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John & Susan Merrell
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Scio, OR 97374
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Fiber Traits

Alpaca Fiber Traits are unique amongst all natural fibers.  It can be found in knitted goods ranging from socks to expensive sweaters.  It is also found in woven goods ranging from blankets to coats and high end fashion.  What is it about alpaca that makes it so versatile?

Under a microscope, the individual fiber from an alpaca begins to give away some of its secrets. This picture represents what one might see under magnification.

Alpaca Fiber Strand

One can see that an individual alpaca fiber consists of outer "scales" lying against the shaft. Several factors in this diagram will effect the feel, or "hand" of the yarn made from this material.

The diameter, measured in microns (1/25,000 of an inch) is the major determinant. Alpaca fiber can range from as low as 13 microns to well over 30 microns.

A study of alpaca fiber conducted in Australia determined that alpaca has a subjective softness equivalent to sheep wool 10 microns finer.  This is pretty amazing, since sheep wool is not considered "high quality" unless it is under 23 microns in diameter.  If we take the Australian study at face value, it would suggest that alpaca fiber of 33 microns would have the same subjective feel.  (Our experience does not support this conclusion, although we can agree that alpaca does feel softer than sheep wool of the same diameter.) 

One answer of the difference in feel between alpaca and sheep wool lies in the scale height and scale frequency shown in the above diagram.

The scale height of alpaca fiber is about .04 microns compared to .08 microns for wool. The scale frequency of mohair (a natural fiber produced by Angora goats) is 6 - 8 per 100 micron length of fiber, while that of alpaca is greater than 9 per 100 micron length of fiber. In other words, the individual shaft of an alpaca fiber is measurably smoother than that of other either sheep wool or mohair.

Additionally, there is evidence that alpaca is a more flexible fiber than wool.  This contributes to a sense of softness.  Consider the difference between a strand of steel wool and a strand of cotton thread of the same diameter.  If you were poked by the ends of these strands you would quickly understand of the flexibility of the shaft contributes to a perception of softness!! 

The huacaya alpaca fleece demonstrates the qualities of crimp and crinkle. This natural wave in the alpaca's fiber creates a yarn that retains it shape over time.  Huacaya fiber is most often used in knitted goods.

Suri alpaca fleece is known for its luster. It is commonly used in high end woven goods, as this showcases the beautiful way it interacts with light.

 
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"Letty drew a long breath and tried to feel resigned. 'She's got on her black alpaca,' said she. 'She's comin' to spend the day!' David answered her look with one of commiseration..."

- Alice Brown
Tiverton Tales
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