"ALPACA FIBER"

Luxurious, versatile, natural and hypoallergenic, alpaca fiber offers
many advantages.


Quick Fiber Facts

Alpaca fiber, is sorted into 22 colors, ranging from blacks through browns and whites, and including subtle shades of maroon & grays. Alpaca fiber can be blended into an infinite array of natural colors, including combinations that do not occur naturally. Alpaca fiber has no lanolin and takes and retains dyes without losing its sheen. Alpaca Fiber can be carded and blended with other natural and/or synthetic fibers

Alpaca fiber is several times warmer than wool and much stronger. Alpaca fiber is as soft as Cashmere, but has a smoother cuticle that can make the fiber feel even smoother and softer then Cashmere.

The staple length of the fiber is from three to six inches in one year of growth.

Fabrics made of alpaca fiber are unusually easy to care for and long-lived. * Alpaca Fiber is rare – supply cannot keep up with demand for the fine quality fleece

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Fiber Details

Under a microscope, the individual fiber from an alpaca begins to give away some of its secrets.
One can see that an individual alpaca fiber consists of outer "scales" lying against the shaft. Three factors will effect the feel, or "hand" of the yarn made from this material. The diameter, measured in microns (1/25,000 of an inch) is the major determinant. However, alpaca fiber often feels softer than sheep's wool that is several microns finer in diameter due to the scale height and scale frequency. The scale height of alpaca fiber is about .04 microns compared to .08 microns for wool. The scale frequency of mohair is 6 - 8 per 100 micron length of fiber and of alpaca is greater than 9 per 100 micron length of fiber. In other words, the individual shaft of an alpaca fiber is measurably smoother than that of other natural fibers.

A cross section of an alpaca fiber will reveal microscopic air pockets. These pockets of air add to the insulating qualities as well as the light weight of a garment made from alpaca.

The huacaya alpaca fleece demonstrates the qualities of crimp and crinkle. This natural wave in the alpaca's fiber creates a yarn that retains it shape over time.

Suri alpaca fleece is known for its luster. It is commonly used in high end woven goods, as this showcases the beautiful way it interacts with light.

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Staples/Locks

The first formation of fiber that you can notice on the Huacaya is called the "staple". You evaluate the individual staples by carefully parting the fiber with your hands and examining the staple structure. The  Huacaya staple has a waviness to it which is called crimp. Staple length is one of the measures taken when fiber is analyzed. Certain staple lengths are better than others for specific processing needs. Combing out the fiber to make it look better or cleaner, destroys the fiber structure (in both Huacaya and Suri) that judges are looking for.
On a Suri you should find dreadlock-looking locks . These Suri locks are ideally very tight and distinct in appearance, however Suri fiber also comes in locks that are not so distinct. A Suri can have a clockwise or counter-clockwise twist to it's locks but the Suri locks and fibers have no waviness, or crimp. As with the Huacaya, the Suri fiber is best evaluated by parting the fiber with both hands and looking at it's structure closer to the skin. This way you also get a good impression of how dense the fiber is.

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Inspecting individual fibers

Huacaya fiber has a waviness to the individual fibers as well as to the staple. We refer to the staple waviness as "crimp". This waviness helps to hold the fibers together during processing and makes it easier to form into yarn.

Suri fiber is similar to mohair in many respects and Suri is prized for its luster and drape. Lack of crimp and presence of luster are distinguishing characteristics of Suri fiber when compared to Huacaya fiber. Suri fiber may be combined with a fine sheep's wool, such as merino, to provide some crimp.

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Sending Your Fiber to the Lab

Laboratory tests are performed on a sample of the alpaca's fiber, usually a 2" X 2" sample cut from the prime area (blanket area) of the alpaca. The mean diameter of the sample fiber (µ)  is reported, in microns, as well as the standard deviation (sd) in the sample, the coefficient of variation (cv) and the percentage of fiber greater than 30 microns. Keep in mind that the smaller these four numbers are, the better the fiber. The mean/average diameter tells you that the average diameter of all of the fibers in the sample is x microns.  The standard deviation tells you the individual fiber deviations from the mean.  The coefficient of variation is the standard deviation as a percent of the average diameter and is a measure of uniformity. The superfine and fine classifications are the only fiber suitable for the best worsted fabrics sought by the fashion industry:
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Classification of Microns

Royal: <18
Superfine/Baby: 18-20
Fine: 20 - 24.9
Medium: 25 - 29.9
Strong: 30+

(human hair is between 40-80, and sometimes greater then 100 microns) 

Since the first shearing of the animal produces the finest fleece it will ever produce, it is a good idea to know at what age a sample was taken, when evaluating an alpaca.  If the only sample taken is of the baby or "tui" fleece, then it may not mean much, because they are almost always low. It is the samples taken after one year, and then subsequent years that tell the real story. If an alpaca keeps a low micron count through the years, that alpacas fiber genes are considered very good. All alpaca micron counts will increase with age. Nutrition and hormones also plays a strong roll in the micron count. If an animal changes from a skimpy forage diet to a strong nutritional diet, with grain, thick lush pasture or high protein hay, etc, it will be reflected in the micron count. The sudden change may "blow out" the fiber a bit, until the animal becomes acclimated to the diet. Some say a skinny alpaca has better, finer fiber.

Having a fine fiber with a low micron count, is not the end all. The weight of the fleece is also important. The more fiber you have the better. A heavy, consistent fleece, say you get 8lbs of fleece, is more important then a fleece with just a low micron count that you only have 4lbs of. The ideal of course is to have both!
coco, eclipse and hehe

Alpaca Fiber Processing

-Options for fiber processing that are available to the alpaca owner include the Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America (AFCNA) and the New England Alpaca Fiber Pool (NEAFP).

-Or you may know of a local fiber guild or a fiber artist that would be interested in buying your alpaca fiber, or will custom make a finished product for you. Guild Links

If you would rather send it off to a small mill, The following is a partial list of small lot alpaca fiber processors.

* Blackberry Ridge Woolen Mill, Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin (608) 437-3762
* Fantasy Fibers, Canby, Oregon (503) 263-4902
* New Era Fiber, www.newerafiber.com, Gallatin, TN (615) 452-7852* *Ohio Valley Natural Fibers, Sardinia, Ohio (937) 446-3045
* Pufpaff's Fiber Processing, Nashville, Michigan (517)852-1871
* VIP Fibers, Morganhill, California (408) 782-0515
*Autumn Mist Fiber Mill autumnmistalpacas@hotmail.com, 607-868-5401.

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From Fiber on the animal to a cozy sweater or blanket, how does it happen?
The first step is shearing day. In spring when it really begins to stay warm, the alpacas are shorn. The fleece is skirted and divided into firsts, seconds & thirds. In many cases the coarser leg & neck fibers are thrown out, but we find they are very useful for rug making. The fine fiber is then processed either by hand or a mill.

If, done by hand, the fleece will be cleaned, usually just by picking out any vegetable matter, that was not picked out before shearing.

The Fiber will then be carded, either with paddle carders or a drumcarder. The carder is somewhat like a really prickly stiff brush that combs the lumps and bumps out of the fiber. It creates a fluffier fiber preperation without perfect alignment, best for soft, fuzzy yarns.

Once the fiber is carded into a batt (for felting) or roving( for yarn) it can be spun. Spinning twists the roving into a tight long, strong yarn, If hand spun you can easily make lumpy yarns that have allot of variation in width. An easier technique for those of us whom are just beginning, just pretend you wanted it that way...

Of course the yarn is then made into a finished product via weaving, knitting, felting or crocheting.

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For some great links that go into greater detail about weaving, knitting, crocheting, felting, spinning & other fiber arts please check out our links page.

Felting Classes

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