Knitting With Alpaca

Alpaca

Hailing from South America, the alpaca belongs to the camelid family that also includes camels, llamas, guanacos and vicunas. They are a docile breed whose fleece spins into luxurious yarns. More than three quarters of the world’s alpaca population resides in Peru.1 In centuries past, the alpaca was an incredibly valuable animal, even more so than precious gems! Clothing created with alpaca was restricted for use by royalty. The alpaca has been domesticated and is treated as one of Peru’s national treasures. England has the double decker bus, the U.S. has Mt. Rushmore, and Peru has their alpacas. What a diverse definition of treasure!

Alpaca fleece is a “protein fiber”. This doesn’t mean knitting with it will make you stronger, it merely indicates that the fiber comes from an animal- namely, the alpaca. Alpaca fiber is strong, warm, and comfortable. Each fiber is hollow which makes it incredibly lightweight. Even the most delicate alpaca garments are warm for this reason. Perhaps alpaca’s greatest feature is that it can be worn next to the skin comfortably. The explanation for this is the behavior of the scales on the exterior of the fiber itself. They all lie flat in the same direction, making for a smooth surface. Less expensive than cashmere and with the strength of mohair, alpaca is highly desirable and functional. As with most natural fibers, alpaca needs to be handled with care when it comes to water exposure. Be sure to read and heed the washing instructions on your yarn or sweater.

While there are 2 breeds of alpaca, Huacaya and Suri, the former makes up a whopping 95% of the population.2 Differences between the two are numerous and as you may have guessed from the percentages, the Suri is harder to come by. Suri qualities include fleece that grows downward like human hair in wavy or curly locks with a silky texture. Huacaya fleece is coarser and grows straight outwards, at a right angle to the skin of the alpaca.

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Knit Picks
About the Author:

Kelley and Bob Petkun started Knit Picks in 2002 to provide other knitters with affordable, luxury knitting supplies. Kelley is the host of a weekly podcast about knitting available at www.KnitPicks.com.

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