Peru – Home of the Alpacas

04-img_2487Last year, in September 2015, I went on a wonderful, exciting journey to Bolivia and Peru. It makes my knitter’s heart still leap for joy when I think back to this journey: the land of the alpacas, these soft, cute and wooly animals. Of course, I travelled to Machu Picchu – but in this blog post, I do not want to tell you about the pretty Peruvian and Bolivian landscapes, but rather about my wooly adventures there.

Not only does Peru’s export consist partly of textiles – you also run into knitting women on a daily basis in Peru or Bolivia. The woman sitting across from me on a minibus, for instance, was knitting busily during the whole ride. What’s more, I could even watch a Bolivian woman knit on the beautiful, car-free Isla del Sol in midst the Lago Titicaca. However, I did not get to visit the knitting men of Peru on my journey – if you’re interested in that, you might want to take a look at this article.

My favorite encounter took place during the drive from Colca Cañon back to Arequipa. In order to spend as most of the day in the Cañon, we only drove back to Arequipa later in the day. Luckily, it was still light outside, so I could keep an eye out for vicuñas. I had heard that they live in the plain highlands and could be seen every now and then in this area. Vicuñas are animals related to llamas and alpacas. During the Incan empire, only royals were allowed to wear clothing made of the vicuña’s hides and wool. After the downfall of the Incan empire, the number of vicuñas diminished strongly. As of today, the number of vicuñas did not yet fully recover – however, the vicuñas are not critically endangered anymore. Today, vicuñas live in the wild and are only captivated once a year for shearing. This shearing is carried out by official authorities and only if vicuña wool is marked with a certain label, it may be sold – this aims at reducing poaching. The wool of vicuñas is not highly coveted and protected without a reason: it is said to be one of the finest and softest fiber in the world. Because of the small number of vicuñas, their wool is very, very rare and is listed on the global market with 7 to 15 Euros per ounce. That is about 8 to 17 USD or 6 to 13 GBP per ounce – before the wool was processed. If you want to learn more about vicuñas or their shearing (“Chaccu”), take a look at this website.

I did not only see llamas, alpacas and vicuñas on my journey – I also learned a lot about the manufacturing process of wool. In Arequipa, I visited the Mundo Alpaca, which is run by the company Sol Alpaca. The Mundo Alpaca is a small museum, which outlines different kinds of fibers and gives a good insight into the processing of wool. I was a bit confused because I seemed to be the only visitor – but then, I took advantage of this situation and spend a lot of time at each exhibit.

Here you can see the different colors an alpaca’s fur might have

First, I was informed about all possible fiber types – from angora to yak, everything was introduced shortly. I paid particular attention to the vicuñas, llamas, alpacas, and guanacos. At the next exhibit, the way of sorting alpaca wool was shown. A basin in the middle of the room contained wool of different colors – this wool was actually sorted according to color and quality on location and by hand. In some cases, the differences between the single color shades were so small that I could not distinguish them with the naked eye.

To me, the part of the museum in which the yarns were presented after having been dyed with natural dyes, was very interesting as well – especially because of the manifold colors that can be achieved using natural dyes. But not only manual work was exhibited at the museum – various machines were also exhibited, which are used to manufacture the fibers to a final yarn. It was very helpful that each machine was shown with its respective “input” and “output”, so that it was apparent which effect the use of this machine had on the fibers. This way, each of the steps of the process could be easily comprehended.

In the Sol Alpaca shop, which was adjacent to the Mundo Alpaca, different clothes made of alpaca wool are sold – these shops are found in different South American countries (one is even in Sidney) and seem to aim at selling high quality clothing made of alpaca wool to tourists and well-heeled Peruvians. To me, as a knitter, the different alpaca wool skeins sold at Sol Alpaca were of much more interest. Unfortunately, the range of colors and compositions is not big, which might be due to the company’s focus on textiles. Nevertheless, I was very happy about the bright blue skeins which I bought in Lima – marvelously soft alpaca wool with a hint of silk.

You cannot only buy Peruvian yarn in Peru. As you might have noticed, many international companies offer yarns from Peru. We are Knitters, for instance, offers Peruvian Pima-Cotton, which I already tried at a Susi-Strickliesel-Knitting-Party. Alpaca wool from Peru is also sold on – a video about their alpaca farm in Peru can be found here. Finally, I want to draw your attention to the yarns by Lamana – their alpaca yarns and Pima Cotton is produced in Peru as well. This is reflected in the names of their yarns: some are named after Peruvian cities, such as “Puno”.

A curious llama at Machu Picchu

To sum up: Peru is not only a beautiful, diverse tourist country and home of the alpacas – no, you can also learn a whole bunch about wool production there. And, of course, you can easily add wonderful yarns to your stash… 😉

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