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Fiber of the Gods


Alpacas were the cherished treasure of ancient Incan royalty and played a central role in the Incan culture in the mountains of South America. They have been domesticated for 7000 years, twice as long as any other livestock. It is said that alpaca fiber is stronger than mohair, finer than cashmere, smoother than silk, softer than cotton, warmer than goose down, and breathes better than thermal knits. Alpaca is extremely durable proven by the fine garments discovered in Peruvian ruins dating back more than 2500 years and still in good condition. Unique among luxury fibers for its drape, sheen, and wonderfully smooth hand, designers of apparel and textiles in Europe and Asia have been capitalizing on its properties for decades.

An Ancient Incan legend states: Ausangate is a magnificent snow-covered peak south of Cuzco, Peru, and the legendary source of llamas and alpacas. According to legend, Pachamama (Mother Earth) loaned alpacas and llamas so people of the Puna could survive. Since the animals belong to Pachamama, they must be well-fed and never treated cruelly. If they are not properly cared for, Pachamama will call them back to Ausangate and people will disappear.

Alpaca is known for its diversity of colors ranging from white to black, with shades of brown and gray in between - 22 shades in all. Alpaca clothing has very little prickle factor making it comfortable to wear next to the skin. Often a person who professes to be allergic to wool, is either affected by the lanolin in sheeps wool, or the cleansing process used to remove it. Alpaca being very low in lanolin (about 3%) makes it hypoallergenic and luxurious.

Alpaca is great for outdoor apparel. It is resistant to water, naturally wicks water away from the skin, and is extremely warm. It packs well without much wrinkling, does not stain easily, and resists pilling.

There are 2 types of alpacas ~ the elegant suri with its long pencil-thin ringlets; and the huacaya with a teddy bear-like appearance. Suri fiber is very fine and best suited for lacy shawls, and garments with drape. Suri fiber typically has more sheen or luster than the huacaya fiber. Huacaya fiber is loftier and perfect for sweaters and outdoor apparel, socks and accessories.

Fiber character

A histogram is a precise way to measure the microns of a single fiber using equipment specifically designed for the wool industry. We run histograms on our alpacas every few years to give us an idea whether they are healthy, and to determine who which animals have continuing fineness to their fleeces. Drastic changes to a histogram may point to environmental, nutritional and/or health issues. A better understanding of histograms can be found at Yokum McColl or Alpaca Consulting Services, Inc.

The diameter of alpaca fiber falls mostly in the range of 17 to 34 microns. One micron equals one millionth of a meter or 1/24,400th of an inch. In the United States, alpaca fiber is graded as follows:

  • Royal baby < 20 microns
  • Baby 20 to 22.9 microns
  • Super fine 23 to 26.9 microns
  • Adult/strong 27 or greater microns

There are many factors that influence your alpacas fleece, including

  • Genetics
  • Environmental conditions
  • Stress
  • Hormones
  • Pasture management
  • Nutrition

Fiber encyclopedia

  • Alpaca - Member of the Camelid family which produces luxuriously soft fiber.
  • Batt - A sheet of carded wool taken from a hand or drum carder.
  • Blanket - Prime fleece from shoulder, mid-section and rump (2 sides).
  • Blend - Yarn obtained by mixing alpaca with different types of fiber through
  • combing or carding.
  • Blocking - the setting of yarn or garment.
  • Card - An implement used for opening and organizing fibers in order to spin them.
  • There are 2 types of cards hand and drum, both of which work to pull the fiber
  • apart between two facing sets of wire points.
  • Character - The evaluation of good breeding through the overall evaluation of the
  • fleece, i.e., handle, luster, staple length, density, softness and fineness.
  • Chili - Fleece that has consistencies of both Huacaya and Suri. Typically the
  • fleece is coarser than Suri and has no crimp.
  • Classification - Once skirted, fleeces are sorted and graded as to type, color
  • and quality prior to processing into yarn.
  • Combing - Another method used to separate and align fibers in preparation for
  • spinning by using hand combs.
  • Core Sampling - A method used to objectively test the quality of the fleece. A
  • sample is taken by drawing a narrow steel tube through the full length of a bale of
  • fleece. This sample is used to test the average fiber diameter and yield of clean
  • fiber.
  • Crimp - A natural waviness or curl along the length of the fiber.
  • Crinkle - The uneven wave along a single fiber. Differing from crimp, as crimp is
  • uniform which encourages the fibers to form locks.
  • Debris - Any vegetable matter or dirt found in a fleece.
  • Density - The number of hair follicles per square inch (or millimeter) measured by
  • counting the follicles on the skin.
  • Down - The finest hair, fur, fiber or feathers found on animals that have more than
  • one coat of hair, fur, fiber or feathers.
  • Fiber - The individual strand produced out of a single follicle from a fiber
  • producing animal. Non-fur or hair-like.
  • Fineness - The degree of quality of fiber or fleece which can be determined by
  • touch or scientific measurement.
  • Fleece - The coat of an alpaca or other woolbearing animal in the shorn and
  • unwashed state.
  • Flick Card - A small hand carder.
  • Guard Hairs - Thicker, wiry hairs a medullated animal fiber.
  • Hand (handle) - The softness of fiber - how it feels when handled.
  • Histogram - The analysis of fiber utilizing scientific measurement and analysis. The analysis usually includes micron count, coefficient variation, standard variation and the percentage of fibers greater than 30 microns.
  • Huacaya - The most common type of alpaca in the World has dense, fluffy fiber
  • with the absence of guard hair.
  • Loft - Springiness of the fiber.
  • Lock - A naturally occurring single tuft of fleece (also called a staple).
  • Luster - A soft sheen caused by the light reflected from the rather large scales
  • forming the cuticle of the fleece.
  • Matchings - Portions of fleece which have been sorted into different qualities.
  • Matting - Fiber that has been tangled or matted.
  • Medullated Fiber - The central hollow core found in medium or course alpaca or
  • llama fibers. Coarse fiber (a.k.a. guard hair) consists of up to 90% medullated
  • fiber.
  • Micron - The measure of the diameter of natural fibers (.0000394 inch,
  • 1/25,000 of an inch, or 1/1,000 of a millimeter).
  • Noils - Short/ broken fibers which remain after the processing of any long fibers
  • which cause lumps and bumps in the finished yarn. Noils reduce the durability and
  • increase the incidence of pilling.
  • Prime Fleece - The best part of fleece; normally the blanket area. (Tui fleece is
  • the best fleece that an animal will every produce usually the first full 12 months
  • after growth at shearing.)
  • Processing -The act of transforming raw fleece into yarn and other finished
  • products.
  • Rolag - A preparation of short-stapled wools used for spinning made by carding
  • the fibers, removing them into a rolled tube of fibers. This is done with the use
  • of a hand or drum carder.
  • Roving - Long, even strand of carded fibers which has been slightly twisted.
  • Used for spinning.
  • Scales - Flattened ridges that cover the fiber not visible to the naked eye.
  • Predominant in huacaya fiber.
  • Scouring - The removal of dirt, grease and vegetable matter from fleece by
  • thoroughly washing with soap or chemicals.
  • Second Cuts - Short pieces of fiber occurring due to inaccurate shearing.
  • Seconds - Fiber that is lesser quality than the prime fleece; usually from the
  • upper leg and neck area.
  • Shearing - To remove the fleece from the animal with a hand clip or electric
  • shearing blade.
  • Sliver - A continuous, untwisted strand of carded fibers.
  • Skirt - To remove areas of coarse, dirty or damaged fibers from the main fleece.
  • Specialty Fiber - Fleeces from the camelid family - alpaca, llama, vicuna guanaco,
  • and camels; as well as fleeces from the goat family - mohair, cashmere, and
  • angora.
  • Spinning - The act of twisting or drawing fibers into yarn.
  • Staple - A lock of fiber.
  • Staple Length - Length of fiber from root to tip of the lock.
  • Suri - One of two breeds of alpaca with straighter wool that hangs in lustrous,
  • silky pencil-like locks similar to dreadlocks.
  • Tapada  - Medium to long-wooled llama.
  • Wool - The hair or coat of a sheep, goat, llama, or alpaca, among other animals
  • with similar coverings. In the US fiber industry, the word wool is trademarked
  • as referring exclusively to sheeps wool.
  • Woolmark - A mark used by the wool textile industry to guarantee that the article
  • in question is made from pure sheeps wool.
  • Yield  The amount of usable fiber after processing, or the difference between
  • total and clean fleece weights.


Updated March 03, 2012