Friday, August 21, 2009

The Fiber Process

I know I've done pictures of various stages of the fiber process, like pictures of the spinning wheel and what it looks like when the fiber is washing in the sink (soaking in a mesh bag). There are other steps to processing the fiber. I'm going to try to lay it all out here.

We start with the alpaca, who grows this wonderful fiber. Every spring we shear the alpacas to collect the fiber. We sort this fiber. The young alpacas have very soft very luxurious fiber. That is the best fiber. The older girls and the gelding have rather coarse fiber. Coarse fiber is best for felting, or making something like a rug. The softest fiber should be worn close to the body, like in a sweater or scarf. There is also a mid-grade fiber that would be great for things like slipper socks - not worn right by the body, but also not so far away as being a rug.

After sorting the fiber, the next step for me is some skirting. I hate skirting so this step I do only because I know I will have fun during a future step. Here we take out the large debris and vegetable matter (i.e. large pieces of hay), and we skirt out 2nd cuts. A second cut is when the shearer goes by a spot more than one time and there are very short fibers. Those do not spin up nice so we take them out.

For me the next step is washing it (I have heard some spinners prefer to spin it dirty then wash after it's spun. I personally wash it before spinning, but there are many different ways you can do this). Here is Victoria's fiber washing in the sink:


To wash it, I put some fiber in a mesh bag. I fill the sink with hot water and some Dawn dish soap, then put in the mesh bag of fiber. I soak for 15 minutes, then pull the bag out, drain the water. I fill the sink with hot water, no soap, and put the mesh bag in for 15 minutes, then remove bag, empty sink, and repeat one more time. During this process it is important not to agitate the mesh bag as that can cause the fiber to felt.

The next step is laying out the fiber to dry. I put the fiber on the skirting table in our basement for this step. We've found having a fan blowing under the table really speeds up the drying process. On this table is some of Kateri's fiber, and some of Tucker's fiber:



It takes about 2 days to really dry out the fiber. You don't want to put it away wet or flick it wet. It could mold if it doesn't dry out well, which would be a horrible waste of fiber. We usually check on the fiber a couple times a day to fluff it up and help the drying process.

The next step I do is to flick the fiber. More common is carding fiber, where you have 2 wire brush and pull the fiber between the two. I've found with our fresh raw alpaca fiber that a flicker is all we need. A flicker is one smaller wire brush. It's a little less work than carding. We make the raw fiber into what is called a Cloud. This is sort of like a roving, but not in a straight line, more of a puff of fiber. Here is some of Lightnings fiber in Cloud form:



Next I spin it on the wheel. Here is my wheel:



This is what the yarn looks like on the bobbin:



I don't have pictures of my niddy noddy, I actually broke it. I know, I hated the thing anyway ;) (see previous post for more on that). After it is made into a skein off the niddy noddy, then we wash the fiber. I usually only soak it for 15 minutes in hot water (again, no agitation in the sink or it will felt the yarn). I find a simple soak is plenty because I already washed it really good before spinning. It does need to get wet, as I've read that helps set the twist in the yarn.

Then the yarn is hung up as a skein to dry. Here is Sommerfield's yarn drying in our basement, hanging off the skirting table:



Lastly, I use a ball winder (sorry, I forgot to get a picture of the ball winder), to make the yarn into a ball. Here is Tehya's beautiful yarn in ball form:



After it is in a ball of yarn, it's ready for me to knit. So far I have made a sweater and started on a scarf. J has made 2 scarves:

My Tucker Sweater:



The start of a scarf out of Maddie's fiber (here you can see the stages, from raw fiber to yarn to scarf):



And one of the scarves J made:



As you can see there are multiple steps. And, the reason each picture is of a different alpaca's fiber is because these are all going on at the same time. If I did one at a time, I'd have to wait 2 days for the fiber to dry between steps. So, I'm washing one while spinning another and often J helps out with flicking another. I have containers of fiber all over my house :)

1 comment:

Noah and Jillian Schwander said...

Very informative! Thanks for sharing!

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