Idaho small farmers who raise alpacas, llamas, yaks, or sheep for their fiber need to have the combed or shaved hair, fur, or wool processed. Where can they go to have the processing done quickly, efficiently, and to high standards?
A growing number of them are using the services of Fibers First, Inc., in Post Falls—north Idaho’s only fiber processing plant.
In operation for the past six years, Fiber First washes about 500 pounds of fiber each month at the company’s main Post Falls plant and its Harrison, Idaho, plant.
During the washing process, the raw fiber is inspected, then washed using biodegradable soaps, to remove dirt and lanolin. At this point, the fiber can be processed and made ready for hand spinners, or be turned into yarn at the plant.
In addition to having their fiber washed, Fibers First’s customers can choose a variety of other services. These include picking, carding, having rovings made, plying, yarn-making, and skeining. In the picking process, washed fiber is laid out on the intake tray of the picking machine and is then pulled through a large, revolving wheel with hooks.
These hooks help to separate the locks, open up the fiber, and allow much of the debris to fall out. At this stage—when the material looks something like a cloud—the fiber is blown into a picker room where it is sprayed with conditioner (a 10:1 ratio of water and water soluble, anti-static oil). The fiber is then gathered up and taken to the carding machine, where the fiber is separated and straightened.
To create rovings (a roving is a long, narrow bundle of fiber produced during the process of making spun yarn), the fiber is processed through a pin drafting machine, which creates a consistently sized roving. Plying occurs when two or more strands of yarn are twisted and put together to create a strong, balanced yarn. The company can also blend different types of fiber when creating yarn.
Fibers First is managed by fiber enthusiast Karen Goodson and her husband, Lowell. It is a corporation with 12 owners, most of them friends and family members. Karen, who has been spinning yarn for 20 years, is the current president of the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Log Cabin Spinners. She’s raised Romney sheep, llamas, Angora goats, and Angora rabbits, so she has a deep, hands-on understanding of many types of fiber.
One of the many things Karen loves about working with fiber is there’s always something new to learn.
“Even the same breed of animal can have different qualities of hair, fur, or wool. So often, just when you think you’ve figured out how to work with a particular fiber, something changes, and you have to figure it out all over again,” she said. “I love fiber so much that sometimes it’s hard to let the processed fiber go back to the owner, because I want to spin it myself or knit a sweater out of it!”
Many of Fiber First’s regulars are local fiber growers who sell at farmers’ markets, craft fairs, and yarn stores. When asked about the most unusual type of fiber the plant has processed so far, Karen laughs and says it has to be donkey hair.
This, she says, definitely isn’t something they will ever do again. ISI
If you’re interested in a Fibers First plant tour, contact Karen at (208) 773-8384. The company’s website address is fibersfirst.weebly.com. firstname.lastname@example.org