Wednesday, August 05, 2009

What to do with Alpaca Fiber: Skirt it! Part 2/4

This is the second in a series of blog entries about what to do with alpaca fiber. These articles are taken from Paca Talk #2 “What to do with Fiber” which can be found on I’ve taken the time to expand each section a little more in these blog posts than we had time for in the podcast. These first four entries will focus on skirting a raw fleece.

In my previous post, I described how to make a skirting table. 

Once you have your skirting table, how do you skirt a fleece? Honestly, I can’t really TELL you how, but I’ll give you the basics. If you want to learn to do it, go find people who know how and watch them. I suggest asking to help them skirt fleeces for a day in exchange for a lesson. Certainly get help from someone if you are skirting a show fleece. Many show fleeces are marked down for improper skirting. 

To skirt a fleece, you must first decide what the fleece is for because skirting a show fleece is very different from skirting either a fleece for hand spinners or commercial applications. However, for all these applications your general purposes are the same: 

  • remove dirt (some at least)
  • remove poop
  • remove big vegetation
  • remove second cuts
  • remove hair
  • check for "tenderness"

Today, we'll talk about the first three since the others are a little more involved. 

To remove dirt, you can just spread out the fleece and bang the table a few times. This knocks out a surprising amount of dirt. You won’t find a lot of dirt in the fleeces if you used your shop vac (on “blow”) to remove the dirt just before shearing. Doing this just before shearing a show fleece isn’t recommended because it can compromise the structure of a fleece. You can do it a few days before shearing so the fiber can "reorganize" and get good results. 

Poop should be a no-brainer. Find a bean? Pick it out. Find a "smear?" Throw out the affected fiber.

"Big" VM should be removed

Big vegetable matter (VM) should be easy, too, except for that “big” qualification. My alpacas like to roll around in hay. Some places on them, especially the base of their necks, are just filled with tiny bits of hay, etc. How much work you put in to removing these bits is determined partly by the ultimate use of the fleece. If you are working on a show fleece, throw out any hunk of fleece that is badly contaminated by bits of vegetation. If the fleece is headed toward a small mill or hand spinner, do your best to get out the bits. Mills can remove a lot of VM, but remember that any VM left may end up in the yarn. 

A small amount of VM can be left in a fleece.
A small amount of VM can be left in a fleece.

That's all for now! Next time I’ll describe how to deal with second cuts. 

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