2017 - Volume #41, Issue #5, Page #10[ Sample Stories From This Issue | List of All Stories In This Issue | Print this story | Read this issue]
Fiber Mill Specializes In Alpaca Fiber
After waits of a year or more to get yarn from their alpaca fleeces, Mitchell and Linda Dickinson of Earleville, Md., decided to purchase equipment and go into business as Painted Sky Alpaca Farm & Fiber Mill.
It’s one of the only fiber mills anywhere that’s dedicated to processing alpaca and alpaca blends, says Linda. Alpaca is hypoallergenic and does not have the lanolin found in sheep fiber. The need to remove oil and scrub equipment between processing sheep and alpaca is one reason why alpaca can take a long time to process at large mills.
At the farm’s mini-mill, the Dickinsons and Linda’s sister, Connie Hughes, only process alpaca. Plus, with their understanding of fibers, they offer customers advice on the best yarn types from each fleece.
“We are constantly learning because every fiber is different,” Dickinson says. “There are certain formulas you follow, but you have to adjust. Some customers may want bulky yarn, but the fiber doesn’t want to be bulky. So we call them and make suggestions.”
A key ingredient to making quality yarn is clean fiber. Alpaca owners need to skirt their fleeces (remove vegetation and fiber shorts) prior to sending them to the mill.
“We look at the quality of the fiber, staple length, crimp structure and cleanliness to ensure the fleece will make a nice quality yarn in the desired weight,” Dickinson says. Each fleece is tumbled to remove any remaining dirt, vegetable matter and fiber shorts, then washed in 150-degree water. After drying, the fleece is run through a picker.
“It breaks open clumps of fiber and shoots them into a closet, so when you open the door, it looks like a huge ‘cloud’ of fiber,” Dickinson explains. “Then it goes into a fiber separator. It’s important to have that with alpaca, because it pulls out thicker guard hairs and only finer fibers pass through to the end.”
The thicker hairs are run through one more time to salvage more of the fiber. (Even the coarsest fiber is saved and used to make rug yarn.)
The good fiber goes into a carder to produce a thin strand of roving. For customers who want yarn, the journey continues through a draw frame, then a spinner where a single strand is spun on a spindle. The individual strands are then run through a plyer to create two or three ply yarn. It is finished with steam to set the twist.
“About 75 percent of our orders are made into yarn, 15 percent roving and 10 percent rug yarn,” Dickinson says.
As a retired graphic artist, Dickinson enjoys the creative process of adding color, creating natural blends or suggesting other fiber blends for her customers. Some alpaca fleeces need help to become a quality yarn. For instance, Suri Alpacas, have no crimp, which gives elasticity to the yarn, so it is recommended to blend it with high-grade Merino wool or a Huacaya fleece.
Demand is growing as people discover the mini mill, Dickinson says. “Our current turn around time for orders is 4 to 5 months,” Dickinson says.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Painted Sky Alpaca Farm & Fiber Mill, 95 Knight House Lane, Earleville, Md. 21919 (ph 410 275-9423; www.paintedskyfibermill.com; firstname.lastname@example.org).
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