Alpacas, native to the Andean highlands of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile, have been raised for their luxurious fibre for thousands of years. Alpaca fleece is softer, warmer and stronger than sheep’s wool. Alpacas come in the widest assortment of colours of any fibre-bearing animal: 22 recognized shades and colours: white, fawns, all shades of brown, grey, rose-grey, and pure black.
Alpaca fleece comes in range of fineness, which can be objectively evaluated by measuring (at a special lab) the average fibre diameter in microns (a micron is 1/1000th of a millimeter). The smaller the diameter, the finer the fleece. Various terms are used for the different grades:
Less than 20 microns is called Royal Baby
20 – 23 microns is called Baby
23 – 27 microns is called Superfine
27 – 31 microns is called Medium
31 – 36 microns is called Strong
Other terms are:
Less than 20 microns: grade 1 26 – 29 microns: grade 4
20 – 23 microns: grade 2 29 – 32 microns: grade 5
23 –26 microns: grade 3 32 – 35 microns: grade 6
Note that the terms ‘Royal Baby’ and ‘Baby’ do not necessarily mean the fleece is from a baby alpaca (called a cria); it is purely an indication of the fineness.
Royal Baby (grade 1) and Baby (grade 2) can be comfortably worn right next to the skin. Higher grades of fleece still make very soft sweaters, hats, and mitts. There is no lanolin in alpaca fleece and many people who are allergic to sheep wool can comfortably wear alpaca.