Series on Wool: Alpaca & Using It To Your Design Advantage
If you own an Alpaca sweater or shawl, you will understand first-hand why it is so easy to fall in love with. But what is alpaca and what makes it so irresistible to consumers? Here's a little look at everything about this elite wool, including why it is in such high demand, despite being very expensive.
How is Alpaca Wool Made?
Alpaca is a natural wool that is rare, extremely fine, soft and smooth. This high quality wool has so many desirable properties, that it is considered a speciality fibre.
Alpaca wool was originally obtained from domesticated South American camelids, which are animals resembling llamas. Most of the wool used in the textile industry is obtained from the herds bred in Peru, Bolivia and Chile. Nowadays, we also hear of Alpaca being reared in North America, Australia, New Zealand and USA.
Huacaya and Suri are the names of the two breeds that are mainly used in the production of Alpaca. The Huacaya wool is short and dense, while the Suri has long and shiny wool.
The animals are shorn annually in spring. An adult Alpaca produces close to 3 kilos of wool a year. The fleece is very soft and smooth, and as you can see from the image below, is available in a range of natural colours, including white. Once the fleece is collected, it has to be processed before it is ready for use. These are the series of steps that are performed:
- The fleece shorn from the camelid will have dirt and debris in it. So it is first cleaned.
- In the next stage, the fleece is carded. This is the process of removing the clumps and combing the fibre so it lays in one direction uniformly.
- Next, the fibres are spun into yarn on a spinning wheel or using a drop spindle.
- We can now use this yarn to create fabric, through knitting or crocheting.
- An alternative is to felt it together. This is when the fleece is overlapped, water is poured on it and the fibres are bonded by scrunching the fleece together.
Characteristics of Alpaca Wool
Alpaca is considered a high-quality wool because of the many superior properties it possesses. It has a soft hand and the wool offers more thermal insulation than other varieties, including cashmere and mohair. Just like angora wool, the fibres have a modulated core, which means they are partially or fully hollow. It is this internal structure that makes it unusually warm.
Alpaca fibres are stronger than sheep's wool, yet much lighter. Once woven into a fabric, it is much less itchy than courser wool. Also, unlike sheeps' wool, this fibre doesn't contain lanolin, which is a natural oil secretion that attracts dust and microorganisms. Hence it is easy to clean and maintain.
The wool is naturally available in 22 colours including white, black, greys and browns. It can also be dyed to a desired colour.
Pros and Cons of Alpaca
As I mentioned, Alpaca is a soft wool with very good insulating properties. As a naturally growing fibre, it is considered renewable, sustainable and eco-friendly. No animals are harmed during the production process - which is more than we can say for Angora fabric. Amongst its various attractive features is the fact that it is naturally fire retardant - a property of many natural wools in fact.
Clothing made from Alpaca is light and durable. Unlike other forms of wool, alpaca doesn't become dirty easily. It is resistant to fungus and microorganism attacks. The wool is hypoallergenic too.
Did you know that you can clean and deodorise it effectively, by simply placing it in sunlight?
Now you know why Alpaca has huge demand. Unfortunately, the supply is limited. Another factor that makes it very dear is that the wool is slippery, and therefore difficult to work with.
Who Uses Alpaca?
Alpaca is mainly used in knitwear. It is also woven into cloth and used in shawls, stoles, rugs and accessories. Textile manufacturers sometimes blend it with wool, cotton or silk to improve its scope of use. It is also used in outdoor sports clothing due to its light weight and insulation properties.
Due to the high quality and exquisite properties of Alpaca wool, it is a favourite among top designers. Plum of London has a luxury range of ladies accessories, ranging from knit shawls to soft scarves created with the finest Alpaca yarn. Leslie Tessler is another brand that specialises in creating stylish, but classic wardrobe essentials from Peruvian Alpaca.
Call me biased, but Arlette Lee is one of my favorite labels that exclusively specialises in luxurious baby Alpaca fibres. As the founder and owner herself, Arlette Lee, told me,
“I simply don't take it off! I love baby Alpaca as it is a natural, luxurious fibre. For day to day life, I find Alpaca garments are so comfortable to wear, supersoft, warm and breathable. They never wrinkle, repel water, radiate the sun and it feels so good against my skin - no itch factor."
For knitters who are keen to try Alpaca yarn in their own designs, Purl Alpaca Designs offers knitting kits and yarns from pure British Alpacan yarn. This Field-to-Fashion company also has an attractive range of designer Alpaca garments.
When designing with Alpaca, one thing is certain — it is a great quality choice that will serve your customer well and look great even after several years. So, the next time you go shopping for your wool, make sure you take a look at Alpaca.
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