Heartfelt is a small company founded by four women from the American heartland and steeped in the traditions of many cultures. Ancestors of the alpacas raised by Heartfelt's owners were domesticated some six or seven thousand years ago, when the first hieroglyphs were being used in Egypt and Stonehenge was being built in England. Alpacas lived with humans for so long that Incan mythology has alpacas emerging from the caves along with humans. They are also believed to have arisen from the waters, and in some stories are credited with saving humans from the floods.
We found we needed a quicker, easier way to cut insoles from our alpaca felt. After doing some searching, we found Tippmann Die Cutting Company in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Die cutting is a manufacturing process used to generate large numbers of the same shape from a material. We had them custom make four sizes of dies (Small, Medium, Large, and Extra-Large) to cut out our alpaca insoles and another two to cut out coasters and hot pads.
When Heartfelt ordered its FeltLOOM®, there were only about a dozen in operation around the country and none in Missouri. The machine was developed by a group of Kentucky farmers who worked with the University of Kentucky’s Center for Manufacturing to refine their original designs. The University provided the engineering and modeling expertise required to build new production prototypes. A patent was issued on this needle felting loom for fiber artists in October 2008.
Alpaca fiber comes in 22 natural colors recognized in the US. Any colors in the tan to brown and grey to black spectrums will occur naturally. So all of the base colors for Heartfelt rugs and wall hangings and all of our insoles use natural, undyed fiber. We do, however, dye some fiber to use as decorative elements on our rugs, wall hangings, hot pads, and coasters. Sometimes we use commercially dyed yarn. Sometimes we purchase dyed fiber from other fiber artists. Still other times, we dye the fiber ourselves.
Once the fiber is sorted, but before we ship it to the mill, we tumble it in small batches in a big wire drum. We set fans in front of the drum, and as it turns very slowly, the fans blow the worst of the dust and hay out of the fiber. Alpacas love to roll in the dirt. Their fiber is dense, so it’s not unusual for the outer portion to be dusty while the fiber closest to the skin is shiny and clean.
Do they tear up the landscape? What about agricultural run-off from pesticides, herbicides, and animal waste?
- Alpacas live very lightly on the land. Their soft padded feet and their light weight mean that they don't tear up the landscape.
- The fact that the dung piles are cleaned up daily means that there is a minimum of run-off from alpaca waste.
- Alpacas have three-part stomachs that digest hay and grass very efficiently. They don't eat a great deal, nor do they require or even do well on rich, high-protein diets. This means that the need for herbicide and pesticide application on their pastures is minimal if you use them at all.
- Alpacas don't challenge fences. The real need for fencing is around the perimeter of the alpaca pasture-barn area to protect them from predators.
Even though they are in the same family, Camelidae, alpacas and llamas are used for different purposes by humans.
Alpacas are used for their fiber while llamas are used as pack animals or in meat production. The average llama is roughly twice the size of the average alpaca. An average alpaca stands 34"- 36" at the withers (shoulders), whereas a llama stands 42"- 48" at the withers. Most alpacas weigh between 100 and 175 pounds when fully grown. Llamas on the other hand weigh in the neighborhood of 200 to 350 pounds with some as heavy as 400 pounds. There are differences in the body and head, especially the shape of the ears. The llama is easily distinguished by its long banana-shaped ears. The alpaca has shorter spear-shaped ears. From the side, llamas generally have a longer face; alpacas have a shorter, more compact appearance. A llama's back is straighter, which makes them good for packing.