Llama

a social domesticated camelid...

The animal

The llama, like the alpaca, is a long-legged and long-necked social domesticated camelid from South America and their natural habit is the plateaus and mountains at 3000m or more. Unlike the alpaca, which are descended from the vicuñas, llamas are descended from the wild guanaco. Found throughout the Andes there were domesticated somewhere between 4-6000 years ago, as pack animals and can carry 25-30% of their weight. They are also used for their meat, milk and of course their fleece. An adult llama can be 1.8m tall and weigh in at a hefty 130-272kg. Typically living for 15-25years they are now a common sight on farms throughout the world. Mainly farmed for their fleece they are good guard animals, due to their social nature, great eyesight and hearing they will protect livestock from predation. Another use, given their history as pack animals, is for commercial trekking, although their stubbornness can make the latter more of a hindrance at times! Their tendency to spit when they feel threatened is something to watch out for.

The mythology of the ancient Andean people includes llamas, and the Inca nobility was often buried with mini llama figures. The Inca herders worshipped the god Urcuchillay, which was depicted as a multicoloured llama, which watched over their animals and was seen as the constellation Canis major. They have also been attributed to the switch of the Inca people from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to agriculture about 2,700 years ago. A study by Alex Chepstow Lusty analysed the organic deposits in the mud of a lake and found a correlation between the first appearance of maise pollen and a spike in the number of mites who feed on animal dung, concluding that the widespread shift to agriculture was only possible due to the extra ingredient added to the soil, poop. The dung is used to this day as fertiliser and cooking fuel.

The fibre

There are two breeds of llamas Kcara and Chaku, the Kcara is a light fleeced animal that is mainly used as a beast of burden and the Chaku has a heavier fleece and is used for this. Llamas have guard hairs and an undercoat, the guard hairs are longer, thicker and straighter and thus quite wiry and are combed out of the fleece as they do not spin well and would affect the softness of the yarn made from the undercoat fibres. However, it still has its uses and is good for rugs, wall hangings and ropes. The undercoat, or ‘Cashmere of the Andes’ has low allergic properties, having low levels of lanolin which are removed in the yarn processing, The structure of the actual hair is semi-hollow which gives it great insulation, which keeps it light, keeping the animals warm in their natural habitat and makes it great for winter knits. The natural fleece comes in many colours from white through to black and is traditionally dyed using the fauna and flora of the Andes. It is also smooth having less crimp than sheep’s hair for example and that means that it does not give the same level as ‘spring back’, or ‘memory’ and thus lends itself to items of clothing where drape and movement are important components. You can mix other yarns, such as merino, into your knit and mixed yarns are easy to buy, to add some memory which will help keep the shape of the garment.

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Ethical and environmental considearations

Many of the yarns available are certified Fairtrade and/or organic by such organisations as the such as the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) and World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) to help you with your ethical and environmental consumer decisions. Like their close relative the alpaca, llamas farmed for their fibre are kept outside in social groups. This farming practice, the harvesting of the wool, as well as the relatively low production costs means the environmental impact of producing this yarn are negligible.

Knitting with it

Like alpaca, llama yarn gives a good stitch definition, although not ideal for intense patterning that works best with crisp stitches. Stitches that create volume such as the brioche stitch work well and of course its fluffy nature makes it a good choice for colour work where the fuzziness hides the joins quite well. Beware that it can stretch quite a bit, so make sure to knit a swatch, wash and block it to see how it reacts.

The fibre

Ethical and environmental considearations

Knitting with it

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