Classed as a luxury fibre, alpaca fleece comes in a natural range of many colours ranging from white, through all shades of grey and brown to black. It is soft and light and very insulating.
The softness of a particular type of fleece or wool is affected by the width of each fibre (measured in micrometres - 'microns') and by how that fibre is constructed.
Alpaca fibre naturally has a range of 13-30 microns. It has fewer scales than sheep's wool, and these are arranged flatter along a fibre. This means that alpaca fleece with the same micron as sheep's wool will feel softer. This also makes the fibre more shiny in appearance than wool.
In addition, alpaca fibre has very little lanonin so those who are allergic to sheep's wool often find that they do not have a problem with alpaca.
So how does alpaca compare with other luxury fibres?
Merino (from the merino sheep): this fibre must be under 23 micron to qualify as merino, making it very soft.
Mohair (from the angora goat): this fibre has a hollow shaft and does not have fully developed scales, making it high in lustre (i.e. shine). It has a range of 25-45 micron.
Angora (from the angora rabbit): this fibre is very soft at 12-16 micron. It's lack of elasticity means that it is often blended with wool. It is known for producing a "halo" effect.
Cashmere (from the Kashmir goat): this fibre must be under 18.5 micron to qualify as cashmere. It is light, soft and lofty, however it tends to pilling due to its short length (the fibre is taken from the undercoat of the goat). "Pashmina" is the hindi word for wool, and is synonymous with the hand-made shawls of Kashmir.