So, question #2 is: are there significant differences between baby alpaca and adult alpaca fleece? Is there an age in the critter's life when the fleece becomes coarse and doesn't have value in the garment market?
Be careful not confuse the grade "baby alpaca" with fleece from a young animal. As the animal ages, guard hairs do begin to grow in, and average fiber diameter does tend to increase under hormonal influences, due to breeding stress, and even from overly rich nutrition. In general, though, animals with really fine fiber to begin with are going to maintain really fine fiber throughout much or all of their lives. Gelded males actually retain/regain fineness that they might otherwise lose under the influence of testosterone, but they are generally gelded either because of poorer fiber characteristics or due to conformational faults that exclude them from the breeding pool.
And if I were looking to buy a fleece, what would I look for? Does alpaca fleece exhibit weaknesses related to stress, like sheepwool will?
David will tell you that hand feel is most important, and the best way to get your hands used to discriminating is to get them on a lot of fleeces. Otherwise, you'd look for the same sorts of things you'd want from a sheep fleece - relatively clean, no evidence of fleece rot (from kushing in water all summer long to keep cool) or fleece break (stress or nutrition-related - can happen, but I don't believe it's common), preferably no second cuts from shearing, etc.
And I second Cheryl's question: does the fleece need to be dehaired?
It certainly can be, but this usually isn't done because of the expense. In most cases, the fiber's just assigned a coarser grade and used for purposes appropriate to that grade. Llama fiber usually needs to be either combed or put through a dehairing process, as it has considerable higher guard hair content than alpaca. Even very low guard hair content, though, can cause a bit of prickle against sensitive skin, and I don't know if any dehairing process is absolutely perfect.
(More than 1 question, I see.)
Elemmaciltur asked: Where's the proof of your KIPing??!!!
Actually, I think that's supposed to be K'ing IP, though it is admittedly more awkward that way. Either way, though, I have no photos, as I had neglected to take my camera along. I had actually intended to and forgot it, but even if I had taken it on the trip, I'm not sure I would have had the wherewithal to pick it up and take it along to a hotel lobby at 2AM. If I had, though, I'm sure I would have had newlyweds Christy & Kevin (or perhaps Kevin's twin brother, Brian, who apparently kept being mistaken for the groom, despite wearing a differently colored bowtie for the wedding to avoid confusion) pose with the socks. Since I didn't, you'll just have to make do with this pic I took tonight:
From about the last blue line (after the last red line) to the end was what I got done in public - not bad considering my hands don't hold up terribly long with such tiny needles (2mm/US size 0). The following day, I continued to KIP as David's assistant at the trade show. Since I was sitting in his booth to help promote his clothing line, I figured I ought to be working on something in alpaca, so I managed to add a few more inches to the old shale scarf I started for Dulaan Project. I don't think I'll have it done in time for this year, but it's still coming along nicely.
Last week I made good progress on a second bobbin of the shetland x icelandic singles. I hope to add a bit more before bed tonight.
My other big project that I started tonight was clearing out the alcove in the kitchen that was intended to be my office space. It has been filled with boxes the past several months - so much so that I've barely been able to get to my printer to print things out, let alone actually use the space constructively. I've thrown away a lot, put away a lot, and started setting aside a few things for a future yard sale. There is now a big pile of empty cardboard boxes that need to go to recycling, a somewhat banged up (but finally empty) plastic bin that I can use for some of the stash that's metastasized to the living room over the past month or so, and this:
At least it's progress, but I think I've reached the end of my ability to deal with it for tonight.