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.
Do they tear up the landscape? What about agricultural run-off from pesticides, herbicides, and animal waste?Alpacas live very lightly on the land. Their soft padded feet and their light weight mean that they don't tear up the landscape. The fact that the dung piles are cleaned up daily means that there is a minimum of run-off from alpaca waste. Alpacas have three-part stomachs that digest hay and grass very efficiently. They don't eat a great deal, nor do they require or even do well on rich, high-protein diets. This means that the need for herbicide and pesticide application on their pastures is minimal if you use them at all. Alpacas don't challenge fences. The real need for fencing is around the perimeter of the alpaca pasture-barn area to protect them from predators.
Even though they are in the same family, Camelidae, alpacas and llamas are used for different purposes by humans.Alpacas are used for their fiber while llamas are used as pack animals or in meat production. The average llama is roughly twice the size of the average alpaca. An average alpaca stands 34"- 36" at the withers (shoulders), whereas a llama stands 42"- 48" at the withers. Most alpacas weigh between 100 and 175 pounds when fully grown. Llamas on the other hand weigh in the neighborhood of 200 to 350 pounds with some as heavy as 400 pounds. There are differences in the body and head, especially the shape of the ears. The llama is easily distinguished by its long banana-shaped ears. The alpaca has shorter spear-shaped ears. From the side, llamas generally have a longer face; alpacas have a shorter, more compact appearance. A llama's back is straighter, which makes them good for packing.
While the Incans were expert weavers and bred for extremely fine alpaca fleece, Heartfelt's products have roots in other cultures as well. Wall paintings in Turkey suggest humans were felting fiber as early as 6500-3000 BC. Siberian felts date from 600 BC. The Greeks and Romans felted clothing and military gear. Mongolian felts date from the 13th century.
What do they eat? How much time do they take? Are they disease prone?Alpacas eat grass and hay. Most owners supplement this with a little grain each day—nothing fancy. In fact, alpacas don't do well on high-protein diets.We spend up to an hour a day with ours. We scrub out and refill the water buckets, give each animal a cup of grain, rake up the hay they've rooted onto the floor and add more as needed, and clean up the dung piles. Then we usually halter one or two and go for a walk. This keeps halter training in place and gives us an excuse to mess with them a little longer.Dung piles? Alpacas only go to the bathroom in one or two places. (They'll even stand in line to wait their turn!) These piles need to be cleaned up each day so that they don't track dung around and get it in their fleeces.Every month they each get a shot of wormer to protect them from meningeal worm and gastrointestinal parasites.Every couple months their toenails need to be trimmed. They don't have hooves like horses or cattle. Their feet are soft pads with toenails on top.Once a year, they need to be sheared, or heat stress would be a real danger during the hot months.During the summer, we offer to squirt their legs and bellies with water. They almost always take us up on the offer!