Alpaca Wool, A Winter Warmer

9th November 2009

Alpacas are a breed of domesticated South American camelid, similar in appearance to llamas, and one or two feet shorter than a traditional camel. They originate from Peru, Bolivia and Chile, and are raised in high altitudes; traditionally the Andes. They are now bred all over the world, and are raised specifically for their fleece. The fibres are shorn annually from the animals, and are then spun and woven in the same manner as sheep’s wool, to create bedding, homewares and clothing. Alpaca wool has many remarkable properties that are above other materials, even those that are man made.

The alpaca produces naturally hollow fibres, which retain warmth more effectively than more common wools, and even more so than polyester or nylon. The hollow fibres also make such garments very light-weight, and consequently this material has been snapped up by sports companies, who use it in their outdoor clothing. Alpaca fibres provide the perfect qualities for those engaging in outdoor activities; extraordinary warmth, without the heaviness of traditional wool.

The range of colours present throughout the alpaca species also enables producers to create 100% natural clothing. Alpaca wool has over 22 natural shades, eliminating the need for toxic chemical dyes, and producing a soft natural yarn. This can be in a variety of brown, grey, silver, black, white and cream.

The strength of alpaca material is another benefit for those looking for quality. The length of the fibres is naturally greater than other wools. When it is spun and woven, the result is a much hardier fabric, which is particularly useful when used in clothing. Alpaca wool socks and jumpers are not as susceptible to holes and pilling than similar garments made from sheep’s wool.

The strength, warmth and light-weight properties of alpaca wool are not the only merit that causes so many people to buy bedding and clothing. Alpaca fibres are naturally silky and smooth, making it a luxurious and comfortable material to work with. Two breeds of alpacas produce different types of threads; Suri alpacas have the finest and silkiest fleece, with long fibres that are very smooth and naturally lustrous; almost similar in nature to hair. Alternatively, Huacaya alpacas have a denser and thicker fibre, which has a natural spongy quality. This makes Huacaya fibre perfect for spinning into wool for knits, and makes extremely cosy socks and jumpers, for example.

Not just for adults, alpaca clothing and bedding is perfect for babies and young children. The fibres have no lanolin content, unlike sheep’s wool, which some can have allergies to. Alpaca products are hypoallergenic, and do not have the scratchy ‘prickly’ quality that let many other wools down.

Alpaca products are easy to care for, as the fibres are naturally very strong and hardwearing. However, they also require little maintenance, and can be easily hand-washed in a gentle solution such as washing up liquid. Similarly to cashmere, alpaca products should not be wrung out or twisted when wet, but left to dry flat. An alpaca jumper will see you through the winter with no holes or pilling, and keep you warm every day!