We have both been spinning for around ten years and have spun large quantities of alpaca yarn, spending time doing it each evening while watching TV.
For some years we struggled to find a faster way to spin, hoping to get through more of the fleece we produce. During that time we tried various things. Many people use a carder. We have a good one but it does not make the whole procedure of making yarn quicker. You have to take the fleece apart, try to get out VM (vegetable matter), feed it into the carder, and then card it. When you spin the carded fibre it still has little tangles in it and is not a lot easier to spin. The advantage of preparing your fibre in advance is that you have less preparation when you sit down to spin and can do the actual spinning faster. The total time spent using fibre you card yourself is longer.
One way to spin is by brushing a few staples with a dog brush (the kind with fine metal teeth). If you are spinning a cria fleece you may need to cut off the tips – these are degraded and will break off if you tug at them. Hold the skin end of the staples, clip tips if necessary, and brush out the tips, making a fan. Then spin the fan. You can prepare a pile of these in advance. If you do that you can put them in a plastic box and spray them with water (you can add a little oil to this if you wish) a few hours in advance. After settling for a few hours there is less static electricity in them.
It is a little quicker still to use English combs. We use the “Small wool combs 3 row fine headset” bought from Petlyn Park. With the combs it is possible to spin a mixed-up fleece such as one that has been shown. Although you can use a diz and and clamps and prepare your fleece in advance for spinning, this takes longer altogether than preparing it at the same time you are spinning.
If spinning out of combs or by brushing groups of staples, leave your fleece as it came off the animal. It works nicely to slide the saddle into the bag, rather than doing any folding. Then slide the fleece out onto a surface, reconstitute the animal, and place it on a sheet (100% cotton). Roll up the fleece in the sheet, tie it, and label it. We then store ours on top of bookcases in the house. A shed is not likely to work for long term storage of fleece. If the fleece has been stored, when you are ready to spin put it out in sun and light for a few hours. There is wax in alpaca that hardens over time but will melt and brighten up in the sun and air.
To spin out of combs, pick out a clump of staples, cut off tips if necessary, and lash on to the combs, catching only the very ends of the tips in the combs. Spray with a light mist of water if needed.
When you have about a third of the comb full then make a number of passes through it with the other comb, sideways, starting at the tips and moving toward the comb. Most of the fleece will transfer to the second comb. Then reverse your combs and repeat the process until about half the fleece is on each comb.
Then put the comb in your lap and pinch a bit of fibre, attach it to your yarn and spin. Gradually draw the fibre off the comb. Try at no time to let the fibre bunch at the base of the comb. If it does that it will not draw out readily and it will be harder work for your hands. Use the shaggy bits left in the combs as mulch.
If your fleece is a jumbled mess, just take a handful and lash it on to a comb. Don’t worry about which end is which or where you catch the fleece along the staple, just work from the edges so that you catch a little fibre at a time. This works well.
An advantage to using your own fleece and not carding is that you can manage colour variation. There are usually lighter and darker areas of a coloured fleece and these if plied together may make a “pepper and salt” effect. This is attractive in weaving but less so in a knitted garment because the work is horizontal. If you card you can blend the shades together to get a uniform colour. If you spin out of combs you can separate the colours. If variation is extreme you may wish to use it in some way.
Once you have your yarn, then you need to wash it. Any unscented detergent for clothes will work. If you can find one without "optical brighteners" it should be better for your coloured yarn. Put hot water and your soap in the bathtub and add your yarn, gently pressing it down into the water. It does not need to sit there more than 20 minutes. Don’t leave it until the water gets cold because the small amount of dirty grease and wax may reattach to the yarn. Rinse twice or more in warm water and hang over a rod to dry. Try not to handle it too much. It isn’t likely to shrink or to felt seriously, but it does felt enough to lose lustre.
It is wise to avoid any scent in anything with which you wash or store fleece because it smells stronger on the yarn than you would imagine.
You do not need to wash and block what you make, only iron with pressing cloth and steam iron.
Avoid uses for articles and garments that involve a lot of contact with synthetics or a lot of wear. The synthetics cause the yarn to fuzz out, and a lot of wear is not compatible with most handspun alpaca. A work jumper is fine, but expect fuzzing and pilling.
Think a bit about whether the end use is appropriate to the fibre. If you are spinning extremely fine fibre it may feel lovely in your hands, but it may not make as good a jumper as a medium micron fibre.
Should you need to wash the finished product, use warm water and a completely unscented shampoo or a little of the detergent you used to wash the yarn.
Some plastics can make yarn go a bit strange and take on their scent. Cloth bags (old cotton pillow cases) may work better for yarn storage.
Last, don’t ignore white alpaca. There are all these lovely natural darker colours, but there are also beautiful, fine, lustrous white fleeces that spin up into baby shawls well. If you are buying white you want it as clean as possible, without any dark fibres, and with high lustre.
If you are spinning white and want the final product to be really white, you might consider washing staples by hand before spinning. Hold a few staples by the tips and draw them through some soapy water. Then draw them through clear water to rinse. I use unscented shampoo for this.