Fleece - Fiber to Fashion
first and foremost fiber producing animals. They've
been domesticated for thousands of years specifically
because of their gorgeous fiber. As in the past, the
future value of the breed will continue to be determined
by their fiber producing capabilities. So whether you're
interested in show animals, breeding stock, studs, or
pets, all alpaca owners should understand alpaca fiber,
its production value, its uses, and processing options.
To read more in-depth articles about the fiber industry
please visit our article library.
Alpaca is classed as a luxury fiber (like cashmere, mohair,
and angora) because of its fineness and relative scarcity.
the world alpaca population is in Peru, so in North America,
which has perhaps 2% of the world's alpaca population, alpaca
fiber is especially scarce. This presents both an opportunity
and a challenge for North American alpaca owners and breeders.
Alpaca fleece commands high prices when sold directly to handspinners
(2004 prices varied from $2.50 to $5.00 an ounce--compared
to sheep's wool, which sells retail for $6 to $10 per pound).
because there's not enough fleece produced in the US to interest
most commercial processors, many alpaca breeders must make
their own arrangements for processing the fiber. Fortunately,
fiber co-ops have been started by alpaca breeders and many
small processing mills will work with specialty fibers like
There are many factors which influence the characteristic of
alpaca fiber, as follows:
* Color--alpaca is classed by ARI into 22 color categories,
though in reality the specific colors of the animals have over
200 distinct shades (see The Kaliedscope and Fiber Evaluation
by Hoffman). The color classes make it possible to group fleece
colors for processing
* Fineness--a measure of the diameter of each of the hair follicles,
generally measured in microns
* Staple length--the length of fiber an animal produces between
* Density--the number of hair follicles per square inch
* Uniformity--the even distribution of all the characteristics
that are valued in a fleece
* Crimp/crinkle--the waviness present in huacaya fiber. In sheep's
wool, the more uniform the crimp, the finer the fleece was thought
to be. In alpacas this isn't necessarily true (suris exhibit
almost no crimp), but it continues to be valued by North American
alpaca breeders and gives huacaya alpacas their characteristic
* Fleece weight--the full weight of the blanket fleece and seconds
Other more subjective factors are also considered in breeding
programs, like luster in huacayas or sheen/shine in suris,
uniformity of color, and handle.
No breeding program can select for all of these traits at once,
and some of these traits counteract each other to some extent
(for example, a fine fleece will weigh less than a courser fleece
of equal density). Most breeders have selected one or several
of these traits to focus on in their breeding programs. Different
traits are more or less valuable depending on the intended end
use--commercial processing, hand spinning, felting, quilting,
for show, etc.
When evaluating fleece on an animal, know which factors you're
looking for and judge the animal with your criteria in mind.
It's typical to split the fleece in at least 3 areas (the center
side, the front shoulder and the back rump) to judge the uniformity
of the animal's fleece characteristics across the entire blanket.