Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Little About Fiber Skirting (or what do you have to do to get fiber ready to spin?)

Can you find the puppy sleeping in the alpaca fiber skirtings?  
Yes, that is Rowdy, just a couple days after we got him. I was skirting fiber and he found a nice bed on the ground among the fiber I was discarding.  What is skirting?  Read on!

As we shear each alpaca, its fleece (or fiber) is sorted into 3 categories:  Prime or blanket, which is the nicest part of the fleece,  seconds, which is usable for  some items, and that which goes on the floor of the barn to be swept out the door.  The blanket and seconds are put into bags and stored in my summer kitchen until I have time to sort through, or skirt them.  Here is a day's shearing, ready to go into storage:

Before I can send my fiber off for processing into roving (ready to spin fiber) or yarn or sell it to other hand-spinners, I must sort  or skirt it to get rid of any undesirable  bits.  So, I get out my skirting table, which is very simply made from a 4' X 5' piece of cattle panel with plastic hardware cloth attached to it with zip ties.  Yes, I have seen very fancy tables at alpaca shows made with wood frames that fold up and also from stainless steel, but I love mine.  It can be stored behind the summer kitchen just leaning up against the wall until I am ready to use it and it was CHEAP!  I can prop it up on anything handy,  which as you can see, happens to be my picnic table and a patio chair.

Next, I spread a fleece out on the table and I carefully go through it .  I look for areas with excessive VM which stands for vegetable matter , also known as hay, burrs, sticks, etc.  I will discard any portions of the fleece which has a lot of this in it, as no spinner wants to deal with it and if you send it to a processor with excessive VM, you get back yarn or roving with VM in it.  Small amounts will come out in during processing, but not all of it.  Some processors will send your fleeces back to you if they are too dirty.  You may remember we vacuum our alpacas prior to shearing, but this does not remove all the debris.  It mainly removes dust and grit that dull the shear blades.  Since alpacas LOVE to roll, they pick up some pretty interesting things in their fleece.  I also remove any fiber which is not the same quality as the rest of the blanket.  Many times, especially around the edges of the fleece there are coarser areas, and this is what goes all over the ground at my feet.  The coarser fibers in the fleece are what will cause the finished yarn to be itchy or have the prickle effect.  No one wants an itchy scarf or sweater!

While I am skirting, I make notes on each fleece such as staple length, which is the average length of the fibers in each fleece.  3 to 6 inches is probably the most desirable for spinning.  If the staple length is shorter, more twist will be needed to hold the fibers together and if it is longer, it is harder to card to prepare for spinning.   I also note whether the fiber has crimp, which is the waviness you see in the photo to above.  Crimp is what gives a finished yarn elasticity and loft.  A crimpy fleece should make a yarn which stretches and then springs back when you pull and let it go.  A fleece without crimp makes a yarn that is drapey, like silk, and is wonderful for lacey scarves and shawls.  So, spinners like to know these things before they buy a fleece.

I take photos of each fleece and make a note as to the weight of the skirted fleece.  I also decide at this time which fleeces I will offer for sale as raw fleeces and which ones I will send off for processing into roving or yarn.

I sell most of my fleeces via the internet on various web sites, so all this information is helpful to prospective buyers.  I hope someday soon to have my own web site set up exclusively for the sale of fiber and yarns and finished products, but not yet.

Summer continues to roll on.  We had a very hot week or two and are now having several days of perfect weather:  sunny and mid-70's during the day and 50's at night.  Gotta love it!

Sam is working on the picnic pavilion up at the pond now that he has milled all the lumber he will need for it, so maybe next week I will have photos of that in progress.

In addition to skirting fleeces out under the big maple trees in the yard, I have done some more canning: 2 batches of wild raspberry jam and 1 batch of pickled beets, with more to come.  The garden is thriving and I am doing my best to keep ahead of the weeds, but sometimes it seems a losing battle!  We have lots of green tomatoes and our lettuce is about finished.  We have enjoyed dishes with fresh basil, though, which we love.  Wild blackberries are coming ripe and we had our first corn of the season last week (we no longer grow corn since the raccoons ate more of it than we did). Looking forward to Fourth of July festivities this weekend!

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