Fiber Sorting & Grading

This topic is probably the most important topic if we are at all interested in having a viable fiber industry in North America.

Why are we raising alpacas?

For the fiber?

What makes alpaca so much better than the other fibers that are on the market?

When we put alpaca forward to the public it must be superior to the other products on the market. I believe we are putting alpaca forward as a cashmere soft, durable, odorless, lightweight, garment, which is comfortable warm but never too hot product. That said every time a consumer feels alpaca products which doesn’t fit this description we are damaging our industry. It is up to each of us interested in a sustainable industry to work towards producing the best natural fiber on the market today. Now for the farmers only interested in breeding and selling stock they need to take heed of this as well because if we do not have sustainability everyone looses in the end.

The best time to do your sorting is on shearing day. You need to put quite a lot of thought into your system and how the flow of fiber from the alpaca to the finished sorted fiber bag will work best. Draw out a map to make sure you are being efficient and the risk of contamination is minimal.

Micron Groups

1 <20 microns Royal Baby Ultra Fine
2 20 to 22.9 microns Baby Super Fine
3 23 to 25.9 microns Superfine Fine
4 26 to 28.9 microns Medium Medium
5 29 to 31.9 microns Strong Strong
6 32 to 35 microns Coarse Coarse
1 21 to 23 Fine Fine
2 24 to 27 microns Medium Medium
3 28 to 32 microns Strong Strong
4 33 and greater Coarse Coarse

To sort fiber properly it should be within two microns each other. The criteria is color, micron, length of fiber, longs and shorts need to be in it’s own bag.

Each fleece will most likely have longs and shorts, so for each color you will need two bags for each of the fiber grades, grading one to six, so you now have 12 bags for each color.
Please note you may combined colors just decide which colors your are going to have.
There ere are twenty two natural colors but most likely you will decide to mix some of your colors. You will of course want to keep your whites and black separate unless you want gray. I sort my colors as; white, light fawn, brown, black, gray and rose gray.

6 colors X 12 = 72 separate bags. Each bag should be numbered one through to six marked for color, shorts or longs and grade, one being Royal Baby up to Strong. See micron chart for grading standards.

Canadian Standard Lengths

Huacaya Lengths
3- 6 in. 80-150mm
Worsted or Woolen
1.5-3 in. 40- 80 mm
Woolen < two in. < 60 mm
Overgrown > 6 in. >150 mm
A 6 to 8 in. 150-200 mm
B 4-6 in. 100-150mm
C 2-4in. 50-100
O/L 8-12in. 200>

Is important that your lengths are not mixed as the longer fibers will have ends sticking out of the yarn as it wears. Your beautiful socks in no time will look like fuzzy dust bunnies. Also they can make the yarn feel more prickly than it really is. You don’t want your yarn to shed either.

Mark your sorting table with the lengths for easy reference. Don’t throw away the under two inch lengths you can have it made into battings for making quilts or stuffing pillows.

You should also check for soundness of fiber. You can tell if the fiber weak or tender by holding a small staple between your thumb and index finger grasp the other end with your other hand hold tightly and flick the center with your middle finger, if it brakes it is tender.

Dated Oct. 1, 2004.
Attached, FYI, is the new Canadian Alpaca Fibre Harvesting Code of Practice. The Code of Practice is meant to be used as a guide for the Shearing process and for submitting fibre to CANCAM.
Please note the changes in Huacaya short and long fibre lengths for 2005. Huacaya short: 2-4 inches; Huacaya long: 4-6 inches. These changes came about as a result of discussions with Cameron Holt at the Sorter/Classier Workshops. The changes in the length parameters will hopefully help to alleviate the current shedding problems we are having with some of our products e.g. socks, felt, etc.


Area’s of Fleece

In the sorting process it is much easier to separate the different areas of the fleece as it comes off the alpaca. You can use cardboard pop flats marked with the different area’s in which to collect the fleece as it comes off the alpaca

 1. Blanket 2. Britch 3. Neck 4. Middle or upper leg 5. Lower leg 6. Belly

1. Blanket
2. Britch
3. Neck
4. Middle or upper leg
5. Lower leg
6. Belly

You might have quite a few of these flats and they can be stack on top of each other if the shearer gets ahead of your sorting. Have record sheets ready which you can fill out and put on top of the fleece in each flat. Many people (guilty of this my self before I knew better) just snatch up the fleece and put it in a clear plastic bag perhaps keeping the blanket separate marked with the animals name and grading it as first’s and seconds, this is not sorting!

To have a good finished produce you can not by-pass the sorting and grading process which in it’s self is almost an art form, none the less, I suggest you either take a good course or hire a qualified expert to do the grading for you. To sort properly you must be able to asses the fiber micron and put it in the proper sorting bag. The only fiber you should be throwing away is perhaps the very dirty and extremely contaminated fleece like the but and the birds nest at the base of the neck , if you don’t have a use for it perhaps someone else does.