The alpaca is the legendary South American camelid that is world-renowned for its high quality fur.
There are actually four major types of South American camelids: alpaca, vicuña, llama, and guanaco. However, alpaca and vicuña produce the highest quality wool. Alpaca fiber – including Royal alpaca and Baby alpaca – is far more common than vicuña fiber. Alpacas produce high quality and high quanity wool, and therefore, are the most breeded. The vicuña has the highest quality fur though it is a much more difficult animal to raise. The fiber is extremely soft and very fine, making it the most expensive.
Alpacas are raised for their fur in Australia and the United States, however, much of the luster is lost when done at lower altitudes, therefore, the fur from places like Peruvian Andes has far better quality.
An adult alpaca will grow 5-8 pounds of fur every year. The fiber is shiny, smooth, strong, and consierably warmer than wool. Fiber diameters range from 22.5-23.5 microns for baby alpacas to 32.5-34 microns for an adult alpaca. Fibers from the vicuña are just 10-12 microns in diameter.
The natural fur is classified into 22 distinct colors falling somewhere between shades of black, brown, and white, which can all easily be dyed without losing the natural luster. The fur differs between type of alpaca as well. The long hair Suri alpaca and puffier hair Huacaya alpaca are two of the more common animals.
There are numrous things to look out for when purchasing alpaca products, and several major types of alpaca wool:
This means pure alpaca, no blends or mixes. This type of fiber is most often used in jackets, sweaters, scarves, and socks. Very soft and comfortable.
Common in fine blankets and sweaters and extremely soft. Sometimes used in blends. The diameter of the fur is considerably finer than of an adult alpaca, yet larger than a vicuña.
The finest and most expensive fur found in South America and one of the finest in the world. Used in high fashion designs and pricey items such as blankets, jackets, sweaters, and much more. Unlikely it will be sold by a street vendor. A favorite thread of Incan royalty. A top quality Vicuña shawl will run thousands of dollars.
Alpaca Weaving Centers in South America
There are certain Andean towns throughout many countries in South America, in proximity to large alpaca populations, where weaving the fine thread is best known. Here are some of the highlights:
Huancayo and the Mantaro Valley, Peru
Cuzco and the Sacred Valley, Peru
Lake Titicaca, Peru & Bolivia
Parque Nacional Lauca and the Atacama, Chile
–South American Camelids
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.