Last month I had the great opportunity to volunteer during the annual Alpaca Owner’s Association National Fleece Conference in Arlington Virginia. On Day 1 I took the Basic Fiber Sorting & Grading Class with Wini Labrecque of Star Weaver Farm and SWF Fiber Innovations. She has over 20 years of experience adding value to alpaca fibers with hand-spinning, weaving, and knitting. She is also a AOA Certified Alpaca Fleece Judge and Certified Camelid Fiber Grader, Sorter, and Classer through Olds College in Canada. It was a great pleasure to take this class and learn more about alpaca fibers.
The purpose of the Basic class was to expand knowledge about fiber sorting and grading practices and prepare students for the future Advanced class and Apprenticeship. The goal of the Fiber Sorting and Grading classes are to train people to analyze natural fibers in a consistent way. This can help maximize the use of all fibers to eliminate waste, and maximize farmer’s profits.
All fibers have a use whether they are fine enough to touch the skin or coarse and sturdy for rugs. I learned about the microscopic fiber structure of alpaca fibers, as well as the six Grades of fiber based on their micron count. During the second half of the class, we got fiber samples and were asked to consider the Grade category of the fiber based on visual analysis of the fiber fineness. Towards the end of the class, Wini did a skirting and sorting demonstration. She quickly assessed the fiber grade by feeling the fiber, and passed around different fibers so we could feel the fineness differences. She simultaneously put the alpaca fibers in designated bins of the different Grades. I’m excited to take the Advanced Course at SUNY Cobleskill to learn more !
During the conference, I also met several alpaca entrepreneurs including alpaca farmers and mill owners. It was a great to meet the founders of the New England Alpaca Fiber Pool. They collect fibers from over 3,000 US alpaca farms and create beautiful products. They had stylish headbands, soft scarves, and gloves. They also had excellent examples of what can be made with coarse alpaca fibers from the alpacas’ legs, tail, and guard hairs. Products included handbags and boot inserts that looked very durable!
On Day 2, I assisted in the Alpaca Fleece Judging room by helping prepare the fleeces for judging by an expert. I was in the section of the commercial white huacaya alpaca fleeces. It was great to open up the fleeces and put them on the table. The judge carefully analyzed and touched the fleeces to assess the different qualities such as fineness, uniformity, crimp, and brightness. It was interesting to hear the ideal qualities in a fleece, and learn how precious it is for older alpacas to have fine fiber. One of the fleeces won the title “Spirit of the Industry.” I look forward to going to next year’s fleece conference in Sacramento.