Alpacas are South American domesticated herd animals that come from the same scientific family as camels. They look a lot like llamas, but they are smaller, much friendlier, and most of them rarely spit on people. Alpacas are also pretty easy on the land they graze, making them a pretty “green” fiber option. They have been described as cuddly investments, but I think they are just cuddly.
Alpacas come in two varieties, Huacaya and Suri. Huacaya are the far more common variety. Their fiber tends to be shorter, and has much more crimp than that of the Suri. The Suri has longer, silkier fiber with very little crimp.
Alpaca Fiber is the “wool” harvested from an alpaca; much like wool is harvested from sheep. In fact, alpaca fiber is similar to sheep’s wool, but it is warmer, smoother, and lighter weight per unit of fiber than sheep’s wool. Alpaca is also lanolin free, making it safe for those with lanolin allergies. Good quality alpaca is fine and soft at only 18 to 25 micrometers in diameter (the finer the fiber the softer it generally feels, and alpaca is very fine). Baby alpaca is particularly fine, as alpaca fibers get thicker as the animals age.
Alpaca fiber is as much as 7 times warmer than wool, drapes beautifully, takes dye very well, and is not prone to pilling. On the other hand, it is more slippery and less flexible than wool, and stretches underweight. Alpaca is also heavier than wool in heavier gauges because it has less crimp than wool and is more slippery than wool it has to be spun very densely.
What do I knit in alpaca? Since I live in such a warm climate I knit only whisper fine lace in alpaca, as everything else is too warm. If I could, I would beautifully fine draping sweaters and cardigans. Alpaca is lovely.