Section 2.2: Primary Fibers

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Primary Fibers

The primary fibers in a blanket are just that – primary fibers and not necessarily "guard hair." Guard hairs are hollow – completely hollow. Primary fibers offer needed strength and support to the finer secondary fibers. Indeed, without primary fibers there would be no secondary fibers, for the primaries must be present for secondaries to grow and thrive. Primary fibers emerge from larger follicles that have both an associated sweat gland and a sebaceous or wax gland, as well as an erector muscle. The sebaceous gland provides each fiber with a protective coating before the fiber reaches the skin, keeping the skin and fibers soft. The sweat gland allows for thermal regulation within the alpaca, which is essential to the alpaca's health. The erector muscle has the ability to contract, which in turn causes the primary fiber to expand, thereby increasing the amount of air trapped in the fleece. This results in increased insulating effects for the alpaca and provides additional protection to the secondary fibers beneath it. 

The primary follicle produces only one fiber, which is a primary fiber. Primary fibers can have a variety of medullation, ranging from completely solid fibers to partially, as well as fully, medullated hollow fibers. These hollow-core fibers are relatively stiff and are known as "guard hair." Not all primary fibers are guard hair but all guard hairs are Primary fibers. Meullation within alpaca fiber gives alpaca its unique and superior insulation abilities. Primary fibers in general protect the alpaca's secondary fibers from the elements, including from possible felting on the animal. Moisture from rain, humidity and other factors can cause the alpaca to felt, which not only de-values the fleece, but also reduces the ability of the blanket to properly insulate the alpaca. 

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