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My Alpaca Slippers

Last spring, when we were getting organized to move across the country and start our new adventure, I recall telling an acquaintance of our plans:

"And we'll have several acres, with fruit orchards and pastures, and we'll raise fiber animals like alpacas and...."

That's when she interrupted to declare enthusiastically that "Felted alpaca slippers are THE BEST thing."

So I started looking into how to wet-felt, with the idea of making slippers from the copious amounts of alpaca fiber that I will someday have. The process itself is fairly simple and inexact: First you lay out raw fiber to cover a pattern, then put more fiber on top of that (running perpendicularly to the first layer), then add another layer or two. You wet everything down with hot soapy water and massage the fibers together. Roll the whole mat in bubble wrap, and generally abuse it for a few hours: whack it on the table, rub it on a washboard, roll it again in a different direction. Add more hot soapy water as needed. Over the course of this abuse, the fibers will lock together and the whole mat will shrink. Voila! Behold the felt!

I had bought a few pounds of alpaca fleece this summer so I could spin with it (I found a really good price on Etsy), and I was somewhat disappointed with the quality--it was coarse with a lot of short lengths. It wasn't ideal for spinning, but it would be great for felting, so I used these general instructions and made a pair of slippers. I used some scraps of angora and colored wool to try some embellishment on the fronts; the colors are pretty faint and barely discernible. The slippers turned out OK for a first try.

I love wearing them, because they keep my feet toasty warm, but not overly hot. The first time I wore them I didn't realize how warm they were until I took them off. They're still a bit big, but I can shrink them down to fit better if I want to.

I did not enjoy the process of making them. It's messy to work with dirty, wet, dripping fiber, and the loose strands are uncomfortable when they stick to my hands. Having to put the sodden objects on my feet for a custom fit is really unpleasant. I had seen suggestions to use plastic sheeting to protect the work surface, but no one emphasized just how much water would be dripping, or how much dirt could be mixed in with the fiber. If I do this again, I'll be doing it outside in warm weather.

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