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.
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:
Outlaw Yarn – New Zealand’s newest yarn brand, this company specialises (so far) in yarns with a heavy alpaca component. Commercially spun, these are good quality yarns.
Flagstaff Alpacas – offering a substantially reduced offering compared to previous years, some yarn can still be purchased here (a DK and 4 ply spin was done in late 2015).
Sherlin Alpaca – stocking 100% alpaca DK (8 ply) weight yarn in a range of beautiful colours.
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 in a range of delicious colours, both natural and dyed available. Fleece is also available.
Honeyfields – Alpaca yarn from their own animals is sold in 4 ply (fingering) and 8 ply (DK) in a range of tempting shades.
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.
Awatere Alpacas – a range of yarn, both natural, dyed and hand-dyed from their own animals. In 4 ply, 8 ply and boucle (10 ply).
I’m sure there are others. I will update this page as I come across them.