Alpaca fiber, called alpaca fleece, is used in the same ways that you would use sheep fiber, angora, goat, llama and other natural animal fiber. Alpaca fleece is a highly valued and treasured fiber. Alpaca fiber is so soft because the diameters of each strand are so small making the fiber more hair like. More durable than other fiber animals and warmer than sheep wool, it is no question as to why it is so sought after for its luxury and quality. Alpaca fleece is warmer than sheep wool because alpaca fiber has air pockets in each strand allowing it to trap air and retain heat.
History of Alpaca Fiber
Originating from the ancient tribes of Peru and Bolivia, alpaca fleece apparel was reserved for royalty. Alpacas were raised for meat and fiber by the Incas until the Spanish Conquistadors invaded and deemed alpacas less valuable to their merino sheep. In the 1800's, alpacas regained popularity and they were exported for farming all over the world.
Alpaca are sheared annually and each alpaca yields about 4 pounds of fiber making alpaca fiber a renewable source of fiber. Alpacas are not harmed in the shearing process and alpacas greatly benefit from being shorn because they have great sensitivity to heat. My alpacas are sheared in the late spring right before it gets too hot and when their coats are at their thickest.
Alpaca Fleece is Lanolin Free
Alpaca fiber is different than other animal fibers. Alpaca fiber is without lanolin. There is no need to wash out the lanolin before use. When I process my alpaca fiber, I go straight to carding. You can lightly wash but there is no need to intensely wash like you would a lanolin wool.
Alpaca Fleece is Hypoallergenic
The lack of lanolin is also great for people who tend to be allergic to wool. The lanolin is usually the property that causes the allergen making alpaca produced items a better alternative. Alpaca is a single coated animal and does not need to be de-haired like other fiber animals. Alpaca fiber is not as scratchy and itchy as sheep wool and is more like a hair than a wool. Therefore, alpaca is typically a lot softer. The younger the alpaca, usually the softer the fleece.
What is Baby Alpaca Fiber
Some alpaca products you might find have the label "baby alpaca". This does not mean that the fiber was taken from actual baby alpaca. Baby alpaca fiber refers to the micron of the fiber and it doesn't have anything to do with age. However, usually microns do increase with age, it does not have anything to do with baby alpaca fiber consideration. Baby alpaca fiber is from the softest parts of an adult animal. Every animal has a different micron and there is a system of grading. Fiber that is between 19-20 microns is considered baby alpaca.
Alpaca Fleece is Water Resistant
Another amazing fact about alpaca fleece is that it is water resistant similarly to wool. Alpaca fleece can be a lot warmer than other fabrics but repels water so it works great for socks and gloves without any of the itchiness that wool can create. Alpaca fiber is also naturally flame resistant.
Mixing Alpaca Fleece
There are many types of wool and fibers with different textures and thickness. When mixing alpaca fiber with other fibers, you can add these qualities to have more of a firm texture or a better working material for your project. Because alpaca fiber is more like hair, you work with it as such but if you mix it with a fiber you are used to working with, you can add the benefits of alpaca while still keeping familiarity and structure of the your current fiber of choice.
Do you have fiber animals and would like to share information about the type of fiber you make? Contact me and I would love to share!