Alpaca comes in a wonderful range of natural colours, and also takes dye beautifully (the colours are often a bit more muted that when using the same dyestuffs on sheep wool, but we really like that). So there are endless opportunities for combining and creating colours.
We can blend natural colours to broaden the colour palette from your own herd or to produce a specific shade for a special project. You need surprisingly little of a darker shade to dramatically change the colour of a light coloured fleece – just 10% black with white will give a nice silver grey, and once you get to 50%, it will be quite a dark charcoal. A touch of brown with light fawn will give a lovely biscuity shade. Our favourite is ‘fake’ rose grey – about 20% dark brown and no more than 5% black with white, giving a lovely subtle pinky grey.
Combining fleeces can also save a little on the processing cost if you can make up a batch of 5kg or more. The only rule is that the fleeces should be of a similar fineness and staple length – otherwise, if the fibre separator does its job properly, it will literally separate out the coarser or shorter of the fleeces!
We can get different colour effects depending on when in the process we blend the fleeces. Right at the start, and the colour will be smoothly blended. At the carder, the colour will be pretty even, but with a slight heathery effect. At the drafting stage (just before spinning) will give a tweedy effect, where it’s possible to still see distinct flecks of the different colours. Or if we spin the colours separately and then ply two or three different colours together, we get a barberpole yarn.
So there are loads of options before we even go near a dyepot, and there a whole rainbow awaits! Although we love using natural plant dyes, this involves such a lot of processes (and therefore costs) that it’s only really suitable for finished yarn, which we use for special weaving projects. For fibre, we use acid dyes (the ‘acid’ there just refers to the vinegar that we use to fix the dye), cooked up 500g at a time in large stock pots on the kitchen stove.
Pretty much any colour is possible with acid dyes, and of course all of the colour effects discussed above can also be made using dyed fleece, or a mixture of dyed and natural colours (blending the dyed fleece back with naturals is our favourite way to make a range of subtle and interesting colours). So from just 1kg or so of dyed fleece, you could end up with 5 or even 10kg of coloured yarn, in a range of shades or effects.
For inspiration, please see our Alpaca Tweed range in the Mill Shop or give us a call to discuss your ideas.