Alpacas are a member of the Camelid family that originated in South America. They are descended from Vicunas, and can weigh anywhere between 110 to 190 lbs. Their babies are called Crias and the gestation period is about 11.5 months! The Alpaca does not exist in the wild. They are a domesticated animal that has been used for their fiber, meat production and as pack animals for thousands of years in South America. There are now Alpaca farms all over the world except in Antartica! The hardiness required to survive the extreme climates of the Andes where they originated makes them adaptable to essentially any climate in the world.
Alpacas are extremely efficient grazers and require less supplemental food and nutrition than sheep, making less impact per pound of produced fiber, than sheep. This, along with the properties and luster of it’s fiber has made it very popular in recent years for both farmers and the fashion industry.
The fiber of the Alpaca is a truly unique fiber. It has no lanolin, which makes it hypo-allergenic. The fiber structure is finer than sheep’s wool, but at the same time is many times warmer. There are two different kinds of Alpaca, which is discussed briefly on the History tab. The two different kinds, Suri and Huacaya, which have significantly different coats. The Suri’s fiber is straight and coarser, where as the Huacaya is fluffy and has a lot of crimp. Think of the difference between a Golden Retriever and a Poodle, for example!
The individual hairs of the Alpaca are hollow, whereas Sheep’s wool has pockets of air in a more solid fiber. This makes the Alpaca fiber much lighter, as well as a better insulator, than Sheep’s wool. It is also flame-resistant, water resistant and
The softness of any fiber is determined by how large each individual hair is, called the micron count. The smaller the number, the finer and softer the fiber is. The other thing that dictates the softness of a fiber is the cuticle. This also has an affect on how the fibers behave with each other. The cuticle can be thought of almost like hook and loop closures. The scales of the cuticle stick out from the main body of the hair and snag on each other, making the fibers grip together. Compared to even the finest (smaller micron count) wool, the Alpaca’s tiny cuticle scales makes it softer to the touch. It does have to be spun with more twist than wool as a result, to maximize the locking together of those scales.
The other thing to keep in mind with Alpaca vs. Sheep’s wool is that it doesn’t have the same crimp. Imagine a slinky. A new slinky with lots of spring will go right back to shape when tension is released. This is similar to Sheep wool. Alpaca, although it does have visible crimp, it’s not as tightly kinky as wool. This is like an older slinky.. it’s a bit more stretched out and it doesn’t spring back as tightly as it used to. Due to this quality of Alpaca fiber it is extremely important to plan your project and fiber content appropriately. If you are making something with a lot of drape, that doesn’t necessarily need to hold a firm shape, you can use the alpaca by itself. If you are making something that will be shaped or need to retain a specific size, you’ll want a blend of wool and alpaca.
The fiber of the Huacaya is what we work with here at Fluff N Stuff. We source our Alpaca from local small farms, and process it from animal all the way to finished project!