[Preparation Title]

[F]or the most part, fiber preparation at Bear River FiberWorks follows the same steps that fiber workers have used for centuries. The only differences may be the quality and sophistication of the tools. Even though I use relatively fancy tools, I still rely heavily on nature's own best fiber tools - my hands and eyes.

[S]kirting and Debris Removal

Skirting is the removal of dung tags, mats, second cuts, large debris and sections of fleece that are hopelessly infused with vegetable matter. I am ruthless. It is better to toss a little bit of good fiber into the trash than to have a little bit of bad fiber contaminate the rest of a good fleece. I inspect the fleece and remove the really bad bits. Skirting continues throughout the fiber preparation process because I'm always finding something that doesn't belong.

Very commonly, tiny bits of veg are found throughout a fleece. When these bits are concentrated and localized, they are easy to remove. When the veg is not concentrated but rather is diffuse, attempts to skirt it out are not worth the effort because so much fiber would be tossed. Further processing, by picking, carding will open the fibers and cause some of the remaining veg to drop out but it won't get all of it.

Note: while I can skirt fleeces here, better results are achieved when the fleece is skirted immediately after shearing. Once the fleece is put into a bag or box, the bad bits will begin to mix with the good bits making the bad bits much, much, harder to find and remove.

The best time to remove guard hairs is while the fleece still has its lock structure immediately after shearing (FiberWorks no longer offers a dehairing service).

Some fleeces (primarily llama and alpaca) are tumbled in a large screened drum that knocks great quantities of dust, veg, and second cuts out of the fleece. The tumbling also helps to open the fleece so that washing is more effective. Tumbling of sheep fleeces is not as beneficial because of the stickiness of the grease.


Quite a bit of time has been spent fine-tuning the washing process to account for the chemical composition of the local water. The process works very well, treats your fiber with care, and avoids harsh chemicals and rough handling. More ...

Because all fiber must be grease-free before carding, I will rewash fleeces that arrive with any residual grease. Washing charges are based on the fleece's grease weight.


Picking opens fiber locks in preparation for washing or carding. I use a swing picker for everything except fleeces that are extraordinarily tender. Those fleeces I pick by hand. There are those who claim that mechanical picking damages the fibers in the fleece. To some extent I disagree; a properly adjusted swing picker does no more damage to the fibers than the carder itself. In fact, picking with a swing picker is really nothing more than course carding.


The final fiber preparation step I provide is carding. Carding teases apart the individual fibers and aligns them so that they are more-or-less parallel with each other. The output from the carder is a fine web of fibers that can be directed to the bump winder or to the storage roll from the doffer. The carder is a Patrick Green Jumbo Exotic carder. It is not the big brother to your drum carder. When you card with your drum carder you load the carding cloth of the drum with layer upon layer of fibers. When the drum's carding cloth is full you pull the fibers off of the drum in the form of a batt. To make batts with the Patrick Green, the web of fibers pulled from the doffer is laid upon the burlap covered surface of the storage roll. A press roll lightly compacts the fibers on the storage roll. The result is a progressively thickening batt. The thickness or loft of the batt is purely dependent on the characteristics of the fibers. To make roving, the web of fibers from the doffer is directed to the bump winder. The bump winder draws the fibers through a series of pressure rollers and channels, lightly drafting the fiber to produce a consistently formed roving. After the roving is formed it passes through a device called a wig-wag to the bump bobbin.


Last modified: 2010 Feb 15 2327:26 UTC