Not all of the fleece that the alpacas grow is suitable to spin into yarn. When alpacas are sheared, typically three cuts are done. The first cut, the torso, is the best fleece, perfect for spinning. The second and third cuts include the legs, neck, and chest, and have a shorter staple length. Although this fleece can be spun, the shorter staple length makes it harder to do so. Even still, the fleece is soft, durable, and worth using for other projects. One such project is making felted dryer balls.
Why Use a Dryer Ball
A dryer ball is used for the same reason you might use a dryer sheet. The balls tumble around the dryer with your clothes and help wick moisture away from them, cutting drying time. While they do that, they also reduce static and help clothes come out of the dryer less wrinkly.
Unlike dryer sheets, however, wool dryer balls can be used for years, eliminating the waste of a single-use sheet. If you like the fragrance of your dryer sheets, you can even add essential oils to wool dryer balls to give your clean laundry a pleasant aroma.
How We Make Alpaca Wool Dryer Balls
First, we wash the fleece. For this batch of dryer balls, I used Theodora’s seconds. I washed the fleece twice until the water ran clean, then plucked any remaining hay out with tweezers. This batch of fleece was good for making felt balls because it started to matt as it dried. I suspect that the water got too hot while I was washing it.
Next, I rolled balls from the fleece. Each ball is approximately 1 oz of fiber. Because Theodora naturally has some white spots and different shades of brown in her coat, I played with the colors so that there would be some variation on the outside of the balls.
Once each ball was formed, I placed it into a nylon stocking, tying a knot between each ball. I was able to fit five dryer balls in each stocking leg, or three in a kneehigh. For pantyhose, I cut the pair in half, but later I used kneehighs, which was a bit easier.
Next came the felting process. I tossed my maternity overalls and a bit of detergent in the washing machine and ran the string of fiber balls through a hot cycle. I checked on them every few minutes to make sure the balls were not felting to the stocking, until the rinse cycle, at which point my top-loading washing machine lid locks.
The hot cycle followed by a cold rinse cycle shocks the fibers, causing them to stick to each other. The once loose balls of fiber become hard balls that won’t fall apart in the dryer. After one wash, the balls were hard enough to remove from the stocking. At this point, I went over each ball again, plucking stray pieces of hay out with tweezers. (Before the next shearing, we are going to give our alpacas a good brushing so there will be less hay. Rookie mistake!)
I set the balls aside and, to save energy, gave them another felting once I had the next string of dryer balls ready to go. If you wanted, you could felt multiple strands of balls at the same time, but I imagine they would get quite tangled with each other.
Alpaca Fiber Dryer Balls
I was mostly pleased with how the dryer balls turned out, although some are more oblong in shape than others. I plan to keep making them with leftover fiber. I think it will be neat to make some with scraps from various spinning projects so that they will have a wide variety of colors, but that’s a project for later.
Alpaca Dryer Balls will be available at our market days for $15 for a set of three. Any balls that do not pass quality control will be available at a discounted $3/each. We think they’d make nice toys for your cats or dogs. Follow us on Instagram @solhomestead to stay up to date on Market Days this spring and summer.