Alpaca fiber is among the finest fiber in the world. Soft and long and in a range of beautiful natural colors, alpaca can be a joy to spin if you know where to start and what makes it different from sheep's wool.
I hadn't had much experience spinning alpaca until I started volunteering at a school with a spinning program for the children. The campus has a working farm that is home to two beautiful alpacas. Each time I volunteered in the classroom, we were working with alpaca fiber. I knew that some people really struggle with alpaca spinning—mostly because they learned how to spin on sheep's wool and expected it to behave the same way. But as I started working with alpaca fiber regularly, I started to appreciate its unique properties and learn how to spin it to best advantage.
Experience the joy of spinning alpaca. Luxuriously soft, long, and available in a wide range of beautiful natural colors, discover why spinners love alpaca fiber. It is a long fiber with no crimp, so it doesn’t stretch and bounce the way wool does. Sheep’s wool also contains a lot of lanolin (grease) and most spinners like to scour the wool to remove excess lanolin before they spin it. Alpaca doesn’t have the same grease content, so it can be spun raw (or unwashed) pretty easily.
Alpaca is different from sheep's wool—it is a long fiber with no crimp—so it doesn't stretch and bounce the way wool does. Incredibly warm and soft, alpaca fiber can make luxurious garments if you know how to work with it. But if you approach it just as you would sheep's wool—you'll be in for some surprises. For instance, sheep's wool contains a lot of lanolin (grease), and most spinners like to scour the wool to remove excess lanolin before they spin it. Alpaca doesn't have the same grease content—so it can be spun raw pretty easily, though it may contain a lot of dust or vegetable matter. Just as with sheep's wool, when you wash alpaca fiber, you have to be careful not to felt it. Alpaca fiber also takes dye beautifully—you'll find that the colors will be a little more muted than they would be on most sheep's wool because the fiber is soft and not lustrous. Because alpaca fiber doesn't have the same fiber structure as wool (no crimp), the yarn requires more twist to stay together as well as hold its shape over time. If you spin a softly spun, thick yarn, and then knit a heavy sweater, the garment is likely to grow over time as the fiber stretches.
There are two basic breeds of alpacas: Huacaya and Suri. The rich deep colors and crimpy waves of Huacaya alpaca have made it very popular among spinners. The slender, angular Suri, with a topknot over its eyes, has slick, lustrous fiber that hangs in ringlets called roping. You’ll love learning how to spin this unique fiber in this free instructional and very informative guide on spinning alpaca fiber.
Yarn from Huacaya Alpaca
Spinning Alpaca for Knitting: Huacaya Alpaca by Kaye Collins
Kaye has learned more about alpaca than can be covered in a single article. So she begins with an overview and then focus on spinning Huacaya fiber—the "woolier" type of alpaca—to make knitting yarns. Learn about preparation techniques for the Huacaya breed and things to be aware of when choosing your alpaca fleece.
How to Spin Suri Alpaca
Spinning Suri Alpaca Instruction by Kaye Collins
Transform that gorgeous rare Suri fiber into beautiful alpaca yarn. This fiber is fine and soft like cashmere with the sheen and smoothness of silk. Suri also has the added benefit of a long staple length. Once Suri fiber is well prepared, it spins so easily you can forget your troubles, relax, and spin, spin, spin. Get started by learning where to find it, how to prepare and wash it, and to properly spin it
Working with Alpaca Fleece
Spinning the Yarn of a Newcomer by Kaye Collins
With so many new and fantastic spinning fibers on the market (Soy Silk, bamboo, ingeo) it is hard to believe there could possibly be more—but it’s true. Pacovicuña is the newest fiber-producing camelid in North America. Paco-vicuña, blends the characteristics of alpaca and vicuña fiber that will remind you of spinning cashmere.
Create Beautiful Yarn from Spinning Alpaca
South America's Wild Ones, Vicuña and Guanaco by Kaye Collins
Learn about these two wild South American breeds and the several differences between the two species. Kaye Collins shares her experience in Lima, Peru and the important things she learned about these two breeds, their fiber qualities, spinning their fiber, and the gorgeous project she made from her handspun alpaca fiber.