I previously talked about my experience taking the Basic Fiber Sorting and Grading class. More recently, I took an adventure to SUNY Cobleskill to take the Advanced Fiber Sorting and Grading Class. It was great to be surrounded by people who love fibers as much as I do! I’m so happy that I received more exposure to alpaca fibers, both huacaya and suri! Alpaca has become one of my favorite fibers to work with not only because of how adorable the alpacas are, but because the fibers are heavenly to spin with! I am also always surprised by the color options from browns to grey, white and black.
The goal of the class was to expand knowledge about proper sorting and grading practices to create a standardized system in the United States. This is essential for scaled production and high quality final products. Alpaca fiber can be separated into six grades that ranges from ultra fine fiber for soft baby blankets to robust fibers ideal for rugs and shoe insoles. There is also a mixed grade for fibers that are too short, long, or likely to break, unsuitable for mill fiber processing. There are definitely uses for all fibers! This is extremely important for all designers – fashion, textiles, interior, and industrial!
We also learned where the ‘sweet (fiber) spot’ is in the alpaca’s blanket. This is the ideal spot to grab fiber samples for lab testing, and it is also an indicator of the finest grade within the fleece.
For the hands-on sorting, I got to look at and feel suri, alpaca, and wool fleeces. It was interesting to look at their unique, crimpy or slick fiber characteristics. My hands were full of lanolin after analyzing the wool. I looked at two wool fleeces, the first was a Grade 2, with a micron of 20 -23 and very nice uniformity in crimp and staple length. The second wool fleece was a bit coarser and fell into the Grade ranges 3, 4, and 5, it ranged from 23 to 32 microns. A great thing to know is that Grade 3 (23 to 26) is the most versatile fiber.
I am hoping to continue with the apprenticeship program to learn more about alpaca and wool fiber quality, and potential end uses. It definitely takes time and practice to develop a sharp eye for analyzing the fiber micron range at a glance. Sorting and grading can be beneficial to farmers because they can get higher yields of fibers used during fiber processing, less fiber waste, better quality-durable final products to sell, and potentially repeat customers to support their fiber farm income.
This sorting and grading class is being offered at a very important time when more clothing and textile brands are incorporating domestic fibers into their supply chain. The Northern California Fibershed has provided great impetus for The North Face’s Backyard Project with domestic cotton farms; Pendleton makes ongoing efforts to support domestic alpaca farms through the Alpaca Blanket Project; Simply Natural Clothing uses seamless knitting technology to scale up luxury fashion production with domestic alpaca fibers; and Rambler’s Way uses local wool and cotton for their lifestyle clothing brand.