Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Synopsis of The Alpaca Fiber Symposium in Virginia 6/25-6/26

Here is my personal synopsis of the latest Alpaca Fiber Symposium (TAFS) in Virginia. As always it did NOT disappoint! It is great to see other breeders and fiber artists creativity, innovation and business savvy. This is my viewpoint only of the weekend. I am not on the steering committee and this post was not approved by anyone. . .it is my personal view and synopsis.

Symposium - a meeting or conference for the public discussion of some topic especially one in which the participants form an audience and make presentations (

History of TAFS
Jillian Ramsey-Stern gave us a synopsis of where we have been and what we have learned and where we are poised to go. The greatest message from all the speakers was: "It's about the fiber!!" .

This was the 3rd Symposium, with the inaugural one being in North Carolina (at Gaston Textile College) and the second being in Denver, Colorado. Both of those were help in 2009. I attended the one at Gaston College and it was an amazing group of people and speakers and the equipment at the college was exciting. My main takeaway was that Alpaca needs to get serious in order to compete with other textiles and the first step needs to be testing of the wild claims made through the years: "7 times warmer than wool", "soft as cashmere", "hypoallergenic" etc.

Alpaca Fiber Properties Testing Ruth Fuqua of New Era Fiber Mill gave a summary of the testing that was done on alpaca fiber at Gaston College in North Carolina (the home of the inaugural TAFS event). Look for Ruth's write ups in future editions of Alpaca Magazine about all the wonderful testing that has been done and is continuing to be done. This testing was paid for by a combination of TAFS and the AOBA fiber committee budgets.

- Moisture regain % - The amount of water a completely dry fiber will absorb from the air at a standard condition of 70 degrees F and a relative humidity of 65%. Expressed as a % of the dry fiber weight.

- Alpaca - 8%
- Wool - 16%
- Cotton - 8%
- Silk - 9%

Alpaca has half the moisture regain % of wool which could account for why it seems much more comfortable and breathable than wool. Also Cotton and Silk are very close to the same % and more work should be done to see how mixing with these other natural fibers can be beneficial to the textile industry as well as alpaca breeders.

- Class I Fiber category - means that alpaca fiber is flame resistant. This is good news for alpaca fiber as it can be used to make insulation, mattress stuffing and may have industrial uses for firefighters or the military. It is also marginally flame retardent which means it will self distinguish.

- Wicking Test - In knitted/woven fabric - it does wick and in felted fabric it does not. It is similar to wool in absorbency and wicking ability. Alpaca is resistent to absorbency much the same as wool.

- Abrasion and Pilling - This test was actually sponsored by Peter Lundburg of the Alpaca Blanket Project.

Range of test -
No Pill - score of 5
Excessive Pill - score of 1

An alpaca blanket made by the Alpaca Blanket Project scored a 3 which is good pill resistance especially in woven material. It also had a score of 15,000 cycles of abrasion which means it meets upholstery standards which is a great thing considering a blanket was tested. What if we actually meant to make upholstery fabric? Yet another use for our amazing fiber!

Some Research Articles on Alpaca Fiber - Ruth also presented some of the research articles that have been done on alpaca fiber in the past. Not alot is out there, but here are the highlights.
- The Quality and Processing Performance of Alpaca Fiber -
1 - Alpaca can be washed at lower temperatures than wool which makes alpaca fiber more environmentally friendly.
2 - Alpaca at a higher AFD feels better than wool at a lower AFD (more research is needed here as this is a tad bit subjective)
3 - Alpaca has lower resistance than wool (squished easier) and stays there more than wool which tends to bounce back more readily.
4 - De-hairing alpaca fiber was not cost effective
5 - Alpaca has a higher propensity to felt during scouring (done at a commercial scouring facility set up for wool)
6 - Huacaya fiber felts as easily as wool

Grants - some resources discussed:
- Google search for "Value Added Grants" , "Sustainable Agricultural Grants" and "Economic Development Office" in your local area.
- USDA - SBIR - Grants for small businesses for economic impact
- Bringing new technology to your state can get you state grants
- Rural development money available - community colleges in your area will have info and also can help you to write grants - they may even have courses - check with your local community college

Vendors/Other speakers
- Sue Bunch from Back to Back fiber products - makes quilt batting as well as felting kits and supplies. She spoke on how strong the craft industry is in this country and is growing every day.
- April Gibson spoke about her experience going through Ruth Elvsted's fiber sorting and grading class at Olds College in Canada and HOW IMPORTANT it is to sort and grade your fiber for maximum yield and profit and a superior product!
- Sara Jane Maclennan & Sharon Loner spoke on show aspects of our industry. Discussions after that talk focused on how animals that are doing well in the show ring are not necessarily the animals needed/desired to make the best product. Does crimp matter? (THIS is a topic for another post)
- Ruth Fuqua - along with her talks on the fiber testing, she spoke about yarn and blending and standards and terminology. Website to review yarnstandards
- me I spoke about the possibility of having a sustainable fiber herd in this country. More research needs to be done and I will be posting another article about this in the coming weeks.
- New Era Fiber - A wonderful Mill in Tennessee owned by Ruth Fuqua and her partners
- The Alpaca Bedding Company - Handmade Duvets and Pillows (cotton covers - stuffing 70% alpaca and 30% wool)
- Prairie Manor - 100% American made alpaca blankets and throws, blended with cotton and merino
- Suri Network - wonderful new patterns available for wholesale or retail
- Vaoba - Virginia's owners and breeders association also had products on display from their members.

Many other discussions and sharing of information from the attendees was all around enlightening, energizing and motivating. This is a dynamic energentic group of folks who are NOT just sitting around waiting for the day to make the "fiber industry" happen! They are seizing the moment and carving out their own piece of the market!! Success comes in all shapes and sizes.

What we as alpaca breeders ALL need to do is get the fiber that is sitting in your basement, garage, barn, spare room or WHEREVER moved out and into the pipeline! We need to go out and work with other natural fiber folks in order to make a market for all of the alpaca breeders in the country. Other fiber producers (wool, cashmere, silk etc) are NOT the enemy! Let's work together. Let's show why alpaca is superior to any synthetic that can be made.

I hope that gives you a glimpse into the Symposium in Richmond and whets your appetite to join us for the next one !!

As always - feel free to comment or email me personally with questions!

1 comment:

pacapartner said...

Very well thought out, with a professionalism that reflects your background.
It is easy to understand and clears up many points often skimmed over in other fiber comparisons.
Thank you for this comprehensive overview. Love fiber, go alpacas!