1. Alpaca Fibre
The alpaca fibre is shorn from the alpaca animal once every two years. The fibres are very soft, fine and lustrous. The alpaca members of the camel family are domesticated animals of South America, in the Andes Mountain regions of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Argentina.
The natural range of fibre shades are white, light fawn, light brown, dark brown, and grey. Alpaca fabrics are used for suits, dresses, plush upholstery, and heavy linings
Alpaca fibre is considered a luxury fibre due to its properties of being very fine and lightweight while being exceptionally warm.
It is also relatively rare on the world market due in part to the small number of alpacas producing fibre globally.
However, the number of productive animals is on the rise as alpacas are being bred and raised in more countries each year.
Alpaca is known for its great warmth (reported to be 5x warmer than sheep wool), the fineness and length of staple, with a year of growth, commonly being about 5-6 inches (12-15 cm).
It also has excellent crimp, with individual fibres usually showing crinkle (like a chemically treated ‘permanent wave in human hair).
Specialty of Alpaca Fiber
Scarcity or rarity is the primary determinant in defining a specialty fibre. Wool is not considered a specialty fibre due to its abundance.
Alpaca fleece is valuable because it combines so many positive, commercial attributes into one fibre. There are no negative characteristics to be found in the alpaca’s fleece.
It is found naturally in 22 distinct colors, which can also be blended to produce an infinite array of natural colors.
The fibre from alpaca is unusually strong and resilient. The strength of the fibre does not diminish as it becomes finer, thus making it ideal for industrial processing.
Raised at high altitudes in freezing cold, the alpaca has developed more thermal capacity in its fibre than almost any other animal.
The fibre contains microscopic air pockets which create lightweight garments with high insulation values.
Alpaca is soft, supple and smooth to the touch. The cellular structure of the fibre produces a soft handle unmatched by most other specialty fibres.
Alpaca fleece produces a high yield of clean fibre after processing 87 to 95 percent for alpaca versus 43 to 76 percent for sheep’s wool.
Alpaca is easier and less expensive to process than sheep’s wool due to its lack of grease or lanolin, and it does not have to be de-haired like cashmere or camel.
Alpaca fiber can be scoured or cleaned without using costly chemicals.
Scouring is the actual washing of dirt and foreign matter from the alpaca fleece. It is usually done in a lukewarm, neutral solution followed by clear-water rinses.
Alpacas produce a fine fibre with an absence of guard hair in their prime fleece. Their fibre has a natural, rich luster which gives garments made from 100% alpaca high visual appeal.
It is easily dyed any color and always retains its natural luster. Fabric made from alpaca can range from bulky tweeds to fine gabardine.
Those who own alpacas sweaters will find they practically last forever. This fiber does not easily tear, pill, stain or create static and it is easily cleaned.
Alpaca produces beautiful yarns, either handspun or machine made. The long staple length makes it ideal for processing as either woolen or worsted yarns.
Manufacturers also like to blend alpaca with cashmere, mohair, silk, cotton, and wool. These blends make into exquisite luxury garments.
Awareness of the unique quality of alpaca fibre is increasing with the worldwide recognition gained from promotional efforts of breeders in the U.S., Canada, and Australia.
With selective breeding techniques, better animal husbandry and nutritional care, fibre fineness will improve and fleece weight per animal will increase.
The terms luxury and alpaca are becoming synonymous. The treasure, which the Incas harvested from the back of the mystical alpaca, will soon be enjoyed by discerning consumers everywhere.
Varieties in Natural Colors of Alpaca Fibre
Alpacas come in a terrific array of colors which have been categorized into 22 distinct color groups, from white and light fawn through many shades of silver and rose gray to dark brown, maroon and black.
Alpaca fibre in lighter color categories also takes dye well, leading to many bright true colors and diverse hues.
Alpacas do not need routine grooming. In fact, most breeders leave the fibre alone until it is time to shear to minimize the disturbance of lock formation.
Before shearing, a bit of special attention will pay off in the quality of your clip. The first step is to keep alpacas on clean, dry pastures for at least two weeks before the shearing day if this is possible.
Washing of Alpaca Fibre
The main things to get alpaca fleece clean are
- Very hot water (120- 1400f),
- An adequate amount of detergent and
- No agitation.
This can be done in a washing machine (in bags so as not to ruin both fleece and washer), using only the soak and spin dry cycles no agitation process.
Another choice is to wash fibre in a bathtub or other large container, using some container to lift the fibre out while allowing the fleece to “open up” to get clean. Any liquid detergent which does not contain bleach or conditioner is recommended.
Alpaca has no natural lanolin so cleaning requires a more gentle process than sheep’s wool which is scoured to remove lanolin.
Alpaca is fibre with most beneficial fibre but due to its limited production it is not widely known. This is the fibre which is most suitable for most of the application.
2. Cashmere Fibre
Cashmere is the fibre from the cashmere goat which is raised in Kashmir, Xin Jiang, Tibet, and Mongolia.
The fibre is combed from the goat during the molting season; the amount of good fibre averages about 4 grams per yield.
The short fibres of 3.5inches are fine and very soft and longer fibre 2-5 inches are coarse and stiff.
Cashmere is used in high-quality apparel and is an expensive fibre as the yearly production is very small.
Fabrics made of cashmere are warm, comfortable and light in weight and have beautiful draping characteristics. It has very similar properties to those of wool but is more sensitive to chemicals.
Cashmere fibre is available in Gray, brown and white color.
Cashmere fibre is widely used in Men’s and women’s coats, jackets and blazers, skirts, hosiery, sweaters, gloves, scarves, mufflers, caps, and robes.
Pure virgin (new) fibre or blended with wool only. Blends with nylon or tri-blends with wool and nylon in woven patterns may indicate the use of inferior quality recycled fiber.
Nylon, however, is used with virgin quality cashmere in hosiery and some other knitted products.