Alpaca fleece is the natural fiber harvested from an alpaca. It is light or heavy in weight, depending on how it is spun. It is a soft, durable, luxurious and silky natural fiber. While similar to sheep’s wool, it is warmer, not prickly, and has no lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic. Alpaca fiber is naturally water-repellent and difficult to ignite. Huacaya, an alpaca that grows soft spongy fiber, has natural crimp, thus making a naturally elastic yarn well-suited for knitting. Suri has no crimp and thus is a better fit for woven goods. Alpaca fleece is made into various products, from very simple and inexpensive garments made by the indigenous communities to sophisticated, industrially made and expensive products such as suits.
The preparing, carding, spinning, weaving and finishing process of alpaca is very similar to the process used for wool.
There are two types of alpaca: Huacaya (which produce a dense, soft, crimpy sheep-like fiber), and the Suri (with silky pencil-like locks, resembling dreadlocks but without matted fibers). The Suri is thought to be rarer, most likely because the breed was reserved for royalty during Incan times. Suris are often said to be less cold hardy than Huacaya, but both breeds are successfully raised in more extreme climates. They were developed in South America.
Alpacas have been bred in South America for thousands of years. Vicuñas were first domesticated and bred into alpacas by the ancient tribes of the Andean highlands of Peru, Argentina, Chile and Bolivia. Two-thousand-year-old Paracas textiles are thought to include alpaca fiber. Also known as "The Fiber of the Gods", Alpaca was used to make clothing for royalty. In recent years, alpacas have also been exported to other countries such as the USA, Australia and New Zealand.
The Amerindians of Peru used this fiber in the manufacture of many styles of fabrics for thousands of years before its introduction into Europe as a commercial product. The alpaca was a crucial component of ancient life in the Andes, as it provided not only warm clothing, but also meat.