Monday, 21 July 2014


Alpaca belong to the Camelidae family, along with Dromedary Camels, Bactrian Camels, Llamas, Guanaco and Vicuna.  They are large animals with slender necks and long legs and are strictly herbivorous.  They all run in a rather comical way, with both legs on the same side of the body being moved simultaneously causing a swaying motion which is especially noticeable amongst the larger species ridden by humans.  All Camelids have three stomachs, which allow them to digest fibrous plants like grasses and legumes and they all chew cud, burped up small wads of food that they re-chew. They all also fold their legs directly beneath themselves by bending both front and back knees (known as kushing).  All Camelids have upper lips which are split in two, which each part separately mobile and all of them can spit and will do so when annoyed, scared or stressed and what they spit is a combination of saliva and cud.

All Camelids produce fibre which is technically hair because of its structure and can range from very coarse to very soft.  Some are double coated and some are single coated.  Some contain a large amount of guard hairs which are very coarse, which is useful if you're making a rug but not good for next to skin garments.  Luckily Guard hairs can be hand-picked from a fleece, a time consuming job but well worth taking the time to remove if you don't want them.

Alpaca have been bred for fibre for thousands of years in South America and are smaller than Llamas and most Alpacas do not have noticeable guard hairs, although they may have thicker hairs on certain parts of their body.  They come in a wide range of colours including white, black, a range of greys from silvery to charcoal, cream, very light to very dark brown and a range of reddish browns.  They can be one single solid colour or they can be spotted.  There are two breeds of Alpaca; the Suri Alpaca and the Huacaya Alpaca, with the Huacaya being the most common and making up approximately 90% of the Alpaca population.

The Suri Alpaca grow long, lustrous curly locks of hair with no crimp of up to 11 inches per year with no elasticity and can be tricky to spin.

Suri Alpaca in Peru

The Huacaya Alpaca looks fluffier with varying amounts of crimp and grows to 2-6 inches per year and may have a small amount of elasticity depending on the individual fleece and the spun yarn will bloom when washed.

Huacaya Alpaca

Alpaca is heavy compared to sheep's wool and it will felt.  It is also warmer than sheep's wool and has no lanolin, making it hypoallergenic. It is also naturally flame resistant, as is wool.  Fibre can be carded with fine teeth carders or can be combed depending on the length and your preference but it is recommended that you use mini-combs for Suri Alpaca.  Alpaca has very little or no elasticity so blending with wool will make it easier to spin and add elasticity, although pure Alpaca yarn is delightful and is best spun as a finer yarn rather than a thicker one.  You will need to add more twist when spinning pure Alpaca due to it being slipperier than wool but be careful not to over-spin as it will become stiff and wiry.  If you don't get your gauge right when making a garment it can be disastrous.  Too loose and it will stretch and sag, too tight and it will be too stiff.  If you get it just right it will be heavenly.

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