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Felting Alpaca Fiber


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Felting is one of the many way ways to utilize alpaca fiber.  Felting alpaca can create a dense, fabric like material that can be shrunk into its preferred shape or, like our felted alpaca winter hats and helmet liners, be cut and created into the items you want with exact custom sizing.

In its purist form, felt is comprised of two layers of raw alpaca fiber laid on top of each other.  The fiber is then stabbed / poked / jabbed with a barbed needle to push the top layer into the lower one to interlock the fibers, essentially tying knots in the fleece. 

However, when we felt the alpaca fiber, we use a washing machine to do the work, being able to adjust the heat, timing and agitation to our own preference.  The yarn is first loosely knit significantly larger than the ultimate end size (sometimes more than 2-3 times the end result size). The shrinking is performed in the washing machine, where the warm water opens up the scales on the fiber and the friction helps them interlock and create a fabric like material.  This same process can also be done in the sink, but it takes a significant amount of time and labor, not to mention continuous hot water on your hands.


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The gauge and type of yarn you use will vary your product, as well color we have found.  Our natural black tends to shrink up more than any other color, where as our grays tend to shrink the least.

Color and dyeing significantly impact the end result of your felted item. White, natural, or brightly colored yarns may go through a bleaching process where some of the scales that are important to the felting process are chemically burned off. This may render the yarn unable to felt or cause it to felt very strangely. Always test felt a swatch when using multiple colors, even within the same line of yarn. Different shades felt at different rates, as do different brands of yarns. We have also found that marl yarn (different colors plied together) have a terrific result, especially if they really contrast one another.


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How to felt

The actual felting process takes practice and work, and a lot of testing.  In over eight years of making our alpaca felt for our alpaca hats, there are a few points that should be shared to increase the chances of your success.

1. Start with a tablespoon of soap [any laundry soap works equally well], your lowest water setting [smallest load], the roughest agitation ["soiled" as opposed to "regular" or "delicate"], and a hot wash cycle. The hot water out of your tank is typically hot enough.

2.  We place our yarn in a mesh lingerie bag, but a pillowcase or keeping it loose may work just as well for you.

3. About five minutes after agitation begins, check the status of your items. They will actually have gotten larger, as they will have relaxed in the heat of the water. This is normal.  Check again every 5-10 minutes. You can take out of the washer if you need to see how it is going and then put it back and continue on.  If it’s twisted or needs reshaping, do it at along these intervals.  There will likely be fleece and color shedding – which again is normal.

4. Keep checking at 5-10 minute intervals until you have reached where you want to be, which may take multiple wash cycles [do not run the entire machine cycle, but just rerun the wash portion]. Again, color can play a role of how many times you need to run it through the cycle, so each felting process may vary.


LuLu small.JPG 5.  If you used a pillowcase, there will be lumps fiber in the bag.  Try to minimize any sloughed felt going down your drain.   If some does manage to slip through the system, it may well pass into the pipes and be gone. If not, you'll end up with a mass stuck in the water pump that requires removing the back panel to your washing machine, removing the exit hose [and fighting the water that spews out], and extricating the wad stuck inside.

6. If you notice, during the felting process, that a certain area isn't felting quite as fast as the rest of the surfaces, you can spot-felt by hand by rubbing and abusing that specific area. If your item is resisting felting or stops shrinking before you'd like it to, remove it from the washer, wring it out and a quick plunge into an ice water bath and back into the tub will work wonders.

7. Once your wash tub clean, spin out the water without your item inside.  Place your wet item aside in a bucket.  Fill the wash basin with COLD water.  Place your item(s) in the clean, cold water and dunk a few times to get rid of any residual soap.  DO NOT AGITATE.  Then you're ready for a final spin. Some folks don't recommend letting your felt go through a spin cycle, as it may leave a permanent crease in your garment. I have never had this happen, and I spin every item to remove as much moisture as possible. If you don't care to risk it, roll your felt up in a large bath towel and squeeze it to remove the water. Then it's on to blocking.


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Blocking

Wet alpaca is easy to stretch and adjust into the size you want.  We make up 2 lb batts of our fleece, so we hand stretch and pull the fabric into the size and thickness we want.  If you have created a hat, we have a head that we stretch our hats over to create the correct sizes.

Shape it exactly as you want:

  • Block hats over head-sized bowls or other items that will form them as you would like.
  • Shape your bags with boxes for sharp corners or shove them full of plastic grocery bags to achieve the perfect style.
  • Stuff your slippers or clogs with plastic cups for a round, attractive opening. And let them dry completely [as much as two days, depending on the weather] before removing the blocking forms.

Finish with a light brushing or a trim with scissors or a beard trimmer [to remove excess hairiness] and you've finished your own amazing accessory.