My tactile senses were headed for maximum overload recently. In one short day, I visited not only two knit shops in Fort Wayne, Ind., but also the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association (AOBA) National Alpaca Show. My fingers were tingling with desire to touch and caress all the fiber, yarn, roving and adorable animals on display in the large convention area. I took many photos as my mother and I spent the afternoon doing what we like to do best: reveling in the presence of soft and lovely things! In this newsletter, we'll cover the alpaca show and save the shop review for the next issue.
AOBA Director of Public Relations Cindy Berman sent me information just prior to the national show to share with readers of the newsletter. Regrettably, I was unable to pass along the press release below in time to alert you about the event. Before the next national show, I'll pass along the information to those who wish to attend. I highly recommend it!
Alpacas, cousins to the llama, are beautiful, intelligent animals native to the Andean Mountain range of South America, particularly Peru, Bolivia and Chile. The United States first commercially imported alpacas in 1984. There are now over 150,000 ARI (Alpaca Registry, Inc.) registered alpacas in North America.
There are two types of alpacas in the United States today. Although almost physically identical, their fibers are what distinguish the two types of alpacas. The Huacaya (wa-Ki'-yah) is the more common of the two and has a fluffy, extremely fine coat. The Suri is the rarer of the two and has fiber that is silky and resembles pencil-locks.
Adult alpacas stand at approximately 36 inches at the withers and generally weigh between 150 and 200 pounds. They do not have horns, hooves, claws or incisors. Alpacas are alert, intelligent, curious and predictable. Social animals that seek companionship, they communicate most commonly by softly humming.
Alpacas are shorn, without harm, every 12 to 18 months, and each one produces about five to 10 pounds of luxurious fiber. Long ago, alpaca fiber was reserved for royalty. Today, it is purchased in its raw fleece form by hand-spinners and fiber artists, and knitters buy it as yarn.
Because of its soft texture, alpaca fiber is sometimes compared to cashmere. Making the fiber even more coveted, it has the luster of silk. Alpaca is just as warm as wool yet has one third of its weight. It comes in 22 natural colors, yet it can be dyed any desired shade.
Containing no lanolin, alpaca fiber is also naturally hypoallergenic. Most people who are sensitive to wool find that they can wear alpaca without the itching or irritation they feel from wool because alpaca fiber is smooth. Additional performance characteristics include: stretch, water repellency and odor reduction. For travelers, clothing made from alpaca is desirable because it is wrinkle-resistant.
Headquartered in Nashville, Tenn., the Alpaca Owners & Breeders Association (AOBA) serves to facilitate the expansion of a strong and sustainable alpaca industry through the growth and development of the national herd and its products. Since AOBA's formation in 1988, its membership has grown steadily to more than 4,000 members with over 150,000 registered alpacas in North America.
For more information about the show, alpacas or to visit an alpaca farm near you, visit Alpaca Info. The information above was provided by Cindy Berman for release to the press and presented above in its entirety.
Having attended a local alpaca show in recent months, I was not surprised at the high level of professionalism in every aspect of the breeders at the Fort Wayne Coliseum. The show rings, the aisles and every stall were immaculately clean. Many of the animals had been recently shorn of their precious fiber, the better to see their conformation, I presume. The most adorable were the animals that retained their fuzzy faces, in what are called poodle cuts among those who know. Their long, gracefully slender necks held the proud heads aloft over their newly shorn bodies, with what seemed to be an explosion of lofty wonderfulness from their jaws to their ears! The effect guaranteed a chuckle from passers-by, including yours truly.
Friendly Fiber Aficionados
A few of the booths contained lighted display containers in which fiber samples clearly illustrated the incredible softness of the owners' animals. Spinners and knitters were everywhere running the heavenly soft and colorful fibers through their fingers. The alpaca owners thoughtfully displayed their livestock with their often-humorous names on the documentation required when animals are transported. Many families were evidently in the business together; a large number of participants appeared to be couples who had perhaps retired but found a new career in the keeping of alpacas.
What's the Buzz?
Naturally curious, many of the alpacas approached the barriers to their indoor grazing areas when we passed by. Their eyes were at about the same level as mine, and they seemed to love the attention paid to them by one and all. At times, I could hear a faint buzzing sound from them communicating to each other. Going out for a tethered stroll seemed to be a popular pastime for both the alpacas and their owners. They are so docile that only a light halter is required to keep them in hand. The only one I saw become slightly agitated was named Super Stud, and that was only because a lady alpaca had tantalizingly walked past his enclosure!
Alpaca With a Twist
Jennifer Orr, owner of Alpaca With a Twist, the yarn company you've come to know through samples knit for Creative Knitting, also owns her own herd of alpacas. She was a wealth of information about the life cycle of her beloved alpacas. Gestation is about 12 months, and one cria (baby alpaca) is the norm. To say they are adorable is a gross understatement!
In her blog, Alpaca With a Twist, Jennifer relates that a byproduct of the national show is being pressed into service to help remedy the Gulf Coast oil disaster. Copper Ridge Alpacas donated over 25 pounds of fiber to the cause. The donated fiber was not the premium fiber used to make fine alpaca yarns, but was instead the shorter, coarser material not suitable for spinning. At the national show, breeders donated enough fiber to fill a livestock trailer! It will be stuffed into nylon stockings to absorb the oil before it reaches the delicate ecosystems threatened by the spill.
What I Bought
In the market, many booths were brimming with sweaters, ruanas, tailored jackets and coats. In the first one I visited, a large table was piled high with the most beautiful teddy bears I had ever seen.
The LAИART booth held pride of place in front of the entry to the exhibition hall. There were not only many sizes of bears available, but also alpaca animal figures. Some were in colors never seen in nature, but mine (given to me by one of the vendors) is black and closely resembles a suri alpaca. Racks of cushy alpaca socks, knitted by machine, were available as were hats, scarves and lots of other accessories as well. See all the goodies at LAИART.
Even though I did not see alpaca yarn available for purchase at the show, I was not immune to the lure of its incredibly soft fibers. One vendor, Classic Alpaca, had winter hats made from alpaca hides for sale. The hat I couldn't resist was made of this material. I won't be wearing it for months now, but when the thermometer once again dips below freezing, I'll be prepared in my gorgeous white hat! Vendor Chris McCue got my attention when he indicated that alpaca yarn would soon be added to the list of products sold at Classical Alpaca.
Here is an unshorn alpaca, from Alpacas of Cedar Ridge, with three generations of his loving family.