Alpaca update

I’m too lazy to upload another photo of the same darned black swatch. 😛 I’ll simply report that after a couple of days hanging on my wall, the swatch did not grow in length. But after a couple of weeks, it went from 8 to 8.25 rows per inch.

So now I’m burning to learn more about the nuances of alpaca. Just how different is Northwest alpaca vs. the rest of the US vs. Peru?

There are a heck of a lot of variables to contend with and I can’t decide how many to test and how many to hold constant. Spinning technique, prep technique, diameter, number of plies. I pulled out a tuft of Peruvian alpaca top that Judith gave the workshop group back in April, and decided to spin it with the semi-woolen draw I’d used on the Northwest roving. To be honest, I think the resulting yarn is really similar but possibly a little denser. I was going to knit a swatch and compare the density per square inch, but the Peruvian yarn I spun is 4-ply, so maybe it’s not a fair comparison? I dunno.

I found a source for commercially combed Northwest alpaca top though. And for Ashford alpaca top. If I can get some combed North American top then that would round out a collection of origins keeping the fiber prep constant, which is a start. I’m also eyeing the Peruvian royal grade top, as that class of super fine fiber tends to be crimpier than other grades, per Judith. But I worry that might just confuse the issue more than necessary. I’m also thinking of comparing Northwest small-mill roving to other North American small-mill roving. But again, this might be excessively broadening the scope of what I’m trying to learn here.

I’ll continue pondering the experiment design, and scouting for fiber sources. In the end, what I’m hoping is to be able to spin some alpaca from local farms on the island, and to be able to write some marketing copy that speaks from experience in terms of distinguishing this product from other alpaca yarns on the market. I don’t want people to decline my yarn just because 100% alpaca “never has enough memory for a shaped garment”. But if I’m going to make claims to the contrary I’d like to have my ducks in a row, so to speak.

So. The plan would be to spin Northwest, North American, and Peruvian top semi-worsted into a 3-ply, knit into swatches, hang on the wall. Possibly spin Northwest and North American roving semi-woolen into 3-ply, knit into swatches, hang on the wall. What other variables should I vary and compare?

This should be fun. 🙂

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Alpaca update

  1. how long is your swatch? If you’re trying to predict how it will behave in a sweater, you might want to knit a sweater front sized panel, or a sleeve, and see how that behaves.

    • The swatch is about 5 x 5″, so big enough to have a little weight to it but yeah, really not a great substitute for estimating growth in a real sweater. I’m not much of a swatcher, and already itching to move on to actually *making* something, so bigger swatches…groan. But maybe necessary. 🙂

  2. Leah

    I’m washing and combing my first ever huacaya alpaca, so these posts are really fascinating. Thanks! My fiber came from Heart of Dreams Alpacas out in Duvall. I wish I had been able to visit the island for the Alpaca fiber fest!

  3. Interesting posts on alpaca fiber. I have to say that while I think Judith M is totally amazing, I am totally baffled by some of the information on alpaca that she’s passing along. My husband and I have been breeding alpacas for 10 years now both in So.California and here in the northwest. Alpaca is an amazing and wonderful fiber – that’s true. And I’m really trying not to sound like a rude person but there are several points of her information that are not correct. I’m sorry, I normally don’t write responses to things like this and this will most likely not win me any friends here but I just have to wonder where some of this stuff is coming from…or perhaps I’m just reading it wrong.

    • Hi Megan! Please keep in mind that Judith and I are both fallible humans. 🙂 She passes along what she knows and learns and finds interesting as a keeper of textile tradition, and I pass along what I understand and remember as an eager new student. Yesterday I watched part of Judith’s DVD on Spinning Luxury Fiber. As it turns out, most of what she told both of these workshops about alpaca showed up in the video! It seems that some of the lecture material does get recycled here and there with small changes, which is not a huge surprise. Based on that viewing, I am going to presume that when she told her Northwest audiences that Northwest alpaca is unique, she meant that North American alpaca is different from Peruvian traditional and commercial flocks, and that the Pacific climate happens to be a good place to grow high-quality alpaca fiber — but not necessarily any different from that grown elsewhere in North America by careful breeders. I also think that when she says that all alpaca fiber is medullated, she is working on outdated information. All alpaca fiber is *capable* of being medullated, but any given fiber can be completely, incompletely, or almost not medullated. In this way it differs from sheep’s wool, which was the real gist of the reason for relating medullation/wave to lack of medullation/crimp. Finally, I think that Judith is and remains an excellent judge of the qualities that make a given fiber suitable for different textiles. From novelty yarns to traditional weaving to unusual knits, Judith looks at a fiber — from any plant or animal — and sees its potential. And she wants to convey to her students that North American alpaca has a vast, unusual, wonderful and special potential to become incredible textiles in the hands of a fiber artist. It’s really frustrating to me that so many alpaca breeders I’ve come across during this discussion seem to think that this is a negative thing. :\

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