Thursday, April 27, 2006

Alpaca Fiber Everywhere but not a yarn to knit

Shearing time will soon be upon us and with that comes the decision of what to do with all that fiber. There’s the good: most people know what to do with that. There’s the bad: some owners may have a few ideas but most are open to new suggestions. And then there’s the ugly: I would bet that this ends up in the trash or compost bin at every ranch. What if there were other ways to deal with the Bad and the Ugly? What if you could actually make some money off that trash? Trash to Treasure? Well, maybe not treasure, but a few coins in the pocket are better than none!

Second and Third quality fiber make up a significant enough percentage of most alpacas’ shearing that it can, and should, be creatively put to use. The question most have is “how?”

Felt it. Okay. Now what?
Flat felt can be shaped into a hanging plant basket liner. Price these less than the popular (and expensive) coconut shell liners and you still get a tidy profit. A quick trip to your local garden shop will provide you with price points. Use your nastiest thirds for this product and you can even promote it as self-fertilizing! Go one step further and dye some of the fiber creating colorful inserts. Much better than those blah brown coconut ones!

Shoe inserts. Cut flat felt in the shape of shoe inserts to keep feet toasty warm in the winter.

Slippers. Flat felt can be cut to make slippers. Most fabric stores carry a slipper pattern.

Seat covers. Simple rectangles work well at keeping the driver’s bum off the car’s cold winter seat. These can also be used underneath children’s car seats to protect the car’s original upholstery.

Jingle Felt Balls. Cats love these toys. Make a larger version, insert several jingles, and babies love them too! Priced at $2-$5 each they are a popular sale item with ranch visitors. Again, add color and they sell themselves!

Felt Covered Soap. Wrap fiber around a bar of soap and felt it. Once rinsed and dried, it kind of looks like your soap bar has a sweater on! The best part about this product is that the coarser thirds exfoliate as the soap cleans.

Paperweights. Find a smooth rock large enough to be a good size paperweight. Felt over it just as you would the bar of soap.

Bag it.
Did you know ballet dancers use lamb’s wool in the toes of their Pointe shoes? Did you also know that the dancers complain about the scratchiness of this wool? Save those second cuts from the blanket and you have a softer AND more durable alternative for dancers. The wool product usually runs $4 for one ounce. A quick visit to a ballet studio with an offer of free samples to the studio director might just generate a long-standing, if small, revenue stream.

Fly fishermen love to tie their own lures. A small bag of alpaca fiber containing a variety of colors and micron counts can be marketed to locally owned sports goods stores.

Doll makers are always looking for long locks. Suri fiber that you consider too coarse might be perfect to a doll maker. Be sure to keep it in lock form.

Create a felting kit. Typically neck fiber is soft but short. That lends it perfectly to needle or wet felting. These kits can be sold in your ranch store or market the wet felting kits to local preschools or home school groups. Add a few packages of unsweetened Kool-Aid and you have a “Dye to Felt” kit.

Draft stoppers. Stuff the fiber into a long fabric tube along with some rice or pebbles to make a draft stopper for doors or windows. A quick Internet search will bring up some creative ways to decorate them.

Blend it.
Keeping in mind that the end product will only be as soft as the coarsest fiber, blend your seconds and/or thirds with a fiber of comparable micron count and staple length. Some examples are sheep wool, llama fiber, adult mohair, and dog brushings (another free ingredient). One ranch even blends with fiber from their Curly Hair horses and another uses hair from their Highland Cattle. Fiber people love to buy exotic blends!

The blends can be made into roving or spun into yarn. As these products tend to be coarser, they are perfect for rugs, tapestry weaving yarns, or non-garment items like bags.

Barter it.
There are several businesses that sell alpaca fiber products and take fiber in trade for credit towards your order. Recently AOBA published the “Directory of Fiber Resources” listing many of these companies. All AOBA members received a copy of this guide.

Over the next few months I'll post specific instructions, or pointers on where to find specific instruction, on all of these projects. Right now, you can find Felted Soap instruction in my March 2006 post. Check back here often for other instructions! And if there's a project you do with alpaca fiber of less-than-prime quality, leave a note in the comment section. I'd love to get more ideas!

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