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We bought new alpacas this winter, bringing our herd up to five. When we had the three new boys loaded in our Honda Odyssey, the sellers asked us casually, "Oh, do you want their fleeces from the last three shearings?"

Well, yeah. Even though the van was full of alpaca, we packed in the ten garbage bags of fiber that they had been storing. What a bonus!

When we got home and the new alpacas were settled in the pasture, I started sorting through my bounty. The first step was to replace the bags that had torn from being stepped on during the three-hour trip home.

Nine of the bags contained their "blankets." This is the best part of the fleece, and it comes from the animal's back and sides. In turn, I spread each blanket out on my makeshift skirting table (a screen door supported by a pair of sawhorses) and picked through it, removing the VM (vegetable matter, including burrs and straw), dirt, and other unpleasant impurities. Much of the sand and dust fell through the screen. I also removed the longer, coarser hairs that stuck out beyond the fleece, and the rougher fiber around the perimeter of the blanket that had grown on the beast's legs or neck.

Nine fleeces--upwards of 35 pounds of fiber--is a lot to hand-spin, especially since I only had about five months before I would be shearing another five fleeces. So I sent it to the mill to be made into yarn.

And I turned my attention to that tenth garbage bag. It was packed with the "seconds" from Ivan and Yuri. This is the fiber that grows on the tummy, neck, and legs of the alpaca. It's not as long or soft as the blanket, but it's still useful for felting.

I set to work washing it, and combing it, and picking out all the little bits of dirt. I sorted it by color, I fluffed it up, and I collected it to use in felting projects.

The fiber, once it's been cleaned and prepped, is delightful!

It's a tedious process, but it will be fun to experiment with more felting techniques.

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