We’re often asked that, and the slightly cryptic answer is: it depends what you want to make!
The other key factor to take into account is the quality of the fleece, bearing in mind that not all alpaca is equal. Depending on who you have in your herd, your fleece might vary from a gossamer fine 16 micron cria fleece to a rough old 35 microns, maybe from an older breeding female. (The measurement here is the average diameter of the individual fibres measured in microns – or thousandths of a millimetre.) Fineness and density are the main factors determining the quality of your fleece; but colour, length, crimp, uniformity, and shine are important, too.
As a general rule of thumb, the finer the fleece, the finer the yarn you can spin from it, but of course really fine yarn means really small needles, zillions of stitches, and hours and hours of knitting (or weeks or months) to finish a garment (or in Juliet’s case, to be brutally honest, probably not to finish it at all!).
So there’s no reason not to make a supersoft chunky yarn from really fine fleece. We just wouldn’t recommend going the other way and trying to make a fine laceweight yarn from a coarser fleece. (For more information about what we mean by 2 ply, double knitting, chunky etc. please see the Knitting & Crochet page in Craft Corner.)
Remember also that yarn made from very fine fleece (less than 20 microns) won’t be as hard-wearing as that from slightly less fine alpaca (which will still be wonderfully soft and lustrous compared to most other types of fleece).
To try to help people identify the most suitable uses for fibre of different grades, we’ve put together the following summary. Please note that these are only informal guidelines based on our experience – other breeders or processors may have very different opinions – but we hope it will be helpful and we would welcome any feedback or alternative suggestions.
We’re also very happy to discuss what might be the best yarn for your fleece – please just give us a call on 01361 883692. And please remember that there are no hard and fast rules about what a particular yarn should look like – you can have any yarn weight with any number of plies (within reason!) – so if there’s a particular specification that you would like, please let us know or send us a samples and we’ll let you know if we can match it. Download our “What type of yarn do I want” PDF to see some example uses of different yarn types.