Monday, January 24, 2011

Vicuna--A Sweater Fit For The Sapa Inca

There's more variety to protein fibers than just wool & cashmere.  There's all kinds of different animals woolens can be produced from!  One of these is Vicuna, the hair from the vicuna animal of Peru.  Traditionally, vicuna in Incan culture was so valuable that it was only for the royals to wear.  Vicuna or Vicugna, is considered to be the finest and softest wool in the world at 12 micrometers in diameter--the fibers are only 70% as wide as cashmere and even better at trapping warmth.  It is so fine that normally, it is left its natural color for fear that dyes will ruin it.

Vicuna is a threatened species of camelid (camel!) native to Peru, Chile, Bolivia and other parts of South America, previously endangered.  What has allowed this species to come back from the brink is its wool.  The Peruvian government made it its national animal and came up with a scheme to bring both jobs to the locals and save the animal.  Once a year, the locals hold a Chaccu, a traditional shearing ceremony where the vicuna are rounded up, shorn and then released.  A vicuna can only be shorn every 3 years and there are specific standards for how long the hair can be in order to be shorn.  This system of only allowing vicuna wool to be harvested in specific situations and the ending of vicuna hunting has allowed the species to bounce back and become a very valuable commodity to the community.  The practices that are currently being followed are considered sustainable and vicuna is an eco-friendly textile.


There are some things to beware of.  Despite the best efforts of the Peruvian officials and community, there is an illegal trade in vicuna.  Because of this, several countries have outright banned it and many require an official certificate that it was legally harvested.  Make sure that you purchase your vicuna from a legitimate source and try to stick to an established, reputable company like Loro Piano or Jacques Cartier yarns.  Also, if you really look closely at most of the items that come up when you search "vicuna"--you'll notice that they're not ACTUALLY made of vicuna, instead vicuna is just the name of the color.  Don't be fooled and get stuck with lamb's wool!  The high price of vicuna is worth it!

Pictures from Livanti Alpacas and The Guardian

You may also be interested in my prior posts about Qiviut and Ramie

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