Alpaca fleece is highly sought after by handcrafters and commercial markets alike because it is one of the finest natural fibers available- similar to the best merino wools and woven cashmere.
Alpaca fiber exhibits the widest array of natural colors of the premium fiber classes, as shown in the chart to the left. Alpacas do not secrete lanolin- which is the basis of most wool allergies, and as such, is an excellent choice for an alternative to wool. While alpaca has a different textile profile than wool, it can be used to create many of the same products- often the result will be warmer, lighter, and softer.
Alpacas are sheared once per year, usually in the late spring/early summer. Fiber is typically sorted into Firsts (blanket) Seconds (apron, upper legs and neck) and Thirds (everything else- to include belly and lower legs).
Fiber Type and Applications
The crimp in Huacaya fiber lends itself well to projects and articles of clothing requiring more structure, i.e. sweaters, hats, gloves, and socks.
Ideal fiber is fine, has loft while still being dense.
The silky smooth texture of Suri Fiber is best used in scarves, shawls and draping projects with very little or no structure. It blends beautifully with silk and bamboo.
Ideal fiber has luster, is dense, and forms natural locks.
The two most important factors in judging the quality of an animal's fiber are the fineness of individual fibers themselves, and overall density of fiber.
Diameter of fiber is measured in microns using laser scanning technology. The results are displayed on graph called a histogram that can be used to evaluate fleeces of different alpacas.
While fiber quality typically degrades with age, fiber quality can be improved through a focused genetic breeding program, nutrition and atmospheric conditions on your ranch. For more information on micron testing and fiber quality, click HERE for a link to an article written by Angus McColl, an independently owned commercial wool testing lab trusted by AOA.