Just one look in those eyes with their long, long lashes and everyone falls in love with an alpaca. Of course that is right before they spit on you. I have been smitten as well. I do not personally own any alpacas. They have been offered to me, and I have just always said no. Why? I love the fiber. I love the animals. Because it is just the two of us, I didn’t want to add another species that would require a different knowledge base and time schedule to care for.
Alpaca descended from Vicunas that were domesticated by the Inca in ancient Peru. The largest flocks and alpaca fiber mills continue to be in Peru. In the early 80’s, some Americans started to bring alpaca into the states. They became a rage and the value of the animals went sky high, some even attaining the price in the tens of thousands for a single animal. Not all alpaca owners had the knowledge base to work with the fiber in the states. So much of it is being sent back to Peru for processing. In the last few years, some alpaca owners have started their own fiber mills to make yarn from alpaca here in the states.
There are 2 different types of alpaca. The Huacaya (wa-ki-ah) which is the most numerous has a fine crimpy fiber that is 4-6 inches long. The fiber can be extremely fine or not. It can be highly crimped or not. The crimp is not the same as the crimp of wool. It doesn’t provide memory or the ability to “spring back” into shape. The crimp of alpaca probably does contribute to the overall feeling of softness. The other alpaca type is the Suri, which grows really long straight, silky fiber. It looks a little bit like Cousin It. But there isn’t yet a lot of yarn or spinning fiber yet available commercially made from the Suri, it is a boutique item. The fiber is reallly too long to be put through a mill. So it needs to be cut into shorter bits, like silk does.
Huacaya fiber is very strong. It can be very fine as well (18-26 microns). It is a hollow fiber. This hollowness gives it the property of being lightweight but very insulating. The fiber pulls heat from you giving the impression that it is cool when you touch it. Although it is cool to the touch, alpaca is many times warmer than wool. Like wool, it is water loving and will absorb water and wick it away from your body. There are several grades of alpaca. The saddle area is the prime fleece of an animal. The leg and neck fleece is considered 2nd or 3rds, because it has more diverse staple length and crimp. The fleeces do not have luster, they have a more matte finish. The fleece comes in 22 different colors from bright white to cinnamon brown and deep, dark black and many different patterns, such as belted and spotted. There is no lanolin on this animal. They do like to take dust baths, though. So you need to wash out the dirt from your fleeces. The fiber itself is very smooth with a low number of scales. It does not felt readily, but will felt with extra agitation.
With all these properties, spinners of alpaca can counteract the lack of elasticity by spinning it in a worsted way. That will give your resulting fabric more structure and less stretching out of shape. You may want to spin it in a woolen manner. That yarn will be extra insulating and soft. The resulting fabric will show less stitch definition. Pick a stitch that has more structure if you don’t want your knitting to stretch.
Flying Goat Farm carries superfine alpaca roving to spin or felt. The fiber is an average of 26 microns and will make next-to-the-skin soft yarn. Each 4ounce portion is $15 plus applicable taxes and shipping. Click here to see some of our colorways.
Tune in next week to learn about alpaca yarn and how to use it. Do you have alpaca questions? Leave a comment or contact me firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll answer it next week.