Looking for a soft, luxurious yarn? Alpaca fibers might be the perfect choice. I explore what alpaca yarn is, and ways to use it for knitting.
I reviewed, fact checked and updated this post on May 14, 2023.
Table Of Contents
What Is Alpaca Yarn?
It’s a natural fiber from Alpaca fleece. It’s often more expensive than sheep wool. Alpaca yarn is popular because it’s warm, hypoallergenic, soft, and easy to knit with. It’s lofty and retains heat. It’s available in all colors of the rainbow. Often considered a luxury yarn, just like angora because of the luxurious feel. I’ve outlined of yarns in the luxury category in my post here.
Here’s a video by Lion Brand University on why people like it so much.
It’s a great overview of what this yarn is.
Where It Comes From
Alpacas are a domesticated species of South American camelid. They’re bred for fiber, which is shorn once a year. They live mostly in Peru, and their close camelid family cousin is the llama. They’re also related to camels.
In the late 20th century, alpaca yarn was highly prized as the wool only came from Peru and Chile, and the amount exported each year was controlled. It still is, but there are alpaca farms in other places now like in the US or Australia.
Llamas are also used to produce fiber, but their yarn isn’t as fine. It’s more suitable for weaving or home décor patterns. It produces two types of fleece – the guard hair and the undercoat. It’s the fluffy undercoat that makes yarn.
The under hairs on the sides of the animal often produce the best quality fiber.(2)
How It’s Made Into Yarn
Once the Alpacas are shorn, the lightweight fleece is graded and cleaned. The next step is to card the fiber, which is done by aligning all the fibers in one direction. Then, it’s spun into yarn. Here is a video by Heifer International on the process.
It’s amazing to watch the fleece being spun in the traditional way.
Types Of Alpaca Fiber
- Baby Alpaca – It’s the fiber that’s shorn from young Alpacas, and it’s the softest.
How To Wash It
Here are the care instructions for Alpaca fibers. It’s durable, but be careful when washing it. You should hand wash this fiber in cool water with a mild soap. I accidentally put a knitted scarf of baby alpaca yarn in the washing machine and it felted! Avoid hot water or harsh detergents.
It’s important to let your Alpaca garments air dry. Don’t put them in the dryer, as this damages the fibers and it will felt and shrink. Always check the yarn label for instructions specific to the yarn you’re using.
Does It Shrink When Washed?
It shrinks when exposed to hot water. To avoid this, hand wash it in cool water.
How To Soften Alpaca Yarn
Here is a quick and easy method to soften it.
- Soak your garment in cool water with a little fabric softener for about 15 minutes
- Rinse it out
- Let it air dry
This make the fibers softer and more pliable. Washing it after you’ve finished knitting always helps!
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What Do You Use It For?
Wondering whether you should use it to make a project? Here’s why this fiber is used to make yarn. It’s often used for projects and things like baby clothes because it’s gentle and lovely and soft. Or winter garments like hats, shawls, sweaters, and scarves because it’s so warm, and blankets because it’s cozy.
Here is a video tutorial by Kelley from AlpacaDirect on choosing yarns from this fiber for knitted creations.
The possibilities of knitting with this yarn are exciting!
Common Blends Using This Fiber
Here is a list of common blends using this yarn, and why they’re created.
- Merino Wool/Alpaca – This blend creates a softer, warmer, and more durable yarn
- Silk/Alpaca – The addition of silk makes this blend shiny, smooth, and luxurious
- Linen and Alpaca – The linen gives the yarn a wonderful drape, while the Alpaca adds softness and warmth
Where To Find It
Here’s where to find this yarn: at a yarn store or craft stores in your area, at big box stores like Michaels, Walmart and Joann, or online brand shops. Here are brands or manufacturers of Alpaca yarns to try: Plymouth Yarn.
What’s The Price Like?
It’s one of the more expensive yarns on the market. The fiber content and quality dictate the price.
Want to know some fascinating tidbits about this material? Impress your friends with these.
- Alpacas were used as currency in the Incan civilization
- They were also treasured by the Incan royalty
- There are two types of Alpacas – the Huacaya and the Suri. The former has denser fleece, while the latter has fleece that hangs in long, silky locks.
- Raising Alpacas is often gentler on the land than cows
- Alpacas are social creatures and live in herds
- Alpaca fiber is water-resistant
- Over 90% of alpaca fiber comes from Bolivia & Peru(1)
- Alpaca fibers were being processed in the United States as far back as the 1880s!(3)
FAQS About Alpaca Yarn
Are Alpaca Fibers Safe For Babies?
Yes, it’s safe for babies because it’s a natural material with minimal chemical processing.
Are Alpaca Fibers Ethical & Eco-Friendly?
The alpacas in South America are cared for in open spaces and as a soft hooved animal, the landscape isn’t as affected. It’s a renewable resource.
What Can I Make With Leftover Alpaca Fibers?
You can make scrap scarves, blankets or accessories.
Are Alpaca Fibers Itchy?
Most people find it less itchy than sheep wool. It has less lanolin which seems to help if you are sensitive to natural fibers.
Are Alpaca Fibers Good For Clothes?
Yes, it’s good for clothes because they’re soft on the skin and hard-wearing.
Are Alpaca Fibers Good For Winter?
Yes, it’s good for winter because they keep in heat well. The fibers keep the animals protected against the cold Andean Mountains climate. These properties make knitted garments and accessories excellent for colder weather.
Are Alpaca Fibers Good For Summer?
Using this yarn for summer knitted garments is not advisable. The knitted fabric is too warm. Some clothing manufacturers claim that Alpaca is excellent for t-shirts and tank tops. The fineness of the thread of these machine made fabrics, is not what you can replicate with hand knitting.
Do Alpaca Yarns Pill?
Yes, like many natural fibers over time these yarns will pill. Particularly where a lot of friction occurs like under the arms of a garment.
How Did Pre-Columbian Americans Shear Their Alpacas?
When they molted, the wool was plucked or combed off.
Is Alpaca Or Wool Better?
Alpaca fiber has more hollow space. This allows for more air to be trapped in between the fibers and provide extra warmth. Alpaca yarn has a strong internal structure so it stands up to daily wear better than wool. If you love natural colors of fibers, Alpaca has the widest array.
Happy crocheting or knitting! Hope you enjoyed this article. Do you have questions? Please leave them below!
- Tidwell, Charles. n.d. “Case 6.” Andrews.edu. Accessed October 13, 2022. https://www.andrews.edu/~tidwell/bsad560/Case-PeruAlpaca.html.
- Radzik-Rant, Aurelia, Małgorzata Wielechowska, and Witold Rant. 2021. “Variation in Wool Characteristics across the Body in a Herd of Alpacas Kept in Poland.” Animals: An Open Access Journal from MDPI 11 (10): 2939. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11102939.
- “Alpaca Fiber; Wool Yarn Process Sample; Pacific Mills; 1884.” n.d. National Museum of American History. Accessed October 13, 2022. https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_648922.
- Knitting. 1984. Octopus Books.