All About Fiber

Llama and alpaca fiber is a luxury to work with and a favorite of fiber artists. With the improved breeding and care of llamas and alpacas here in North America over the years, the difference between working with their fiber is merely in the name of the animal, not in the fiber.

Many llamas have fiber superior to alpacas and many alpacas have fiber superior to llamas. It just depends on the individual animal. With selective breeding and good nutrition, the coats of llamas and alpacas have improved immensely and both type of fiber (referred to as wool) is soft and luxurious. For pieces of clothing, both fibers are extremely warm and do not have the “prickly” quality as does wool from sheep

South American Roots

In South America, where both the llama and the alpaca originated, fiber is still an industry and is graded by quality, not by the origin of the animal. The best quality fiber is called “alpaca” regardless of the animal it was harvested from and the lower quality fiber is called “llama” even though it may actually have from an alpaca. So when you see a garment made in South America labeled as “alpaca”, it very well could actually be “llama”.

This labeling in South America has wrongly labeled the llama fiber second place to alpaca fiber in this country. However, if you have ever sheared both llamas and alpacas, you’ll immediately recognize that llama fiber very often has the same soft and luxurious quality fiber than alpacas are known for. How often llamas and alpaca are sheared determines the length of the staple on each individual animal. On an average, alpacas seem to exhibit more denseness in their fiber, however, when spinning, both the llama and the alpaca fiber are spinner’s favorites.

The Very Finest Fiber

The very finest fiber known comes from a cousin of the llama and alpaca, the vicuña. The vicuña produces a small amount of extremely fine fiber which is extremely expensive because the animal can only be shorn every three years. In 2009, one kilogram of clean Vicuña fiber was priced at US $650.00. “Current prices for vicuña yarns and fabrics can range from $1,800 to $3,000 per yard. Vicuña fiber can be used for apparel (such as socks, sweaters, accessories, shawls, coats, and suits) and home fashion (such as blankets and throws). A scarf costs around $1500 while a man’s coat can cost up to $20,000.” It is reported in history that the Incas highly valued the vicuña for its wool and that it was against the law for anyone but royalty to wear vicuña garments.

Luckily, with the increased population of llama and alpacas in this country, and with the many people who enjoy working with their fiber, we can all enjoy the elegance of a garment made of llama or alpaca fiber.