Alpaca Wool - What Makes it so Special?
Posted on November 03 2014
Before my visit to Bolivia and Peru I didn't know much about alpaca or the unique textiles created from its wool. But that is one of the great benefits to travel - it opens your eyes and mind to things once unknown! So if you were like me, here are a few of the interesting morsels I learned about this extraordinary natural fiber that we now have available in the shop!
What is Alpaca?
From the camel family, Alpacas are a domesticated species of South American that resemble small llamas. Alpacas are kept in herds that graze on the level heights of the Andes at an altitude of 3500 to 5000 meters (11,500 to 16,500 feet) above sea-level and in temperatures ranging -30C to 24C (-21F to 75F).
The largest population of alpaca is found in the Andean zone of Bolivia and Peru. Raising alpacas (and llamas) is an important economic activity in these countries and, in many cases, the only means of subsitance for families living in rural areas.
During the summers , the animals are shorn by the native people for their fiber which can then be spun to produce yarns for both machine and handwoven products. The shearing process does not hurt or injure the animals.
The fibers are then manually classified according to their fineness. "Baby Alpaca" - the finest of wool - and "Super Fine Alpaca" - the next classification after baby alpaca - are the softest and highest quality of the fibers collected.
Alpaca in Peru
How is Alpaca Wool?
Because of the extreme weather conditions of the alpaca environment, alpaca wool has unique characteristics and is one of the finest and most luxurious natural fibers in the world. It is as soft as cashmere yet warmer, lighter and stronger than wool - statistically, 7 or more times warmer than wool!
Coming in 22 natural colors, more than any other fiber producing animal, alpaca maintains a natural luster and, due to its lanolin content, is also water repellent. It most attractive quality, however, is its thermostatic properties that allow it stay warm in the cold and cool in the sun. It is obvious why this cashmere-like fleece was once just reserved for the Incan royalty and referred to as the “Fiber of the Gods”! Lucky us to now be able to enjoy it so readily.
While traveling Bolivia and Peru, I fell in love with the softness of the wool and the quality of the handwoven scarves and shawls (called "mantillas" in Spanish). I hand carried home some of the best pieces that I discovered in Cusco, La Paz and Copacabana.
Enjoy wearing this special fiber from such a unique corner of our globe. Like the Incas, it too will make you feel like royalty!