John & Susan Merrell
41390 Hwy 226
Scio, OR 97374
503-394-3790
503-551-7219 (cell)
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Tools and Methods

Measuring tools and methods used with natural fibers are largely derived from the wool industry, since the most common animal fiber in use is sheep wool.  Given the multitude of sheep breeds it should not be a surprise that wool is produced in many ranges. This has led to a number of methods of assessing the quality of the wool, and these methods have in turn been extended to other types of natural fibers.

For many years wool was assessed using the "Bradford System". This method described wool by estimating how many 560-yard hanks of single strand yarn could be made from a pound of tops (cleaned and combed wool). The finer the wool, the more hanks could be spun. From a pound of "64s," for example, sixty-four such hanks could be made (more than 20 miles!). From the finest wools, more than 80 hanks could be spun; from the strongest, perhaps 36 or fewer.

The Bradford System has largely been replaced by direct measurment of fibers using laboratory equipment. Today, natural animal fibers are measured in "microns" (1/1000 of an inch). It is generally agreed that next to skin use requires a micron count of 27 or less.

Fine Merino wools may measure 18-20 microns, while coarser breeds of sheep may produce wool measuring well over 35 microns.

Commonly used animal fibers, and their approximate micron ranges include:

Breedμ Range
Wool 17-35+
Cashmere1 < 18.5
Angora 12-16
Mohair 25-45
Alpaca2 < 20-30+
Llama 20-40+
Qiviut3 15-20
Camel3 16-25
Notes:
1. Cashmere is the downy undercoat of various goat breeds and by definition must measure less than 18.5 μ
2. The International Alpaca Association defines alpaca as less than 30 μ, and anything over as "huarizo"
3. Measurement is based on the dehaired undercoat

Fiber analysis can be done by a variety of methods, and each has advantages and disadvantages and is applicable to different uses.  Scientific assessment of fiber is usually presented as a "histogram" and reflects values such as Average Fiber Diameter, Standard Deviation, Coefficient of Variation, and fibers over 30 microns.  They might also include figures reflecting the fiber curvature and or "comfort factor".

 
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"Mrs. McGregor, hot but triumphant in a petticoat that crackled like brittle ice beneath her black alpaca skirt and a pair of white cotton gloves at the fingers of which she was continually tugging..."

- Sara Bassett
Carl and the Cotton Gin
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