Whenever you think of woollen clothing you might imagine a cardigan, sweater or hat to protect you from the cold in winter. And that is right! Wool keeps you warm, especially alpaca wool. But would you also consider to wear alpaca wool clothing in summer? Absolutely, you should! Sounds unique? It is not, if you understand the miracle of alpaca wool clothing regulating your body temperature in winter and summer time. This is called thermoregulation.
The secret of softness of alpaca wool clothing
The secret is in the structure of the individual alpaca wool fibre. Three characteristics are important here:
1. the diameter of the fibre,
2. the surface scale structure,
3. air pockets within the fibre.
You might know that alpaca wool, or fleece, is extraordinarily soft. This softness is caused by the very low diameter and the surface scale structure of the fibre.
For a more scientific explanation on Alpaca Wool Clothing softness, you can download the following research report from ResearchGate.
The following image compares alpaca fibre scale structure to cashmere and wool.
On top you will find the scale structure of cashmere, at the bottom is wool and alpaca is in the middle. It is easy to understand that the scale structure of alpaca fibres is responsible for the softness. The structure is by far finer compared to wool and even cashmere.
Alpaca wool clothing is very lightweight. Compared to sheep wool, 30% less alpaca wool provides the same feeling of warmness.
The one feature that is most important in summer is the content of microscopic air pockets in alpaca wool fibres. In contrast to nearly all other fibres the alpaca wool fibre core, or medulla, is formed of so called medullary cells. These cells disappear later leaving fragmented air pockets within the fibre. There is another animal living on our planet which has a comparable fibre: the polar bear.
This detail is not important for you to know? It is! This special attribute makes alpaca wool an ideal insulator. Think of your well insulated home. It keeps you warm in winter and cool in summer. Made into a finished garment, alpaca wool retains its wonderful insulating properties. The ability to insulate is the deep secret why it is recommended by fashion experts to wear alpaca wool clothing in warmer temperatures.
This knowledge is not very new, we have to admit. Like so many times before people living close to nature based on experience could use what we nowadays are able to explain scientifically. Beduins living in the desert wear woollen clothing to keep them warm at night and cool during the hot days.
What is thermoregulation and how does it work?
Think of thermoregulation as a mechanism of human climate control. Whenever the temperature around an organism changes, thermoregulation helps to maintain your core body temperature. It is comparable to your house’s central heating and cooling system.
Sweat is your body coolant. When it is hot, your body produces it. Sweat evaporates, and it removes body heat. If sweat remains on your body surface you will feel cooler. Unfortunately you will also start to smell more or less. Moisture is wicked away by alpaca wool clothing. You will feel more comfortable. (We will talk about clothing comfort in another blog.) At the same time alpaca wool reduces odor.
Heat reaching your garment from the outside will be reflected by alpaca wool clothing. Again this mechanism helps to maintain your comfortable body temperature.
Different materials transfer heat at different rates. This transfer of heat between two objects in contact, here the warm or hot air and your body surface, is called “thermal conduction”. Molecules in two bodies at different temperatures tend to transfer energy from high- to low-temperature objects.
Four factors affect the rate at which heat is conducted: delta T, the difference between two temperatures; A, the cross sectional area of the heat transferring area (touching a cold wall with your palm, the hand cools faster than if you touch it with your fingertip); d, the thickness of the material, and finally each material has a thermal conductivity constant k.
Looking at your clothing choices for summer consider the conductivity constant k of the fabric. K is larger for materials that transfer heat well (like metal). K for iron is 80. K of sheep wool is 0.04. For alpaca wool clothing the thermal conductivity is 0.025. Alpaca wool clothing is a poor thermal conductor.
As you could see, alpaca wool fibre serves as an ideal insulator. To understand this will help to choose an alpaca wool clothing in summer.
Thermoregulation is considered to be one of the most important properties of fabrics describing comfort.
In summer it is also important that alpaca wool clothing protects against UV radiation.
The thermoregulating properties of alpaca wool fibres are one aspect, which supports the decision to wear alpaca wool clothing in the summer. How these fibres are manufactured into fabrics is another one.
COKAL Alpaca Products Inc. aims to weave the right fabrics to make specific alpaca wool clothing for the summer.
There are many other advantages of the wool or fleece, which alpacas donate to humans.
If you are interested to learn more about alpaca wool fibre and alpaca wool clothing, please subscribe to our newsletter.