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.
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!?
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!
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.
The first side is mostly sheared. Look at that big basket of wool!
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.
Karla then gets back to work shearing Truffles’ second side, starting at her spine and slowly working down.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!