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December 21, 2014
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Alpaca: The new-age Golden Fleece

By Jonathan Fox

The Catskills and Upper Delaware River Valley are known for many things: hiking, river rafting, apple picking and the beauty and serenity that a visit to our region provides. Each season has something different to offer to visitors and residents alike, but since the 1970s, a warm and fuzzy attraction has caught on—alpacas. The gentle creatures have been domesticated for thousands of years and the Moche people of northern Peru often used alpaca images in their art. Too small to be used as pack animals, they have been bred exclusively for their fiber and meat, but it’s their fleece that has made the alpaca highly prized throughout the world. Today, alpaca can be found all across the United States, including right here at home, where their incredibly soft hair is made into scarves, hats, gloves and socks, along with stylish high-end garments that are sought after by folks from all walks of life.

The fiber harvested from the Alpaca is lustrous, luxurious and silky. It is softer than cashmere and warmer than wool. Knitters, spinners and crafters have been producing clothing and artistic creations with it here in New York and Pennsylvania for years, even sparking events like alpaca festivals.

Imagine! Alpacas is the name of a business owned by Denise and Ed Burkart, who have a cozy farm in Jeffersonville, NY. A recent conversation with them revealed some of the mystique surrounding the creatures and what can be achieved from harvesting their fleece. “The animals are shorn once a year, in early spring,” Denise explained, “so that they can be cool for the summer and provide fiber for the folks that spin, crochet, knit and felt. I, myself, am more into the crafts and soft-décor items for the home that customers are often drawn to, and incorporate both wet and dry felting techniques in some of the unique items that I produce locally.” Felting involves laborious hours of interlocking the fibers, which create mesmerizing color variations. The end result, a strong, durable fabric, is used for both small and large-scale projects. The Burkarts welcome visitors all year long and have a small retail store on the premises, where folks can admire, try on and take home a variety of products. Whether you’re looking for the raw materials or a finished product, there is something for everyone, beginner or accomplished, and the variety offered allows for every budget.