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Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Fleece Sorting: Olivia's report on her first experience in the sorting shed

Olivia is thrown in at the deep end in her first week of interning here at Toft:  

Within the first week of my internship with The Toft Alpaca Shop I got down to the nitty gritty of fleece sorting

Fleece sorting is the second step after shearing in the process of producing Toft yarn. It is the most important aspects of the whole manufacturing process as it guarantees quality and colour. 

Huacaya Fleece 
Firsts - Fine yarn - Cria/Young alpacas
Seconds - Double knit yarn - Cria/Young alpacas
Thirds - Aran Yarn - Young adult alpacas
Fourths - Chunky Yarn - Adult alpacas
The rest would be suitable for interior stuffing

Alpaca fleece over eighteen years old wouldn't be used as it lacks quality.

Suri Fleece
There are only two grades when sorting Suri fleece
Grade one - Best quality fleece from the saddle area, blanket fibre.
Grade two -  Fleece from the neck and the legs of the alpaca.

Sorting the fleece into grades 

The alpaca fibre is painstakingly sorted into different colour coded and graded bags before being sent off to the mill to be spun into yarn. Each fleece that is sent to Toft from other alpaca owners and breeders has to be checked individually and thoroughly. The saddle is where the best fleece is grown on an alpaca, quite often the leg and neck is not used because it is too coarse or it isn't long enough (4-6") to be spun.

Whilst we are fleece sorting we look out for following;


Brightness is the term used to describe the degree to which a Huacaya fleece reflects light and luster is the term used to define whether the Suri fleece reflects light.

Light fawn Huacaya fleece
A Toft Huacaya Alpaca
A Toft Suri Alpaca
Grade 1 Suri fleece                        

Guard Hair 
Guard hair is thicker and a lot stiffer than the rest of the alpaca fleece which makes the yarn very itchy on the skin. We can spot guard hair from seeing and feeling the fleece, fleece with high levels of guard hair will not be made into yarns.

Shirley using some comedy spec's to search for guard hair!

Infestation in the fleece
The fleece has to be in a good clean condition to be sent off to be spun. If the fleece is contaminated with foliage we cannot use this as it can ruin the quality of the yarn.

The staple is the length measured of each fibre which has to be over 5 cm. If it is any less than this the fibre wouldn't be long enough to spin. The staple is defined by how long the fibre has grown from one shearing process to the next.

Crimp is only  found in Huacaya fleece.  This is not an essential quality of good fibre for processing, but it is used as a indicator of quality and fineness, it is very important in the show ring when judging alpacas.

The colour of the fleece is very important. 
The Toft Alpaca Shop only use 100% natural fibre to create their products. We do not use dyes or bleach when processing our yarns. The colours of yarn that Toft produce are cream, oatmeal, stone, camel, fudge, chestnut, mushroom, silver, steel and charcoal and black. 

As we were fleece sorting we came across a grey fleece. Grey alpaca fleece is very rare and hard to get hold of, so to produce our silver yarn we spin black and cream fleece together. Silver and Steel are our most popular yarn colours to sell.

Sorting fawn huacaya fleece into grades

Archie the Llama paid us a visit!


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