What are the benefits of using felted alpaca dryer balls in your clothes dryer?
Heartfelt products begin with an alpaca like Cindy Lou Who, our mascot. Sometime in the spring–usually April or May–we'll shear our herds. Diane and Linda do their own shearing a few animals at a time. Mary hires a professional shearer who shears in the US during the New Zealand winter off-season.
We found we needed a quicker, easier way to cut insoles from our alpaca felt. After doing some searching, we found Tippmann Die Cutting Company in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Die cutting is a manufacturing process used to generate large numbers of the same shape from a material. We had them custom make four sizes of dies (Small, Medium, Large, and Extra-Large) to cut out our alpaca insoles and another two to cut out coasters and hot pads.
When Heartfelt ordered its FeltLOOM®, there were only about a dozen in operation around the country and none in Missouri. The machine was developed by a group of Kentucky farmers who worked with the University of Kentucky’s Center for Manufacturing to refine their original designs. The University provided the engineering and modeling expertise required to build new production prototypes. A patent was issued on this needle felting loom for fiber artists in October 2008.
Alpaca fiber comes in 22 natural colors recognized in the US. Any colors in the tan to brown and grey to black spectrums will occur naturally. So all of the base colors for Heartfelt rugs and wall hangings and all of our insoles use natural, undyed fiber. We do, however, dye some fiber to use as decorative elements on our rugs, wall hangings, hot pads, and coasters. Sometimes we use commercially dyed yarn. Sometimes we purchase dyed fiber from other fiber artists. Still other times, we dye the fiber ourselves.
Once the fiber is sorted, but before we ship it to the mill, we tumble it in small batches in a big wire drum. We set fans in front of the drum, and as it turns very slowly, the fans blow the worst of the dust and hay out of the fiber. Alpacas love to roll in the dirt. Their fiber is dense, so it’s not unusual for the outer portion to be dusty while the fiber closest to the skin is shiny and clean.