Section 1.77: Alpaca Fiber Benefits Summary

Alpaca are renowned for producing the world’s most sustainable luxury fiber. Alpaca Fiber can be eco-friendly, softer than cashmere, and warm as polar bear fleece.

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Alpaca Fiber Benefits Summary

  • Alpaca fiber is stronger than many other animal fibers, even at the finer grades. Yocum McColl studies reveal alpaca to have a tensile strength of 1.5x of similar wool fibers. This trait allows manufacturers to create lightweight, sculpted, and fashionable garments, since a bulky sweater format is not required to provide equivalent warmth. Alpaca can deliver warmth in light, delicate and elegant fashions. Alpaca’s natural strength also provides durability. The options for alpaca are numerous, from worsted to woolen, bulky sweater to form-fitting delicate knit, next to the skin sweater to a fine gabardine coat. The possibilities are almost endless.
  • Alpaca wicks moisture. Up to 30% of its weight. This means an alpaca fabric will allow moisture to move to the outside of the garment where it can evaporate. Cotton and wool products, on the other hand, absorb moisture. This is why a wool sweater can feel very heavy if you are caught in the rain – wool can hold up to 50%.. A water-soaked wool sweater can also bring out the smell of lanolin residue that was trapped within the fiber scales. When a fiber absorbs moisture, the moisture diffuses into the fiber, causing the molecules to separate and fiber volume to increase, which is called swelling (or hygral expansion). Wool and cotton socks tend to make your feet sweat because they are absorbing moisture. Alpaca does not tend to absorb moisture, rather it transports moisture away from the foot where it can evaporate at the outside of the sock.
  • Huacaya alpaca “blooms,” contributing to its insulating qualities. Scale structure has a significant effect on the characteristics exhibited by a finished textile. For example, the scales on fibers in newly-made alpaca fabric will generally be tightly packed. Once washed, or “fulled,” the scales will relax, easing the tension within the fabric. The term for this is ”bloom.” You can try this at home with two like skeins of Huacaya alpaca fiber. Wash one and let it dry; then put it side-by-side with the other. The washed skein will be a bit fuller and less scratchy. The washed skein will also be brighter, because more surface area will be available as the scales relax, creating more reflective surfaces. Bloom contributes to the insulating properties of Huacaya fiber. Since Suri fiber has a longer and smoother scale structure, Suri fiber does not bloom. 

Note: brightness does stay with alpaca fiber as it is processed into fabric. With wool, especially in the unwashed fleece, the lanolin grease is highly reflective. When the fleece is scoured to remove the majority of the lanolin, the fleece frequently appears duller. 

  • Although inconclusive, alpaca may exhibit hypoallergenic qualities. We know about the “prickle factor,” where thick and/or hollow fibers of around 30 microns can prick the skin, causing rashes, discomfort, and other reactions, thereby making some wools very uncomfortable to wear. com reports that some people who were believed to be allergic to lanolin, were instead reacting to the “prickle factor.” Although some people who feel they cannot wear wool find that they can wear alpaca comfortably, there is not enough evidence to substantiate a claim that alpaca is hypoallergenic. Alpaca has an open scale structure, which creates spaces that may be susceptible to filling with dust, mold, and pollen. So, while alpaca may appear to exhibit some hypoallergenic characteristics, more research is needed before it can be claimed to in fact be

“hypoallergenic,” and to what degree. Alpaca is low-allergenic. 

  • At its best, alpaca fiber is extremely fine, with a good balance in size and length of primary and secondary fibers.
  • Alpaca fiber has a higher tensile strength than wool (1.5x per YocomMcColl).
  • Alpaca fiber is relatively easily processed, as it contains little grease, oil, or lanolin, and is compatible with processing by either the woolen or worsted systems, depending on fiber length. The lack of lanolin also makes alpaca odorfree.
  • Alpaca fiber can be carded, combed, and blended with other natural and/or synthetic fibers, for a wide variety of finished blends.
  • Alpaca exhibits natural brightness and luster. Due to the unique structure of alpaca fiber, it tends to reflect light very well, contributing a natural brightness or luster to finished products.
  • The lasting brightness found in the wide array of natural alpaca colors adds to its value. Although alpaca fiber, in particular Huacaya, can be easily dyed any color, it will lose some of its natural brightness.
  • Alpaca is fire retardant. More studies are needed, but alpaca will not melt and stick to your skin in a fire.
  • Alpaca is warm. Studies show that the medullation (full or partial) helps insulate against both heat and cold. While crimp adds some insulation (loft) up to 80% of crimp can be lost in processing. It is the medullation that insulates.
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