A Suri’s fleece hangs in long, lustrous, silky, locks that drape from its frame. The individual Suri fibers are long and straight and twist together as they grow away from the skin. Suri alpacas have fleeces in a variety of natural colors which appeals to those who prefer all natural products. There are 16 official colors recognized by the Alpaca Owners Association. They can be white, beige, 3 shades of fawn, 3 shades of brown, bay black, true black, and 6 shades of grey, with many other subtle shades and hues. And to add more variety, some alpacas can be multicolored! Suri fleece takes dye well, creating an infinite color palette for the fiber artist. Suri fleece can also be blended before spinning with other fine fibers such as fine wool, cashmere, mohair, silk, tencel, bamboo and angora to attain incredible natural blends.
Comparing alpaca fleece to sheep’s wool, in general, alpaca fleece is stronger, lighter, warmer, and more resilient. Finer grades of alpaca fleece (known commercially as "Baby Alpaca") are believed to be hypo-allergenic, meaning it does not irritate your skin as sheep’s wool sometimes does. Unlike sheep’s wool, suri fleece contains no lanolin and is therefore ready to spin after only nominal cleaning. Prized for its unique silky feel and superb "handle," Suri fleece is highly sought-after by both cottage-industry artists (hand spinners, knitters, weavers, etc.) as well as the commercial fashion industry.
SURI PRODUCTS: Suri's straight, lustrous fiber makes it an excellent choice for spinning fine yarn and weaving garments that show off its silky and lustrous nature. When used for crochet or knitting, it makes beautiful lacy items, that drape. To make items such as sweaters, all alpaca is served well by blending the fibers with other fibers such as merino to give the yarn more elasticity and memory to hold its shape. To shop for products made with Suri alpaca fiber please VISIT OUR STORE
SHEARING DAY: Shearing
day is the day that the owner reaps the wonderful rewards of having Suris. Shearing is an art requiring significant experience to guarantee the best
harvest and the safety of the Suri alpaca and workers. Most Suri owners
choose to use professional shearers that come each year. With an experienced team of farm helpers assisting them, the shearer is so
efficient that they can shear up to 10 alpacas in an hour. Our Resource page has several documents related to shearing to help owners prepare for the big day. Resources
SKIRTING AND SORTING: The
prime part of the fleece is shorn from the back, down the sides, and
partially into the legs. This is referred to as the blanket. After
shearing, fleeces are individually bagged and then "skirted" either on
shearing day, or another day. Skirting refers to the removal of coarser
fleece and bits of debris that may have been stuck in the fleece.
Sorting is the next step where the fleece is evaluated for its qualities
called grades. Fineness, length, color and uniformity determine the
grade. A fleece that is fine and uniform is placed in one group and a
fleece that is less fine or not as uniform in micron is placed in another. An individual fleece may actually be divided
up so that one part goes into one grade, and another part of the fleece is placed into another grade.
harvest is an annual event that occurs in spring. The Suri Network as
well as other alpaca affiliates hold fleece shows where fleeces are
placed into their groups by age and color and judged by professionally
trained alpaca fleece judges. There are also competitions where a sample
of fiber is spun by a Spinoff Judge and evaluated for how well the
sample performs. There are Fiber Arts Competitions, and Skein
Competitions where a handspun or millspun skein is examined and scored
by a trained judge. To learn more about fleece competitions, CLICK HERE
HISTOGRAMS: As you learn more about alpacas and talk with alpaca owners, you might hear them refer to histogram tests of the fiber. A histogram is a test done with special optical equipment that measures the diameter of individual fibers. After measuring hundreds of them at one time, analysis is done to determine averages and how much variation there is in the sample. READ MORE
SKIN BIOPSIES: Another test some owners perform on their breed stock is a skin biopsy. A small plug of skin is taken from the alpaca's side and sent for analysis using a microscope. This test helps to determine the number of follicles-the hair growing cells in the skin- that an alpaca has. The higher the number of follicles, the better, for more follicles equates with more fleece and ultimately more money in the pocket of the producer.
EPD: Expected Progeny Differences in certainly a mouthful, but the information provided is invaluable. EPDs are computer generated predictions achieved by inputting measurements of an individual animal and when combined with the data of its relatives that are already in the system. Over time and with the addition of more and more cousins and siblings, the computer program is able to help the breeder predict the impact an individual might have on its offspring. The Suri Network has been strongly encouraging its members to participate in the EPD program that the Alpaca Owners Association maintains. This program uses histogram data that is collected directly from the companies that perform those tests.
S.H.I.P.: In 2011 the Suri Network began a program to evaluate and improve the suri alpaca herd in North America with that same mission to protect, preserve, and promote our beloved breed. S.H.I.P. stands for Suri Herd Improvement Program. Specially trained classifiers come to the individual farm/ranch and evaluate the conformation and fleece of the entire herd. Each trait is given a score, the information is collected and compiled and entered into the data base for access by fellow S.H.I.P. participants. This gives the breeder one more tool to improve their herd, make breeding decisions, and see how their alpacas compare to others in the program. For more information on S.H.I.P. please CLICK HERE.