Suri is a smooth protein fiber, especially known for its luster, strength, and length. The lustrous nature of Suri is attributable to the structure of the individual fibers which possess longer scales whose edges adhere close to the core of the fiber. This makes the individual fiber smoother allowing light to reflect, giving it luster and providing a slick, cool hand to yarns and products made with Suri fiber.A Suri fleece consists of long locks with lustrous fibers that gently twist around one another. These locks can grow 6 inches or more each year. Suris are shorn once a year in the spring, although some Suris aren’t shorn until they are in their second year- yielding fleeces that can have locks as long as16 inches or longer!
PREPARING SURI FOR SPINNING
Suri alpacas do not produce lanolin. There are natural oils on the fiber, but in a much smaller quantity which eliminates the need for scouring and harsh detergents. Suris do enjoy a nice dust bath, so washing is necessary at some point either before or after spinning. Some prefer to spin washed fiber, others prefer spinning the fleece raw.
The slick hand of Suri creates a different spinning experience from other natural fibers. All fleeces require that the spinner remove vegetable matter and other debris. It is easier on the spinner if the fleece has been skirted and hand picked to remove unwanted coarse fiber and other unwanted material. It is easier to accomplish this prior to washing.
The advantages of spinning raw fleece is that it is easier to identify and remove individual locks to flick or card than to do so after washing. The presence of dust can help the individual fibers stick together during spinning, however, it can make for a dustier experience as well.
Washing any fleece should be done with care to prevent felting, but with Suri minimizing agitation keeps the longer fibers from getting tangled. Some prefer to soak and rinse fleeces several times. Others may remove locks carefully and wash them individually. Whatever your method, use a gentle soap to preserve the special characteristics of the fiber.
It is easiest to pull individual locks if you lay the fleece out completely. In recent years, many Suri owners have been “noodling” their fleeces to maintain the way they came off the alpaca. This allows for easier skirting, sorting, and processing, especially if you want to remove locks individually.
To prepare the locks for flicking or carding, it may be helpful to gently tease the individual locks apart one by one. This allows the fibers to separate more easily whatever method you choose for preparing to spin.
Flicking the Suri locks allows the spinner to maintain the alignment of the fibers in the lock and allows the spinner to spin worsted. Holding onto one end of the lock firmly, you flick one end of the lock and then the other so that when finished, the lock has been opened and aligned. Any fibers that are left in the flicker can be used to spin woolen, or blended on the carder with other fiber for woolen yarn.
Carding Suri usually requires picking it first. The picker opens the locks and helps to separate them. The drum carder produces bats of fiber that is less aligned than with flicking and is better suited to woolen spinning. Using the drum carder is limited to fleeces that are under 4 or 5 inches in length. Longer fibers tend to get wrapped around the carder and tear.Another carding method that Master Spinner Donna Rudd uses, “I use a drum carder for Suri that is 4 inches or shorter in the normal fashion by feeding it sideways into the drum carder. Longer locks I feed slowly holding them over the back of the large drum and allowing the teeth to take a few fibers from the lock in my hand at a time. This allows the long lock to be slowly drawn onto the drum carder without being tangled, I do the same when the fiber has been removed from the large drum and I run it onto the large drum a second time...holding the carded batt over the back of the large drum so that only a few fibers are taken at a time”.
If you live in a climate with low humidity or you frequently spin during the winter, you may need to use a fine spray of water to keep static electricity away when you are flicking, carding or spinning. Suri spins best when it is humid, but not when it is wet.
Master Spinner Donna Rudd describes her technique, “When I draft a Suri lock, I pull a few fibers from the tip end slowly from the fiber supply about half the length of the lock before grasping another small amount of fiber from the lock to draft along with the first supply. As this length increases it gathers within my hand and forms a folded roving which is held safe and warm until all fibers are drafted and held within my hand in a long pencil type sliver. I then flip the fiber supply over to get the first tip end and start spinning from that end. The reason I draft from the tip end first with Suri only is because that part of the Suri will often be finer by a few microns than the cut end and it just enters the twist easier than a thicker cut butt end. Because the cuticle scales on Suri are very shallow and infrequent this does not seem to affect the draft at all (the opposite would be true with spinning wool...I would spin from the cut butt end to the tip of a staple)”.
Drafting and spinning worsted or semi-worsted brings out the best traits of Suri. If the fibers are well aligned in the yarn, they can more easily show off their luster and cool hand. The longer fibers allow for spinning fine yarn, but its silky nature may require slightly more twist.
Donna Rudd says, “I have found to spin Suri using the woolen method, that the fibers need to be not more than 4-5 inches long and prepared into larger loose rolags and spun using a supported long draw method. I love textured yarns and Suri spins into a good strong yarn with texture this way and more so if it is blended with fibers of different lengths”.
Because of its longer scales and lower scale height, Suri fiber can feel softer and silkier than other fibers that are the same diameter. This allows the spinner to create strong, yet soft and exquisite yarn. Just as with other animal fleeces there is variety between Suri fleeces, some may have more luster, some may be a higher grade, so examine a fleece closely before purchase to be certain it meets your needs. All Suri has a use.
She goes on to say, “I love spinning Suri for Boucles! Suri makes big loops, small loops, wraps, spirals, tips and whips! Suri makes all types of boucles. Higher coarser grades of Suri make wonderful loopy boucle yarns with lots of volume, texture and its dyes like mohair into brilliant colours. Another way I use Suri is in Novelty or Art yarn. Suri blended with a variety of fibers, colours, lengths and mixtures will give you an ‘Art Batt’ to dye for and it is fun to spin until it is all gone.”
Suri blends well with other fibers. To guarantee that the added fiber does not compromise the final product, it is worth your while to source fiber as fine or finer than the Suri you are spinning. Fibers such as lyocell, bamboo and silk complement the luster in Suri without compromising the hand. Hackles work quite well to help blend Suri with other fibers.
Keep in mind that Suri is a straight fiber lacking crimp. Yarn made from it will not have the memory and loft that crimpy fibers provide. If you desire a loftier fiber with some elasticity and memory, then blending with fine merino top or another crimpy, but fine wool can provide that.
If you enjoy dyeing your handspun yarns, Suri takes dye very well and often looks even more lustrous coming out of the dyepot. In spite of its longer scales and shorter scale height, it can still felt and just like other natural fibers, Suri can be affected by harsh chemicals and too much heat.
CARE OF SURI AFTER SPINNING
There is nothing different about caring for Suri fiber from other natural protein fibers. Gentle shampoo or mild soaps created for woolens coupled with little agitation is excellent. Soaking in warm water for a time is excellent for removing dirt and oils. Be sure to rinse the yarn completely for soap residues can dull and attract dirt. If you are washing newly spun yarn, it may buckle slightly, so you might want to hang your skein with a weight to help straighten the yarn. Always avoid too much agitation or dramatic changes in the temperature of the wash water to prevent felting.
Suri is a beautiful, unique fiber with excellent qualities that make it a great addition to your projects by adding luster and a soft silky hand. When shopping for Suri, look for fleeces that are clean, lustrous, and cool to the touch, for these are the fleeces that show off the wonderful traits that make Suri such a special fiber. Avoid those that are drier and have a chalky feel. Be choosy and let spinning Suri take your projects to another realm!