Here at DSCA, we have 60+ alpacas that I need to process their fiber. I currently work a full time job (from home) and Tony works most weeks out of town. This leaves me the daily chores of scooping poop, feeding animals and general farm maintenance after putting in an 8 hour day at work. This doesn't leave a lot of time to do what I really love, PLAY WITH MY FIBER.
So, I have been experimenting with ways to process my fiber, quickly and efficiently. I am publishing a series of articles on what my process is and along the way, I'll let you know what works and what doesn't work in my environment. Please note, my goal is to get as many fleeces done in the limited amount of time that I have. If I were processing only a few per year, I may do things a little different. This is not intended to be a rulebook on how to processes your fleece, but to give you my perspective and let you determine what works for you and what doesn't. There are a lot of different ways to do this and as long as you end up with a product that you like, that is all that really matters.
First, I layout my fiber on my skirting table and pick out any obvious belly/guard hair, short cuts or areas that are too matted or have too much VM to make it worthwhile to clean. In doing this, some of the dirt and vm fall out of the fiber. Once this is done, I will push the fiber to the side and start hand picking/skirting the fiber by taking small handfuls and picking them apart and removing any vm that I can easily pull out. If the tips are too matted or messed up, I will cut them off. I find I have to do this with my huacaya cria fleeces that weren't shorn shortly after birth. They pick up everything are are pretty nasty to work with. Plus the tips are very brittle and wouldn't be good to have in the final product. If there is a lot of mats, tangles or exploded vm (itty bitty pieces of hay that you just cannot pick out by hand), I will use a single hand card to pull the lock through. This will comb out the lock and a lot of the tangles and vm. Once I have finish the handful, I set it in a pile of fiber that is ready to be washed.
Since my method of processing fiber includes drum carding the fiber to pull into roving or roll into a batt, I don't worry about keeping the locks lined up or laid out in a specific manner. At this stage, you could also "finger pick" the fiber into a fluffy cloud. This finger picking has to be done as the step right before putting it into the drum carder, so if you do it now, you will still have to do it again after you wash it. But, it may make the second picking easier if you do it now as well. This is a personal preference and the value of it may vary from fleece to fleece.
Once I have a mediums sized pile that is done, I begin the washing phase. Please see the next part in the Hand Processing Fiber series for my steps on washing your fiber.