Yesterday, our George Fox University textiles class was privileged to go to an alpaca farm to observe that process of spinning wool into yarn. Owner Blair Timmerman, walked us through the process from its most elementary stage, the Alpaca. Timmerman and his wife began raising alpacas in the early 90’s because his wife wanted to produce her own yarn to spin.
“Alpacas were developed by the Incas.” Timmerman informed us as he went into depth about the rich history of the alpacas. Alpacas have been used for centuries because of the rich fibers that can be spun into yarns. “There are 22 natural colors of alpacas, the rarest is rose grey.” said Timmerman as he showed us his alpacas.” We went on to learn that there are two kinds of alpacas Huacaya and Suri. Huacaya is an alpaca that grows soft spongy fiber, has natural crimp, thus making a naturally elastic yarn well-suited for knitting. Suri has far less crimp and thus is a better fit for woven goods. “Both have similar microns, but Suri lies flat and is more similar to silk.” Timmerman went on, as he led us into the mill.
Inside the mill he explained to us the process of spinning the fibers into yarn. First the fibers are washed.Timmerman displayed. He showed us how the picker breaks open fibers so that the carder can straighten everything else. The next step is carding. The carder produces roving.
We watched as the machine took clumps of fibers and turned them into roving. “From there”, Timmerman continued, “a draw frame takes multiple strands of roving and creates one even rove.” Timmerman hooked up multiple strands of roving to the draw frame.
The end result was extraordinary even rove of fibers. Timmerman took the rove to the spinner. Fiber enters the spinner and is then stretched out. “The more draft, the smaller the yarn.” Timmerman explained. He also went on to explain some of the problems in the industry. “There is not consistency in the industry with how the yarn is measured. I use warps per inch, but there are several different ways that yarn can be measured.” The next step is to ply the yarn. There can be single, double, even up to forty or fifty ply yarn depended on the kind of machine and what is needed.
“Commercial manufacturers don’t care about the crimp so they spin very thin and put multiple plys together to create a uniform look.” From here the yarn is then wound, washed, and dried.
I learned so much from the visit to the mill. I am glad to have had the opportunity to visit Blair Timmerman’s mill it was so educational and inspiring. Please enjoy this short Clip of Blair spinning. It was so amazing to get to the heart of how clothing is made.