This week we want to talk about Alpaca! Alpaca is a great fibre originally from South America. The alpaca animal comes from the camelid family. The fibre is long and lustrous, with no lanolin or barbs that wool has. Alpaca is known for having fantastic drape and a bit of shine as well. Alpaca fibre is very warm, but can still be used for summer items such as loose gauge and lacey cardigans that can be worn on cooler nights. English summers are perfect for this as it isn’t necessarily always that warm!
One question we frequently hear is “Is an alpaca the same as a llama?” The answer is that while they look very similar, they are quite different animals! Alpacas are actually a part of the Vicuna family, while llamas belong to the Lama family. The most obvious difference is that alpacas are about half the size as a llama, yet they produce significantly more fibre! Llamas have a double coat, which means that they have a rough outer coat and a soft inner coat. Alpacas have one soft coat. This means that alpaca fibre is easier to to turn into yarn as it doesn’t require separating. Overall this is one of the biggest reasons that alpaca fibre is so much more common than llama fibre. Llamas and alpacas have been selectively bred for hundreds of years, which has resulted in llamas being predominately a pack animal for carrying heavy loads, while alpacas have been bred for their fibre.
Alpacas can come in a variety of natural shades. There are 22 officially identified colours, ranging from creamy white and brown into grey and black, with every shade in between. This is one of the largest ranges of fibre producing animals!
The alpaca yarns at Knit With Attitude can be put into two categories. They are either locally produced in the UK, or ethically produced in South America.
Our locally produced yarn are from Purl Alpaca Designs – Fine, which we have in 6 natural shades. These 50g balls are undyed, showcasing the amazing colour range that is possible. Purl Alpaca have a farm in Oxfordshire where all the alpacas are raised. After sheering, the fleeces are spun into yarn in Banbury, Oxfordshire. Purl Alpaca have a fantastic range of patterns for adults and children to support their yarns as well.
One of the largest ranges of yarns available in the shop is from Du Store Alpakka. We carry 4 different yarns, with up to 20 available colours! This Norwegian company were among the original founders of the Mirasol project, which has two aims. One is working directly with the farmers and producers of the yarn in Peru, and the other is to pledge a certain amount of the profits of the yarn to support a school for the children of those farmers. Du Store Alpakka has pledged 9% of their profits to the rural school, which was opened in 2006 and was able to expand in 2012 to hire more teachers and build more classrooms. This effort helps the local children get an education, but also provides meaningful employment for those who work at the school, therefore supporting the local community and economy. The long term plan for the school is to continue expanding to be able to provide education up to secondary and higher education.
We have two summer favourites from Du Store Alpakka. The first is Mirasol, which we have in 19 bright colours. This yarn has the same gauge as Purl Alpaca Designs Fine, meaning that the yarns can be used interchangeably, or together in colourwork or stripes.
The other yarn is Fin, an alpaca silk blend which we have in 18 colours. Alpaca and silk work together very well as they share many of the same characteristics of being soft, lustrous and drapey. When combined these features are multiplied! This is a perfect yarn for elegant and formal pieces that could be worn on nights out. The colour range means that you are sure to find the right colour to match your outfit!
Another yarn to mention is Du Store Faerytale, a brushed alpaca that has a very fuzzy quality. Because of the fuzzy texture, the yarn can be knit to great effect at a very loose gauge. As with the other yarns, it comes in a fantastic range of 20 colours!
Last but not least we have Manos Del Uruguay’s Serena. This is a 60% Baby Alpaca/40% Pima Cotton from Uruguay. This yarn is certified Fair Trade and works with women’s collectives in rural areas to help bring economic and social opportunities to remote and isolated regions. We absolutely love the drape and softness of the alpaca/cotton combination. Another bonus of the cotton content is that it lowers the ‘warmth’ factor of the finished garment in comparison to a 100% alpaca yarn, making it even better for summer knits!
Also as a little reminder, we still have the Artesano Alpaca/Silk on sale for £5! The colours are starting to go out of stock, so get them soon!