Once you get your hands on alpaca fiber you immediately understand the intrinsic value of everything produced from it.
For 5,000 years South American people bred alpaca to be finer and finer. The softness and warmth of alpaca comes from the fact that it is the finest of all natural fiber at around 18-26 microns. Only cashmere down around 14-16 microns thick is finer. In comparison, human hair is about 100 microns thick. Spinners say that alpaca spins like butter. Mountain climbers are wearing alpaca socks on their feet...testimony to the fact that alpaca is four times warmer than sheep's wool.
Fiber arts have been an integral part of our society for centuries consisting of beauty and function. Tapestries were woven depicting family trees and historic events. Knitted designs represented clans and geographic locations. Crocheted designs adorned tables at special feasts. The arts were passed down from mother to daughter. Today, fiber arts continue to be practiced and enjoyed by designers, those who hand knit, crochet, weave and spin commercially and by the hobbyist as well.
Alpaca fiber is classified as a rare specialty fiber. It is five times warmer than sheep wool fiber and more luxurious than cashmere. There are more than 22 natural colors of alpaca fleece. An infinite array of natural colors can be produced by blending these fibers. Alpaca fiber can also be easily worked. Alpaca fiber is strong and resilient and has more thermal capacity than almost any other animal fiber. The fiber actually contains microscopic air pockets that contribute to the creation of lightweight apparel with very high insulation value. Alpaca fiber does not itch as wool often does because it does not contain lanolin and has a smooth cell structure.
In physical structure, alpaca fiber is somewhat akin to hair, being very glossy, but its softness and fineness enable the spinner to produce satisfactory yarn with comparative ease. Good quality alpaca fiber is approximately 18-25 in diameter. Finer fleeces, ones with a smaller diameter, are preferred, and thus are more expensive.