By Kerry Bettinson
Choosing Your Yarn...
If you're a newbie to knitting alpaca, and desperate to get some yarn on your needles it's important to decide on how you would like your final object to be before choosing a pattern. 2ply, 4ply, Double Knit and Aran weight knitting yarns all vary in nature and texture. As alpaca is a very warm natural fibre, be aware that less is more with regards to the weight of the fabric, and you'll benefit little in warmth from making a garment very heavy. Be careful to choose a yarn weight appropriate to the object you're knitting.
As some rough guidelines I would recommend:
Scarves- lace and rib knit
These are just rough suggestions of how to use the yarn. I have seen some amazing knitwear produced by knitters purchasing our yarn who have used it in ways that we don't. A lady recently completed a stunning aran weight sweater- an amazing piece of work in a yarn worthy of the hours of time put into the piece. I have also seen wonderful hats done in 4ply and 2ply ladies sweaters (not for the faint hearted knitter).
One of the greatest features of the alpaca is that is comes in such a wide spectrum of natural colours. From white through to black with greys, browns and fawns in between. If you are going for natural undyed yarns you should be aware that although all coming off the same breed of animal, the texture and handle of the different colours can sometimes vary greatly. The white and cream yarns are usually the softest due to far more years selective breeding in South America. However, there are exceptions to this, and the UK is now producing top quality brown animals (check out our credentials in the BAS National Show Ring 2006/2007). 'Baby Alpaca' blends are guaranteed to be incredibly soft and slippy, as these batches only contain the softest and youngest fleeces regardless of whether they are grey, black or cream.
Due to the softness and soapy texture of alpaca, some knitters find that in order to get the correct gauge they move onto a smaller needle size than recommended for the weight. If you are aware that you generally are quite a loose knitter then I would advise doing so. ALWAYS check your tension before you begin a project because you are using a new natural material and it will not always respond in as unformed way as mass produced and computer-spun acrylic.
I have known people recommend using wooden needles to knit alpaca with. The 'give' in the natural needle, in comparison to the steel or plastic needle, seems to give you greater control and pleasure over knitting with the yarn. This is in no way essential, it's just a nice thing to have when 'knitting natural'- in fact most of my knitters choose to use steel needles.
As you're knitting with a natural fibre it is important to handwash your knitting after you've finished. I would recommend using a delicate/natural detergent, something as easy to get hold of as Woolite (which can be bought at all supermarkets) is fine. Fill your sink with tepid water and allow your item to soak for 10-15 mins. After you have rinsed you can gently spin the item in the washing machine to remove excess water. Dry flat to avoid any misshaping. I would recommend allowing your item to dry slowly- don't force dry on top of an aga or boiler. The handle of alpaca seems to alter when it is dried out too fast- it almost goes brittle to touch. Patience is the key to retaining the buttery soft feeling.
Voila- easy alpaca!
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