Skirting your alpaca fleece for show takes time and practice. Set realistic expectations and allow yourself to make some mistakes along the way. Whatever you do, don’t give up. It’ll all pay off in the end.
Preparing your show fleece starts months before shearing by maintaining good nutrition, low stress, and a clean environment.
On shearing day, let the shearer know which ones are your show alpacas. Be ready to collect the prime blanket on sheets (bed sheets work fine) as it comes off the alpaca and keep it separate from the seconds and thirds. Ideally, you can skirt it on shearing day- but that might not be possible for most of us.
Set up an area for your skirting table. You can easily make your skirting table by attaching a 3ft x 5ft wire mesh with half inch squares to a wooden frame. You can balance this on 2 workhorses or any two stable items at the right height for you.
Put your prime blanket on your skirting table. Try to keep the fleece organized and figure out the top line, front and back of the body, and the belly direction. Just do the best you can.
Your goal is to show the most consistent prime fleece in feel, color, and length while trying to keep the weight as high as possible. So, you want to skirt just enough but not too much. Of course, this is much easier said than done when you’re new and still trying to figure out the right amount. I skirted way too much for my first fleece show. The kind judge’s comment was “questioning aggressive skirting method.” I had to smile since I didn’t know what I was doing. I was relieved to know what I did wrong.
This show fleece was very consistent and my alpaca was still able to get a blue ribbon even with my big mistake. Now I know how much is too much and have done better since. It’s ok to learn as you go. Start with smaller shows.
With that in mind, look at your prime fleece near the center of each side. Notice the length, color, and feel. Then look at your fleece near the neck, belly, top line, and rear. You’ll notice some shorter coarser fiber near the belly. You need to take those out. Check around the neck area as you might see some shorter fiber with a slightly different feel.
After skirting the outer perimeter of the prime fleece, start looking for non-fleece material like hay, burrs, poop, spit chunks, and other undesirables including clumps of matted fleece. Take those out carefully without disturbing the lock structure. If you need a magnifying glass to see it, don’t bother removing it. Do your best and learn from the judge’s feedback. Feel your fleece for anything that pokes you or you can see easily.
Here’s a quick test: Put your cheek on the cleaned fleece and if it feels soft and consistent, you’re ready to send it in. The fleece that I couldn’t lift my cheek off of won a first place ribbon and 2 judge’s special awards: Best Lock Formation and Best Prepared.
Now check your fleece show instructions for detailed directions specific to the show. Carefully fold both sides towards the center and start gently rolling from one side, then the other. Put your fleece in a clear unmarked bag with your fleece tag. Visualize a ribbon for fun, box it up, and head to the post office.
Good luck and have fun regardless of the results.