Alpaca has a wonderful handle that is soft enough to wear right next to your skin without irritation. It is warmer and stronger by weight than the fibers of most other mammals. Being light weight and very water resistant, it's an excellent fiber for delicate warm weather accessories.
There are two types of alpacas. Huacaya Alpacas have crimpy, bundled fiber and a fluffy look when in full fleece. Whereas Suri Alpaca fleece falls in long locks or ringlets, which move freely as the animal walks. Under a microscope, it can be seen that the surface structure of Suri fiber is lower than that of Huacaya fiber and the height of the scales of Huacaya fiber is slightly higher, with a steeper edge angle, than that of Suri. This gives Suri fiber a slicker, softer hand than Huacaya.
Laboratory tests have shown that alpaca is three times warmer than sheep’s wool. The primary reason being that alpaca is more heavily medullated. This refers to the tiny, hollow areas in the center of many individual alpaca fibers which store warmth and also make it lighter in weight than most other animal fibers.
Cold weather studies have been performed to compare various fibers that have been knitted the same way. They show that when worn in a 0°F environment, alpaca provides a 50°F comfort range whereas sheep’s wool has a 30°F comfort range. The alpaca garment also weighed less.
Historically, alpaca is considered one of the the strongest of mammal fibers. Native peoples braided alpaca/llama fiber with reeds or cotton to make bridges for spanning canyons in the Peruvian Andes!
People have known for ages that alpaca is very water resistant. But laboratory tests have even proven that it is virtually water repellent and very difficult to fully saturate with water. This extreme level of water resistance is the reason alpaca wicks moisture away from the body so well. So, although alpaca socks are very warm, they won't cause your feet to sweat, making them ideal for cold climates where wicking is essential. This also means that it resists odors better than other fibers.
Alpaca does not contain lanolin, making it easier to process than sheep’s wool which requires an intense scouring process. Alpaca can have an 85-95% clean fiber yield compared to sheep at 45–75%.
Because the individual scales on alpaca fibers are smoother and lower than those on the fibers of many other mammals, it has a low prick feeling which makes it possible to wear next to the skin without any itching and produces garments that don’t pill. Many people who cannot wear wool report that they can wear alpaca with no allergic reactions.
Like sheep’s wool, Alpaca is more flame resistant than plant or synthetic fibers. When synthetic fibers burn, they melt and stick to the skin, increasing the injury. Being both flame resistant and non-melting, natural fibers such as alpaca, pose a much lesser danger.
Alpaca can be processed in both worsted and woolen methods. It can be woven, knitted, crocheted and felted. The crimpy Huacaya fiber makes beautiful, lofty yarn for knitted and crocheted applications. Suri fibers, as well as Huacaya, when harvested at other times, are ideal for woven fabrics.