From Fur to Fiber

I am obsessed with baby alpaca yarn.  A friend recently told me that knitting with alpaca was like “knitting with clouds” and I agree 100%.  I’ve always been totally stumped, though, about how the wiry, strange looking alpaca fur could turn into the soft, wonderful yarn I’m knitting with.

I was lucky enough to get to chat with Karla, an amazing yarn artist, about the shearing process recently!  She wasn’t shearing an alpaca, but she was working with the next best thing – her sweet llama Truffles!  She provided all these awesome behind the scenes photos of the process, and was so generous with her time!  Thank you Karla!

Make sure you go check out the super gorgeous yarns Karla makes with her fiber.  She is truly an inspiration, and she feeds my yarn addiction regularly….You’ll find all sorts of goodies you simply can’t live without in her Etsy shop, The Gingko Leaf.

Llama Apology

Karla always starts off the shearing process with an apology.  Poor Truffles isn’t a huge fan of being sheared, but it’s in his best interest.  Could you imagine how hot and miserable he would be if he never got rid of any of that extra fur!?

Shearing a llama

Although Karla has an electric shearer, she doesn’t use it with Truffles because the buzzing noise of the motor upsets her. Instead, she sharpens her Fiskars sewing scissors really, really well and uses those.  I’m so impressed with Karla’s patience and sensitivity towards Truffles!

Hand Shearing Llama

Karla gives Truffles a trim all along her torso, leaving her neck, leg and tail wool intact. This helps ward off flies and summer insects while keeping her cool. Karla starts by carefully parting the wool going down her back and beginning to gently trim the wool on one side.

llama shearing

The first side is mostly sheared. Look at that big basket of wool!

llama shearing break

Karla is taking a quick break for iced tea and more apologizing to Truffles. Truffles is cranky; you can tell by the way her ears are laid back.

llama shearing

Karla then gets back to work shearing Truffles’ second side, starting at her spine and slowly working down.

animal shearing

Another photo of Karla shearing the second side. Karla decided to shear Truffles under the big maple tree in the center of their field, partly because she loves this tree and often naps under it, and partly because it’s a warm day and the tree offered deep shade to keep Truffles comfortable.

llama shearing

Karla admits her shearing technique is non-traditional!

“Normally llamas are either tied to a shearing table or strapped into a shearing chute to keep them from moving around. The shearer has to use an electric shearer to get the shearing done quickly. Truffles is part of my animal family and I’ve evolved this method of working with her over the past ten years to make sure she is as comfortable as possible. Shearing usually takes a leisurely hour and a half and is slow and gentle. I even put on her favorite music (The Grateful Dead) during shearing to help keep her calm and happy.”

As Karla shears, she gently pulls away the cut wool and piles it into her basket. If she lets the wool hang off of her side, it pulls at Truffles’ skin and generally tickles and irritates her.

llama shearing

Look at the wool bounty!  Truffles is tired and ready for a snack and a nap. Later today, she’ll be rolling in the grass for pure joy with all four legs in the air. She isn’t thrilled about being sheared but she loves the feeling of being rid of her thick wool coat.

llama fur

While Truffles goes to take her nap, Karla’s work is just beginning. The next step is to begin processing the wool by pulling the guard hairs out. Llamas have a dense, soft and woolly undercoat to keep them warm – this is the good stuff that we want for handspun yarn. However, they also have a coat of coarse guard hairs to shed water and snow and protect them from the wind. The guard hairs need to be picked out of the soft wool to make a spinnable yarn. Karla often starts this process right after shearing by laying the wool out on clean grass in the garden.

llama fur

This shows some of the picked fleece looking soft and fluffy with a pile of stiff guard hairs on the left ready to put into the compost pile for the birds to use to build their nests. In addition to hand picking, the wool will also go through a mechanical wool picker before being washed. After washing, Karla will then comb the fibers out on her carder before spinning.

And that’s that!  Shearing a llama may not be the easiest process around, but Karla seems to have it down to a science….and she makes the whole thing look breezy and beautiful!

Don’t forget to check out Karla’s amazing yarn right now.

Would you ever consider raising a llama for fiber?  Tell me what you think in the comments below!

37 Comments On “From Fur to Fiber”

  1. Very gentle. What about brushing? Or would that still get guard hairs? Maybe take to long?

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  2. I have a friend that has a llama. He got him sheared at his farm, by local mill. I was happy that they have me a whole garbage bag full. But I have no idea what to do with that bag of animal hair now. It’s a gorgeous brown. I’ll jabber learn the process one day. But yes. I have always wanted a hobby farm. This would be awesome a help make sure my business is 100% all natural and keep the process cruelty free. Which is where I’m taking my business this year. I found 1 supplier that ensures just that. Not handspun tho. But thanks for sharing. I will look forward to shopping in her shop knowing she’s does a cruelty free processing.

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  3. Tamsin Chennell PeaPod Designs

    I have have yarns made up for me by Karla and they were the scrummiest I have ever had and such gorgeous colours!

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  4. This was very interesting, but I wouldn’t have the patience to do all she does. What a wonderful process she goes through to make the yarn. I will check out her Esty Shop.

    Good luck with your move!

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  5. Oh if only I had the room and the money to care for one. I would totally raise and and use the fiber. Also not sure about allergy factor. One day I will try some out and see if it bothers me. This was a very cool blog. Thanks for sharing.

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  6. I love her shop! I have a few super yummy skeins from her. I don’t think I would want my own llama, but I would love to learn to spin!

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  7. I have seen sheep sheered & used a spinning wheel but I just would not have the patience to do all that Karla does. She deserves a koodos because what she does is a lot of work & passion I can’t wait to look at her shop always looking for natural yarns especially for kids. Thanks for sharing! have a safe move!

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  8. Great post! So nice to see another animal momma who would rather take time & know there will be less discomfort. 🙂

    My dad, and grandfather before him, raised sheep. I would like to have some again in the future, but not as many as dad had. 300 lambs in the spring was way too much work lol! I would like to learn to spin someday as well, but I’m scared it’ll turn into another addiction LOL!

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  9. Loved the story. Me, I’m 78 and not about to start another hobby. I can see my daughter doing it. She is talking about getting some heirloom sheep. The kind with the dreadlocks . And learning to spin.

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  10. In another time and place,I would love to have a farm and raise animals, grow my own food and live off the land as much as possible. I would love to have a llama and learn to shear and spin the wool into wonderful yarn. What a blessing to read about Karla’s story and meet Truffles!

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  11. Melody, I am so excited for you to dive into this craft. I already said yes to the llama a long time ago, but right now I’m not in a position to have one yet. I am also interested in getting angora rabbits. I am a beginner spinner so I think I would like to learn that first. Thank you for sharing this. This blog was very insightful to what I have to look forward to, although I will admit I might hire someone to shave my llama’s for me.

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  12. Sounds interesting -but I’ll take my yarn the easier way -from the store ! 🙂 glad you girls are willing and able to make it easy for knitters like me that love wonderful yarn. Please keep up the good work…

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  13. I was gifted some gorgeous alpaca sport weight by a friend who raises her own alpacas. It is so wonderfully soft!

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  14. I would love to have an Alpaca and be able to start from point A and finish at point Z with beautiful handmade clothing made exclusively by me. I use to pride myself on doing everything from the basics to a finished project til fibromyalgia took over my life. Maybe one day before I have to be put out to pasture they will find something without horrible side affects to give me my freedom back. I can at least still work with my yarns so not all is lost.

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  15. A friend of mine here in Ohio owns an alpaca farm called Alpaca Meadows. It is a wonderful place with classes and the cutest little shop where she spins her own yarn. I love taking classes at her place because while we work in her shop there is a big window where the alpaca’s come up and watch us, they are just sooooo cute.
    Thank you for sharing this blog, I loved seeing how Karla sheers her llama.

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  16. My friend has 50 llamas and alpacas,my favourite day of the year is shearing day. And someone just gave me a spinning wheel so am looking forward to lots of nice yarn.

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  17. Amazing!! I would love to own an Alpaca and do the work for the beautiful yarn but, I won’t ever be that lucky. Its very interesting to see where our yarn comes from. Thanks for sharing this with us!

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  18. Well at this point in my life I definitely wouldn’t be doing this. Im 75 years old and I just want the yarn to be already made.Having animals around is way too much work and expense but Im glad there are people doing it

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  19. I have wanted to raise some sheep for wool! Hopefully some day I will be able to homestead and have some sheep too!

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  20. I had 2 llamas and an alpaca. I regularly groomed them to keep sticks, plants pieces etc out of their coat. It made shearing much easier. The fiber was easy to spin. I found that the few guard hairs worked out during spinning and knitting. I can’t do it anymore. I miss it. There is something very satisfying going from barnyard to finished knitted piece.

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  21. That’s pretty cool. However, as I live in Santa Monica I don’t see myself doing this.

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  22. One of my goals is learning to make my own yarn…starting with the drop spindle technique. I’ve considered the concept of having my own fiber makers though I hadn’t decided between a llama, alpaca or certain sheep lol. My husband keeps saying no livestock…but only because our current home wouldn’t allow it anyway 😀

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  23. I am so glad that I read this article. My fiancé and I are looking at a home that has a large horse barn and pastures. This would be a great business for us to get into. We would like a couple horses but nothing to fill the 32 stalls. I have been raised on a farm and clipped animals for show, horses and beef cattle. Contour them and things for show.

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  24. I have been doing fiber from shearing animal to spinning wheel to yarn to articles of clothing for many many years I have both llamas and alpacas. Regarding llamas brushing does not get out the guard hair. You don’t destroy the character of the fiber by brushing. I do not process or use a carder to prepare the fiber I go from “lock” to wheel. Occasionally I may flick it. Absolutely the best feeling in the world

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  25. Ive had horses all my life and a number of them have been afraid of the clippers (ridden horses have to be clipped in the winter or they get too hot). I use clicker training just like they do on dogs to teach the horses that the noise is nothing to worry about. I bet that would work on alpacas also.
    I wouldn’t get an alpaca. The horses are more than enough work, but I love knitting with their fibre.

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  26. Karla is so gentle with Truffles and I’m sure that it comes through in her yarn. She goes to such great lengths to be sure that Truffles is as comfortable and at ease as she possibly can and I would imagine that Truffles appreciates that very much.

    I would love to raise a pack of Alpacas. We have more than enough land and it is legal where we live. The only problem that we have is that if we did this, it would completely tether us to our home and we would not be able to even visit my Mom or sister, our son and daughter and law and our grandkids, or any of the rest of our family spread around the country. We have nobody anywhere around us that would be able to take care of them if we left even for just a few days.

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  27. Heather Porter Hull

    I would love to have a llama! I would love one as a eat, and wool to learn to spin myself would just be lagniappe!!!

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  28. My Mom has alpacas,and she kept sending me yarn spun from them, so I blame her and my S-I-L for getting me into knitting (my S-I-L, R.I.P., was a wonderful knitter). The first thing I knit was a hat for my Dad from Alpaca fleece that was washed and combed into batts by my Mom, and spun by my little sister. I thought it was cool to give him something that passed through the hands of all the women in his family.

    If you do get alpacas you have to have at least two because they are herd animals. Incidentally my mom is trying to sell a couple, lovely fleeced female animals. She doesn’t really want to part with them, but she has too many animals to take care of (she has a couple llamas, too).

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  29. Raising fiber bearing animals is something for a healthy person. I am not healthy enough to take care of anything more complex than my furbaby (cat). I am also older now.
    If I were healthier and younger, I would be interested.

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  30. My husband and I talk about raising a few animals all the time. Right now it’s just a dream since we live in an apartment. I don’t know why I havent thought of sheep or llamas for their wool. I would totaly want one or two!

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  31. Ah, unfortunately, apartment life isn’t good for llama raising. But we have a few llama/alpaca farms out here and I’ve used their wool once for a shawl. SO SOFT!!!!! What I’d really like to try is bunny angora. I can have them!!! (Providing my cat doesn’t look at it like food)

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  32. I would love to have a llama but I live in the high desert in Arizona & fear the heat would make the poor thing miserable. In addition I have a very tiny yard.

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  33. Really interesting thanks. Truffles is very manageable to endure that.
    I find llama and alpaca a bugger to work with.
    I card to get the guard hairs out and the hairs get everywhere due to static.
    It’s not easy to spin for the same reason. My first attempt was disappointing as the yarn has very little elasticity. I found mixing with Shetland rooed fleece at a 70/30 split gave me the best results.
    I made hats for the owners of Iago hats as thanks for the fleece.
    Lovely, warm and soft.

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