Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Alpaca - the first in an ongoing series

Alpaca, my dear friend;

I've knit a few items with this lurvley, soft and rather inviting yarn. And who could resist something that comes from such an adorable critter?

Since I made the mistake (twice, at least) of mismatching fibre and project, I thought it may be helpful to someone out there (and it will certainly help me!) to clarify the pros and cons of certain fibres, illustrating of course with all my knitting mis-steps.

Alpaca: the warm South American

usually very soft
hollow fibre allows for even greater warming-capabilities than wool
animal secretes little lanolin, making this fibre nearly hypoallergenic
natural colours of alpaca come in over 20 shades, for those of us interested in fair isle knitting avec natural colours
(depending on how you look at it) alpaca doesn't felt as easily as wool

has less elastic memory than wool
may have a tendency to shed
because of the smoothness of the alpaca, it'll show all your mistakes (even the teeny ones)

These are important points to keep in mind when knitting with this luxury fibre. I quite admire the alpaca's warms and buttery-softness, but did not take into account it's tendency to stretch (and not sproing-back). Victims of this have been my Fair Isle U-Neck (knit with an alpaca-silk blend) and more recently my bulky Pithy hat (knit with %100 alpaca).

Seems to me that if you don't mind the stretch, then a pure alpaca (or a blend of alpaca with an equally in-elastic fibre) would be suitable for many different projects. If you don't much care for a stretched-out garment, then stick to alpaca blends with fibres like wool, which does have a wonderful sproing-back-to-the-way-I-made-you tendency, or just use your precious alpaca for garments that don't have to fit (eg: scarf, shawl).

Knitter's Review reviews of several alpaca yarns.

Alpaca Yarns I've used with satisfaction:
Elegance (Knitpicks)
Sulka (Mirasol)
Blue Sky Alpaca Bulky


Unraveling Sophia said...

This is very helpful! I got enough Alpaca for a sweater, as a gift, and now Im worried that it will stretch out of all proportion...

Teresa said...

Is it 100% alpaca? I am by no means the authority, but I was reading the Winter 2007 issue of IK, and they did say that (and this is an approximate quote) "any ribbing with 100% alpaca will be only decorative."
I'm sure there are other ways to ensure a non-baggy outcome. I'll keep searching!
I just bought myself some Malabrigo, and I was planning on making a sweater. I'm researching first!

I'm glad the post was useful!

Carol said...

Very good points. and ones I shall keep in mind if I ever lay my hands on Alpaca!

Anonymous said...

I've been reading... and a project made out of alpaca will stretch.. But in my experience it doesn't stretch much morfe than a project in cotton would stretch. The difference is that cotton goes back to the original size after you wash and dry it. Alpaca wont--The memory isn't the same. But it's warm. So warm. So if you are making a sweater remember that it will be so warm...

Teresa said...

Thanks for the extra points, Steph. I haven't done much work at all in cotton. I had one unhappy experience. Perhaps in the summer I'll give it another go.

On to the next fibre!