alpaca and llama fiber
separates and removes lesser quality fiber, second cuts,
contaminated fiber, and vegetable matter (VM) from your beautiful fleece.
On shearing day, I use a blower on the animals before shearing to blow out dirt and debris
from fleeces that will be commercially processed. Don't use a blower on an animal from
which you want to harvest a show fleece because blowing breaks up the lock structure.
Removing Commercial Fleeces
At shearing, put the blanket in a clear plastic bag with a card stating the animal's name,
shearing date, and weight. Put the leg and usable neck hair in a second bag. I also put a dryer
sheet (the kind you throw in the clothes dryer) in each bag to deter insects and minimize static.
Removing Show Fleeces
Show fleece blankets should be sheared and removed in a single piece. Let your shearer
know in advance that it's a show fleece. Put a large plastic receiving sheet on the ground;
and as the blanket comes off the animal, gently transfer the blanket to the sheet. Then move
the sheet to a table to get it out of the shearer's way. Next, you will fold the blanket in
thirds and roll it up. I put tissue paper on top of the blanket, then fold the left side
inwards and put another layer of tissue paper on top. Fold the right side inwards and put
tissue paper on top. Then roll up the blanket like a sleeping bag and put it inside a bag.
The Shearing Table
The "shearing table" is just a wood frame over which is attached 1 inch chicken wire mesh.
The frame is at least 8 ft by 5 ft and set atop saw horses or small folding tables. Debris,
dirt, and second cuts will fall through the wire mesh to the floor. I like the folding tables,
so I can put other things, like scissors, my notebook, etc.
Use a ruler to mark the edge of the frame where you will site with lines that are 2 inches apart.
You'll use these marks to measure fiber that is short. Any fiber less than 2 inches long cannot
be spun. Either throw the short fiber away, or save it in a separate pile for felting.
It's best to skirt all your fleeces by color, starting with whites and working towards black.
Place the blanket on the table with the cut side down and skirt it for excessive variations
(such as coarse britch), heavy medullation, abnormal staple length, second cuts, stain,
excessive vegetable matter, etc.
For show fleeces, all blankets will be graded at the lowest quality of fiber in that bag.
So you will skirt from the outer edges towards the center. Therefore, to obtain maximum value
for your fleeces, you should skirt it by uniformity of fineness, color, and staple length.
Remove any belly, face and leg wool. This is short wool. If it is clean and free of
VM, you can save it separately for use in felting or even spinning if it’s long enough.
But it will be considerably shorter than the bulk of the fleece and have a different texture.
This should not be mixed with the rest of the fleece to avoid having an inconsistent roving.
Remove any britch wool. Britch wool is the wool that grows on the hind legs up into the rump
(and occasionally on the front legs up into the shoulder). The britch is straighter, often
longer, coarser in diameter and usually more brittle in texture. The britch can be saved and
set apart to be used for felting or spinning by itself. Britch wool makes very hard wearing wool
for work socks, gloves, rug yarn, and other hard wearing items.
Remove any areas that are heavily contaminated with VM. This is the hard part! The worse
areas for VM contamination are the neck and shoulders. The withers where the neck and back
meet is what I call the "snack pack." It's where there's always lots of dirt and VM. I discard
Remove all the second cuts you can find. Second cuts occur when the shears are not kept close
to the sheep’s skin and leave a tall stubble behind. On the next sweep of the shears,
this stubble is cut off, leaving a short bit of fleece, or second cut. These second cuts will
become noils and neps that need to be removed as the fiber is spun. Second cuts do not make
very nice novelty yarn like silk noils do. Second cuts usually wind up as pilling on the
garment. Nobody likes that! Even the very best shearer will have a few second cuts. If you’re
finding a lot of them, however, you may want to find another shearer.
This page was last updated on June 10, 2009.