In order to get an idea of the materials, different items and patterns, and costs of the type of things that are knitted here in Arequipa and that the ladies can knit, Maria took Margaret, Lauren, and I down to two large Alpaca markets this morning. There we saw some beautiful pieces as well as the actual beasts themselves! Out back of both stores there was a nice enclosure with llamas, alpacas, and even a vicuna (llamas are larger, have larger banana-shaped ears, and were traditionally used to carry loads; alpacas are smaller, have smaller straighter ears, and were bred for their fleece). At Mundo Alpaca there was also a great display that had information about the differences between common animal fibers:
Baby alpaca wool is muy suave (very soft) - it is from the first time the alpaca is sheared (only 10 cm is taken off the chest and legs of the alpaca so that they are still able to stay warm in the high altitude weather). Mature alpaca wool is a little more coarse but not as coarse as llama wool (which is still softer than sheep wool). Suri Alpacas are the ones with longer hair that starts to look like a dread job. Vicunas are an elegant and long-legged cross between a deer and an alpaca. Their fleece is incredibly soft but they are an endangered species and can only be sheared every three years.
They also had a display about how the dyeing process works which I find fascinating. Originally, red was gathered from a bug that lives off cacti!
They also had a couple of artisans in traditional garb weaving on backstrap looms. (Lauren has these pictures, I'll post them later when I get them from her.)
It was a great morning of ideas and sensations (apparently, women are normally hired to work with the fleece since they have a greater tactile sense...).
And then this afternoon, I spent looking at what the knitting ladies have produced and are selling in their small shop in the knitting facility. And then Steve and I looked at the book of COLORS (that wool comes in)! Boy oh boy, it was exciting! I can't wait to start working on new product ideas with the ladies. Andrea, the head knitter, has a really good eye and is super skilled - I'm looking forward to working with her when she has time next week. The ladies can create anything as long as they can see a good example - there are some really amazing things that they've made!