The Not-So-Big Camelids: Part 1

Llamas, alpacas, guanacos, and vicuñas are in the Camelidae family but are not true camels.  Early Spanish explorers/invaders called them “Peruvian Sheep!”  They are all native to the high, dry, mountainous regions of South America.  Not surprising given their (cold) native environment, their fiber has a high degree of insulation.  They – like camels – have long provided humans with many resources: fiber, food, leather, transportation (riding or packing), and fuel (from burning their dried dung).  They chew their cud and will spit too.

What cuties!
What cuties!

Llamas (Lama glama):  Llamas are large.  A full-grown llama measures between 5.5 and 6 feet (1.7 to 1.8 m) at the top of its head and weighs between 280 to 450 pounds (130 to 200 k).  They also make excellent flock guardians.  These camelids have been known to kill wild dogs and coyotes.

 

Llamas are two-coated: their undercoat is fine and down-like (and keeps them warm), and their guard hair (no crimp) sheds moisture and debris.  Given the cellular structure (hollow core) of their coats and lack of lanolin, their fiber is hair, not fur.

The fiber from llamas raised in their native environment ranges from 20 to 40 microns compared to 20 to 22 microns for U.S. llamas.  Llama hair tends to be less itchy, softer and warmer than wool.  (Pic source)

This alpaca needs a hair cut.
This alpaca needs a hair cut.

Alpacas (Lama pacos)Not as large as their cousin the llama, adult alpacas stand between 2.5 and 3.5 feet at their shoulders and  weigh between 106 and 185 pounds (48 and 84 k).  Like llamas, alpacas have hair (not fur), that is hollow, a double coat and lack lanolin.  Alpaca yarn is also less itchy, softer and warmer than wool.  The average micron count of alpaca hair ranges from 15 to 45 microns.   Fiber artists generally chose from two types of alpaca fiber: huacaya (more of a crimp) and suri (longer and smoother).  (Pic source)

I learned – the hard way – not to knit heavily cabled (adult) sweaters out of llama or alpaca.  I was in a llama and alpaca stage at one point in my past, and knit two heavily cabled sweaters as gifts.  The cables both flattened and stretched.  Well, at least the sweaters felt luxurious.  🙂

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About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
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36 Responses to The Not-So-Big Camelids: Part 1

  1. Pingback: Smarter Socks | The Sweaty Knitter, Weaver and Devotee of Other Fiber Arts

  2. I’m an alpaca devotee as well … 🙂 Thanks for visiting my blog.

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  3. Was there a way to plump it back up?

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  4. I love both fibers! But, you’re right, they feel more luxurious than they look if the project is to get a lot of wear and tear. The best project I made from alpaca was a ribbed scarf. I think the spring in the pattern helped it to keep its shape well…until my mil washed it in the washing machine, lol. Then it was flatsville!

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  5. Georgia in the US? There are lots of great online yarn sites … You could also call and get advice to help ensure you order what you are looking for. 🙂

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  6. Me too …. I found a bag of camel down when I cleaned out my stash …. Time to dust off my wheel. 🙂

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  7. I really like Alpaca…but you are right about the cords. Also, the charming mobile that is often existing on alpaca type of waters down the sides of the cords.

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  8. Awww! Look at those big eyes! I’d like to try natural fibers but don’t know where to find them. Does anyone here know of any stores in Georgia (maybe even close to Dublin where I live?) that sell yarns like that? If not I can probably find some on Etsy or something, Thanks 🙂

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  9. I confess “no” but once I have my back log of projects completed I would like to try Yak.

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  10. Thank you – I am happy you enjoy my blog and that the larger world of protein fibers (I.e., those from animals) is opening for you. Have you tried any of the more “exotic” fibers yet? 🙂

    Sent from my iPad

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  11. They are adorable. I am enjoying your posts very much. I hadn’t realized one could use anything other than goat or sheep wool.

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  12. salpal1 says:

    Sounds yummy!

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  13. paulineos says:

    We’ll have to swap notes on wool-alpaca blends!

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  14. Yes, crisp wools are the best (I think) for cables. But oh does alpaca feel great!

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  15. You’re welcome. Given the comments, it seems that it’s a common lament among knitters. 😦

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  16. I made a couple of SMALLish shawls/neck scarves from lace weight alpaca, and that seemed to work okay.

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  17. I never thought of that! 🙂

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  18. I think the stretching was exacerbated by what I chose to knit from the alpaca: heavily cabled adult sweaters!

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  19. Alpaca is definitely yummy!

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  20. I like the feel of alpaca (what’s not to like?!) but as a cable enthusiast I prefer working with crisp wools.

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  21. My alpaca cables that didn’t work well was with sweaters heavy with complicated cables. Perhaps it would be okay with lightweight cables in a small sweater. ??

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  22. Maybe an alpaca-wool blend would hold cables better?

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  23. Have you ever seen them freshly shorn with their heads left bushy? Too cute!

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  24. salpal1 says:

    I currently love alpaca, and also noticed the stretch. I made two lace shawls from alpaca silk blend – the stretch worked well there, as they are stretched a lot during blocking, and came out so soft. I tried beaded mittens, too. Not so good, as they are heavier than wool, and lose their shape, But they are really pretty after I block them. I just have to do it every time I wear them. Not too practical…

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  25. Alpaca is one of my favorite fibers, but I didn’t know their Latin name. I wonder if the English/Spanish (other languages too?) term comes from hearing a scientist refer to “L. Pacos”…

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  26. paulineos says:

    Your warning about the cables was timely, thank you so much!

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  27. Northern Narratives says:

    Interesting post. I did not know about the alpaca stretching.

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  28. Jenny says:

    Great post, thanks! I can’t resist alpaca at the moment, it’s just so soft. But good to know I should stick to smaller projects for it. I have found that it does stretch quite a lot.

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  29. Curls & Q says:

    Q – Alpaca is my favorite fiber to knit with! Even over Angora and Cashmere. I actually have almost a pound of different colored Alpaca waiting for the spinning wheel. 😎

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  30. Pearl says:

    I looooove Alpaca…but you’re right about the cables. Also, the lovely halo that is often present on alpaca kind of dilutes the edges of the cables.

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  31. ethgran says:

    I just gifted sweater to my grandson made of 60% alpaca 40% and it seemed to glow once I got it blocked. It was fabulous to work with. I have made several items with 100% alpaca and they are a bit limp but oh so soft. Good to know that I shouldn’t chose the fiber for cables – thanks!

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  32. I’m afraid I’m still in my alpaca stage … I can resist everything but alpaca yarn. But good to know that cables and alpaca doesn’t go together well. Thanks for the informative post!

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  33. Verónica says:

    Their faces are so cute!

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  34. I’ve heard that they can be saggy yarns but never worked with either. I just love the lama glama, is it me or does that look and sound remarkably like glamour?! 😉

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