Raw fiber to sweater

After a conversation with someone about making a Ruana, (it’s kind of like a free-form sweater) from handspun alpaca I was inspired to attempt a calculation of how long would it really take me to make such an item?

In thinking about the project initially I had looked at this pattern: Knit Ruana by Annie Dempsy. It calls for ~1000 yards of Super Bulky Yarn. I was excited about the Super Bulky because it means the actual spinning of the yarn and the knitting will go much faster. However further thinking reveals that I neglected to factor in that this will be offset in part by the volume of fiber that I will need to process. Crafting it seems has its own system of checks and balances.

For the purposes of my calculations I also relied heavily on past/current experience making “Foot-Oven” socks. I’ve knit the pattern multiple times in the past. And I’m currently working on spinning hand processed alpaca into Super Bulky Yarn to make two more pairs (possibly three if I keep going and make a pair for myself).

I just finished two skeins of yarn for the socks. Together they weigh approximately 8 ounces and are 174 yards of yarn. If I need 1000 yards of yarn for the Ruana that means I’ll need approximately 46 ounces or 2.8 pounds of yarn. When working with raw fiber you lose a good bit of weight from the dirt that washes out and from things like shorter bits of fiber that aren’t desirable. So I figure I’ll want to wash about 5 pounds of fiber.

Washing alpaca fiber isn’t a necessary step (especially because it has no lanolin) but I enjoy working with the fiber much more after it is washed. Alpacas are incredibly dusty. So much so that despite the washing when I get to the spinning step I generally have dirty lines on my hands from the fiber passing over a specific place on my hand. Washing takes up quite a bit of time although a lot of it is spent waiting. These days tend to wash batches of ~ ½ a pound or 8 ounces. It involves letting the fiber sit and soak in one or two baths of soapy water then 3 rinses. And it takes me 1.5-2 hours. I’ll usually only wash 1 batch on a given evening. On the weekends I can get 2 possibly even 3 batches done. Except at that point drying space becomes an issue. The fiber then takes 1-2 days to dry. So if I work rather intently I can get everything washed in about 2 weeks. However I don’t think I’ll include this in my calculations just because its more of “passive” time than active.

After I have clean fiber I can start combing it into top. The combs are my newest fiber toy and I’ve only made myself bleed a few times. They work absolutely amazingly well with alpaca so I’m able to process it from the raw locks into the top ready to spin much more quickly. Based on recent history I’d anticipate combing 1.5 ounces in about an hour. So in total that’s about 31 hours of combing.

Up next is the spinning. The fact that I’m going for super bulky yarn finally speeds things up! For the socks I was able to spin 4 ounces of prepared fiber into approximately 87 yards of yarn in around 3 hours. For the full project I’d be looking at 34 hours of spinning.

And lastly would be the knitting. I haven’t actually knit up the socks yet this year so I’m stretching back in my memory and doing some pretty serious guesstimating to say that I think I can probably knit up about 200 yards of yarn in around 6 hours. Using that very rough estimate I would be around 30 hours of knitting time for the full project.

All together I’m looking at around 95 hours or approximately 4 days of solid work to go from raw sweater to finished project. And realistically most of my time estimates are probably best-case-scenario and in the real world things will take longer. But I am not at all intimidated. I look at it as a super amazing project that I can accomplish over the course of a few months and I’m looking forward to tackling it in 2016.

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