You may be conversant with wool fabric, but, like many others, the term alpaca may sound a bit more strange or bring home thoughts of a notoriously spitting animal. Interestingly, wool and alpaca share some similarities but have a few crucial differences you may want to be aware of when purchasing fabrics.
This article will examine the texture, appearance, production process, and texture of alpaca and wool. You will also learn about the fabrics’ other properties and uses and how this information will help you care for them.
How are Alpaca and Wool Produced?
The alpaca fabric, also known as alpaca wool, is obtained from the alpaca animal, a species of the South-American camelid mammal. Alpaca fabrics are originally made from alpaca hair; textile manufacturers use them to make knitted and woven items similar to sheep’s wool.
Once a year, during the spring season, the alpacas are shorn, usually with scissors, to avoid harming the animal. Then the fleece is roughly cleaned and sorted according to color. Afterward, the wool is carded, and loose alpaca fibers are aligned into a strain of alpaca fleece with the help of a carding machine. The wool is spun into yarn using a pushka and washed to remove impurities. After this stage, the wool is ready to be formed into a finished textile product.
On the other hand, wool is derived from shearing a sheep, goat, or other animal coat. The process of wool-making begins by shearing the coat or fleece of the sheep. Although wool shearing is still done by hand, new technologies have made the job easier by making it possible to use computers and robots to do the clipping. Once the coats have been sheared, they are graded and sorted based on overall quality.
Once the wool is sheared and graded, it is moved to the cleaning stage, where it is decontaminated through a series of alkaline baths containing water, soap, soda ash, and other similar elements.
In the carding stage, the fiber passes through a series of metal teeth that straighten and blend into slivers. It then passes through the spinning, weaving, and finishing stages.
The Texture Distinctions of Alpaca and Wool
Alpaca has a silky, soft feel and a natural stretchy quality, making it a good choice for knitwear. Although alpaca and wool have similarities in texture, alpaca is arguably softer and silkier. This fabric is extremely warm while maintaining a lightweight nature. Alpaca is less likely to pill due to the lack of lanolin or any excessive secretions.
Contrarily, wool has a soft texture, high moisture-wicking abilities, and good breathability. It is soft to wear but can be a bit itchy. Wool fabric is also lightweight and will not weigh you down; it is also hairy and fuzzy.
Some Unique Properties of Alpaca and Wool
Alpaca fabrics are really warm but maintain a lightweight nature. They are also water resistant because they have a low water retention rate. Alpaca does not secret lanolin, therefore making it naturally hypoallergenic.
While alpaca wool is less susceptible to abrasion, pilling, and general wear and tear, it is water and stain-repellent. It has excellent moisture-wicking abilities, making it ideal for socks to keep your toes warm. Due to their resistance to pilling, general wear and tear, stain and water resistance, and flame-resistant, they are highly durable.
Wool is breathable, lightweight, and good for cold weather because of its low heat conductivity. It is also highly durable, returning to its original shape after washing and hanging. Wool is highly resistant to stains and odor and has elasticity, tenacity, and resilience. However, it can lose color and weaken when high temperatures expose it.
Some Uses of Alpaca and Wool
Alpacas are used to make household items like toys and rugs. The fabric is used for knitting wear like sweaters, cardigans, socks, hats, mitts, scarves, gloves, and jumpers.
Alpaca is also used for felting which involves melting and condensing the fibers together to form felt. Textile manufacturers use them to make blankets, outdoor garments, and beautiful suits and coats.
Wool is used for making clothes and bedding, such as jumpers, blankets, cloth diapers, uniforms, sweaters, hats, gloves, horse rugs, saddle cloths, and other accessories. They are also useful for industrial purposes like upholstery, cushion, lampshades, carpeting, and rugs due to their durability and flame-retardant qualities. Wool is also used for things like piano hammer coverings and insulation.
Care and Maintenance of Alpaca and Wool
Alpaca and wool are both delicate fabrics that you should handle carefully. Read the fabric care label before washing and take the following precautions.
- Wash alpaca wool with a bar of mild wool soap.
- While washing and squeezing, ensure it does not wring, so it does not lose its shape.
- After washing, lay it flat on a towel to dry to avoid stretching.
- Do not hang alpaca wool, as it would stretch the fabric out of shape.
- Wool is naturally stained and wrinkle resistant and can keep itself clean naturally through moisture control, thereby expelling odor, so you do not have to wash them so often.
- Wash at a lower temperature to avoid shrinkage.
- After washing them with water and mild detergent, you can air dry them. Please do not hang your wool fabrics, as this could make them stretch and lose their shape.
- Properly store your wool fabric in a cotton bag after drying to protect it from moths. If you find that your wool has been infested by moths, pop them in a freezer for 24 hours, take them to room temperature and repeat the process.
An Overview of the Differences Between Alpaca Wool and Sheep Wool
- Sheep wool can trigger skin allergies, but alpaca is lanolin-free, reducing the risk of skin allergies.
- Alpaca fiber has a higher tensile strength than wool.
- The quality of alpaca is not impacted by water or dust, unlike wool.
- Alpaca fleece has higher thermal insulation and higher water resistance than wool.
While alpaca and wool have similar properties and are used in almost the same ways, they also have differences in texture and production process. Knowing the distinctions will help us get the most out of these fabrics.