Spinning With: Merino, Alpaca, and Angora Wools

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Hello everyone, today I am sharing with you my experiences with hand-spinning different fibres materials. I am relatively new at spinning yarn, however in the short amount of time that I have been spinning (since the end of April) I feel that I have spun a reasonable amount of yarn and have gotten a feel for how it is done and I have started experimenting with different types of wool and taking note of the differences. Also it helps that the store where you can buy the most varieties of wool in my city is closing and everything is 30% off. Needless to say I went a bit crazy and have been experimenting ever since, I digress. Today I am focusing on what it is like to spin three different types of wool: Merino, Alpaca, and Angora.

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So far in my spinning endeavours I only use a drop spindle and I learned how to spin on a low whorl spindle by Lacis. And I am also self-taught. I did watch several videos on using a drop spindle before purchasing one but they were all high whole spindles which work in a slightly different way. So I had to read the instructions that came with the spindle and adapt to that.

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Now I’ll set some standard categories that I am judging the wools off of. One will be ease of use, how easy is the wool to draft and spin (this will mostly be based off of the length of the wool strand)? Could I draft a long length of yarn before winding it onto the spindle? Did the wool spin together nicely and stick or did I drop the spindle a lot? Two will be softness of the final yarn. Three will be price, is it worth your dollar? Or my dollar in this case… (Note: I will most likely do a post of the ability to dye these yarns in the future and how they behave then but so far I have not dove too deep into the dyeing ocean).

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Now let’s get into the wool! First on the list is the Merino wool since it was what I learned to spin with. I chose this wool to begin with because it was a reasonable price as a beginner spinner and I believe it is what most spinners start out with. Which I assume is because the hair strands have a good long length (2-5 inches) that makes spinning easier and therefore is easier for a beginner to use. And this is true, I found the wool fairly easy to spin once I got the hang of drafting (don’t worry if your first ball of yarn looks rough so did mine when it was lined up with all the balls I spun after it). I did drop the spindle a few times but that was mainly only when I drafted too thin (almost a single strand thin), or when I drafted too thick. Overall the wool did stick to itself easily and hold the twist. I say this because of the moments when I would drop the spindle and I could just pick up the spindle give it a small twist an then start drafting again; it wasn’t like I had to re-twist all of the yarn I had done up to that point. And lastly on the ease of use matter I was always able to twist a nice long length of yarn before twisting it onto the spindle (about 1.5 meters) and that was mainly to do with my height because otherwise the spindle would hit the floor and loose its spin. If I were a giant I would have been able to do a longer length of yarn.

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As for the softness of merino yarn it is soft. But I would say that it has that itch that a lot of wools have. It isn’t airy soft wool. It is more that hard, sturdy wool with a softness. I can’t imagine anything that I would want to make out of the wool except maybe socks or a weaving that was more decorative than useful or wearable. But I am overly sensitive to anything with an itch… If the wool if fine enough I would wear it but if it was spun thicker I wouldn’t wear it.

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And finally the price of the merino wool, I won’t bother going into how much I paid exactly and those details because I am sure they vary depending on where you buy your wool (and this is not a brand review it is a fibre review), how much you buy, etc. I’ll just say that I got a half pound (that fills a bag that is about the size of bag you put your produce in at the grocery store) for around twenty dollars. Which I will say is fair that isn’t an outrageous number and pretty fair for a starting out wool where you don’t want to break the bank just to learn a skill. It is also one of the cheaper wools that I have experimented with so far. So my conclusion on that is that the price is fair and you shouldn’t expect any more from it nor should you expect any less from it. Merino wool is a nice sturdy wool to learn to spin with but it is not luxurious (at least in my experience it is not). It is practical.

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Next up on the review list is alpaca wool. When I bought this I did it because I had heard that alpaca was the new desirable wool that people wanted to use. I suppose you can say it is on trend. And I will say that I believe it has good reason to be as I find that the price is good for the quality of yarn you yield and for the difficulty it takes to spin. When I first started spinning the alpaca wool I noticed a few things. One that the wool was much softer than the merino wool, two that the length of the fibre was a bit shorter (about 2- 4 inches) but not too much shorter to make much of a difference, three that it had more of a crimp to its roving, and  four that the hairs were more silky and tended to stick together less than the merino wool I had used before (which has its benefits and its drawbacks). That last one was what I found took the most getting used to.

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It wasn’t that spinning the alpaca was hard it just took some different maneuvers that the merino didn’t need but I figured them out in about two minutes, and they were mostly drafting a little shorter since the hair itself is shorter. In a documentary that I watched about spinning wool in South America (Sorry I don’t remember the title) a woman said that they would suggest a beginner spinner  to start with any type of sheep wool and then move into the alpaca wool. And I agree with this statement if I had learned to spin with alpaca I would have had a much more difficult and frustrating time than I did with the merino wool. So for the alpaca I’ll say that the fibres definitely don’t felt themselves together while spinning in the same way that sheep wool does. If necessary you can pull apart the fibres and restore that silky hair again. But when you are spinning you can just draft and spin and wind as normal with ease; and spin all the way to the floor before winding on the yarn once you get used to the handling and drafting of the fibres.

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The softness of the alpaca is incredible. The wool is very voluminous and airy but at the same time retaining a certain density that makes it a sturdy wool. The wool is also incredibly soft. No itch to it at all. I would recommend it for anything that you would want to wear because any itch factor is a deal breaker for me in a garment. Yet at the same time the wool is very durable so you don’t have to make anything that is too delicate.

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As for price alpaca is surprisingly cheaper than merino wool ( at least where I buy my wool it is) but only a few dollars less for the same weight. And in my opinion I would much rather stock up on alpaca than merino as it is more luxurious. But I suppose the final test would be the amount of yarn you can yield from the same weight which I am still unsure about as I just spin as much yarn as I can until I feel like the spindle is full enough and that I should wind off and so far I will say that I have been able to get roughly the same amount and the difference is negligible for me. And if it does wind up that I get more merino wool from the same weight of wool I don’t care about that since the alpaca is a nicer wool and more luxurious and I am happy to pay the difference.

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And the last wool on this list is angora wool which also just so happens to be the most troublesome wool of the bunch. I’ll start off by saying that this wool is not for beginners. It is delicate, expensive, and hard to spin. The fibres of the roving are significantly shorter than the fibres of either previous wools I discussed in this post, the angora fibre length is roughly 1-2 inches. This makes it that the drafting is harder and that you struggle to spin a long length of yarn before winding it onto the spindle. I found that at best I could spin only 40 centimetres before I would have to wind on and even then i would have to be careful not to wind to tightly for fear of pulling out out my spinning.

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The angora also had a habit of pulling out its spinning and not keeping its twist in when the yarn broke (which it did several times) which can be rather frustrating. Also because of the short length of the fibres I wound up with an incredibly thin yarn which could either be good or bad depending on how you see it. Overall I would say that this yarn takes a lot of patience to spin but I did get better at spinning near the end by doing things like fluffing up the roving before spinning it (it seemed to held the fibres stick to itself). However when I was winding off my yarn to set it the yarn that I had first spun on the length did tend to keep breaking off which is a bit of a frustrating issue.

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As for the softness of the yarn it is definitely soft. However it isn’t miles ahead of the alpaca yarn in that department. While it is soft I am hesitant to say that the soft luxury of this wool is worth the frustration. I am still not sure what I could make with this yarn  as my wool is definitely too delicate to weave (the yarn would just keep breaking on the loom) and  you would need very thin knitting needles to make something that wasn’t too lacy and delicate however I wouldn’t say that is too much of an issue. But despite that I think  I would only knit something that required very little to no handling so say knitting something that is either just for decoration or something like a collar that doesn’t get handled too much once you put it on.

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And finally the price of the angora. The price of the angora is definitely up there considering the weight that you get, I payed around fifteen dollars for two ounces. That is a pretty small amount of yarn but keep in mind this is definitely a luxury wool and that is why the price is so steep. If I got really good at spinning this yarn I would consider spinning more however I am really not too sure what I would use it for. All in all if you have the money, want the luxury, and have the patience choose the angora but if you want simple and basic spinning choose something easier like the alpaca.

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That brings us to the end of my two cents about spinning merino, alpaca and angora wool and I am excited to do more posts on different wools as I have quite the collection now as I wanted to experiment. I hope this was useful to you spinners and wool lovers. Until next time!

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Adieu.

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