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Sunday, December 15, 2013

ALPACA FLEECE VS. SHEEP’S WOOL

For those who are not familiar with Alpaca fleece, the best possible description would be, that it is similar to sheep’s wool. But…would this description be totally accurate?

If you are familiar with the texture, look, and feel of alpaca fleece, your answer may be a resounding “no”. There are many differences between alpaca fleece and sheep’s wool; and research has proven that many of these differences are significant.

In the alpaca world, it is said that alpaca fleece is hypo-allergenic, water resistant, and as luxurious as a cashmere sweater. Alpaca fleece enthusiasts also say that it is much warmer than sheep’s wool. Surely, we are alpaca breeders and lovers, so we could be biased; but let us compare the two fibers and sort out the facts.

The Fleece:

It is true in some cases that alpaca fleece does feel as soft as cashmere; and at other times alpacas can feel a bit wiry and rough. It all depends on the type of breeding the alpaca is subjected to. Many alpaca farms incorporate a high-quality breeding program that helps alpacas to produce what is called, super-fine 16-18 micron fleece. This type of fleece is super soft. Some sheepherders have tried to implement breeding techniques that produce the same quality of sheep’s wool, and many of them have made great improvements; but are still working on increasing the softness of sheep’s wool.

The Warmth:

Which fiber is naturally warmer, alpaca fleece or sheep’s wool? Considering that sheep’s wool has pockets of air, which makes it a hollow fabric, these pockets of air allow heat to be trapped inside the fibers. The benefit of alpaca fleece is that its hollow shafts tend to trap the body’s own natural heat, which keeps the wearer just as warm as those wearing sheep’s wool.

Almost Waterproof?

Yes, alpaca fleece has amazing wicking abilities. Of course, it does get wet if you douse it with water, but it will not absorb all of it. Wool, however, is able to absorb almost half of its body weight in moisture, which is heavy and uncomfortable. Wool also holds moisture against the skin, which can cause blisters and other skin lesions. Alpaca fleece, with its hollow shafts, tends to pull moisture away from the skin, keeping the wearer dry, and warm.

Is Alpaca Fleece really Hypo-allergenic?

Sheep’s wool contains lanolin, which is not found in alpaca fleece. Alpaca fleece is considered “dry fiber”. Superwashed, is a new term being used for wool that is being treated so that it feels softer and more comfortable against the skin. Textile Chemicals: Environmental Data and Facts, says that this “superwashing” process uses synthetic resins, including chlorine and hypochlorous acid. These chemicals have been a part of the cause of many environmental issues. Alpaca fleece is an eco-friendly alternative option for clothing manufacturers.

Though similar in some ways in outer appearances, alpaca fleece and sheep’s wool have many major differences. For many alpaca lovers and farmers, this wool alternative is taking fleece to a new level of quality and comfort.