Alpaca is softer than wool and believed to have superior warmth and tensile strength characteristics. This is not surprising given it keeps the alpacas warm in their native habitat high in the Andes of South America.
There is minimal lanolin in the fibre and thus believed to be hypoallergenic with few reports of skin irritation from alpaca fibre garments. Huacaya fibre is similar in style to merino sheep, however it has a smoother fibre shaft than merino giving it an improved handle or feel and making if softer against the skin. It is suited to both knitted and woven products.
Suri fibre is straighter and smoother in structure giving it extreme lustre and a very slippery feel. It is ideally suited toward high end fabrics
Alpaca is a versatile fibre that can be carded, spun, woven, knitted or felted. It can be used by hand spinners through to large commercial spinning mills, and in products from homemade baby booties to evening wear on international catwalks.
Before processing natural fibre need to be scoured to remove dirt and impurities.
Spinning alpaca is similar to other fibre. Firstly the fibre is carded into a sliver and then spun, plied and wound into balls or cones. Spinning can be either worsted - where the fibre is combed until smooth and aligned, resulting in a yarn suited to weaving; or woolen – where fibre are less aligned giving a more lofty yarn more suited to knitting.
Felting is a process where hot water, soap and agitation are used to mesh the fibres together to create a fabric.
The properties of alpaca fibre give it a wide application of uses from homeware through to apparel. The superior handle or feel of alpaca makes it ideally suited to clothing worn next to the skin. The New Zealand alpaca industry is producing a range of products from luxurious warm duvets, to exquisite and delicate baby clothing.