Alpaca Fiber

Soft, like a buttery cloud. Alpaca fiber, is sorted into 16 colors, ranging from blacks through browns and whites, and including subtle shades of maroon & grays. If you count the pintos and appaloosas you would get 22 color groups. 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.

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.

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!

Click here for more information on other fun classes and events at Lasso the Moon Alpaca Farm/ Lardworks Glass & Fiber Studio.
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