The Inca Indians of Peru domesticated alpacas and llamas, ages ago. Alpacas were selectively bred to yield a fine, uniform fleece and the wool was used in making garments. Whereas, llamas were merely pack animals used to carry heavy loads and their fiber was never considered to be usable, due to it's coarseness. However, today, there are also llamas that have fine fleece.
Technically speaking, llama fiber is not wool. But many people refer to it as such. A whole fleece consists of two coats: guard hair and down. Guard hair is thick and without crimp, making it excellent for use in rope. Down is soft and luxurious, suitable for finer garments. Using llama wool for knitting requires the selection of the proper type of wool. Because of the broad range of wool types present in the llama population, people are able to make a variety of things from llama wool.
Llama wool has a hollow core (called medullation), giving it a good weight-to-warmth ratio and making it lightweight. The degree of medullation decreases with fiber diameter and the finest fibers can be solid with interrupted medullation.
Llama fiber contains no natural oils or lanolin which also makes it lightweight and it yields 90--93% of its original weight when processed. It shrinks little in washing. Many natural colors can be found, ranging from white, light brown, dusty rose, dark brown, gray and silver, all the way to black.
When shearing, the entire fleece is harvested, including guard hair and down. After shearing, it takes 2 years to re-grow. Therefore, although each shearing yields about 8 pounds of fiber, that only amounts to 4 pounds per year. If only the down is required, it is harvested by brushing which is much more labor- and time-intensive and also yields only about 4 pounds of pure down per year.
Because of its fineness, thin yarn that is double-plied yields the softest, yet strongest yarn. However, it can also be spun thick or as a single or blended with other fibers. It has little or no memory, making it excellent for weaving.
Skeins and garments should be washed in cold water with a mild soap. Be sure to totally submerge the garment because llama fiber is water repellent. Wet garments should be handled with care so they will not lose their shape.
For the types of llama fibers of interest to the knitter it can be considered essentially the same as alpaca.