Although alpaca fibre is not strictly speaking wool, we will nevertheless use this term in France, to avoid endless repetition of the word "fibre" in the text.
- Fineness. With practice this can be appreciated by touch and sight, it can also be determined by laboratory analysis. The results are expressed in microns (µ). There are two ways of measuring fibres. Either in a section or at various points in their length chosen randomly. The analysis is carried out by a laser scanner which determines the micron throughout the fibres. This test has more acuity because it gives the average diameter of a fibre on all its length and not just in one section. It is difficult to compare results obtained by different methods. Micron, in alpacas, can vary from 15µ to 40µ or more, according to their quality.
- Density. This can be appreciated by the resistance of the fleece to pressure exerted by the hand. It can also be measured by analysing the number of pilous follicles to cm2 of skin. A fleece with a high micron can give the wrong impression of being dense, and vice versa. Therefore practice is needed to appreciate density by hand.
- Softness. This can be appreciated by touch and will be shown in figures when analysed by laboratory. It is related to fineness accompanied by a low S.D. (standard deviation). The SD expresses (in µ) the difference between the average micron of a wool sample and larger or finer fibres within this average.
- Uniformity. The fleece must be as uniform as possible in fineness, colour, density, crimp, etc… It is appreciated by eye and hand on various points of the “blanket” (*1).
- Lustre. This is the brightness of the fibre, which is determined by opening the fleece, and looking at the wool nearest skin.
- Staple length. The length of the fibres or staple are measured in centimetres. The speed of growth is on average 0. 7 cm per month. The wool length plus its density determine the weight of the fleece.
- Absence of guard hair. Ideally one should seek alpacas presenting no or few guard hairs in the fleece; if they are present they should ideally be of a diameter lower than 30 µ. Australian breeders in particular are selecting their alpacas with present but fine guard hair by their degree of guard hairs,, this reduces the sorting carried out before processing of the wool begins. The wool will only express its softness once the coarse guard hair has been removed.
- Lack of medulation. This is the absence or small quantity of hollow areas inside the fibre. The fibre thus is more solid. This is appreciated by stretching a staple against your ear. The more frequent the cracklings produced by the rupture of fibres, the more hollow the fibres are. The medulation of fibre can be also analyzed by laboratory testing.
- Coverage. This is the extent of the fleece covering the body, and the more possible to the head and lower legs.
(*1) Where the best quality fleece is located: back, shoulders, chest, sides and thighs.
The most important quality for the industrial use of wool is its fineness. For use in hand spinning, it is fineness and the crimp that are important.
We offer practical and theoretical introductory days on alpacas. They will give you the opportunity of acquiring the basic knowledge needed to appreciate fleece quality.
Suri wool has a different organization to that of the huacaya . Suris do not have crimp, their fibre mats together forming pencils which are independent of each other. These locks are particularly silky and lustrous. Apart from these differences, the same characteristics are sought as in huacayas, namely, fineness, density, uniformity, etc…