MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR LLAMA WOOL
spring has finally sprung! As
you look out over your llama herd, grazing peacefully in the sun, you
may be thinking it is about time to do a little shearing or brushing.
But what to do with the wool?
It could be spun into yarn for knitting or weaving, made into
felt, or sent off to a mill to be custom-processed into rovings for
locker-hooking or other craft projects.
Fiber artists love clean, soft llama wool, as a general rule.
Here are a few guidelines to help you make the best of your
How can I tell which llamas have the nicest wool for spinning?
Nearly all llamas have wool which is useful for spinning.
The color and soft texture is what gives it so much appeal.
There are a few individuals with exceptionally short coats (under
2"), or excessive, coarse guard hair and very little
"down" fiber, but these are unusual.
Environmental conditions can also have a negative impact, causing
felting, matting, or contamination of the wool due to burrs and weed
seeds. If you part the wool
in several places on your llama and look down into it, noticing that it
is fairly clean, adequately long, and soft to touch, it is definitely
worth saving for craft uses.
What part of the llama does the best fiber come from?
The "saddle area" yields the best fiber, also the upper
part of the shoulder and hind leg.
There is a strip right down the middle of the backbone which is
usually damaged by sun and rain, and any wool from the lower parts of
the body is often too matted and full of vegetable matter to be useful.
Some "wooly type" llamas have a long enough fiber on
their neck to be used for spinning, but this can often have quite a
different texture and look from the fiber located elsewhere on the body.
How should the wool be harvested to its best advantage?
Shearing is the fastest and easiest method, though brushing can
also be effective, especially if the animal is molting.
Whichever technique you use, there are a few things you can do to
ensure the best quality fiber is saved.
Before you begin brushing or clipping in earnest, take a little
time to remove any straw or vegetable matter from the outside of the
coat. A blower is useful if the animal has rolled recently - this
can remove a good deal of loose stuff.
Also, a metal curry comb or coarse, stiff wire brush will knock
out a lot of this undesirable material and open up locks of wool which
may have matted slightly at the tips.
Always have 2 containers to put wool in.
Sorting is easiest to do as you collect the fiber.
Use one for the "good stuff" and the other for
"bad stuff." Discard
all second cuts (those short pieces resulting from shearing over the
same area twice), matts, fiber which looks to have 25% or more
contamination with vegetable matter, stained areas, and guard hair; if
it is easily removable. Keep
all clean, beautiful fiber longer than 2".
When Shearing, I like to work from the back to the front of the
llama, clipping a wide area and rolling it back as I work so that it can
be removed in one large piece. I
can then hold this piece and give it a good shaking - which causes lots
of fine chaff to fall out - and quickly pull out the coarser guard hair
before putting it in my container.
Some llamas have such soft, fine guard hair it doesn't need to be
removed but when possible it is best to take it out.
Otherwise your sweater made from this wool may be suitable only
for aspiring saints! Guard
hair will not cause problems if the fiber is to be used for felt making
or locker hooking, or weaving which will not be worn around your neck,
etc. It does have a
tendency to work its way out of handspun yarn in a garment and can be
Brushing is not a terribly productive method of collecting Llama
wool, unless the animal happens to be molting.
If you notice this occurring, first remove as much vegetable
matter as you can with your hands or a blower.
Next, part the wool and fold back, concentrating on a small
section. I like to use a metal coarse-toothed dog comb for this, but a
wire brush will also work. Brush
out the loosened wool, drop it in the bag and go to the next section.
Always check the handful you just removed to make sure it is of
"handspinning quality." One advantage to this method is that guard hair pretty much
stays with the llama and you are mainly collecting the soft undercoat.
If you are brushing out your llamas for routine grooming
purposes, it is worthwhile
to check the fiber you pull out of your brush to see if it is worth
saving. Over time,
especially if you have a lot of llamas, you can collect quite a bit of
fiber this way.
Any special instructions for "wooly types," those
llama's whose wool is, say, 7-14" long?
Before I answer, let me first explain that I am primarily a
shepherd, concerned more with harvesting beautiful fiber from my animals
than in them winning any beauty contests!
If I were lucky enough to own such a llama, I would shear it on a
regular basis. I have noticed, during my travels as a llama-wool judge, as
well as assisting my neighbors with brushing and shearing, that the
wooly types tend to have a finer grade of wool and less guard hair than
their draft-type counterparts. I
have also noticed that the owners may be reluctant to clip those
beautiful long, flowing coats. This
can create health or infertility problems due to the animal being too
hot, as well as being a real trap for collecting weed seeds and debris.
Furthermore, when less guard hair is present the coat may not
shed rain very well, causing the fine undercoat to "felt" or
clot at the tips, which makes it undesirable for handspinning.
Also, since an animal's coat will only grow out to a certain
length and then stop, the fiber will tend to dry out, fade, and weather
over time. I think that
shearing, say, every two years, would make for a healthier, happier
llama with a beautiful, continuously growing coat as well as providing
the owner with material for gorgeous sweaters and wall hangings.
If you are still not convinced, these engaging creatures should
probably be brushed much more often than packer-types and provided with
plenty of shelter from sun and rain.
It also helps to spray the weeds in your pasture to reduce burrs
and seeds, and severely limit access to straw bedding.
If you have a llama whose wool is already damaged and want to
shear it and start over, the wool may be partially salvaged by clipping
off the last 2" or so, leaving the prime fiber beneath for
What is the best way to store my fiber prior to shipping to a
mill or selling to a handspinner?
Plastic garbage bags are not a good way to store wool, as they
cannot "breathe" and will provide a nice environment for mold
and mildew to grow. Plastic
bags tied tightly at the top will often yield a foul smelling mess when
reopened at a later date. White
poly feed bags will tend to get plastic chaff in the wool which is
difficult to remove. I
prefer to use paper grocery bags, folded over and stapled at the top.
Be sure to throw in a packet of herbal moth repellent or a few
moth balls wrapped in a paper towel if the fiber is to be stored for any
length of time. Unwashed
llama wool is especially attractive to these little beasts.
I hope this information will be useful to your as the season
progresses and you begin grooming your llamas.
There are many handspinners and fiber artists out there who would
be absolutely delighted to have your unique fiber to work with, or
perhaps, you'd like to try your hand at a few projects yourself.
The wonderful things that can be made from llama wool which has
been carefully harvested makes it well worth the extra effort. Good luck!