The basic raw material for clothing was obtained from llamas, alpacas and vicunas; the latter two having a very fine wool. They were sheared every two years and each camelidae could provide up to 3Kgs.
The Inca textile tradition, to this day continues to develop throughout the various villages of the Andes. Since colonization each has acquired very different characteristics according to their methods of production.
The fabrics are all hand-made and in many cases natural dyes are used to color the wool. The traditional garment, par excellence, for men is the poncho and for women the lliclla (woman’s mantle). The other main products produced are, blankets, bags, belts, shawls, caps, shorts, ropes, sentillos, watan and bracelets.
Domesticated in Peru by the ancient Incas, the alpaca is a camelidae with one of the finest wools in the world.
Its natural habitat is the great heights of the South American Andes over 3,500 meters above sea-level.
Related to the llama and the vicuna, the alpaca is similar in appearance, rather like a small camel without a hump and with larger ears. It is smaller than the llama and has longer and smoother wool; it is not used as a beast of burden.
The Andean peasants exploited the alpaca, not only for its wool, but for its flesh which is said to be a very healthy and cholesterol-free meat.
There are two types of alpaca, the huacaya and the suri, each distinguished by their different fleeces. The fleece of the huacaya is opaque, curly and spongy, rather like sheep’s’ wool, whereas the suri fleece is straight, silky and glossy, similar to the softness of cashmere with the sparkle and luster of silk.
In both types as well as the white ones, there are others, which according to experts number twenty-two different hues and tones. Although alpaca fleece is extraordinarily strong and resilient, its fineness is not compromised, making it an ideal fiber for industrial processing.
Alpaca wool readily takes dye to any color, whilst maintaining its natural brilliance.
Vicuna, the finest wool.
The vicuna is the smallest, slenderest, most graceful and agile of all South American camelidaes. Its long legs are thin, its shoulders are high and its head is small. Its body is covered with short, very fine and woolly hair, a strand of which has a diameter of between 6 and 10 microns, making it a remarkably smooth and insulating fiber, much more so than the other Andean camelidaes.
Guanaco, the wild llama
The guanaco lives in the cordilleras and plateaus of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru and Paraguay. Current estimates put the wild population at about 600,000. It has a small head and pointed ears; its neck is long and curved and it has long thin legs.
Llama, the donkey of The Andes
Typical beast of burden, the llama has been domesticated since the time of The Incas; these animals can support a weight of ninety kilograms for twelve consecutive hours.