Materials & Techniques

Camelid Fiber

Camelid fiber primarily refers to hair from the camelid (Camelidae) family, including llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, and guanacos. Based on genetic studies, guanacos and vicuñas appear to be the wild counterparts of domesticated llamas and alpacas. The alpaca and vicuña appear to be the most valuable among New World camelids: as an ancient food source, source of transport, and function, as well as for their fiber—the vicuña due to its softness and fineness, and the alpaca because of its quality and quantity of fiber.

Camelid fiber was utilized heavily in South American (Andean) textiles. Fiber shorn from camelid species native to the Andes—the llama, alpaca, vicuña, and guanaco—was a primary material for textiles in the highlands, providing warmth in the cold temperatures. Textiles made from cotton grown at lower elevations are lighter in weight and may be embellished with camelid fiber bands or supplementary weaving. Andean artists achieved vibrant colors with camelid fibers through the use of dyes derived from plants, insects, and possibly marine mollusks. During the Spanish Colonial period (16th-19th century), the Spanish introduced sheep to the Andes, providing wool as an alternative material for textile production.

Adapted from

  • Kimberly L. Jones, PhD, Inca: Conquests of the Andes / Los Incas y las conquistas de los Andes, Gallery text, 2015.
  • Ann Rowe, “Glossary,” in Weaving and Dyeing in Highland Ecuador, edited by Ann Rowe, Laura Miller and Lynn Meisch (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007): 289-295.
  • Getty Vocabulary, AAT (Camelidae (family) : AAT: 300310434).

Fun Facts

  • Vicuña hair is the finest in quality of the Andean camelid species. In 1974, the wild vicuña was listed an endangered species; over the last four decades, Andean countries have worked together to protect and successfully rebuild the populations.

Web Resources

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Read more about Andean textiles.