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If you’ve been weaving, knitting, or playing with fiber for long—or if you’ve passed some fiber animals in a field—you probably think you know what an alpaca looks like: a fluffy creature with a long neck and spade-shaped ears. But you may not know that there’s a different kind of alpaca, one whose coat grows in long, silky ringlets instead of an allover fluffy halo. Suri alpacas make up a small fraction of the alpacas, both worldwide and in the United States, but their special fiber is worth checking out.
The number of Suri alpacas isn’t specifically known, but they’re estimated to make up as little as 5–10% of the population, with the remainder being Huacaya alpacas. But although Huacayas dominate in numbers, Suris are gaining recognition, in part thanks to a group of farmers who formed an association to promote the breed. The Suri Network strives to “protect, preserve, and promote the Suri alpaca” by educating fiber artists and farmers about this special fiber.
In addition to strength and luster, Suri’s special properties include the ability to take dye vibrantly. Photo courtesy of Suri Network
What makes Suri alpacas different is the exceptionally long, lustrous, silky locks of fiber that they produce. Growing as much as 7" per year on a young animal, Suri fiber is far longer than almost any other animal-based fiber. When spun into yarn, it is strong and feels even softer than its micron count would suggest. The smooth fiber is a treat to work with on its own, and it also brings strength and softness to fiber blends.
In recognition of the unique properties of the fiber, Suri Network has taken the unusual step of developing a trademark program, an indication to consumers that the producers have met the breed standards in a number of areas, including animal husbandry and suiting the fiber to its best purpose.
A suri alpaca in full fleece. Photo courtesy of Salt River Alpacas
In this episode, Suri Network members and Suri producers Liz Vahlkamp of Salt River Alpacas and Laurel Shouvlin of Bluebird Hills Farm describe what makes Suri alpacas special, what fiber artists can expect from working with Suri fiber, and how the Suri breed is taking its place in the world of yarn and fiber.
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The Suri Network was established in 1997 to assist its members to protect, preserve, and promote the Suri alpaca. Since its beginnings, the Suri Network has been at the forefront of the alpaca industry promoting both the Suri alpaca and the use of its wondrous fleece.