Pregnant females and nursing mothers and babies lounge and eat under a shelter at Carolina Pride Alpacas in Maple Hill, NC.
LPACA fiber quality is comparable to angora and cashmere,” says Gary Peters, owner of Carolina Pride Alpacas in Maple Hill, about
45 miles northeast of Wilmington. “It is as warm as wool, one-third the weight, and is moisture wicking. It is a high-end fiber,
and that makes it more expensive. One of its features is that the fiber is hollow. It keeps moisture away from the body and is
popular for hiking socks.”
Sandra Hooper owned two alpaca farms, one in southwest Virginia and one in Wilmington, with a herd totaling nearly 100.
She says U.S. alpaca stock is becoming exceptional. Businessmen hand-selected the best animals from Peru back in the 1980s,
when laws were lifted allowing the import of alpacas.
Unlike thread count in sheets, where the higher the number the better, in alpaca fleece the lower the micron count, the
softer the feel.
“The United States is quite competitive in low-micron count alpaca fleece,” Hooper says. “Although lower micron is desirable,
the American breeders are breeding for fleeces that can be processed by American mills for exceptional end products for
American buyers. That micron count generally runs 14-16.”
Hooper sells bedding and other products made of alpaca fleece locally through Eclipse and her on-line
store. Alpaca fiber has a spring memory, it acclimates to body temperature, and aids in sleeping, she says.
The fiber also is being used in high fashion, with Chinese buyers acquiring as much yarn as they can.
Alpacas are indigenous to South America and grouped in the camelid family. There are two types of
alpacas: the huacaya and the suri, whose fleece resembles dreadlocks, called pencil locks.
Huacaya make up about 90 percent of alpacas in the world. They look like a fluffy teddy bear with a
smushed face, differing them from their llama cousins who have elongated muzzles and are much heavier
Prices on skeins of alpaca yarn vary depending on color and quality.
“I can get $6 per ounce for high quality alpaca fiber that has been hand dyed,” says Char Johnson, owner
of Happy Tails Alpacas in China Grove, North Carolina. “If I’ve got three pounds of quality fleece, I can make
$288 dollars from one fleece. It does take some time to do that. I have to shear, wash, we have North Carolina orange clay to
get out, to make sure there are no beans (fecal balls) stuck to their fleece. There’s a process for dying, wash again, dry. It is time
There can be sticker shock when someone hears the price.
“People will look at the skein and say, ‘This is expensive,’ but I try to lovingly educate them on the process,” Johnson says.
“I point out it takes me a year to grow, I pay for shearing and milling. Mostly customers get it but the kill shot is, this is made
here in North Carolina by a woman-owned business. Using the strong ‘shop local’ movement, I’m not ashamed to go for that.”
WBM december 2019