At The Natural Fibre Company we like to talk to our customers so that the work we do gives you precisely what you want. We can't cover all the things we're asked, but those below are the most asked questions. For more details and technical information, please look at our advice sheets. Hit the Advice & Information button on the right.
Will I get only my own fleece processed and returned in my order?
We guarantee that all orders are processed individually, with each batch being tracked all the way from the entrance door, through all the processes, to the exit. We will always contact you if for any reason this is not possible. Please also see our Customer Guidance Notes.
How much will it cost to process my fleece?
If you have yarn made, it will cost between £60-100 a kilogram including VAT. You only pay for the yarn returned plus carriage. Some badly matted fibre may have to go through a machine to break it down which adds £6.50 a kilogram and the blending of colours or added fibre is also extra. If you have your yarn returned in 50g balls with personalised ball bands, it will add around £26.50 a kilogram. Should your fibre be washed and carded for crafting or handspinning, this is charged on the incoming weight and it will cost around £14-21 a kilogram for the amount you get back plus VAT and carriage. Please see our downloadable price lists (with or without VAT) for full information or contact us to discuss any specific requirements.
Why do I get less back than I sent?
Your order will be hand sorted and any unsuitable fibre rejected, but most of the weight loss with wool, around a quarter of the total and sometimes more, is during scouring when most of the oil and dirt is washed out. The precise amount will depend on what type of yarn it is and what finish you choose, but remember the following: some vegetation may remain and another 20% could be lost during carding. The average weight of yarn returned is between 50-65% of that received. Alpaca tends to yield higher at around 55-65%. The combing process for worsted-spun yarns will remove more, usually around 10%, so the yield will fall to around 50%.
Is my fleece suitable for spinning?
If you send us a sample we will advise you. If it is an inch (2.4 centimetres) or less long it will not be suitable for yarn, but could be carded for felt making. Otherwise the length of fleece is not a problem; if necessary we can chop it down. Matted and felted fleeces are more of a problem and may produce poor yarn or low yields, while heavy contamination with vegetation will not all be removed and spray marker does not scour out completely so we generally reject this from a batch.
How many jumpers can I get from a sheep?
Most fleeces weigh between 1-3 kilograms, so when made into yarn each can yield one or two pullovers depending on the design and size of the wearer. So our minimum order for 20 kilograms of fleece would make enough yarn to enable you to have up to15 pullovers, or a lifetime supply of baby bootees!
Why does it take so long to get my fibre back?
We are quite proud of our turnaround times, which are among the fastest in the industry, and with a little planning and discussion we are often able to get things through even faster. However, there are reasons why it sometimes takes a little longer: we work carefully to keep different natural colours of fibre from cross contamination, so we schedule white with white, and black with black, and so on. We also timetable different types of fibre from fine to coarse. We schedule scouring at roughly 3-4 weekly intervals, so most fibre has to wait for at least a month before it gets into production. Sometimes we are just flat out! Contact us to discuss your plans as early as you can and we will do our best to help.
What's the best yarn for my fleece?
It depends both on the fleece and on your plans for the yarn. Do you want to sell it for knitting, make it into textiles, furnishing fabric or felt? The softness and fineness of the fibre are the key factors to consider in making these choices. Blending your fibre with another can help and we can advise on this.
Is there an ideal length for fleece before it is spun?
For the best results fibre should be 4-10 centimetres (1.5-4 inches) long. Fibre of varying lengths within a batch can help with spinning and reduce shedding and pilling in yarns, but lengths of over 20 centimetres (8 inches) can cause problems. Fibre for worsted spinning can be longer, at 10-30 centimetres (4-12 inches). To improve quality, suri alpacas should be sheared annually, and long-haired sheep twice a year.
What sort of yarn do I need for a knitting machine?
It depends on the machine. Most have specific gauge: domestic machines are usually fine, which will work for a 4-ply knitting yarn, or chunky, which is actually only able to work on DK knitting yarns. If you tell us the machine gauge or the manufacturer we should be able to help. If you send us a sample of what you used before, we will do our best to match it.
Can yarns be made to precise specifications?
If you send us a sample of at least three metres we should be able to match it and will contact you if this proves impossible. There are inevitable differences between one sheep breed and another and from one fibre to the next. Remember that dyed yarns tend to be 'fatter' than natural ones. It is not possible to match synthetic yarns directly with natural ones.
How are yarn weights specified?
There is a wide variety of national and international 'standards' which are a combination of thickness and twist. Although we have conversion tables, we mostly use YSW or Yorkshire Skein Weight and TPI or Twists Per Inch for woollen spun yarns and NM for worsted. Please note, 3-5 TPI is typical for knitting yarn, 6+ for weaving. Download this file for more detail. The information page at Blacker Yarns also has other advice sheets on the many aspects of yarns!
Why is wool next to the skin sometimes prickly?
This can occur with coarse fibre, generally with a thickness above 27-30 microns. Filaments of wool are measured in two directions: in millimetres from the shorn end to the tip (the staple length), and in microns for the diameter. Department store knitwear made from Australian merino wool usually comes from fibre of 22 microns, sometimes less. Cashmere and alpaca are comparable or finer. Angora rabbit is the finest, good quality fibre being between 16-22 microns, but we have heard that it can be as low as eight microns.