The alpaca, a cousin of the llama, guanaco and vicuna, is native to the South American countries of Peru, Bolivia and Chile. These animals have been exported to countries around the world, and are thriving quite nicely in the United States. There are 2 breeds of alpaca, the huacaya (pronounced "wa kai` a") and the suri alpaca. Huacaya alpacas have crimped fiber that stands out on the animal, much like the wool on sheep, but is lanolin free, making it virtually hypoallergenic. It is comparable to cashmere. The Huacaya alapca, the more common type of alpaca, reminds people of huggable teddy bears, and the fiber from these types of alpacas makes a soft lofty yarn or fabric. The rare suri alpaca does not have crimped fiber. Their fiber lays straight and hangs from their bodies in silky tendrils or locks of fiber. It is known for its silky handle and lustrous appearance and is comparable to silk. Suri alpaca fiber spun into fabric or yarn has a beautiful, soft draping characteristic that flows with movement. The image of a suri alpaca with the fiber flowing in the breeze like a silken curtain is a sight to behold.
Although Alpaca makes wonderful warm, soft garments, it is not just for warm weather! It can be made into lightweight garments that can be enjoyed year round. A lightweight summer shoulder wrap can be just the item needed to add a touch of elegance for cooler summer nights on the town.
So what is the big deal with alpaca fiber and what exactly makes it so special? Written by Barb Ziek (copyright 2010, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Aside from having a wonderful handle, so soft that you can wear right next to your skin, what's so special about alpaca fiber? It's warmer and stronger than the fiber of other mammals, light weight, and very water resistant. It has other qualities as well:
In the Yocum-McColl Testing Laboratories, alpaca was shown to be 3 times warmer than sheep's wool. Why? One reason is that alpaca is more heavily medullated: in other words, there are tiny hollow areas in the center of many individual alpaca fibers. These areas hold the warmth and, in addition, make alpaca lighter in weight than other animal fibers.
Another study showed that if worn in a 0 degree Fahrenheit environment, alpaca would give a 50-degree Fahrenheit comfort range. Sheep's wool would provide a 30-degree Fahrenheit comfort range in the same environment.
in addition, Yocum-McColl found alpaca to be very strong. The average tensile strength of alpaca is 50 N/ktex; 30 N/ktex is considered adequate to run on modern mill machinery. Other sources say alpaca is the strongest mammal fiber. One historian wrote that native people braided alpaca/llama fiber with reeds or cotton to make bridges spanning canyons in the Peruvian Andes.
People have long observed that alpaca is very water resistant. Tests at Gaston College in 2009 proved that. Their representative told the Alpaca Fiber Symposium that alpaca is virtually water repellent. In the testing process they found it all but impossible to saturate alpaca fiber to do the tests.
This extreme water resistance may be the reason alpaca so successfully wicks moisture away from the body. The many fans of alpaca socks tell us that the socks are very warm but that their feet don't feel sweaty while wearing them. Thus, while wearing alpaca socks, one's feet remain comfortable in cold, wet conditions.
The water resistant quality of alpaca may be a reason some report that it resists odors better than other fibers, even in socks.
Alpaca does not contain lanolin, making it easier to process than sheep's wool. It does not require the kind of scouring process that sheep's wool does. It is also a reason alpaca has an 87-95% clean fiber yield whereas sheep have a 43-76% clean fiber yield.
Alpaca tends to be hypoallergenic. Many people who cannot wear wool report that they can wear alpaca with no allergic reaction.
Alpaca tends to have a low "prickle factor" which makes it possible for most people to wear it next to their skin without itching. Some experts say this is because the individual scales on alpaca fibers are smoother and lower than those on the fibers of other mammals.
Alpaca is more flame resistant than plant or synthetic fibers. In addition, in case of fire, it does not melt onto the skin like synthetics do.
Some fabric experts say alpacas is more resilient and wrinkle resistant than cashmere. They also suggest that it has a lower tendency to shrink than wool and cashmere.
People come into our shop looking for alpaca products and tell us they bought an alpaca sweater 30 or 40 years ago and still wear it! They say their sweaters still look new after years of wear. (Camelid textiles found in 2500 year old Peruvian ruins are often in surprisingly good condition!)
Alpaca can be processed in both the worsted and woolen methods. it can be woven, knitted, crocheted and felted. Crimpy huacaya makes fabulous, loft yarn for knitted and crocheted applications. Suri, silky fleeced huacaya and low, bold crimped huacaya are ideal for making sensuous drapable woven fabric. Both huacaya and suri can be felted, though the nature of the scale structure generally makes felting suri a longer process than felting huacaya.
Helen Hamann, a fashion designer and alpaca fiber expert who is knowledgeable about Incan culture and Peruvian history, tells us that textiles made from alpaca fiber were collected as taxes. While we can't pay our taxes in alpaca fiber, we can make hats, gloves, sweaters, scarves, pillows, blankets, rugs, bags, puppets, pin cushions, wall hangings and a myriad of other products from this fabulous fiber!
Alpaca comes in 22 gorgeous natural colors, ranging from white to true black and including delicate beiges, vicuna-like fawns, luscious rich browns and a full range of grays. For those who want other colors, alpaca accepts dye beautifully. Alpaca is a versatile, warm, strong, water resistant fiber which is produced on a gentle, hardy animal. Alpacas are "green" animals, easy keepers that are light on the land, making them ideal fiber animals to raise on small acreage.
OUR MISSION: Clothe the world in alpaca!