring alpacas. These particular alpacas belong to David Titmuss, the son of one of our members, Toni Titmuss, and David and his wife had kindly invited us to visit their farm for one of our meetings. The early evening sunshine bathed everything in a warm glow and the alpacas were happy to be photographed, although they quickly lost interest if required to pose for too long.

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The natural colours of the alpacas vary from white, cream and beige through various shades of rust and brown to almost black, and all these colours are lovely. The fleece can be extremely soft and a pleasure to handspin. Of course, as a dyer, I was interested in testing some dyes on white alpaca fleece, so I got my dyepots ready for a few experiments on some of my skeins of handspun alpaca.

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All the skeins were mordanted in alum. The dyes used are, from left to right: 1 weld, 2 weld + iron, 3 madder, 4 madder + washing soda, 5 madder exhaust, 6 coreopsis flowers, 7 coreopsis flowers + washing soda, 8 brazilwood, 9 brazilwood + washing soda, 10 Phaeolus schweinitzii fungus, 11 Phaeolus schweinitzii + iron, 12 Exhaust of 11, 13 Cortinarius sanguineus fungus, 14 Cortinarius sanguineus fungus + washing soda, 15 Pisolithus tinctorius fungus

In general, I was pleased with the depth of colour I achieved. However, as alpaca tends to be more “hairy” than sheep’s fleece, and less “woolly”, the colours are probably less saturated than those achieved on sheep’s wool. One other thing I learned about working with alpaca is the importance of washing the fleece very well before spinning and dyeing it. When spinning sheep’s fleece, I often soak the sorted fleece overnight to get rid of any dirt, then spin “in the grease” and wash well afterwards and before mordanting or dyeing. This method proved less successful with alpaca. I found the grease was difficult to wash out after spinning and this caused patchy results from some of the dyebaths. I got much better results with alpaca fleece that had been well washed before spinning. After spinning, I washed the skeins again and then mordanted and dyed them.

11 Responses to “Dyeing Alpaca Fleece”

  1. Colin Walton says:

    They look fabulous! you really have got the hang of the photos now – I love the one of the hanging skeins!

    X

  2. yvette says:

    i’m in love

  3. (Our website is down for a day or so)… But just seen your blog about dyeing alpaca. We have a small herd in East Mids and I am experimenting with what to do with the fleece. I love the colours you’ve achieved and will be trying my hand at dyeing this weekend. Thank you for such a clear description. Jenny Alpaca

  4. cedar says:

    I too love alpaca, but it is work…if there is any vm in it, its almost impossible to clean out completely, as it is so fine, and I really don’t like spinning with tweezers on hand to pick it out, which was suggested to me, so I rarely use alpaca from the fleece…the colors are wonderful though..and it is sooooo soft.

  5. Diane says:

    Beautiful colors – why would wooly be more accepting of dye than hairy – I’m assuming it’s because hair has a hollow core? Just curious, I’ve had a hard time getting intense dyes on alpaca with the exception of indigo and more dye won’t make it darker because of there are no sites to accept the dye?

  6. Jenny Dean says:

    I think Diane is right about hair having a hollow core & being therefore less receptive to dye. I’m afraid I’m not a fibre expert but I believe that, in the textile trade, the term “wool” is used only for sheep’s fleece & the term “hair” is used for all other animal fibres such as alpaca, mohair etc. (but not silk, presumably). However, alpacas often have a hairy outer coat with a soft undercoat, which is more “woolly” but technically still hair. I think that if the soft undercoat is carefully selected for dyeing, & the fibres are thoroughly washed both before & after spinning, alpaca fibre should dye well, even if not always as well as sheep fleece. Mohair is also technically “hair” rather than “wool” & usually dyes beautifully in my experience, although great care is required to prevent the fibres from matting together. As far as indigo is concerned, it is a surface dye & doesn’t combine with the fibre molecules in the same way as most other natural dyes. This explains why indigo gives good results on alpaca & indeed on virtually all fibres & lots of other things, too.
    I’d be grateful if anyone with more knowledge of fibres could correct any inaccuracies there may be in this comment & perhaps give Diane a more technical response.

  7. Marian says:

    hi!
    Those alpacas look so sweet! Nice to experiment with different fibers.
    I was wondering -keep in mind Im a newbie- if one can achieve good colors when the fleece is of a dark color already. I recently was given the fleece of a sheep (name scapes me right now, from an Island in France) and the wool has a beautiful dark chocolate color. i thought of just leaving it like that but then I wondered if it was possible to dye it… ideas?

    • Jenny Dean says:

      Hi Marian
      If the fleece is really dark-coloured there’s little point in dyeing it, as the dye colour wouldn’t show up. However, dyeing fleece that’s naturally light to mid grey or light to mid brown can give very attractive results. Just bear in mind that whatever dye colour you use will be affected by the colour of the fleece you are dyeing.

  8. Doe says:

    Hi Jenny,
    My only comment regarding dyeing alpaca is that it requires a bit more dyestuff than wool to achieve the same shade. It dyes beautifully with both natural dyes and synthetic. Alpaca fibre is less medullated (hollow fibres) than it was 10 years ago and now much finer microned. Crimp is also being bred for and so the fibres under a microscope look very like wool fibres but with a smoother profile. I.e.the scales don’t protrude so much. The lustre also throws the colour when comparing it to a dyed matt wool yarn. And yes it can take a lot of washing but that’s because they do love to roll in the dust and dirt. I admit to a bias, I love the fibre as you’ll note from my blog content.

    • Jenny Dean says:

      Thanks for these informative comments. I can see from your blog that you’re a true alpaca expert. The fineness of your spinning is awe-inspiring!
      Jenny

  9. Karin Barton says:

    I have about 6kilos of white and about half that amount of coloured. where can I get this amount carded, at least, spun too if possible. Such huge amounts are usually asked for.