Tumbling your fiber is the first step in cleaning it. Because this is an especially dirty step we have our tumbler in its own separate vented structure. This step will remove a great deal of the loose dirt, debris and short cuts. It also loosens up the locking in suri and bundling in huacaya making the washing step more effective. Depending on the level and nature of contamination we tumble suri fiber for five to 15 minutes and huacaya for 10 to 25 minutes.
We employ the Belfast washer and we almost always use the three-hour long wash and high water level settings on the equipment - that’s two wash cycles and three rinse cycles using 120 gallons of clean 140 degree water for every load of about nine pounds. While we often run the recycler as part of the process we can do so because we clean the recycler tank and washing machine tank at least weekly. Dirt is a four-letter word in our mill!
Once the fiber is washed it is spread onto drying racks and left to air dry which usually takes a day or two. The actual drying is not a sophisticated process but we go to the necessary lengths to keep things organized by having each shelf labeled so your fiber is thoroughly tracked.
The picker is the first of several amazing machines that begin to manipulate your fiber towards an end product. When the fiber is dried it is clumped together. The picker gently pulls the locks and bundles apart and blows them into a specially-built room. The room is connected to the mill vacuum system so it has a negative air pressure. When the fiber batch is completely picked the vacuum system is turned off and the fiber is generally sprayed very lightly with Syntholube to control static.
The picker is also a common point in the milling process to blend fibers. This can include combining the fiber from multiple animals with similar fiber characteristics or using additives such as silk, tencel or merino. Blending at this point is successful when you desire a complete and through blending as opposed to ribbon blending. When blending at the picker, our process is to first process the fiber through the separator to fully clean the fiber so that it is in a clean condition similar to the additive fiber. Once the blended fiber is in the picker room it does not go on to the separator again but rather straight to the carder.
The separator is a fascinating machine that gently separates unwanted coarse guard hair, vegetable matter and other contamination from fine fiber. It does this because of the centrifugal force created by the machine acting on the weight of the vegetation or hair. We include, as part of our mill pricing, up to three passes of your fiber through the fiber separator. Every batch will go through at least once. By paying careful attention to the operation of the separator we limit the loss of you valuable fiber. When you see the fiber pile up in the ‘clean’ bin you start to get a real sense of just how beautiful the end product will be.
The carder is often referred to as the heart of the spinning mill – and for good reason. The carder takes in clean and randomly disorganized fibers and aligns them in a parallel fashion – the very raison d'être of a fiber mill. The carder creates a web of fiber that can either exit the carder either as a batt or as a roving or sliver. The carder is the other point in the spinning process where blending typically occurs. While the picker is best used for thoroughly blending fibers the carder is best used for ribbon blends and the like.
Batts of a typical 24” width of any thickness can be created at this point. The batts can be sued in needle felting as well as a whole host of craft projects or stuffing for pillows. Rovings for hand spinners coming off the carder are considered a finished product while the same product is called a sliver if it is going to be further processed towards yarn.
The next machine draws out the sliver to the desired size required for the particular yarn to be spun. The draw frame accepts several rovings at once and in a brushing action further aligns the fibers to be more parallel and reduces the multiple rovings into a single roving of smaller size. Each pass through the draw frame averages any thick or thin sections of the roving and improves the consistency ready for spinning.
The draw frame takes the sliver from the carder and creates a new sliver that is absolutely consistent in size over its entire length. It also further aligns the fibers to be parallel, and makes a stronger sliver for ease of processing. All yarns proceeded at Sugarloaf Alpaca Company will pass at least twice through the draw frame. The draw frame is the last and perhaps least common point where blending can occur.
The spinner draws in the prepared slivers and directs them through a measured and controlled process that produces an extremely consistent fiber stream. This fiber stream is then twisted into a finished single ply of yarn and wound on bobbins. Yarn size and twist per inch are easily controlled and are based on whether you want a ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ yarn. We always spin in ‘Z’ and ply in ‘S.’ With this one machine we can spin ultra-lace to super bulky weight yarns.
Having produced a single ply yarn on the spinner we can combine two or more plys to create a thicker yarn. This is another place to create interesting and unusual yarns by combining single plys of different colors to create barber pole and other variations in visual appearance. As noted earlier we spin in ‘Z’ and ply in ‘S.’ This reverse in spinning direction provides strength and balance to the yarn and keeps it from twisting on itself. The most common yarns are 2 and 3 ply but we can create the four or more plied yarn on a specialty basis.
During the steaming process the plied yarn is drawn through the steamer by the Cone Winder. While under slight tension the yarn is pulled through a steam chamber and then a drying tube. This process sets the twist. Any tensions that are placed into the yarn during the spinning or plying processes are evened out during steaming.
Yarn passed through the cone winder is metered and wound on cones. The speed at which the cone is built, tension at which the yarn is applied and length of yarn on each cone in yards or meters can be preset. Cones are the standard delivery means of finishing yarn at Sugarloaf Alpaca Company.
As an optional service we can process your yarn into skeins by using the skein winder. This process meters and winds the yarn into one and one half yard skeins. We can produce skeins by the yard or by approximate weight.
As an optional service, we can label your yarn with your logo and other information. Simply provide us with a high quality digital image and we will take it from there. The label will contain all the pertinent information about the type, size and contents of your yarn.