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There are more than three million alpacas in Peru, made up of two distinct varieties: Huacaya (which have fine spongy wool) and Suri (which have soft shiny wool). The former is the more numerous of the two (accounting for 93 percent of the population). These camelids can measure between four and five feet in height and they are sheared with knives or shears using a special technique to avoid causing the animal pain or discomfort.
The most sought-after alpaca clothes are those made using a combination of two different types of wool:
The first of these, “Baby alpaca” wool, is obtained exclusively from the initial clipping or shearing of the alpaca, which is usually carried out when the animal is two years old (so not necessarily a baby). Clothing made using this wool is heavy, lacking in sheen, very cold (it can seem damp at times) and feels silky, oily and a little greasy to the touch (it slips and slides between the fingers). This latter quality is due to a grease the alpaca produces called lanolin. These types of garments also have the characteristic of adapting to the temperature of the body, which means they are perfectly comfortable to use in both winter and summer.
The second type of wool, “alpaca” (as opposed to baby alpaca), is obtained from the second and subsequent shearings of the animal. It comes in more than 25 natural colour shades and is less soft than baby alpaca (feeling slightly rough in texture). However, it is extremely hard wearing and emerges from the production process with its sheen intact. One of alpaca wool’s special qualities is that it is both warm yet cold to the touch and also a little on the heavy side (though not as heavy as baby alpaca wool).
Clothing made using both types of wool is of a high quality and very delicate, which means the garments need to be washed by hand using cold (but not icy) water and a clothes cleaner (shampoo), and they must not be dried using a clothes dryer or in direct sunlight. Alpaca clothing should be dried in the shade so that it retains its colour and texture. Though both types of wool exhibit their own natural colours, more shades can be obtained using natural dyes (plant, root and insect based) to enable the production of more detailed designs.
Juan David Rojas Arrunátegui