Alpaca fleece was known as the “Fibre of the Gods”, before the Spanish Conquest and only Inca royalty were allowed to wear alpaca fibre.
Alpaca fibre is a soft, lightweight, bright, luxurious fibre, comparable to cashmere for luxury, silk for strength and is more durable than both of them. It is also wearable for those who have an allergic reaction to wool, due to its special characteristics.
Alpaca fibre comes in 22 natural colours, ranging from black through grey, brown, russet, fawn, light champagne and pure white. Textile quality fibre has a fineness of between 18-28 microns and is used to produce luxury garments in woollen and weaving processes. Huacaya fibre is more suited to the woollen process, whereas Suri fibre is more like silk and suits the worsted process.
Alpaca fibre is dry, having no lanolin content, meaning there is no need to scour it prior to spinning. It can be spun straight from the fleece and washed at a later stage in processing.
An average alpaca produces about 2.5kg of fibre /year and some animals can even produce 4-6kg /year.
There are many ways of processing alpaca fibre:
This is the oldest and most traditional method of turning alpaca fibre into yarn. Spinners like alpaca fibre as it is a dry fibre with hardly any lanolin, so can be spun straight from the fleece. Hand spinners accept small quantities of fleece, as little as 50-500g, as well as complete fleeces. They don’t mind if it is straight off the animal, carded or washed; one alpaca fleece keeps a spinner busy for quite some time!
These are used to have individual or small quantities of alpaca fleece processed into fine yarn. These are small self-contained mills, taking in all quantities, but will also take individual fleeces and process them into specific yarns. For a small breeder or a breeder who wants to sell yarn from a specific alpaca, this is the process to use.
Mid Scale Mills
These are medium sized mills who specify a minimum of 20kg of fibre per batch. Large breeders, or a group of small breeders processing together, usually use these mills, as they can get together large quantities of a certain colour and consistent quality.