Thursday, October 16, 2014

Alpaca Micron Grade Ranges and Best Uses

I am often asked as a skirter/sorter/grader on what is the best use for a particular micron count.  Here are the ranges I sort/grade into and their best use.   

The human eye can only see about a 2 micron difference, so of course this is a guide and the more you sort, the better you become at sorting. The key is to have batches of fiber of no more than 3 micron difference or more than 1/2 inch difference in staple length for the best yarn.   

This is my chart that I developed over the years and is pretty typical of commercial grading.   Please DO NOT copy the chart.  You may link to the post or refer to it for personal use.  

I made a cheat sheet years ago by starting with OFDA tested fiber in different microns and have that sheet with the representative fiber sitting next to me as a guide when I grade.   

Fiber that has a lot of guard hair that is markedly different than the primaries in micron is batched differently and not mixed with the pure grades.  

Grade Name AFD (Microns) Use
1 Ultra Fine (Royal Baby) less than 20 Next to skin items, gentle use
2 Super Fine (Baby) 20-22.9 Gentle use items – shawls and baby items
3 Fine 23-25.9 Most versatile grade - pretty much anything wearable
4 Medium 26-28.9 Socks, throws, outerwear and felt
5 Intermediate 29-32 Quilt Batting, duvets, outerwear and felt
6 Robust greater than 32 Batting, insulation and rugs

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Open House at the Farm Saturday October 18th, 2014 11am-4pm

Announcing our first open house of the holiday season! 
Saturday October 18th, 2014 11am - 4pm

Sebastian really hopes you will join us! 
New inventory is rolling in daily from the mill, our co-ops and of course being made by hand on the farm.   So it's time to jumpstart your holiday shopping as there are only 72 shopping days left until Christmas.

For those of you that cannot make it to Rhinebeck this weekend, why not spend the day with us? Bring your knitting/spinning/crocheting and hang out and craft in our "Spinners Circle".

Browse the new inventory:

  • Farm roving fresh from the mill
  • Hand painted and kettle dyed fiber 
  • Spinning/Felting Batts
  • Art Batts
  • Farm yarn fresh from the mill
  • Hand Spun Yarn fresh off the wheel
  • Gloves, hats, scarves, socks 
  • Dryer balls
  • Felted soap
And MUCH more!

Meet an Alpaca !  (See pics at

See the space and layout for the new store and fiber studio

See a spinning demo

Sign up for spinning or knitting classes starting in November

Learn more about raising alpacas by asking alpaca related questions, fencing, barn layout etc 

And MORE! 

  • Mention this blog post to get 10% off your purchase*
  • Can't make it on Saturday? Well pop on over to our online store and take 10% off *using coupon code OPEN10 - new inventory is being posted to the website all week - so check back often! 

*Excludes: Virtual Adoptions, Dyes, Blending Boards, Clubs and Animal Purchases

Thursday, August 7, 2014

FIBER FAQs ---- Fiber Prep - What does it all mean ? top, roving, rolags, clouds

Chapter 1 - Fiber Prep 

As a long time spinner and fiber producer (alpaca), wool and other fibers buyer and working with many mills and working with and selling commercial yarns over the past 12 years, I get many questions on terms commonly used in the fiber world.  I can see why they are confusing and many used interchangeably (incorrectly). So to help "demystify" spinning and yarn, I am going to try to pull all these terms together into one blog post.

I also started and own the largest and original spin for trade group on Facebook "Spin a Pound, Get a Pound™".  Based on question we receive daily in the group and privately, I think this will help a lot of the newer members, especially the growers in communicating with their spinners.  I co-mod this group with a great bunch of wonderful ladies who make me smile each day and who make running the group fun and manageable.  If you are a grower of fiber or a spinner, come join us!

This will be ongoing as there are tons of topics to discuss.

So onto today's topic ----- Fiber Preparations 
  • Top - top whether commercially prepared or hand prepared aligns the fibers in one direction.  This prep allows for a more dense yarn/fabric and is good for hard wearing items like socks.  Combing fiber also removes any residual shorts, neps, noils and VM.  For hand preparation, combs or comb/hackle preparation and then dizzing the fiber off of the combs or spinning is all referred to as top.  Commercial top is what is most often used for hand-painted braids that all spinners go crazy over.  Commercial top holds together well and stands up to wetting, dyeing etc.  For hand prepped top, it is best to dye the fiber prior to combing.  Top does produce more waste than any other prep method, but it is a superior, consistent preparation.  Spinning from top is the only way to produce a true worsted yarn. 

    Braided commercially prepared top -  undyed (left), dyed in my Rainbow colorway (right)
  • Roving - often confused and used interchangeably with the term "top".  Roving is fiber that is pin drafted (commercial) off the carder or dizzed off (hand prep) a drum carder.  Most small farmers have roving made rather than top because there are only a few mills in the US that comb fiber into top.  Also, the weight requirements for a batch are out of reach of many smaller fiber producers, and because of the waste while making top, the cost per ounce for top prep increases dramatically over roving.  Most of the smaller mills in the US are simply not equipped to produce top as it is a separate machine, so if you are buying mill prepped fiber for a small farm, more often than not it is roving.  When a small fiber producer is selling top, they make sure to label it as such. 
    Roving (Romney wool) in a ball)

    The same roving (Romney) spread to
    show the definition.  Fibers are not all
    aligned like top
  • Batts - a batt is simply fiber pulled off the carder in one piece whether commercially prepped or hand prepped by a hand spinner.  Batts are a popular and sought after fiber prep because tons of color, texture and different fiber can be used.  Batts can be smooth or textured.  They can be layered or well blended.  The can be plain or crazy.  Batts by far is the most fun for me to prepare.  Because each spinner spins a batt differently (rips strips, rolls, dizzed etc) exact batts given to different spinners can produce wildly differing results.
    Sand and Sea™ Batt Jelly Rolled
    Witch's Apprentice ™ Batt rolled (left)
    and jelly rolled (right) 

    Maleficent™ Spinning Batt laying flat

  • Rolags (punis) - rolags are produced in one of 3 methods.  Hand cards, blending board or pulled in pieces off a drum carder (rather than the entire batt). This prep is the traditional way to spin a true woolen yarn using the long draw method. 
Fiber on a Blending Board - (rolag prep)
Rolags ready to spin
  • Clouds - clouds are picked but not carded or combed fiber.  Handfuls are held by the spinner and drawn from the hand.  Totally a fun way to spin and very common with fibers like loose cashmere or angora bunny.  Depending on the fiber and amount of openness to the lock, this can produce a lumpy bumpy are yarn or a smooth yarn.  
  • From the lock - spinning from the lock is a method similar to cloud spinning.  Locks of fiber are flicked to open them and done one lock at a time.  This is often done with very fine fiber like sharlee merino when over prepping can cause neps and noils, but is also used for those spinners who do not have combs, hand cards or a drum carder.  This is also popular with spinners who like to spin in the grease. 
  • From the fold - whether spinning from a lock or top, the fiber is folded over a finger and is drawn from the middle.  This allows more air to be trapped than spinning from a lock or top in line.  Trapping air allows for a more lofty yarn.  Spinning from the fold can also be done with top or roving. 
  • Flicking a lock - using a flicker brush, dog brush or even a hand card, flicking open the lock prepares it either to spin directly or to get ready for carding.  This is most often done for tight or dirty tip fleece.  Swing or box pickers can also open locks to prepare them for carding, but for very fine fibers, pickers can be too aggressive and cause neps and noils and flicking is preferred.  Once the lock is flicked it can then be spun "from the lock" or "from the fold" or go on to further preparations. 
Next Time - Worsted vs Woolen (woollen) and what does semi-worsted mean ? 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Series (Installment 2 - Corriedale Wool): Spinning my way through the Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook

Corriedale Wool 

  • Fiber Characteristics - Corriedale wool is readily available in commercial top and normally is seen in the preparation in either white or brown.  Commercial top is typically in the micron range of 26-27 which is a spinning count of 56-58s.  For those of you unfamiliar with what spinning count actually means . . .  "It is a system that originated in the 19th century (along with mechanized spinning equipment). It is the number of hanks of yarn, each 560 yards in length, that it is possible to spin from one pound of clean wool. The finer the wool fiber, the more hanks (greater length, thinner yarn) that can be obtained from one pound." (1)  So the lower the micron, the finer the fiber and more hanks per pound (higher spinning count).  

  • "The Corriedale is the oldest of all the crossbred wool breeds, a Merino-Lincoln cross developed in Australia and New Zealand and first brought to the United States in 1914. Corriedales are a dual-purpose sheep with good meat and wool.
    Their dense fleece is medium-fine and high yielding, with good length and softness, somewhat between medium wool and long wool. It is favored by hand spinners. Corriedale lambs produce good quality carcasses and have a high pelt value.
    Breed categories: medium wool, dual-purpose" (2)
    • Grades  - Like Alpaca, Corriedale fleece can have a range of micron.  This can vary from sheep to sheep, farm to farm.  It is based on genetics, environment and age, much like alpacas.  Published ranges of micron are 22 - 34 microns (1), and 25 - 31 (3).  In the commercial top market, there seems to be a consistent 26-27 microns.  
    This medium wool with the  range of micron 26-27 is still next to skin soft but is also durable and can be used for almost any project.  Corriedale (like most wools) does not have to be blended to make it "workable" for a particular project.  100% Corriedale is good all by itself, retains it shape and is easy to care for.  Having said that, if you are going to make socks, I would still blend with a bit of nylon for durability.  
    • Blending  - Corriedale blends well with other fibers like silk, nylon and alpaca. . . if using alpaca or another wool - make sure the micron is of a similar grade to the Corriedale to make the yarn as consistent as possible
    Organic Brown NZ Corriedale blended with Tussah and Soffsilk™
    Prepped from commercially prepared top -  For Sale Here
    • Prep Work   - When working from raw wool, washing methods are important.  While "spinning in the grease" can be accomplished with Corriedale, but it does have a good amount of lanolin (I could not find % stats) and like any wool, not washing completely and then storing can make for a "sticky" fleece that will be difficult to comb, card or spin.  So if you are not going to work with it right away, wash out the lanolin completely before storing.  Carding a sticky fleece will produce neps and noils.  
    • Spinning Ease -  when properly prepared, Corriedale is a pleasure to spin and is suitable for the beginner or experienced spinner.  Depending on prep, Corriedale can be spun woolen or worsted.   Since Corriedale is a very dense, crimpy wool, flicking locks and spinning from the lock is another method that can be employed if no blending is desired. 
    • Dye Uptake : Corriedale takes dye well and can be dyed before carding/combing using a kettle method or after combing/carding spinning using a hand-paint or kettle method.  It will felt so care should be taken as with any wool. 
      100% Corriedale self-striping in shades of grey - prepped from raw - carded and combed
    • Setting : Wet setting is accomplished like any other wool yarn.  Submerse in hot water, no agitation and hang to dry.  
    • Knitting : Corriedale is wonderful to knit with and can be used for next to skin garments for all but the most sensitive of people.  It is durable and can be used for almost any project.  

    Thursday, January 16, 2014

    Series (Installment 1 - Huacaya Alpaca): Spinning my way through the Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook

    Introduction to the Series: 

    If you are a fiber fanatic (like me), then owning the "Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook" by Carol Ekarius and Deborah Robson is not a "nice to have", but rather an essential guide to the wonderful world of fiber animals!!  It is one of my favorite books in my crafting library.  It not only shows a picture of the fiber animal, but also raw and washed samples of their fiber, yarn spun from said fiber and a knit swatch.  There are many breeds of sheep listed that are not common and it is by no means an exhaustive list.  The book while mainly sheep (because there are so many varieties), also contain other fiber animals like camelids, bison, goats, bunnies and more!

    Many breeds were unknown to me as I read through the book and I am now on a quest to try to source as many "elusive" breeds as possible.  I have been actively searching out different breeds of sheep (of which there are 100s) in order to work with them, learn what they are best suited for, and just get to know them a bit better. Let's call it my "bucket list". If you own or raise conservation, heritage, rare or simply elusive sheep breeds mentioned in this book and would like to have your breed (and farm) featured, please contact me. Conservation and heritage breeds are of particular interest to me as they are very rare. 

    Obviously as an alpaca breeder, I have spun my fair share of alpaca, so I thought it only logical to start with that. 

    I will try to speak to the following points on each installment (fiber type):

    • Fiber characteristics 
    • Grades 
    • Blending  
    • Prep work  
    • Spinning ease 
    • Dye uptake
    • Setting
    • Knitting 

    Huacaya Alpaca:

    Alpaca fiber comes in 2 main types; huacaya (which I raise) and suri.  They have different characteristics, spin differently and behave differently once spun.  This installment will focus on huacaya fiber, which behaves more like wool.  I will do another installment on suri which should definitely have it's own feature as it truly is a different and unique fiber.

    I have a program called Adopt-a-Paca which I have featured on this blog before.  This is another project from that program and features Dante (again) who is one of my most popular alpacas to adopt!  

    Dante after shearing
    This particular project was ordered by a gentlemen who wanted a purple scarf for his wife for Christmas in 100% alpaca.  I do not have a lock or sample of Dante's fiber, because I sent it all to the mill to be processed into roving.  Since he is a such a popular adoption candidate, I knew it would save me time.  I have included a very similar lock of another animal that matches Dante's in crimp style, brightness and coloring.  Dante is a beige boy and overdyes well. 

    So my assessment of THIS particular huacaya alpaca fiber and some generalizations about alpaca: 

    • Fiber Characteristics - alpaca fiber has little to no memory, so when working with a fitted garment, one should look to blend with wool (in similar micron to the alpaca) or silk.  Alpaca/silk blends are decadent and one of my favorites.  Many argue that increased crimp in alpaca will lead to increase memory but I do not believe that to be true and do not see that when working with crimpy vs non-crimpy alpaca.  Dante has a bold to almost flat crimp (similar to the picture of my other animal, Buttercup), with a very soft, silky hand. 
    Fleece picture similar to Dante in
    crimp, length, color and brightness (Buttercup)

    • Grades - I separate my alpaca into 6 grades.  More info on this can be seen on my webpage.  Dante is a grade 2 which is considered baby 20-23 microns.  His guard hair and secondaries are very close so I did not separate them.   Guard hair (primary fibers) can be a much higher grade than the secondaries depending on genetics and age of the animal.  Care should be taken to remove them when there is a large difference or the resulting yarn can be prickly as the primaries will "stick out" of the yarn.  This is easy to see as the primaries tend to be straight as opposed to the crimpier secondaries.  Primary fibers (guard hair) contain the blood supply, so ALL alpacas have them, however we are breeding to get those primaries and secondaries as close in micron as possible to make the resulting yarn more uniform.  A 3 micron difference or less is ideal and with that separation is not necessary.  
    • Blending - Alpaca can be used alone for items where gauge or "growth" is unimportant.  For fitted garments like sweaters etc adding wool or silk is essential. For socks wool adding nylon will make them soft and strong and fitted.  For my socks I like to use grade 3 - 4 alpaca fiber and 60% alpaca, 25% superwash merino and 15% nylon.  In this project, Dante was used all by himself for a 100% alpaca scarf, which is fine as scarves do not need to "fit" . 
    • Carder on my drum carder and then pulled off
      rolags.  Rolags are my favorite way to spin. 
    • Prep Work - Alpaca contains no lanolin like sheep's wool does.  So it does not need to be scoured in hot water to come clean.  Alpacas do like dirt baths and the finer micron fleeces (grades 1  - 2) do attract vegetable matter like velcro. . . so depending on how much VM is in the fleece, flicking locks or "monkey picking" the VM out is essential prior to washing. Once washed, it is much harder to remove. Dante's fleece was picked almost free of VM, flicked were needed and sent to the mill to be carded into roving.  When skirting alpaca, it is important to pay attention to a large section of unusually heavy VM where the neck meets the back.  Hay accumulates on many alpacas who eat hay out of hay feeders.  I call this area a "bird's nest" and usually remove the whole thing without trying to salvage the fiber as it can contaminate the entire fleece.  Those with more time or who would like to salvage this fiber can pull out and comb this section to remove as much VM as possible, this is an important step to avoid VM contamination in the other parts of the fleece.  After the fiber is clean, it can be dyed or if not dyeing, it can be dried and carding/combing can begin.  Alpaca can be spun dirty, just be aware of the dust and sand contained in it and how that can cause havoc to your fiber processing equipment. Dante's fleece was mill processed into roving, which I then kettle dyed and let dry.  I carded the fiber and pulled rolags off the drum carder, because I really enjoy spinning from rolags.   Since this was mill prepped roving, I simply put it through my drum carder only once as I just wanted the color to be uniform.  I could have spun directly from the dyed roving instead.  
    • Spinning Ease - Huacaya alpaca is not as easy to spin as wool for newer spinners. Because the scales on the shaft of an individual fiber lay flatter than they do for wool, alpaca doesn't "stick" together as easily while spinning.  As an experienced spinner, alpaca is easy and pleasurable to spin.  It can be spun from locks, clouds, rolags, batts, roving or tops.  Long draw and spinning from the fold are also possible on alpaca depending on prep.  Alpaca can be spun woolen or worsted again depending on prep. Dante being grade 2 and with little crimp would be harder to spin for most beginners then say a crimpy grade 3.   Dante's resulting yarn, because his fiber was carded not combed would be considered Woolen.  
    • Dye Uptake - Alpaca is a hollow fiber and takes dye really well and dyes "true" on white fleece.  Different animals can vary in color depth and guard hair (primaries) do not dye as well or as true as the secondaries.  Dante's roving was kettle dyed and although there was some color variation in the dye pot, it was due to the dye pot and not the fiber.  Kettle dyeing is tricky on a grade 2 fleece, because disturbing the fiber too much to make the color uniform can lead to felting.  The water should run clear to exhaust any excess dye. 
    • Setting - setting twist on the finished yarn (Dante's is a ply) is similar to setting any other yarn. Wet and hang to dry.  Thwacking or using weights can be done if you think your skein is unevenly twisted or overspun, but it is not necessary. I did not thwack or weight Dante's yarn and typically do not on 100% alpaca because of the lack of memory.   Because it was dyed, I did do a warm water wash and 2 rinses.  I normally add hair conditioner to a rinse to keep the fiber soft and static free. 

    One ply on the bobbi

    finished yarn
    finished yarn

    • Knitting - knitting alpaca is just like knitting any other natural fiber.  100% alpaca does need blocking.  If you want 100% alpaca to keep it's shape a little better due to lack of memory you can go down a needle size.  The finished scarf is one of my own design that as soon as I create a computer chart for it, I will be publishing here and on Ravelry.  I spun Dante at about a worsted weight and used size 9 needles to create the scarf.  It is an interlocking diamond design.
    finished scarf - interlocking diamonds

    Well, I hope you enjoyed the first installment of the series and found the information useful and accurate.  Next time - Corriedale wool.

    Until then - Happy Spinning !!!! 

    Wednesday, January 15, 2014

    The Old Barn on the Farm

    another shot of our picturesque barn circa 1900 barn - taken Summer 2013