Friday, August 31, 2012

Fiber Skirting & Grading/ Classing

What is skirting?  When fleece is shorn off an alpaca, the blanket / primary fleece is brought to a table where the guard hair and vegetable matter is hand picked from the fiber. 

Why skirt a fleece?
Alpaca fiber that is properly skirted and graded (classed) produces vastly superior yarn with a more consistent end product.  Improperly prepared, the finer fibers of a fleece will spin to the inside of the yarn, leaving the courser fibers on the outside where it will be felt by the consumer.  With proper skirting and grading, courser fiber may feel better than a histogram would indicate.

What do I look for when skirting?
The key to a properly skirted fleece is consistency, consistency, consistency.  That is the consistency of length, micron and color.  Improperly skirted, the end result will be lower quality products returned from mills and co-ops after processing.

Can fleeces be combined? 
Fiber can be skirted and graded on an individual basis (Muffy's fleece), or it can be combined for processing based on color, length and micron (Muffy, Fluffy and Buffy).

Record Keeping
The annual statistics of your fleece will aid in your breeding and marketing programs.  Information such as grade (or micron) medullation, color, staple length, weight, notes about tenderness, vegetation, and more, can be vital to making decisions in a breeding program, farm environment or nutrition that may not otherwise have emerged.

Testing Methods
There are different methods for fiber analysis. 
  • OFDA 2000 that is an excellent herd management tool.  It measures a staple length of fiber and can tell what effect things such as environment, nutrition and stress have had on that fiber at a given point in the year of its growth.
  • OFDA 100 Yokom McColl is the current standard in the alpaca industry.  They use a butt test whereby the sample is cut near the base and tested at the cut point.
  • OFDA 100 Olds College is the testing method I recommend.  It takes the fiber sample and does a minicore, cutting the sample into 4,000 pieces and measuring each piece for a more accurate assessment of the entire fleece.  A butt test tells what the fiber characteristics were at a particular point in time, versus the minicore, which gives the fiber characteristics, as an average, for the entire fleece.
How do I train myself to recognize micron?


Take two portions of fiber, sending one out for testing and retaining one as your visual sample.  Once the test results are received, write on the outside of your visual sample what the micron is on a contrasting piece of paper to make the sample easier to see.  Try and get a sample that will fit into each grade of fiber.  Before beginning your fiber assessment, recalibrate your eyes and hands, using these samples, so you can easily recognize what you are looking at as you skirt your fiber.

Fiber Classification: 

Royal Alpaca - finer than 18 microns 

Super Fine / Baby Alpaca - finer than 20 microns
Fine 
- finer than 25 micron
Medium 
- under 30 micron
Strong - 30 microns and greater

Mixed Pieces - short fibers, coarser than 32 microns - used for felting 

The Blanket, or where the saddle would go on a horse and part of the rump, are shorn

The neck, legs and belly are used as "Seconds" which are not quite as soft and vary in length. It is used for alpaca rugs , socks , alpaca pillows , alpaca saddle blanket and felting.  We also sell alpaca fleece directly in a variety of colors.