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FARM TO YARN - the Journey of a Skein of alpaca Yarn

by Edward Pickering on May 29, 2022

The 2022 collection of yarns have come back from the various mills we use to produce our high-quality alpaca products. Alpaca produce a most luxurious fibre - and commonly referred to as “the fibre of the Gods”. While visitors to the farm see alpaca grazing in the fields and paddocks, commenting on their impressive coat of fibre, many ask – “how does all that glorious fleece become usable fibre AND how much does one alpaca produce?”

It’s a long and arduous process that begins with an annual sheering. Each spring we spend a weekend working in small groups with a qualified sheerer to sheer, collect and grade fleece as it comes off the alpaca. Alpaca fleece generally falls into 4 categories: Grade #1 and #2 or the “baby-blanket” are the very best quality and are used for yarn production, and #3 and #4 for felted products. Once off the alpaca, the fleece begins its journey to and from the mills. All fibre has to be skirted and cleaned. During skirting, the fibre is spread out on a screen. Things like guard hairs, dirt, and grass/hay are removed. We batch our alpaca fibre according to the grade AND the colour as the mills generally require a minimum of 5 lbs of one grade and colour to be processed.

Once our fibre is skirted, we send it to the various mills to be washed and processed. The mills are an important partner for us in developing the correct blend and weight of the finished yarns. What we send to the mills, and what they believe is the most suitable use of the fleece doesn’t always add-up once the fleece has been washed and processed. A delicate balance of quality and suitability is used to get the right results. We could write an entire blog on the intricacies of what happens at the mill including the washing & carding process, the actual spinning of the fleece into yarn, and the various techniques used to create the unmistakable qualities of alpaca yarn. Single strands are plied into what’s recognized as yarn – be it two singles put together, three of even strands of doubles plied together to make chunkier or Lopi weight yarns. This process could be an entire Blog entry on its own!

This is what we get back from the Mill. Yarn that is sometimes 100% alpaca, sometimes blends of alpaca with other fibres (alpaca fibre on its own is not particularly strong, so adding merino or bamboo or silk gives it a strength otherwise not found in 100% alpaca.) Knitters will know and feel the difference. 100% alpaca has a glorious drape and hand-feel quality that makes it a joy to work with – and produces beautiful shawls, sweaters and more. Mittens, toques and other “hard-wearing” items depend on a blended yarn to give it the weight and strength needed. Where alpaca lacks the strength, it makes up for it in warmth.

The final step once we receive the yarn back to the farm is to re-wash all of the yarn. Many farms avoid this step as it is time-consuming and labour intensive, but it does remove considerable dirt from the skeins – so we use large sinks to wash in cold water with a gentle detergent and allow each skein of yarn to dry before re-skeining, banding and offering for sale.

And so….How much yarn does one alpaca produce? Our general rule-of-thumb is each alpaca makes a generous sweater! That’s right…on average an alpaca in Ontario will produce 12-18 skeins of premium quality yarn and possibly the same amount of blended or other felted products. The quality of alpaca and the process are unmatched in every way, making it truly - the “Fibre of the Gods”

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