Alpaca Fiber

The fiber of suris, when it gets long enough, actually forms locks that remind one of dreadlocks (they should not be matted like dreadlocks).  There are many different types of locks among suris.  Some may be wide and flat, with little twist, others can be very thin with lots of twist, and still others can have some curl to them.  The industry has not settled on any particular lock structure as being superior.  What breeders have agreed upon is that whatever lock structure a suri alpaca has, it should be the same type throughout the individual.  In other words you should not have a mix of flat and fat with thin and tight.  Additionally, suri breeders agree that it is desirable to see that lock start to develop at the skin.

It is the luster that truly differentiates suri fiber from any other.  Once the fiber is off the suri alpaca and in the fiber processor's hands, the lock structure makes no difference at all, but the luster is what makes suri fiber so special when it is processed into garments.  Luster refers to a reflective quality the fiber possesses quite possibly because the scales on the hair shaft lie flatter giving a smoother fiber that reflects more light.  The luster makes the alpaca look silky and or even wet.

Alpacas are shorn in the spring and can yield an average of 50-90 oz. of first-quality fiber as well as 50-100 oz. of second and third quality fiber per animal.  In its raw state, alpaca fiber varies from $2.00-$5.00/oz. depending on the quality of the fiber. Each stage of the process (cleaning, carding, spinning, knitting, finishing, etc) adds more value to the fiber. As a finished garment, it can sell for $10.00/oz.  Hand knit goods are more desirable and have sold for $1,000.00, in some cases. 

Alpaca fleece is a luxurious fiber, similar to sheep’s wool in some ways, but lighter in weight, softer to the touch, not prickly and bears no lanolin, making it nearly hypoallergenic.  This is due to the fact that alpaca fiber has very little guard hair and a natural fineness – generally in the 18-29 micron range (1 micron=1/1000 of an inch).  Anything above that lends to the “prickle factor” when worn next to the skin (most “allergies” are actually this irritating response by sensitive skin to the coarser “guard hair” fibers found in wool and other fibers).  The “prickle factor” actually starts to be felt once the fiber exceeds 22 microns.  There are seven basic grades of alpaca fiber and each grade of alpaca has a specific use. The finest, and most sought after, is "baby" alpaca.

Alpaca fiber - considered a luxury fiber - usually rivals the popularity of such fine fibers as cashmere and pashmina among top designers around the world.  Alpaca fibers do not lose strength as the individual fiber diameter grows smaller. This contributes to alpaca garments of superior durability.  Alpaca fleece does not lose its insulating qualities when wet.

White is the predominant color of alpacas, both Suri and Huacaya. This is because South American selective breeding has favored white — bulk white fleece is easier to market and can be dyed any color. However, alpacas come in more than 22 natural color shades, from a true-blue black through browns-and-fawns to white, and there are silver-grays and rose-grays as well. In South America this selective breeding preference for white has given these animals, generally, better fleece than darker-colored animals. However, in the United States, more and more people desire darker fiber, especially blacks and grays. Thus, breeders have been diligently working on breeding dark animals with exceptional fiber, and much progress has been made in these areas over the last 5-7 years.