There are many ways of processing alpaca fibre.
The oldest and most traditional method of turning alpaca fibre into yarn is hand spinning. Alpaca is a very attractive fibre to the hand spinner as unlike sheep’s wool it is a dry fibre, containing minuscule amounts of lanolin and so can be spun straight from the fleece without the need to scour. Many BAS members sell individual fleeces in all colours to hand spinners. Some will sell carded (or combed) fleece and some washed and carded fleece in small quantities down to as little as 50-500g. The average unsorted alpaca fleece is around 2.5kg and will give a hand spinner enough fine fibre to keep them busy for a very long time (visit the Suppliers directory for members who sell fibre).
To get individual fleeces or small quantities processed into fine yarns, many BAS members use mini mills. These are small self-contained mills which process all quantities but are willing to take individual fleeces and process them into specific yarns. This allows breeders to process their fibre (even in small amounts) should they so wish. It also allows them to sell yarns which are specific to a particular alpaca in their paddock. For information on mini mills, please visit the Suppliers directory.
The medium sized mills, of which there are several in the UK, ask for a minimum of 20kg of fibre per batch (25kg is roughly a builder’s bag full of fleece). These mills are best suited to the larger breeder or processor, able to accumulate large quantities of alpaca fibre in one colour and a consisent quality. BAS members will sometimes accumulate fleece over a number of years before approaching the mid scale mill, but more often they will work with other breeders and their regional group to facilitate this level of processing. (Visit the Suppliers directory for more details.)
Large scale mills, such as those in Arequipa in Peru and of which there are a number in the UK, process vast quantities of high quality wool, including cashmere and angora. They deal with a minimum of 500kg of fleece, quantities that would not keep a mill of this scale going for more than a few days. 500kg of fleece in one colour, of a consistent quality, is a lot of fleece and subsequently creates many 50g or 100g balls of yarn.