Felting with Alpaca fibre

                


In 2004, my husband David and I closed our small ceramics workshop and
gallery in Derbyshire known as CRICH POTTERY and made the decision to fulfil our Spanish dream; but how to work?

    I knew from the isolation of the property we had found that I would need to be very self-sufficient in whichever media I chose ,so initially I bought several books covering subjects such as wool ,weaving ,dying ,felt making and simply began to draw again.
              Weaving looked interesting as I had once been lent the four- shaft school loom for the summer holidays at the age of 11 had made some impressive twill tablemats (unfortunately in pink ) which I still possess !

 So we drove down to Morocco to try and locate one of those huge vertical rug looms which I had seen on earlier travels in Morocco and India but found the craftsmen there all made their own! We returned to Spain, with the car loaded with fleece and yarn ( sheep ) , I bought a second- hand four- shaft table loom and got started. However I soon realised that weaving was quickly failing to fulfil.
Meanwhile we had bought three gorgeous white alpacas and for no good reason had decided to start breeding them here on our Spanish hillside!! As everyone knows Alpaca fleece is just exquisite so with a newly acquired spinning wheel, I started to spin...But spinning floored me and with no one to teach me its subtleties I soon looked towards other ways of working with this amazing fibre that now had me hooked. First experiments were with wet felted flat pieces, which I created as landscape images, teaching myself the techniques from books and after attending a one day course in Wetherby , Yorkshire , discovered felting in 3-D. I also started making half felts to integrate into the images to obtain more detail and appliquéd pre -felts to fulfil the ideas that flooded into my head.

This work has now become my language of communication for the wall-hangings that I currently make and exhibit.

THE MAGIC OF ALPACA FIBRE

It possesses a living, moving quality with a mind of
its own, an understanding of which is needed to channel its movement in order to achieve the desired results. When I use colour I paint the fibre and dye it in the microwave, where it undergoes a magical change - like alchemy!

In 2010 I attended an Alpaca Futurity in Stonleigh ,
and tagged a one day Alpaca Felting Workshop in Wetherby , onto the end of my trip. We were told that sheep and alpaca fibre did not combine at all owing to the lanolin in the sheep fleece that does not exist in alpaca, but I have never checked this out and therefore use only alpaca. There are two distinct types of alpaca: the Huacaya , with a thick crimpy fleece and the Suri , with a long dangling fleece , looking rather like dreadlocks. I use Huacaya.


Both types of animal were imported to the USA,Australia and New Zealand in the 1980's and subsequently Europe, from Peru, Chile and Bolivia. Initially it was the white genetic line that was ' bred up' , resulting in the finest softest material ( the lower the microns the better ).
Being non -allergenic, the fibre from the youngest animals was highly sought after for spinning baby clothes and haut couture, as it doesn't cause irritation.



Huacaya

Of late, the colours (there are 22 recognised alpaca colours) from light brown to black have increased in popularity, but the fibre quality is in an earlier stage of being
'bred up', black therefore being the coarsest. I buy all my black fibre from
Tim Hey of Inca Alpacas in Somerset. He is now improving the black Huacaya
line.

 I combine this black fibre with that from our own white animals which is much silkier,when cleaned, washed and carded. The shrinkage between the two can be quite
bizarre, causing the white (or colour if I've dyed it) to 'pucker up'. To obtain an acceptable finish, I need to make sure that the different fibres are really well combined in the wet felting stage before I start to roll.


I do combine carded and uncarded (sometimes curly bits ) alpaca fibres in the same piece and also alpaca yarn that I have pre spun. Luckily I like the rough uneven slubs that occur as I'm not very good at the spinning. Bits of yarn and uncarded curls embedded in the wet felt make exciting combinations.

When I begin a new piece, there is no finite image in my head (and no limit imposed): just an idea that comes to fruition by allowing me to draw out of the fibre it's living,
breathing quality. I see myself now as a textile artist, an image maker, whose
inspiration is drawn from the idea rather than the reality of landscape.


Diana Worthy gained an MA in Ceramics from the Royal College of Art and started Crich Pottery in 1973. The pottery went on to supply many shops and craft galleries across the UK , including Liberty's, Heals and the British Craft Centre .Crich pottery was also exported to many countries between 1976 -2004,most notably - Norway , Germany , Italy, USA, Japan and the UAE.

Diana Worthy DipAD MDes RCA