Fiber FAQs

What makes excellent fiber?

Two things: Fineness and crimp. My goal is to breed alpacas with the fineness of cashmere and the crimp of merino.  Fineness is measured in Microns and finer fiber has a smaller micron count.  As an example, human hair can have a micron count of 40-80+ while most cashmere is in the 15-19 micron range.  Alpaca fiber can range from 15 -40 microns—depending on their breeding and age—with younger animals having the finest fiber.  The Peruvian standard for alpaca grades is

  • Grade 0 15.0 – 16.9 micron
  • Grade 1 17.0 – 19.9 micron
  • Grade 2 20.0 – 22.9 micron
  • Grade 3 23.0 – 25.9 micron
  • Grade 4 26.0 – 28.9 micron
  • Grade 5 29.0 – 31.9 micron
  • Grade 6 32.0 – 34.9 micron

Each shearing season, we take samples of our fibers from shorn fleeces and send them to two different testing labs to check the micron count and the crimp of the fleeces. That helps us make the right breeding decisions to decide which fleeces to spin into yarn and how to blend alpaca with other fibers to produce the best hand knitting yarn. We know for breeding and spinning purposes exactly the character of each alpaca. Most of the yarn I make comes from alpacas whose fleece has a “royal” or <20 micron count — the same as cashmere.

Crimp means zigzags.  It gives alpaca, wool or any animal fiber greater elasticity—which helps the knitted garment spring back into shape after wearing.  The fiber testing labs measure the fleece samples to get a crimps-per-inch measurement.  Merino and cormo wool set the standard for crimps per inch, but alpaca can also be bred for really crimpy fiber.

At Valhalla Yarns we consider the different micron count of each fleece before deciding whether to blend it and what to blend it with upon spinning.  I love to use 100% “Royal” alpaca spun fine (or lace weight) for scarves, shawls or even heirloom baby blankets.  Sometimes I will add some silk to increase the sheen and luster of the resulting yarn.

I like to blend superfine merino or cormo wool with my alpaca to produce yarn that works well for sweaters or other wearable garments that benefit from resilient yarn. I search all over the country to find the finest merino and cormo fleeces that will have a similar micron count to my alpaca from breeders who breed for fineness and cover their animals‘ fleeces so they can be processed with minimal chemicals.

Another benefit of these fiber combinations is that when dyed, the different fibers take the dye slightly differently so you get colors with more depth and nuance.  Sort of like the difference when you dye hair with just one color giving you an even, uniform look versus different, layered shades of highlights and lowlights.  With the blends you can achieve colors that are multi-dimensional and more sophisticated.


Which colors dye well?

Color preferences are so personal! I have also found that what looks good on me changes as I achieve certain ages. I loved wearing reds when I was younger, but now find I look better in beiges and more muted colors. That certainly doesn’t stop me from wearing my favorite colors – teal and turquoise – but now in smaller doses.

If you are dyeing for a large garment for adults, you might want to start with a ‘fawn’ or ‘tan’ colored yarn. This dyes to richer, more natural colors than our ‘white’ (which is really a ‘winter white’—it’s sort of a cream). The white yarns will give you clear, true colors. When dyed, The tan or ‘fawn’ colored yarns produce more subtle shades.

The basket of yarn (above in the slide show) is an example of several colors. The bright pink and the bright yellow were dyed with white yarn. The rest of the colors have been dyed onto the tan yarns. As you can see, the tan/fawn naturally colored yarn produces lovely, subtle colorings that are flattering to most people.

Above is a picture of our white vs. our fawn colored yarns. When we say ‘colored’ we mean the natural color of the fleece. It has not been dyed. The picture below shows all the natural colors alpaca fleece can be!