Alpaca Atlantic of Tennessee, LLC
 Prickless Crimp!

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Bear's boy - Buck Moon's boy - Zappa

Welcome to the language of Alpaca fiber!

    Many moons ago (pre-1984) in a land far away (South America) there was alpaca fiber, and it was good…..because it was warm, lightweight, didn’t itch, and gave the impression of wealth – to me anyway because I could never afford anything other than itchy sheep’s wool. When a person bought a garment made of alpaca from South America, it didn’t necessarily mean it was made from the fleece of the alpaca animal – as very often fine fiber from llamas was mixed in the blend. To the South Americans, alpaca was more of a quality description.
    Now that alpacas are a part of the United States livestock scene (as defined by the USDA), things have changed…just a bit! And if you want to blend with the 'paca people, you have to learn their lingo. To start off with, alpacas have fiber. Don't make the mistake of calling it wool, as that's a term reserved for stuff that grows on sheep. And bite your tongue if you refer to it as hair! That's what dogs and humans have.     This grows wool!    
    Our crimped-up huacaya, Doc!         First let's segregate the two distinct types of alpacas, which are huacayas and suris. They may look like the same animal, but what defines them is their fleece type.

 

    Huacaya fiber is supposed to be crimpy so that the finished product has bounce and loft and a memory. The yarn can stretch as the fibers straighten, then bounces back when the fibers recrimp.

    Suri fiber is supposed to curl into small uniform locks – much like a dreadlock. It’s basically a straight fine fiber. Once shorn, the locks need to be separated during the carding process……so I’m not really sure why the locks are valued – but they are.     A suri in full fleece!    

    And like fanatics from all walks of life, we’ve come up with our own special alpaca fiber language. If you're going to take the alpaca-plunge, you're going to have to learn the language! And no, this isn't a complete listing - but it's enough to get you going--

Micron: This is the most popular term thrown around, which measures the fiber’s diameter. Since 1 micron is equal to 1/1000th of a millimeter, the lower the better. Micron testing is a good measurement tool, but it’s only as good as the integrity of the person sending in the sample. When someone hands you a test sheet from an animal, you’re being asked to assume:

  • That the test is current – meaning the animal’s fiber was tested from the last shearing. Even though it was mailed in for testing during the current year, the sample could be from the alpaca’s fleece as a cria, or as a young adult.
  • That the test is from the animal you’re looking at. I imagine there have been occasions where the fleece from Mr Superfine was accidentally sent in under a different name, or under different names.
My advice would be to consider reports done by others to be anecdotal in nature. Learn rather to trust your own hand. The more alpacas you feel, the better you’ll become in identifying the finess of the fiber.

Finess: Just referrs back to the diameter. Great finess would refer to low micron but would have nothing to do with crinkle.

Crinkle: Imagine crinkle as the crazy patterns of a single strand of fiber. When a person describes a fleece as having crinkle, their nose usually crinkles as well - as this is not a good thing. You're usually looking at a bunch of bent-up fibers all doing their own thing. Crinkle would be different from crimp, even though many folks use them synonymously.
Crimp: Have you ever seen corrugated metal roofing??? Well, good huacaya fiber is also supposed to be corrugated in a uniform sort of way – but I imagine the term corrugated doesn’t sound soft enough, so we use the term crimp. Crimp goes hand-in-hand with the architecture of the fleece.     Sample donated by Jukie!    
    We've got the blueprint for Rooney's architecture!     Architecture is the way the fibers are grouped up in the fleece. Good architecture would have uniform corrugated….I mean crimped fiber that sort of groups together into bundles. The fleece will part easily when opened. Poor architecture might look like a webby mess, and probably won't open easily -- because each fiber is crinkled and doing its own thing. Once you put it through a carder though, it all looks like a webby mess – but we’re supposed to value crimp, good architecture and staple.
Staple: This is a fancy word for length. When you look at Mr Wonderful, don’t assume that his staple is from one year’s growth. Take a look at any auction catalog and you’ll see what I’m talking about. If you ask for a photo of the animal post-shearing, you’ll get an idea of how much of the fiber is fresh, and how much is saved. Staple is one of those words that help alpaca folks identify non-alpaca folks…unlike the valuable term density.

Density: Whoopeee! No definition needed. Dense is good, as the more fiber you can pack on to a single alpaca, the more money you’ll make come shearing time……unless you live in the south and have black alpacas and you don’t have trees (shade) and your electric goes out (no fans) and your dog chewed your sprinkler hose in half and you have a job (have no idea what’s going on) and come home to find animals half-dead from heat stress. In this case, density is a bad thing – but we won’t go there, because we’re all supposed to have super-dense alpacas with uniform fleece, that look like teddy-bears.

Uniformity: Another no-brainer! Word of caution here. When someone sends you a photo of Mr Crimpy’s fiber – ask for several photos taken down the side-line, say perhaps from their shoulder to their rump. It’s easy to find one spot on an alpaca that looks impressive, but what you want is an entire prime fleece that looks consistently impressive.

    This is about 1/2 the fiber we sheared off of Doc - amazing density!    
Luster: This is self-explanatory in its meaning, but quite interesting to assess. The most lustrous huacaya fleece I've seen, was on super dense animals that didn't have access to dirt (no dust baths). The worst I’ve seen, would be on animals that lacked density, and had access to dirt/dust. But often that same fiber, when washed, would look quite lusterous. So who knows – but it’s valued on the hoof….or judge's table…or whatever!

Medullation: This refers to hollow-cored fiber that is usually associated with guard hair. Not all medullated fiber is guard hair as the “hollowness” may be broken and less course, but when most talk about medullated fiber, they’re talking about the coarse guard hair that is often found on the stomach or chest of many animals. An alpaca that appears to have a solid blanket of prime fiber covering their chest, stomach, and legs might be marketed as the more desirable animal – but the medullation serves a purpose - it allows the skin to breathe and allows the animal to cool itself. Mother Nature knew what she was doing when she designed these animals.

Tensile: Just means strength. The tensile of an alpaca is either good, or bad. I really don’t think there’s a reason to measure the degree of strength. I’m just satisfied knowing it’s stronger than sheep’s wool! If the tensile is bad, the animal probably had a stress break in the fiber.

Stress Breaks: This can range from a weakness in the fiber, to an actual breaking of the fiber. In more severe cases, the fiber may actually fall off the animal. When this happens, it doesn’t usually break at the skin, leaving bare patches -- it’ll usually leave patches of fresh growth behind. The fact that there is a break makes the fiber useless for yarn – but it may be used for felting. Even if you don’t see eveidance of a break, after shearing, you should always test the fleece. Remove a few locks of fiber from several locations. Take one lock at a time, holding one end between your thumb and forefinger of each hand, and snap the fibers taut several times. You should hear a popping sound. If your hands separate with a piece of the lock between each set of fingers – you’ve probably got a fiber break. Check a few more samples and consider putting the fleece in the felting pile. When you have a fiber break, don’t forget to investigate the cause. It could be the result of any one of a number of things to include inadequate nutrition, the stress of a move/new herd/new status within a herd, or poor health.     Three dimensional fiber design!    

I saved the term, Hand, for last. To say the least, this term is ambiguous, cryptic, enigmatic, murky, nebulous, obscure, unintelligible; foggy, hazy, indeterminate, indistinguishable, uncertain, undefinable, inexplicable, mysterious; baffling, bewildering, confusing, mystifying, perplexing, puzzling, and vague -- in my humble opinion. I honestly have no idea what hand means. By definition it means the way the fleece feels when felt by the hand – taking into account all those great things we’ve described above – but it’s such a subjective term that it lacks meaning……to me anyway!

And just a few more comments before I let you move on....

    Some claim that alpaca is softer than cashmere. This may or may not be true. The Cashmere Goat Association sets the standard for cashmere at no more than 20 microns. While there are quite a number of alpacas with microns in the teens, there are also many that...let’s just say they’re above 20! So to be fair to the cashmere folks, I don't think that we as an industry can make this generalization.

    If you’ve ever read that alpaca fiber is hypoallergenic, it’s just not true. Folks may appear to have an allergic reaction to coarse wool (perhaps with a micron of over 30), but it’s nothing more than the prick factor. The blunt/cut ends of the fiber are pricking the skin and causing a rash. These same people can usually wear alpaca or (God forbid!) cashmere, and because of the low micron count of the fiber – they aren’t pricked, they don’t get a rash, and they’re happy. But it’s got nothing to do with allergies, it’s got to do with pricks!

Welcome to a Sampling of our Crimp!

    After conducting extensive research, Bill and I decided to focus our breeding efforts on huacaya alpacas. The bottom line being that I wanted to be able to produce my own yarns and sell fleece to fellow crafters -- and most agree that huacaya is much easier to spin. So, we handle (literally) corrugated fiber!

    Here are fiber photos of some of our boy toys. And for the record, these photos were all taken in natural light, with absolutely no creative enhancements.

Mr Cheyenne (aka Bear): R.I.P.
Great architecture Medium Fawn Well-defined uniform crimp

Atlantic's Sunburst Rooney: Working Herdsire
(Co-Owned with Deep River Alpacas)
Great architecture Medium Fawn Well-defined uniform crimp

Atlantic's Buck-A-Roo: Working Herdsire
Not bad for a grey! Lavender Rose-Grey Very fine fiber, and that color can't be beat!

Airstream: Working Herdsire
Uniform and dense! Medium Silver-Grey Crimp, crimp, crimp!

Atlantic's Peruvian Kennedy: Working Herdsire
Great everything. White All this fiber in only 7 months!

Traditional Welcome Sales
Program
Newly Arrived
& Coming
Attractions
Congratulations
to our
Customers!
Herdsires of
Alpaca Atlantic

Alpaca
Protection
Helpful
Sites
Storm Tips New!
Lisa's
Soap-box

This page and all photographs © Copyright 2000-2009, Alpaca Atlantic of Tennessee, LLC.