Friday, August 25, 2006

Fake It

So there's this blog I really like reading. A spinning blog, alpaca blog, and lately, garden blog all in one. Meet The Spinning Guy. I've posted a few comments, regarding fibre analysis and crimp. I've been trying to sound like I know what the heck I'm talking about, but I'm not sure I do. So a short breakdown of the extent of my knowledge of alpaca fibre, and some of my opinions, seemed like a great way to blog without going through the hell of uploading pictures onto the computer.

I learned to spin at the South Country Fair in Fort Mcleod, Alberta in 2004. Dave and Connie Carlson of YKnot Fibres had set up a booth and I was immediately entranced. They showed me some pencil roving and a cd drop spindle, and I was soon merrily putting twist into the already drafted fleece. The cd spindle didn't hold me for long, and by the next day I had moved on to a Navajo Spindle. I bought it, and a shorter one for sitting on the ground with. Dave and Connie also raised llamas, alpacas and sheep. So I brought home some white wool, some alpaca, and some baby llama. That was pretty much the beginning of my love affair with alpacas, and their fibre.

I kept on spinning on my little spindle, sometimes up to five hours a day. And my arm hurt like heck, so I started researching spinning wheels. After long deliberation I decided on an Ashford Traveller Double Drive. A not very long but pointless story had me end up with single drive, which I'm sure right now I love much better. Like everyone starting out on a wheel my stuff was overkinked and could be used to anker a ship. Needless to say, I did not submit alpaca to that treatment, but common wool. This was in November 2004. A few months later I responded to an add in the paper, for too much alpaca fleece to handle. Carolyn of TLC Alpaca Ranch let me take about 20 lbs of fibre off her hands, at 8$/lb. Plus several bags of "felting" quality. A word about their sorting method; most breeders have 7 grades for a fleece, Carolyn only used the first 3 grades. Which means that their felting quality is really very spinable.

I still have many pounds of their fibre left, and a friend has recently loaned me her drum carder, so I'm working like mad to try and process fleeces. Anyway, back to what I know about the fibre itself. A histogram, or fibre analysis gives us the micron count of an animals blanket fleece. Angus McColl, The director of The Yocom-McColl fibre testing facility said that "Histograms should be compared to other animals in the same herd of the same age, not against an animal living on a different diet and of an entirely different age group." Now, this is completely reasonable and true, for breeders. For us that don't own any alpacas and are just wanting spinning fleeces, we should compare, in order to find the fleece best suited to what we want to make. But when you look at a fibre analysis, please look at more than the micron count. If the animal is 22 microns, with a high standard deviation, you're going to spend hours picking out guard hairs to get that 22 microns. A very useful bit of info on most histograms, is the Comfort Factor. Obviously, an animal whose fleece has a comfort factor of 98% will do very well worn next to the skin.

Don't let micron count give you the blues. I'll accept almost any fleece, and spin it. It doesn't have to be soft, i'll go for colour instead. I have 4 lbs of coarse suri locks, but they have great staple length and lustre. I recently ordered a fleece of 32 microns with a 6.3 standard deviation, but the colour is amazing. Everyone needs rugs and totebags.

And now, a short word on crimp. People are always going for crimp, and breeding for as much as they can get. Which is good for a light, fluffy, bouncy yarn with lots of memory. As I said in my comment to the spinning guy, no crimp is not Bad, Suri alpacas are highly prized. But if you're breeding for crimp, which I think almost all huacaya breeders are to some extent, no crimp certainly isn't good. Anyone who's read a few posts back probably remembers Bartleby, part of a fleece I purchased from New Moon Alpacas in California. His father was a Snowmass alpaca, and his fleece is Crimpy. And soft, and completely amazing. Spinning Guy asked if anyone notices the difference once the fibre has been processed. I can say that I do notice a difference, but I think for it to become very obvious one must work with something that has no crimp, like suri. In combing suri, Static is a pain and the top will fall apart very easily once it comes through the diz. But once I start combing huacaya the top is fluffy and sticks together. The crimpier the fleece gets, the fluffier and bouncier the combing is, and the static trouble is easier to deal with.

There are lots of levels of crimpiness in between none and, well, merino, sometimes you won't even notice a difference if there's only a little bit more or less. But one thing I've noticed is that if you are going to spin a short staple length, crimp will make it Lots easier. Short staple length with crimp won't shed as much as short staple length without, that's for damn sure. So, in conclusion, take on almost anything, but in order to spin the best yarn you can, note several things. Staple Length, Lustre, Crimp, Comfort Factor, and Colour. Alpacas come in 22 natural colours, try before you dye!

If this is at all helpful, let me know, and if I just sound like a rambling idiot who wouldn't know a good fleece if it hit her in the head, let me know too. But if it's the latter, be prepared to teach me what is a good fleece!


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