Now that the snow is gone and it is shearing season, I started to sort fibers as part of my fiber apprenticeship in a path to become a Master fiber sorter, grader, and classer. I have collaborated with Carol Haff of Hidden Alpaca Farm to sort and grade her alpaca’s fleeces. Her farm is in the Breesport-Horseheads region about an hour south of Ithaca. Some of her alpacas were shorn during a Shearing course at SUNY Cobleskill earlier in May, and a professional shearer sheared the rest of her alpacas.
I first met Carol at last year’s Alpaca Owner’s Association National conference in Virginia, and a week later I met her at the Wisner Market in Elmira NY to meet her alpacas Saxon and Arlow. We came across each other again during the advanced fiber sorting, grading, and classing course in SUNY Cobleskill. We began to sort her fibers for 2016 and 2017 after that. She has a variety of natural colors including white, and various shades of fawn, brown, grey, and black. A beautiful spectrum!
Earlier this week we sorted and graded nineteen of her alpaca fleeces. We started with the light colors such as white, fawn, and transitioned into dark colors such as brown, grey, and black. We picked out samples randomly from the blanket to measure the length, and look at the fiber diameter. Based on the length, we determined the optimal processing as woolen, or worsted. We also looked at the amount of guard hairs, and the relationship of primaries to secondary fibers. This helped us determine the grade of the fiber in a range of 1 through 6, with 1 being the finest and 6 coarsest.
By the time we finished, we had several batches based on color, worsted/ woolen processing, and grade. This standardized sorting and grading system helps prepare the fibers for scaled up production. I mailed off my samples to my mentor who will check them for accuracy. Stay tuned for more of my fiber sorting adventures later this summer! We are using the sorting table at the Cornell Teaching Barn, and it is also a great delight to see the Cornell sheep in the pasture.