Alpaca. An extremely pleasurable alternative to knitting with wool. In fine grades, its softness rivals merino. It has extremely effective thermal qualities. Not surprising given the alpaca’s natural habitat is up in the snowy Andean mountains! It is cool to touch, but very warm to wear. If you haven’t knitted with alpaca yet, you should consider trying it out!
I love the sensation of the alpaca as it threads through my fingers when knitting. When I knit with it, I can’t help but stop and stroke the project every now and again – it’s soooo soft! It doesn’t have the springiness and memory of wool, but it has a lovely silky tumbling drape about it. It’s also much denser than wool (in 100% form), which in turn makes the project feel heavier.
Alpaca will stretch (or drop) after a period of wear. One way to get around this, if practical for your project, is to knit to a tighter-than-usual tension for that weight of yarn. For example, I recently knitted a project using 3.25mm needles, even thought the yarn is a DK weight. Because alpaca is so soft, and drapes so well, this has not negatively affected the resulting fabric. But it has prevented it from stretching.
New Zealand’s alpaca industry is still relatively small but developing fast. A number of up-and-coming breeders have taken the trouble to produce yarn from their animals’ beautiful fleeces and sell it. Knitters need to be aware that alpaca herds here are still small, which means that supply is not unlimited.
If you see some alpaca you like, you should buy it, as the next time you come back, it might be all gone. In some cases, not all natural colours are available every year – sometimes the breeder has to wait a couple of shearing seasons (done only once a year) to have enough fibre to make it economically viable to turn it into yarn. In other cases, the producer might make yarn one year, but then decide not to bother and send it to a pool in future years. Again, if you see it, and you like it, buy it, then and there.
I thought I’d highlight a few alpaca studs that I have had particularly good experiences with and who appear to have made a long-term commitment to supplying alpaca yarn. Firstly, my favourite:
Flagstaff Alpacas has been breeding alpacas and creating alpaca products in New Zealand’s South Island region of Otago since 2001. Now numbering approximately 180 Huacaya alpacas, they are one of New Zealand’s larger alpaca breeders.
Flagstaff Alpacas is one of the few alpaca yarn producers in New Zealand to produce 100% alpaca yarn. Recently, they have started to diversify into producing blends, such as a sock yarn – photo above (60% alpaca, 20% merino, 20% nylon) and an aran weight (80% alpaca, 20% wool).
Taking great pride in their products, owner Andy Nailard personally sorts and classes the fleece when it is shorn, selecting only 20 – 26 micron fleece with the right amount of lustre for yarn production. The resulting product is a testament to their passion for quality and their care for their alpaca herd. The yarns are all processed and spun in the South Island of New Zealand.
Due to the success of their beautiful yarns, Flagstaff Alpaca’s own herd cannot keep up production of the amount of fleece needed to produce the yarns. They now also source fleece (of specified quality) from various herds around New Zealand in order to keep up production.
2 ply laceweight, 4 ply (fine, fingering), 8 ply (light, DK) 10 ply (aran, worsted) and boucle (fine)
10 ply – (80% alpaca, 20% wool) undyed cream in 250g hanks. There are hand-dyed versions of this too. It knits to a standard aran tension of 18 stitches x 24 rows on 5mm needles, although if knitting a large garment, you will want to knit it at a tighter tension of 20 x 26 on 4.5mm (approx) to prevent stretching.
8 ply (100% alpaca )
Plain dyed, natural coloured, and variegated hand-dyed
A variety of plain dyed and natural coloured yarns available in 50g balls (approx 90m)
Variegated hand-dyed sold as 100g hanks (190m (208yd))
Knitting weight: 8 ply, DK, light
Tension/Gauge: approx 22s x 30r to 10cm on 4mm needles
4 ply (100% alpaca)
100g hanks of variegated hand-dyed (360m per hank) and 50g balls single colour dyed (180m per ball). 200g hanks of natural cream (720m per hank)
Knitting weight: 4 ply, baby, fingering, superfine
Tension/Gauge: 28 – 32 sts over 10cm on 2.75mm . Flagstaff Alpacas recommends a 3mm or 3.25mm needle.
2 ply (100% alpaca)
100g hanks (920m) of lace weight in undyed cream and hand-dyed
The yarn is super soft and finely spun, with a wonderful handle and minimal ‘fluff’. Knitting with it is a pure joy. The knitted fabric is so soft and buttery that I could not help but stop to feel and admire it every so often during the knitting process. Because it is 100% alpaca, the yarn has a much silkier feel than blended alpaca/wool yarns.
This yarn can be worn next to the skin by even the most sensitive. It can be used for any pattern specifying 100% alpaca. Although the 8 ply is standard DK weight, a pattern adjustment may need to be made to use the 4 ply which appears finer than some fingering weights.
Of particular interest to me are the variegated hand-dyed yarns, themed and dyed by outstanding local fibre artist Doe Arnot. In New Zealand, locally produced, hand-dyed alpaca yarns are very hard to come by, so this yarn is a treat! Being 100% alpaca makes it doubly so. Because the variegated yarns are hand-dyed, there are only a limited quantity of hanks available, so do make sure you buy enough to complete your project. The quality is good because the yarn is commercially spun and care has been taken to only use good grades of fleece.
In addition to the above image, here is another sampling of some of the colours:
Do visit their website to see the whole available range and purchase the yarn. I’ve also posted on this subject here. The yarn can also be purchased here (link to Oamaru Weaving – the website of Doe Arnot).
Other alpaca producers from whom I have purchased reasonable quality yarn and who have made a commitment to providing yarn on a commercial-scale (as part of their stud operations) are:
Southern Alpacas – beautifully soft 100% alpaca, and 80% alpaca, 20% merino blend in a good selection of natural coloured fleece yarns, including jet black. They also sell dyed and carded fleece for the spinner, and a range of alpaca clothing.
Brenel Alpacas - 4 ply and 8 ply yarns available, as well as fibre (including Suri) for the spinner and weaver. They also have a range of garments for sale. I found a very friendly chocolate yarn at Brenel which is begging to be made into a nice lacy scarf.
Rare Yarns - featuring a wide range of alpaca yarn – brushed, boucle, 4 ply and 8 ply, this New Zealand business is based in Nelson. Their yarns can be found in selected yarn stores throughout the country. Cruellas is their flagship store.
I’m sure there are others. I will update this page as I come across them.