Farm to Yarn: How to Process Raw Fiber Into Yarn


| 4/14/2015 9:38:00 AM


Tags: Fiber, Alpaca, Wool, Yarn, Spinning, Drum Carder, Fleece, Fiber Processing, Tracy,

TracyHave you ever wondered how fiber from an animal ends up as a sweater? I can now do all the steps from home – if my spinning was better, and if I could knit a sweater – so I thought I’d share how it works.

When I first started spinning, I used roving. That’s fiber, all combed into one direction, then formed into strips that make it easy to pass into the spinning wheel. Charlie and I had seen raw fiber, and then roving. The big question was, “How does it get that way?”

The first step is to select the fiber. Wool is the most commonly used, but there are so many more! My favorite to spin is alpaca, but it tends to need to be blended with something, like wool, to add some body and stretch to the yarn. Llama can also be used, but I haven’t gotten my hands on any yet. Angora rabbits produce angora fiber. Easy enough. Angora goats produce mohair. Seems like they should maybe call them mohair goats, but no. There are also a lot of more “exotic” fiber, like silk, yak, buffalo. All kinds of cool stuff.

Sheep are pretty clean, compared to alpacas. Alpacas love a good dust bath. Either way, the fiber needs to be skirted and cleaned. During skirting, the fiber is spread out on a screen. All the yucky fiber, guard hairs, dirt, and grass/hay are removed. Well, as much as possible. Some people like to spin it right from this point, but I need it to be more organized, and I’m not a fan of my hands getting all sticky from the lanolin on wool.

fleece 

Once the fiber is skirted, it’s time to wash it. It would be super easy if the fiber could be thrown in the washing machine, but that can’t happen. Too much agitation – which is very little – will cause the fiber to felt, and then there isn’t much that can be done with it. Instead, the fiber is put into nylon laundry bags, and submerged in a tub of hot water, with dish detergent. Allow the fiber to soak long enough for the water to soak all the locks of fiber and break down any dirt. After 30 minutes or so, drain the tub, gently squeeze water from the fiber, and do the whole thing over again. I find that three times is usually good. Each time the water will run cleaner. Some people will lay their fiber out at this point to dry. I’m in Washington, and it’s wet and cold right now. I run the fiber through just the spin cycle to remove a lot of the water, otherwise it may not actually get dry until spring.




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