The Rarest of Them All9th November 2009
Alpaca wool can be found in a staggering variety of colours, thicknesses and weights. The fleece of these hardy animals is coloured through 22 separate shades, making alpaca yarn and wool available in natural browns and creams, as well as black, white, grey and silver tones. The weight and thickness of the fibres is dependant on the breed of alpaca from which they have been taken. Huacaya alpacas provide a thicker slightly coarser fleece, which has a natural elasticity when woven into skeins. Consequently, this type of thread is ideal for knitted goods such as jumpers, socks and hats. The other breed of alpaca, Suri, produces a finer fleece with smoother strands. This creates a silkier thread, and is best suited to woven items such as blankets and wraps.
Some variations are dependent on the age of the alpaca when its fleece is shorn; as alpacas age, their fleeces become thicker and coarser. Therefore, the highest possible quality fibres can be collected the very first time the animal is shorn, known as ‘baby alpaca’. At this stage, the fleece is at its finest, with the silkiest fibres and the purest colours. Each animal can of course, only provide this coat once, and is then sheared annually to maintain its health, as sheep are. Consequently, baby alpaca is considered the optimum in luxury, and its rarity has made it a prized medium to work with.
Alpaca fleece is made up of naturally hollow fibres, which are incredibly light weight and retain warmth much more effectively than traditional wools, and even man-made materials such as polyester or nylon. These qualities have made alpaca clothing particularly attractive to outdoor sports enthusiasts, who find the warm yet light material effective and easy to move about in. Another advantage of alpaca wool, and in particular baby alpaca, is its strength. The fibres are naturally longer than those found in more common wools, and baby alpaca possesses the smoothest of these threads. When spun together, they create a very durable material, which will withstand more wear and tear than fine wools such as cashmere. No more holes in the heels of socks when they are made with alpaca wool!
Another advantage over more common fibres is that alpaca fleece is lanolin free. This means that the itchy or scratchy nature often associated with woolly jumpers is not present in alpaca products. Additionally, the naturally silkier fibres of baby alpaca make these yarns particularly lustrous and smooth to the touch. The absence of lanolin in these fibres means that alpaca products are hypoallergenic and ideal for those with sensitive skin, particularly babies and young children. The structure of the fibres that retains additional warmth, also makes alpaca wool the perfect material for babies’ clothing and bedding, or just those adults who are looking for an extra cosy blanket or cushion! Alpaca clothing and homewares are durable, lightweight and warm; and baby alpaca provides an incredibly luxurious option for a naturally silky and lustrous material, which can be used in so many ways.