Alpacas come in 22 natural recognized colors for show purposes, but
there are many hues which lie between these colors and many patterns
which makes alpacas unique as a fiber producing livestock.
Alpaca is graded by micron count (not age):
- Grade 1 - Royal Baby < 20 microns
- Grade 2 - Baby 20 - 22.9 microns
- Grade 3 - Fine 23 - 25.9 microns
- Grade 4 - Medium 26 - 28.9 microns
- Grade 5 - Adult 29 - 32 microns
- Grade 6 - Robust > 32 microns
Alpaca is incredibly soft, doesn't have the prickle factor at the lower grades that other
natural fibers do and is warmer than wool for the same weight. White and light color fibers can be dyed into a rainbow of colors. The natural colors can be blended into a variety of colors as well. White and black will make grey etc.
Sorting natural fiber by hand has been done for 1000's of years and is still an effective method for making the best product and having the best yield for your clip.
There are 3 basic sorting steps:
- First step - sort the fiber by color. White is obviously the easiest to sort into a uniform color, however some of the other colors can have a variety of different shades and may be blended together for a greater yield of finished product. For example,
medium and light fawns may be all blended and dark fawn may be blended with light brown etc.
- Second step - after the fiber is sorted into color is to determine the length and uniformity of each fleece. Within a single animal, there can be many variations in micron count and length. Typically to make the best product, sorting into batches
of no more than an inch in length difference makes the best products. For example 2 - 3 inches can go in one pile, 4 - 5 inche scan go into another etc.
- Third step - 2 main sorts, micron sorting can begin. Sorting to this level takes practice, but it is necessary to make the best product.