CNCHnet . . . The Textile Arts Webzine of the Conference of Northern California Handweavers

Alpaca Celtic Cape

Three years ago I acquired five raw alpaca fleeces. I envisioned a black alpaca cape with Celtic designs.

To this end, I began teasing and removing debris and carding the fleece on my drum carder. Being busy otherwise with my ranching duties, it took close to two years to produce over two pounds of black batts. Other colors of alpaca, fawn and white, were carded and some of it was dyed in shades of greens and browns with my trusty old Deka dyes.

The cape would require a finished six foot circle of felt and extra felt for the hood. The final weight would be almost two pounds.

I made prototypes of the cape using wool in order to try out and perfect the pattern. After experimenting with hand wet felting a similar sized piece (that ended up looking like an eight foot yellow and orange pizza!) I realized that my project would need a different approach.

I had an arrangement with Valley Ford Woolen Mill for about a year, using their carder and needle felting machine for saddle pads and large felted pieces. It would be best to use these tools for the alpaca. Casey and Ariana Mazzucchi have been very supportive in my efforts. ( The mill has since moved to Point Arena.)  We carded great huge batts and needle felted an 8 X 8 piece of the black alpaca.

At home, I cut out the 6 foot circle and the hood pieces. I had been researching and drawing Celtic border designs and had settled on a simple double spiral in white with with echoes of green and tan to tie it to the interior design.  I could be patient enough with this design to needle felt all the way around the outer border and up the front edges.

The front

The front

The Back

The Back

A rendition of the “Tree of Life”, a traditional Celtic theme, would allow me free license too hand needle a design over the whole cape.  The plan was in my head, and not pre-drawn, allowing it to grow as it willed.

I laid it out on the big table in my studio and started growing my tree with the felting needle and the colored alpaca. It took months to come to the point where it felt finished. I am always surprised at how my art work looks at the end— a collaboration between myself and my medium.

The full circle

The full circle

Returning to the mill, we ran the flat pieces through the needle felting machine twice to embed the design.

At home I sewed the hem and assembled and sewed on the hood using my Viking sewing machine.  I needle felted the inside of the neck seam and sewed on the neck clasp. Felt is so easy to sew (but impossible to rip out)—the stitches disappear.

A good pressing with the steam iron and we were ready of Show and Tell.


Click here for the next article.