Llamas produce a soft, usable fleece. The fleece
from a llama is comprised of natural animal protein fibers with microscopic characterisitics of hair. It is made into
soft, warm yarns which are used in knitting and weaving.
Llama fiber has two parts: the undercoat and the guard hairs. The fine
undercoat can be extremely fine - as low as 20 microns (in rare cases, even lower), and the guard hairs are defined as 30
microns or larger. All llama fleeces have a percentage of guard hair, and this number can vary. The lowest percentage
of guard hair found has been 7%, from what I have been told, although I have had fleeces tested with a guard hair percentage
as low as 4% or 5% by Yocom-McColl Testing Laboratories.
Fleeces are broken down into 3 different types of fiber: double-coat, single-coat
and suri. Double-coat fleece is a fleece which contains guard hair that is visibly coarser and longer than the
finer undercoat fibers. Single-coat fleece is fleece that has a minimal difference between the micron count of the undercoat
fibers and the guard hairs, and single coat fleece has a very silky hand to it and nice luster. Suri fleece is fleece
which has fibers that are straight with no crimp whatsoever, and it has a cool hand and nice luster.
Crimp refers to "the organized or uniform waviness in an individual lock of fiber".
It is what gives a fleece it's insulation value, creating tiny air spaces between the fibers.
Knitting projects require some "give" to the yarn, and so the double coat fleeces
are wonderful for yarns for knitting due to the crimp in the fiber. Suri fleeces, since they by definition have no crimp
at all, would not be recommended for use in a yarn which requires some "give", but weaving projects which require that shape
be maintained are a great end-use for suri llama fiber. Single-coat fleeces also make wonderful yarns for weaving, and
they have a "silky" texture to them.
Llama fiber also has a lot of luster to it, especially the suri llama fiber since
it has no crimp to it. Luster refers to a fiber's ability to reflect light. Other characterisitcs of llama fiber
are that it is lightweight, lanolin and grease-free, strong, warm and available in 22 natural colors. Llama fiber also
dyes extremely well and can be dyed using the same methods as sheep's wool. The negative characteristics of the fiber
are that it is susceptible to sunlight, moths love it, and it has little elasticity as compared to wools. I have found
that when weaving with llama there is minimal shrinkage in the finished piece.