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Understanding Fleeces

The Suri fleece is silky and falls in pencils (tight ringlets) from the skin and drapes down the sides of the body. The Huacaya fleece grows like a sheep’s wool – afro style!

Alpacas are mainly used to produce fleece, so find out as much as you can about fleeces.  The SRS (soft rolling skin) project is helping the industry better define the genetics required to grow heavier cutting fleeces.  The industry as a whole is trying to grow finer fleeces.  Fleece samples can be sent off to be measured  so you can make informed breeding decisions.

Most fleece statistics quote the following information:  Micron, SD, CV and sometimes CF or SF.  For example:

Micron: 19.32µ

SD: 4.71µ

CV: 24.37%

CF: 98.9%


Generally speaking all fleece is measured in MICRON.  This is one millionth of a metre or a thousandth of a millimetre.  The smaller the micron the finer the fleece.  You should aim to keep your fleece under 25 microns.  The Suri fleece will generally feel about 2 micron finer than the Huacaya fleece… so a Suri fleece of 25 will probably feel the same as a Huacaya fleece of 23.  The micron is the average of the sample sent in for testing.



SD is the standard deviation.  When you send your fleece in to be measured, you will send a group of approx 2000 fibres.  The standard deviation relates to how much the coarsest fibre deviated from the finest fibre.  So it is good if the SD is a small number, as this indicates that there is not a lot of difference between the coarse fibre and the fine fibre.  In the sample above, the coarsest fibre was only 4.71 micron different to the finest fibre.  So the finest fibre may have been 16.51 and the coarsest 21.2 making the average 19.32 and the deviation 4.71.

When you get your fleece results back you will have a histogram that graphs the fleece.

It is good if the graph is a very sharp curve   rather than a wide curve     this is a quick visual check that the fibre doesn't have a huge variation.



The CV is another method of working out the average of the fibre fineness.  CV stands for Co-efficient of Variation and is stated as a %.  It is calculated by dividing the Standard Deviation (SD) by the mean micron (then multiply by 100 to get a percentage).  So in our example above it would be  4.71/19.32 =0.2437 or 24.37%

This figure is used to compare the variation of wools of different microns.  If you are comparing 2 batches of the same micron then the SD would give you the true difference, but where you have 2 batches of different average microns, then the CV will give you a better idea of how they really compare.  

Comfort Factor

The comfort factor relates to the % of fibres that are under 30 microns.  When quoted for sheep’s wool, anything under 97% is considered too coarse to wear close to the skin as it would be irritating.  So if you see a comfort factor quoted, you are looking for the highest number possible… eg 99.9% would be excellent!

Coarse Edge Measurement

This is a figure to explain the histogram without looking at the graph. It takes the broadest 5% of fibres and compares the smallest figure (from the 5%) with the average micron for the fleece.  So where the SD is comparing finest to coarsest, the CEM will give you a micron measurement of the difference between the average micron and the coarsest 5%.  This is often not quoted in fleece stats, but will appear on your histogram.


Spinning Fineness

This figure provides an estimate of the performance of the sample when spun into yarn.  It is calculated by combining the average micron and the CV%.

Fleece Processing Terms

The fleece once shorn is skirted, classed and sorted. It is then sent to a processor where it is scoured and carded. Then it can be made into batting, or spun into yarn.

Skirting - This is the job of removing bits that can't be used. Bits of fleece that are shorter than the remainder or are full of vegetable matter etc. This is the first quick sorting job.

Classing - This is the process of deciding the quality of the fleece. The fleece should be classed into major categories of superfine, fine, medium and coarse.

Sorting - this is the step taken to break the fleece into different bags for different uses.  The best part of the fleece is from the saddle, and this goes into the main bag to be processed into yarn. The neck can also be processed into yarn, but as it is often shorter than the saddle it should be kept separate. The other bits - apron, legs and underbelly, are generally thrown in together and are not suitable for yarn, but can be used to make batting for quilts or used for felting. Each colour, class and type should be kept separately. You don't want black mixed with your white, nor do you want your superfine mixed with your coarse etc etc.  So you will need lots of bags on shearing day!

Pieces - The apron - the front of the alpaca between the front legs (chest area), the underbelly, the legs and any other bits that are shorter than the average for saddle or neck.

Neck - The neck from shoulder to ears. The neck fibre is generally shorter than other parts of the fleece, but is uniform for the whole neck area.


Saddle - This is generally the area from the base of the neck to the tail, down each side to the top of the legs.  Some of the thigh area can be included in the saddle. This is generally the longest part of the alpaca fleece.


VM - Vegetable Matter. This is the grass, seeds, burrs and other rubbish that gets caught in the fleece while the alpaca rolls in the paddock.  Most VM should be removed by hand prior to shearing, and the larger bits picked out of the fleece before it is packed up to go to the processor.  Large amounts of VM will devalue the fleece.


NCV - No Commercial Value. This is generally the fleece from the apron, legs and underbelly (pieces). This fleece is too short or full of guard hair to be of much use to anybody. This fleece can be used to make batting for stuffing into doonas and quilts. Guard hair will probably need to be removed prior to using this part of the fleece.


Scouring - Washing of the fleece. Alpaca fleece doesn't have as much grease as sheeps wool, so it doesn't require as much washing prior to processing. If you want to do it yourself, see the page on "value adding".


Carding - The carding process is where the clean dry fleece is put through a series of metal combs. The carding can be done by hand or using a machine where the fleece is passed over a drum that has metal comb teeth. The outcome is that any vegetable matter is removed, and the fleece is combed out evenly with all short fibres removed, and all fibres now running in the same direction.

The information contained in these pages is general advice only.

We recommend that you seek specific veterinary advice for your circumstances.  Samsuri Alpacas does not guarantee the accuracy of this information nor be held accountable for your interpretation or use of the advice contained herein. 

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