Alpaca Wool - What is it, and is it better than Lambswool?
Strewn across the fibers that naturally grow on alpacas sit some of the most important aspects of comfort clothing. Indeed, alpaca wool is a cornerstone for all types of knitwear – both heavy and light – and is seen worldwide, such as the popularity of alpaca fiber.
Also known as ‘camelids’ given their resemblance to camels, alpacas are native to the marshy mountain areas of South America, mainly residing in Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, and Argentina.
What makes alpaca wool in particular so valuable is that the natural pockets of air within the fibers offer a considerable amount of breathability. Soft, silky, and strong in equal measure, it makes the perfect kind of knitwear. Also, 22 natural colors of alpaca fibers have been used already for thousands of years.
Another huge bonus to it is that alpaca wool is waterproof. Given no water is retained, it stays warm even when wet. On the other side of the elements, it’s also challenging to catch alight, too, ensuring safety when made into any kind of garment.
For those allergic to sheep wool, it’s a brilliant alternative because alpaca wool and baby alpaca wool do not contain lanolin, which is generally the cause of the allergy.
Alpaca fiber is much easier to knit thanks to its spongy surface; it’s a real gift for those making clothes or other such comforting accessories and alpaca products.
Alpaca wool has been popular throughout the centuries after initially being produced for South American royalty hundreds of years ago; it’s now widely exported.
How’s Alpaca Wool made?
Naturally, the process starts with the shearing of the alpaca. Generally, this comes down to how one farmer, in particular, chooses to approach it. Either they can shear a lot of their animals at once or stagger the task, opting to shear different parts of their cattle at other times.
While there is some debate about when an alpaca is ready for shearing, farmers generally have a universal idea of it. Indeed, it’s not an exact science, but roughly most farms go simultaneously.
From there, scissors are usually used to shear the wool down even further, done carefully by hand, not to harm the animal. This takes 2 to 3 people to do, given alpacas can be resistant.
You’ll likely see the entire coat removed as one large mat.
Once off the animal, it is carded, which means combining the individual fibers into one piece. Then, it is ready to be spun into alpaca yarn.
For centuries in Peru, spinning it required a “pushka.” Essentially, it is a spinning top, relying on the forces of gravity to combine all of the carded wool into one thick collection.
Although mainly used technique, that’s not the only way to do it. Like everything, more sophisticated methods have emerged over the years, such as using a treadle wheel.
Now into its yarn form, the wool must be washed using non-toxic washing agents. After that, and once air-dried, it’s ready to take its final form.
What are Alpacas kept for?
Given their luxurious coating, alpacas have broadly always been used to provide clothing.
Although, that is not their only use.
Like their close relatives in the llama, they can also provide food and fuel and some kind of transportation. Friendly and cute to look at, alpacas can offer companionship once domesticated.
Furthermore, having an alpaca farm can be a lucrative tourist attraction.
Alpaca wool comes in two different varieties: Suri and Huacaya.
There are two different types of alpacas: Suri and Huacaya. The Suri’s fur is long and silky, while the Huacaya’s fur is thicker and more woolen. Each produces a unique type of yarn.
Huacaya Alpaca: The Huacaya alpaca is the most common type, and its wool is soft and spongy with natural crimping. This creates an inherent elastic quality that makes it an excellent fiber for knitwear.
Suri Alpacas: Suri alpacas have long, silky hair that looks like dreadlocks. One difference between Suri and Huacaya alpacas is that the Suri fiber does not have a crimp, which makes it better suited for weaving. In Incan times, Suris were designated for royalty because of their rarity.
What is “baby alpaca” wool?
It’s a finer type of alpaca wool that comes from the back of an adult alpaca. Baby alpaca wool is softer on average than the wool from adult alpacas, but it does have the same characteristics as all alpacas.
Which is warmer: Merino or Alpaca wool?
In most cases, you’re likely to find that alpaca wool is far warmer.
Merino wool (made from the natural fibers that grow on Merino sheep) is generally thinner and softer than the wool taken off of alpacas.
While that certainly has its benefits, warmth is not one of them. It’s not a case of Merino wool not being warm per se; it’s just that alpaca wool offers much more warmth!
Why are alpacas popular in Japan and the United States?
Although alpacas are usually natives of South American countries such as Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru, they carry considerable popularity in Japan and the United States.
On the face of it, that seems a little strange, given just how far away those two points are.
Funnily, the fact that a Japanese manufacturing company called Kuraray Co. adopted a white alpaca as their mascot in 2008 and duly released a flurry of TV commercials led to a massive increase in the national interest in the animal.
Alpaca Wool Care Guide
Alpaca garments are not machine washable and should be hand washed. To care for your alpaca wool item, put it in a basin with mild wool soap. Then, rinse it with water, making sure to support the garment so it doesn’t stretch out of shape.
Please note: never wring your alpaca garment, or you risk shrinking it. When you lay your garment flat to dry, be sure to reshape it.
If this article peaked you interest about alpaca wool, then read more about "The 7 Amazing Benefits of Alpaca Wool and the Reasons You’ll Love It"