- Alpaca fiber
Alpaca fleece is the
natural fiberharvested from an Alpaca. It is a light-weight, soft, durable, luxurious Quiggle, Charlotte. "Alpaca: An Ancient Luxury." "Interweave Knits" Fall 2000: 74-76.] and silky natural fiber. While similar to sheep’s woolin that it is a natural fiber, it is warmer, not prickly, and has no lanolinwhich makes it hypoallergenic.Quiggle, Charlotte. "Alpaca: An Ancient Luxury." "Interweave Knits" Fall 2000: 74-76.] Stoller, Debbie, "Stitch 'N Bitch Crochet", New York: Workman, 2006, p. 18.] However, this lack of lanolin also prevents Alpaca fiber from being naturally water-repellent. It also has less crimp, thus making it much less elastic. Alpaca fleece is made into various exports, from very simple and inexpensive garments made by the aboriginal communities to sophisticated, industrially made and expensive products such as suits. In the United States, groups of smaller alpaca breeders have banded together to create "fiber co-ops," in order to make the manufacture of alpaca fiber products less expensive.
In physical structure, alpaca fiber is somewhat akin to hair, being very glossy, but its softness and fineness enable the spinner to produce satisfactory
yarnwith comparative ease."Alpaca." The New Encyclopædia Britannica. 11th ed. 1911.] It is hollow as well, which makes it a good insulator. Good quality alpaca fiber is approximately 18-25µ in diameterQuiggle, Charlotte. "Alpaca: An Ancient Luxury." "Interweave Knits" Fall 2000: 74-76.] , and can sell for 2 to 4 dollarsper ounce. Finer fleeces, ones with a smaller diameter, are preferred, and thus are more expensive. As an alpaca gets older the width of the fibers gets thicker, at between nowrap|1 µm and nowrap|5 µm per year. This is often caused by over nutrition; if fed too much nutritious food the animal doesn't get fat, instead the fiber gets thicker. Fact|date=June 2007 Any alpaca fiber exceeding 34µ is classified as llama.Quiggle, Charlotte. "Alpaca: An Ancient Luxury." "Interweave Knits" Fall 2000: 74-76.]
As with all fleece-producing animals, quality varies from animal to animal, and some alpacas produce fiber which is less than ideal. Fiber and conformation are the two most important factors in determining an alpaca's value.
Alpacas come in many shades from a true-blue black through browns-black, browns, fawns, white, silver-greys, and rose-greys.Quiggle, Charlotte. "Alpaca: An Ancient Luxury." "Interweave Knits" Fall 2000: 74-76.] However, white is predominant, Quiggle, Charlotte. "Alpaca: An Ancient Luxury." "Interweave Knits" Fall 2000: 74-76.] because of
selective breeding: the white fiber can be dyed in the largest ranges of colors. In South America, the preference is for white as they generally have better fleece than the darker-colored animals. This is because the dark colors had been all but bred out of the animals. The demand for darker fiber sprung up in the United States and elsewhere, however in order to reintroduce the colors, the quality of the darker fiber has decreased slightly. Breeders have been diligently working on breeding dark animals with exceptional fiber, and much progress has been made in these areas over the last 5-7 years.Fact|date=April 2007
carding, spinning, weavingand finishing process of alpaca is very similar to the process used for wool.
Types of alpacas
There are two types of alpaca: Huacaya (which produce a dense, soft, crimpy sheep-like fiber), and the mop-like Suri (with silky pencil-like locks, resembling dread-locks but not actually matted fibers). Suris are prized for their longer and silkier fibers, and estimated to make up between 19-20% of the Alpaca population. [cite web
url = http://alpacaregistry.net
format = HTML
title = Alpaca Registry
publisher = Alpaca Registry
date= 7-05-01] Since its import into the United States, the number of Suri alpacas has grown substantially and become more color diverse. The Suri is thought to be rarer, possibly because it is less hardy in the harsh South American mountain climates, as its fleece offers less insulation against the cold.
History of alpacas
Alpaca have been bred in South America for thousands of years.
Vicuñas were first domesticated and bred into alpacas by the ancient Andean tribes of Peru, but also appeared in Chile and Bolivia. In recent years alpacas have also been exported to other countries. In countries such as the USA, Australia and New Zealand breeders shear their animals annually, weigh the fleeces and test them for fineness. With the resulting knowledge they are able to breed heavier-fleeced animals with finer fiber. Fleece weights vary, with the top stud males reaching annual shear weights up to nowrap|7 kg total fleece and nowrap|3 kg good quality fleece. The discrepancy in weight is because an alpaca has guard hairwhich is often removed before spinning.
History of fiber industry
Amerindians of Peru used this fiber in the manufacture of many styles of fabrics for thousands of years before its introduction into Europe as a commercial product. The alpaca was a crucial component of ancient life in the Andes, as it provided not only warm clothing but also meat. Many rituals revolved around the alpaca, perhaps most notably the method of killing it: An alpaca was restrained by one or more people, and a specially-trained person plunged his bare hand into the chest cavity of the animal, ripping out its heart. Today, this ritual is viewed by most as barbaric, but there are still some tribes in the Andes which practice it. Fact|date=December 2007
The first European importations of alpaca fiber were into
Spain. Spain transferred that fiber to Germanyand France. Apparently alpaca yarn was spun in Englandfor the first time about the year 1808 but the fiber was condemned as an unworkable material. In 1830 Benjamin Outram, of Greetland, near Halifax, appears to have reattempted spinning it, and again it was condemned. These two attempts failed due to the style of fabric into which the yarn was woven — a type of camlet. It was not until the introduction of cotton warps into Bradford trade about 1836 that the true qualities of alpaca could be developed into fabric. It is not known where the cotton warp and mohairor alpaca weftplain-cloth came from, but it was this simple and ingenious structure which enabled Titus Salt, then a young Bradford manufacturer, to use alpaca successfully. Bradford is still the great spinning and manufacturing center for alpaca. Large quantities of yarns and cloths are exported annually to the European continent and the US, although the quantities vary with the fashions in vogue. The typical "alpaca-fabric" is a very characteristic " dress-fabric." "Alpaca." The New Encyclopædia Britannica. 11th ed. 1911.]
Due to the successful manufacture of various alpaca cloths by Sir Titus Salt and other Bradford manufacturers, a great demand for alpaca wool arose which could not be met by the native product. Apparently, the number of alpacas available never increased appreciably. Unsuccessful attempts were made to acclimatize alpaca in England, on the European continent and in Australia, and even to cross English breeds of sheep with alpaca. There is a cross between alpaca and llama — a true hybrid in every sense — producing a material placed upon the Liverpool market under the name "Huarizo". Crosses between the alpaca and vicuña have not proved satisfactory."Alpaca." The New Encyclopædia Britannica. 11th ed. 1911.] Current attempts to cross these two breeds are underway at farms in the US. According to the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association, alpacas are now being bred in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, UK, and numerous other places.
In recent years, interest in alpaca fiber clothing has surged, perhaps partly because alpaca ranching has a reasonably low impact on the environment. Outdoor sports enthusiasts recognize that its lighter weight and better warmth provides them more comfort in colder weather, so outfitters such as
R.E.I.and others are beginning to stock more alpaca products. Occasionally, alpaca fiber is woven together with merinowool to attain even more softness and durability.
* [http://www.interweaveknits.com/articles/Alpaca-fall00.pdf PDF] with information on the history, care, and knitting practicalities dealing with alpaca fiber. Published by Interweave Press.
* [http://www.peruandarts.com/caringyouralpacaclothes.pdf How to Care Your Alpaca Garments] Published by Peru And Arts Press.
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