Alpacas of the  Alleghenies, LLC - Logo

November 13, 2014

By: Mary Altmanshofer

Select Your Fiber Mill Wisely


We are all new to this wonderful world of alpacas. Some of us made the fiber side of alpacas the focus, while others chose breeding as their direction. We all learned about fiber, whether it was to win in the showring or to produce a spectacular fiber product. Regardless of your direction, this is a fiber industry and the more educated we become, the better products we will produce.
With a herd of 144 alpacas in the pastures, I knew I needed a large project to utilize the fleece. Blankets! Throws! Yes, a beautiful throw made from 100% of MY fiber. I am an organizer that follows a project full circle and loves holding that finished product in my hands.
Whatever your project is, research, research and research more. Get references. Yes, we all intend to get references, but hearing one good thing is sometimes enough when we are in a hurry. Call people that have done the same project for advice. Talk with the fiber judges, fiber coordinators, fiber artists, spinners and weavers about your project. They are a wealth of information. They may have taken part in a similar project and can share “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”. I am speaking from experience – The Ugly experience.
I talked with commercial weavers about the production of my throws. I viewed images on line of the throws made at a particular mill; I talked at length with the person that would weave the throws. OK – I have fleece and want throws. In order to assure that information was communicated correctly from the weaver to the fiber mill, I excused myself from involvement. The weaver met with the fiber mill. Production of the welf and warp began. The cones of welf and warp were sent directly to the weaver. The weaver sent me a beautiful sample from MY fiber. That was a proud moment. We are ready for production.
Weeks later the throws arrived. Over sixty throws were produced from MY fiber. Ribbons and Banners– check, breeding/birthing – check, sales – check; Life is Good. Now I am into design and sales of products from MY fiber. A few sold immediately. Our products are high end – high priced. Yes – we are marketing 100% alpaca! I was so proud that I gave one to my beautiful Prissy Little Princess Granddaughter. She used it in the evening to sit and read with her mother. How perfect is that?
When visiting my daughter and family, I passed an Old Worn Rag on the sofa? What happened to the throw? I picked it up and felt sick to the deepest depths of my stomach. The shedding of the fleece had huge balls all over the throw. I quickly asked my daughter, “What did you do to the throw”? She responded that Lauren wraps in the throw at night to read. What happened?
I retrieved the throw and began my quest of finding what went wrong. I have sold these throws and what will people think? Great for the Industry – Not! Now I am talking to fiber judges, fiber coordinators, fiber artists, spinners and weavers about my project. Did you know that those fine fleeced alpacas that we work so hard to breed could have fiber breakage during the processing of the yarn? Did you know that the speed of the machines vary from wool to fleece to fine fleece during yarn production? Did you know that the mill should twist or ply your yarn in the opposite direction if the yarn is being commercially woven? What I had was breakage of the original 3.5” fiber allowing it to migrate out of the throw - shed. And did it shed! Eighty seven hundred dollars into a project and I have Shedding!
We as a Fiber Industry have a lot to learn. Many of us came from successful careers and think the same strategy we used to climb the ladder at our “real” jobs can be applied to our alpaca business. Yes, it can. In our “real” jobs we would have researched it to death.
We need to embrace the Fiber side of our alpaca businesses. Do not excuse yourself from decision making involvement, own it and control it. You are the master of your own destiny (or your own project).

Make it; The Good, not The Bad, nor The Ugly”.