Worsted or Woolen?

Exotic Fibers is the only worsted fiber mill in North America that can process the longer llama and alpaca fiber into worsted yarn. The major difference between a worsted process and a woolen process is that in a worsted process the slivers coming off the carder, are then processed by two extra draft machines that comb the fibers with thousands of teeth, making the fibers lay parallel to one another. This process is absent in a woolen process so, the fiber in the woolen process is not as soft and smooth. This is very important when making yarn that will ultimately be used to make garments or other products that will be worn next to your skin.

          At their Mill in Innisfail, Alberta, Exotic Fibers of Canada processes raw fiber into just about any kind of yarn that you can use to knit, loom, and make handy-crafts.

          Exotic Fibers presents the finished yarn on cones, skeins or 50/100-gram balls. 200 gm. skeins are quite popular, as they can be easily washed or dyed in this form. Balls, because of their smaller size, do require more tying when making finished products such as sweaters.Cones have a distinct advantage in that if the customer is unsure of the end use, they can always return the cone to the Mill at a later date where it will be made into skeins or balls. Machine knitters prefer cones, as the fiber length is "endless".

        Exotic Fibers customer base is as varied as the fibers they process. Their customers span all over the U.S., from New Hampshire, Maryland to California, and as far north as Alaska. In Canada, they have customers from almost every province, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario and the Western Provinces. They have processed Mohair, Angora Rabbit, Muskox (Qiviut), Llama, Alpaca and many types of sheep. It is the only business that Barry Lammle & Bert Lehmann have been involved in where customers constantly send cards and e-mails complimenting them on the fine products they have processed for them. They love the feedback, and find it particularly encouraging for the fantastic mill staff that do all the work.

        Exotic Fibers Mill Manager, Terry Byneshewski, has spent most of his career working in mills in Eastern Canada and has extensive experience. Barry & Bert are very fortunate to have such a talented person running their mill. The Mill usually operates with a minimum of four staff — more at peak times. They guarantee that you get your own product back on quantities of over 20 lbs. On quantities of less than 20 LBS. Exotic fibers encourages customers to co-op with either the Canadian Camelid Fibre Co-op or for our American friends the Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of N.A.Inc. You can count on a 20% (approx.) loss in weight on your returned finished product due to actual dirt and vegetation within the fiber. Exotic Fibers will be running some of the co-op quantity by colour and some as a blend, so send in your fiber with your desired requirements.Barry Lammle, Bert Lehman, and the Mill staff welcome you to come and tour the Mill, and of course they would love to have the privilege of processing your fiber. Exotic Fibers is looking forward to a great millennium in the fiber industry and they thank all who have sent in fiber for processing.


1. 48" Opener which opens the fibre. The fibre then passes through the Vortex Lubricating system and is then blown up and over to the carder through the black tube.

2. Bert’s Washing System - metal fingers move fiber along very slowly to a conveyor belt which takes it to squeeze rollers. Then, another conveyor takes the fibre to a bin.

3. First stage of the Breaker Section.

Exotic Fibers produces more then just yarns for knitting.

Here are some of the more common products they produce:

Batts Most commonly used by quilters. Slivers (also referred to as rovings) Can also be used by quilters and is used by many hand spinners who do not want to do their own washing and carding. Tops Come off the draft machines. They are rope-like and very soft, fibers that have been combed parallel. These are favorites of hand-spinners and a multitude of other craftspeople. Pencil Rovings Come off roving machine. The tops are drafted again and a slight twist added. This is the final stage before spinning. Pencil rovings are commonly used by craftspeople. YARN - Single, 2, 3 & 4 ply These are made up in different weights, depending on applications, e.g. machine knitting, hand knitting or crocheting.

The Machining

Process of Raw Fiber

Unless you have personally toured a mill in operation there can be many misconceptions about the fiber milling process.

        This article will discuss three machines: the Davis Furber carder, the Warner & Swasey Servo drafter, and the Warner & Swasey finisher.

        The carder is actually made up of seven different components, each enacting a different task in the over-all process.

        In the first step, raw fiber enters the infeed bin after being blown through the tube and then travels approximately 4 feet straight up a conveyor belt. The belt has 3/4" nails separated approx. 1" apart to hold the fiber. A corrugated comb moves in a downward motion along the belt to ensure no matted fiber is allowed to pass. The fiber then flows into a trough that automatically drops a specified weight every 53 seconds.

       The fiber enters the first stage of the card called the breaker section. Here the first cylinder, "workers" and "strippers" are made of heavy steel teeth. These rollers rotate against one another to break up the fiber. After this stage the combing action begins on more cylinders, workers, and strippers that have millions of wires of a specific gauge. Dirt or vegetation falls to the floor and the fiber that is now left is extracted from the last cylinder by a reversing comb. The fine web of remaining fiber then goes through the "peralta" which is two 12" diameter steel rollers set to 1/16" gap and apply 8000# pressure to crush any vegetation or seeds that may remain. Then the first static bar is utilized. This reduces static electricity that has developed when the product was turned. The fiber is now carried up a ladder, called the Scott Transfer, and across to the Intermediate Card. The Transfer lays the fiber in 8" strips to ensure a constant volume infeed. From here the process is the same except that all of the wires are a finer gauge.

        The transfer to the Finish section is a continuous process with the wires again going to a finer gauge. In all three carding sections there are "fancys", reversing rollers which clean the main cylinders.

        The Sliver (Sly-ver) that comes off the card goes through a second static bar and automatically gets wound into a Creel, a spring loaded drum to accommodate up to 50# of fiber, before going to the the next machine, a Servo drafter.

        Although the sliver looks like a luxurious piece of fiber the weight per yard coming off the card cannot be guaranteed. The Servo drafter senses the volume and weight of the fiber being delivered and adjusts for consistency by means of a variable speed gear. The fiber is then "drafted" four times and parallel combed for a worsted system. There are actual combs that the fiber passes through in a continuous motion. The fiber then goes through a third static bar and on to the Finisher.

        The Finisher performs the same process as the Servo but with finer combs, before sending the product to another Creel.


More about the machining process will be discussed in future articles. In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding the process or would like a conducted tour of the fiber mill, call either Bert or Barry at 403-253-3172. Exotic Fibers of Canada is the Only Worsted Fiber Mill specializing in llama and alpaca fibers in North America. Call 403-253-3172 for pricing & product information. Head Office: Exotic Fibers of Canada Ltd. 6012 - 3rd Street S.W., Calgary, Alberta T2H 0H9

4. Second stage of the Breaker, part of the card that combs raw fiber into parallel lines. 5. Creel Winder/Finishing Servo drafts fiber to a continous even weight per yard. 6. Roving Machine, drafts fiber 4 times and applies small amount of twist in preparation for spinning. 7. Spinning Frame, spins roving or sliver for hand knitting or to fine and elegant fabric yarn as high as 30 worsted count yarn.

Guidelines for Fibre Preparation

         If you plan on sending your fiber in to a Mill for processing, here are some guidelines to follow:

         First and foremost, keep in mind, the cleaner the fiber, the better the quality of fiber, and the more uniform the staple length of the fiber, the better the end product will be.

         Before shearing, rake and hand-pick as much vegetation from animal as possible.

         Separate the coarser leg and neck wool from the main fleece and identify. 

         If you have a lot of animals, separate by fineness and by colour. If you do not have a lot of animals, mixed colours are okay and in actual fact, when blended they process out looking wonderful.

         Shear every year. If you do this you will have a uniform staple length, a fleece literally free of vegetation and a much superior end product.

         If you have not done all the above, all is not lost, Exotic Fibers can still process your fiber. Just remember for next time, as everyone is striving for better and better quality. If you have small quantities of different colours, remember blending them together makes a great looking product.