Why Alpaca is amazing - We get technical and nerdy

Image courtesy of Carlos Garavito

Image courtesy of Carlos Garavito

If you haven’t already noticed, we at Carcel are all about alpaca when it comes to picking one of nature’s most luxurious materials for knitwear. And in two former blog posts 'Alpaca has superpowers' and 'Behind our production: Analogue and fully fashioned' you can read more on the different reasons to why.

Our info graphic to quick details and reasons on why and what makes alpaca so amazing. 

Our info graphic to quick details and reasons on why and what makes alpaca so amazing. 

But we still think there are room for more explanations and a few more interesting facts worth knowing about this animal and material.

One of them is the shearing of the alpaca. This is much like sheep’s shearing - except an alpaca is a relatively larger animal. The alpacas are shorn once a year in the spring.

Beneath we link to a small video from the Peruvian alpaca yarn supplier, Michell. Here you can see an example of shearing. It is necessary for two men to handle the animal – which otherwise seems to be taking its annual ‘haircut’ quite relaxed.

There are two breeds of alpacas, the Suri and the Huacaya. The most common, and the one shown in the video, is the Huacaya. The fleece, as the alpaca wool is more commonly referred to, is thick, soft and fluffy on this breed. The Suri alpaca has a fleece that is often describes as ‘more pencil like locks of hair’ and has a silky and lustrous shine to it. Because the fiber of the Suri alpaca doesn’t posses the same elastic attributes, we’ve chosen to only use Huacaya in our knitwear items, since this is one of the keys to comfort in our styles.

Suri to the left and Huacaya to the right. Image courtesy of Mallkini - Alpaca farm and adventure

Suri to the left and Huacaya to the right. Image courtesy of Mallkini - Alpaca farm and adventure

We don't compromise

Carcels first collection is made from 100% baby alpaca wool. The term ‘baby’ covers the fact that the wool is from the first shearing of an alpaca, which normally takes place when the alpaca is around 1 year old. More specifically, the alpaca wool used in our knitwear collection is situated on the neck, chest and underbelly of the animal.
The reason for why the baby alpaca wool is considered to be extra luxurious and extremely high in quality has to do with the diameter of the fiber, which is smaller and closer to cashmere in the first shearing years of the alpaca. The fleece is also softer and less likely to itch.
Because of its amazing properties and exclusivity, baby alpaca wool is a costly material and can therefore often be seen as part of a blend in a mix with sheep’s wool for instance. This is normally due to costs and a way to still create a 100% natural product that is biodegradable.
At Carcel we believe that if you want to live in your sweater, you’re more likely to keep it for longer. Therefore we haven’t cut down on the alpaca wool and it’s properties and are only making 100% baby alpaca items in Peru.

The alpaca fleece contains no lanolin (a natural oil-like substance found in e.g. sheep’s wool) and it is therefore easier to handle when processing into yarn as well as dyeing. Lanolin can otherwise create a natural barrier around the fiber, which in some cases is good in terms of dirt-repellence and odor-removal, but it also makes the fiber more water-demanding in terms of processing it from the raw fleece to dyed yarn and garments.

Microscopic air pockets are what make the fleece lightweight and warm. Think of when insulating a house in colder climates like Scandinavia. Here there is also often a small gap of air between the inner-wall and the outer wall. That’s because air is easier to heat than bricks. The same principle goes for what is happening inside the alpaca fiber when you wear it. It is the airiness of the fiber that gives it the properties of great heating and cooling.

Fun fact: High quality alpaca wool is measured on a number of things, but one is the crimp. The crimp is what makes the fiber elastic and it is very easy to see when gentle pulling apart the thick fleece on the animal. It’s the tiny ‘curls’ that the breeder wants. The more curls per inch, the higher the quality of the fleece.

Fun fact: High quality alpaca wool is measured on a number of things, but one is the crimp. The crimp is what makes the fiber elastic and it is very easy to see when gentle pulling apart the thick fleece on the animal. It’s the tiny ‘curls’ that the breeder wants. The more curls per inch, the higher the quality of the fleece.

The interesting intersection between poverty-related crime and the world’s greatest materials

Besides obvious properties within the actual alpaca fiber, the material also has a large social and cultural value to the Peruvians.  The material is ancient, local and culturally engraved in Peruvian culture, and whilst this refinement of fiber and know-how of knitting is treasured within Peru, it is also a great gift to Carcel and our knitwear collection made by women in prison.

By starting in Peru we are situated in a country where the poverty-related crime rate for women is at it’s worst to date. At the same time the Peruvian people have managed to preserve and refine their history for alpaca wool and its usage. And by sourcing materials locally we can, besides supporting the incarcerated women, also help support Peruvian alpaca breeders and yarn suppliers by buying materials directly within the country.

Image courtesy of Carlos Garavito

Image courtesy of Carlos Garavito

Veronica DSouza