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Spring Harvest Fiber Mill is a family-owned and operated fiber mill located in the sunny Yakima Valley of Central Washington. 

Owners Bob and Danise Cathel are committed to milling alpaca and other fibers into luxurious, soft and useful end products. They are avid fiber artists and love working with all types of fiber, with alpaca being their favorite. They also enjoy caring for their 35 alpacas at their farm, Silbury Hill Alpacas. Day-to-day operations of the mill include the whole family: Bob and Danise, daughter Diane, son Anthony, daughter-in-law Sarah, and good friend Levi Burnes.

The Cathels are very excited to be partnering in the Mill with international alpaca judge, Amanda VandenBosch. Amanda's creativity and knowledge of fiber are an integral part in making the unique yarns produced at the mill. 

Spring Harvest Fiber Mill’s primary goal is producing quality fiber products: soft, bright yarns in several weights, roving, felt products and woven rugs and scarves. Education is also a priority of the Mill. We welcome inquiries about all things fiber and processing.

Micron and finished yarn quality – are they related? We did a recent study that showed, Yes, micron and uniformity of micron are related to finished yarn quality. We evaluated skeins of yarn that were spun in our mill and compared these results to histogram data. The skeins were evaluated using a scoring system where the handle, brightness, loft, and twist consistency were each assigned a value between 1 and 5.  Uniformity of micron was measured using the histogram SD (standard deviation) value.

The results were similar to what we had guessed they would be, but with a little twist (no pun intended). We found that fleeces with average micron diameter of 22 or less almost always had a soft hand, and the uniformity of micron is not related to the softness of the skein in these lower micron fleeces. In fleeces with micron of 23 or more, the uniformity of micron is more important than the actual micron in influencing the softness of the skein. In other words, fleeces with what we consider to be high in micron (greater than 26), had a soft hand if the micron SD was low (less than 4.0). Fleeces that were high in micron and were not uniform in micron (had a SD greater than 4.0) felt scratchy to our skin and scored low in handle.

This confirmed what we see in the skeins we make in our mill – higher micron fleeces can produce soft, very nice yarn, as long as there is not a big spread in micron in the fleece.

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It’s shearing time! All the beautiful fiber that we have waited a year in anticipation for will soon be in bags and ready for processing. We have found there are a few steps that can be done during shearing that will help lessen the amount of time spent skirting and cleaning later.  

Before the animal is sheared, take a few seconds to gently brush off any loose veggie matter and remove thistles or sticks.  Use this hands-on time to evaluate the blanket fiber for what end product you would like made from it. Make a note of any decisions you make, to use when you are preparing the fiber for processing.

Make sure the shearing area is clean to avoid adding things that you would only have to pick out later.  Keep the area free of hay or other veggie matter and clean up any stray fibers, poop, and toe nails from the previous animal.  

Skirt and sort the fiber as you collect it from the shearing area - this step will save so much time later! Most shearers will let you know what pieces are “firsts” (blanket fiber) as they are taking it off the animal. Remove any hairy or matted areas before putting the blanket into the designated bag, keeping in mind the type of fiber you would like in your yarn. The pieces you removed can be added into the bag of “seconds”.

“Seconds” (neck and leg fiber) can be collected by individual animal or in groups by similar color or softness, depending on your plans for processing. 

The lower leg fiber or “thirds” are usually too short or hairy to process and can be used as mulch or thrown away.

With only a few minutes spent on each fleece at shearing, and there is no need to skirt again. The bags are ready to go straight to the processor!

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What to do with those bags of alpaca or llama fiber in the garage, barn, or spare bedroom? Something we all have considered at one time or another. Great news is that most can be made into something valuable.

Blankets (“firsts”) make soft yarns if the fiber feels soft and silky to the touch and there are very few straight hairs. Roving for hand‐spinning can also be made out of soft fiber. This applies to both breeds of alpaca and “silky” llama.

Neck and upper leg fiber (“seconds”) make durable core yarn for rugs. And if it is soft, and not hairy, it can be made into core yarn useful for chunky blankets, cowls, or vests.

If the fiber feels “scratchy” and/or has lots of hair, it can be made into core yarn for rugs. You would be amazed at how this “scratchy” fiber turns into beautiful rugs! This type of fiber can also be made into roving or batts for all kinds of felting projects – boot insoles, needle‐felted animals, cat beds, tea cozies, slippers, the list goes on. And since these types of items do not require uniform length or fineness in the fiber, it can be a fun and creative process of mixing colors and styles of fiber for eye‐catching products.

There are no rules for what has to be done with your fiber – choose things that you are going to enjoy working with or selling. For example, soft blankets do not have to made into yarn, they can be made into luxurious woven rugs, if that is what is exciting for you.

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