Q&A with Wendy Foote, owner, Paca Nana’s Hats

Wendy Foote

How did you get your start in your business?
We were on a small farm and wanted to have some kind of animals on it. We did a bit of research and decided on alpacas – the main reason being that they were gentle enough for me to handle, and there were more uses for them other than for their meat. We spent several months visiting alpaca farms throughout Alberta and Saskatchewan. We purchased a bred female and a gelded male, and it grew from there.

You work with Alpaca wool. What is the difference between alpaca and sheep’s wool?
Alpaca wool is much softer than sheep’s wool. Alpaca wool does not have lanolin, which has an odor, and I am told that it attracts dirt. Alpaca wool is much softer because each fibre is like a tube which also helps with insulation. Because of its fiber tensile strength (naturally strong structure), alpaca stands up to daily wear better than sheep wool. As with sheep wool and alpaca wool, the better the quality, the stronger it is and the longer it lasts.

You own Vixen Creek Alpacas. How many alpacas do you have?
We started out with one bred female and, over the years, bought more and bred them. At one time, we had as many as 30 alpacas. We have sold most of the herd. At present, we have seven alpacas – six females and one male.

How much wool do they produce each year?
The amount of wool produced varies with each animal. The younger alpacas with a good dense fleece will produce up to five or more pounds in a year. As an alpaca gets older, its fibre gets coarser and less dense. The fleece from the saddle area and the hip and shoulder is all that is used. This is where there is the best length and crimp in the fleece.

Can you walk us through the process of what happens to the wool after shearing to your finished product?
After the animals are shorn, the fleeces are sorted into colors and fineness. It is then taken to a processing mill, where it is carded and spun into yarn. From there, it is made into socks and mittens. I get some of the yarn back, which I use to knit hats and scarves and mittens. I keep back some of the fleece and spin it myself.

Do you only use the natural colors, or do you dye some of your wool? If so, what type of dye do you use, and what is the process?
There are many natural colors of alpacas, so most of my products are natural colors. I have dyed some yarn using an acid base dye. Dyeing the yarn is a simple process. You need a large pot, which will hold several skeins at a time so that you have the same dye lot for making something that takes more than one skein. The dye is mixed in hot water, and the yarn is put in the pot and must be kept at an almost boiling temperature for 30 minutes. Then let it cool, rinse it well, and hang it to dry. The wool takes the color very well, and there are many vibrant colors out there, if you want. I have also used Kool-Aid to dye alpaca. It does not produce as vibrant color as dyes do. Also, you can use natural things, like flowers and leaves from different plants to dye with. I have not used these but have seen yarn dyed this way.

Can people with a wool allergy wear Alpaca wool?
Alpaca wool has been called hypoallergenic – the reason for this being the lack of lanolin and the wool being hollow tubes. If there are guard (coarse) hairs spun in the yarn, they will be itchy.

How does one care for a finished alpaca product?
The finished product should be hand-washed or washed in cold water on a gentle cycle. Too much agitation will felt the product. Alpaca products cannot be put in the dryer. The best way is to lay it flat where there is air movement around.

People say alpaca wicks water, what advantages does this have, especially with items like socks?
Alpaca wool wicks away moisture. This is very good, as your feet do not sweat, so they stay warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. I wear the mittens while doing chores. If the snow is wet and sticks to the mitts, my hands stay dry and warm.

Do you offer custom products?
I have a variety of alpaca products for sale at all times. The socks are very popular. They are good for summer as well as winter, because they keep your feet cool. I have different thickness of socks – from heavy to a light weight dress sock. One of my favorite products is the duvet. It is lighter than a down duvet but is hypoallergenic and is warmer than down.

What is your own favorite alpaca item to wear and why?
I love the socks. I wear them year-round. Also, the insoles are an awesome product. Besides providing cushion in your boot, they keep your foot warm and dry.

Contact:

Location: 3.5km west of Spirit River on Highway 49
Phone: (780) 864-3812
E-mail: wendyfoote48@gmail.com