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Wednesday, 23 January 2008

More than just a pretty Scarf...

‘Alpaca’ is becoming a common word, the majority now starting to recognise that soapy softness of quality alpaca fibre whether it be knitted baby wear or fine spun shawls.

Alpaca is undoubtedly a magnificent natural material to work with and to wear, the warmth provided by the hollow core of the fibre being second to none.
This fine, lustrous and crimpy fleece grows on the back of these South American camelids and is sheared off once a year. One animal can yield up to seven kilos of fleece- but this doesn’t necessarily translate into seventy balls of quality knitting yarns: Alpacas are sheared from head to toe, with a decrease in the quality of the fibre down the legs.

It’s fantastic that alpaca is moving to the forefront of fashion, demand for luxury fibre knitting yarns is higher than it has ever been, but designers and consumers alike crave the ‘good stuff’. Until recently alpaca breeders and textile workers scratched their heads to discover a use for the waste fibre left after the ‘blanket’ fleece is removed. These fibers tend to be harsher, less crimpy and when worn next to the skin are itchy. Obviously including the leg fibre in a spin batch would downgrade the rest of your soft fibre- so it is piled separately at the back of the shearing shed. Over the course of shearing a whole herd this waste fibre can amount to a significant amount of fleece.

Some use it as insulation- that hollow core working as well at keeping a home warm as keeping your toes warm. Others use it to stuff pet bedding- lucky pooch! The third alterative is to accept it as a lower-grade fibre, lacking the softness and lustre of the back fibre, but still use it within textiles. This coarse fibre can be felted, wet felted or needle felted, or alternately spun up into a heavier knitting yarn and then knitted and felted. The result is a much heavier and hairier fabric, it has greater structure and is consequently more hard wearing. This can be used for the likes of handbags, slippers, Wellington-boot insoles or even teddy bears and jewellery. Alpaca is a versatile fibre and when treated in various different ways can become unrecognisable as the same fibre. Whether knitted, felted or woven, alpaca gives you exceptional results, bringing to your product warmth, texture, and creating a desire in people to touch it. This type of alpaca can be bought at much lower prices than fine alpaca, and anyone interested in textiles will love the challenge of a different type of material.

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