Alpacas originally lived in the high mountains of the Andes in South America, more specifically Peru, Chili and Bolivia. They have been domesticated by the Incas for over 5,000 years. Today there are approximately 5 million alpacas worldwide, 90% of which live in Peru. They are generally gentle, intelligent and curious creatures.
The alpaca is a species of the South American camelid, similar to the llama. However, alpacas are noticeably smaller than llamas. Alpacas are also related to the vicuña, which is believed to be the alpaca's wild ancestor, and to the guanaco.
HUACAYA AND SURI
There are two different breeds of alpacas. The more common Huacaya have full, fluffy, crimped fleeces. Their fiber is the ideal basis for naturally elastic yarn, which is well-suited for knitting. Our animals are all Huacaya. The unique, rarer Suri alpaca has long, silky locks that hang downward creating a draped, elegant appearance. Both Suri and Huacaya fiber is used throughout the world for the warmest and finest quality garments.
As alpacas don’t shed their fleece, it’s important to shear them by hand once every year. The best alpaca fleece comes from the blanket (back, side shoulder and rump). It’s usually finer and more consistent than fleece from the head, brisket, legs, tail and belly. We only use fleece from the blanket. After shearing, the primary fleece (from the blanket) is brought to a table where the guard hair and vegetable matter is hand-picked from the fiber. Alpaca fiber that is properly skirted produces superior yarn with a high quality.
Alpaca fibre has different grades of fineness, which add to the luxury and cost of the end-products:
At Hug & Hum, we mainly use baby alpaca. It’s an exceptionally soft and lightweight fiber with a diameter between 19 and 22 micron (1 micron = 1/1000 mm).
UNIQUE ALPACA FIBER
Alpacas don’t just have a cute ‘teddy bear look’, they also produce one of the most versatile fibres in nature. In the Andes they live at high altitude, with a minimum of oxygen and in very cold temperatures. Their fleece is light as a feather but still they manage to keep warm and don’t lose energy. This is because of the thermal qualities of alpaca fiber. It’s very light with unique air pockets that ‘store’ body heat in cooler temperatures and release it in warm weather.
While similar to sheep’s wool, alpaca fiber is warmer, lighter and not itchy. It has no lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic. Alpaca fiber is lighter, stronger and warmer than merino and mohair. It’s soft as cashmere but far less likely to pill.
With one alpaca, you can make up to 5 sweaters, while it takes 4 goats to produce sufficient cashmere for a single sweater. Alpaca isn’t just a natural fiber that looks and feels luxurious, it’s also very sustainable.
Alpacas have a minimal impact on the environment:
- They can survive on poor grounds and are efficient eaters. They need less food and water than other fiber-producing animals.
- They don’t rip grass and roots out of the ground, like cashmere goats do. Alpaca is soft as cashmere but far more ecological.
- Alpacas don’t have sharp hooves like sheep and goats. They have 2 toes and a soft footpad, as a result of which they don’t damage grounds.
- As they live at high altitude, they don’t use water or land that’s needed for food production (cotton does).
There’s even more eco-friendliness:
There’s even more eco-friendliness:
- As alpaca has no lanolin, it can be washed on low temperature without harmful chemical products. The result is soft-quality knitwear.
- Alpaca fiber is a creation of nature, made of protein. It’s biodegradable, unlike synthetic fibre.
UNDYED ALPACA YARN
Alpacas are the only fiber-producing animals that have so many natural colors. Alpaca fleece has 16 (some say 22) shades ranging from white, beige and brown to silver grey, rose grey and black. At Hug & Hum, we mainly use undyed alpaca yarn.