October 28, 2020
Have you ever knit with alpaca wool? Maybe you only knit with alpaca! Known from pre-Columbian times as "the fibre of the gods," alpacas have been bred in South America for over 5000 years, where their fibre was used for the clothing of royalty. Today alpaca fibre, known for its silky soft feel and hypoallergenic qualities, is rapidly replacing cashmere as the luxury fibre of choice—largely because it hasn't suffered as cashmere has from a loss of quality due to mass-production. Slightly warmer and less prickly than sheep's wool, softer and less prone to pilling than cashmere, alpaca fibre is durable, lightweight, and water-repellent. The fine hairs of an alpaca’s undercoat, particularly those that come from the chest of an adult alpaca, are referred to as "baby alpaca,”which at 18-23 microns is one of the softest types of alpaca fibre. (Regular alpaca is usually 25-27 microns, while regular sheep wool is closer to 40 microns.)
Fortunately, high-quality alpaca continues to be an affordable choice! Try, for example, Katia's Alpaquina, a superfine alpaca yarn with a blend of polymide that makes this yarn machine-washable for easy care. Ideal for clothing, socks, and baby clothes, the generous yardage of Alpaquina means you could make a baby sweater from just one skein. For a fast knitting or crochet project, Estelle's chunky-weight Alpaca Drift is luxuriously soft and light, with a unique chainette and an air-blown construction that gives it both great stability and a beautiful halo. Possibly the softest and lightest of them all is Canadian yarn-producer Illimani's Amelie, where a delicately-spun webbing of mulberry silk encases baby alpaca fibres with a blend of merino thrown in for good measure. It is famously impossible to describe in words: you just need to come and touch it. Finally, Berreco's DK-weight Cambria, made from a blend of 60/20/20 baby alpaca, linen, and lyocell, combines the elusive qualities of both stunning drape and excellent stitch definition.
This seems like a good time to also give some love to the larger, grumpier cousin of the alpaca: the llama! Not that we would malign the llama, who will guard sheep and alpaca herds with a devotion that is the envy of sheep dogs everywhere. And while the llama's outer coat tends to be coarse, the undercoat (known as "baby llama") is beautifully soft and smooth, with many of the same qualities as alpaca. Queensland Llama Lace is made from this super-soft llama fibre undercoat and has near-identical drape and softness to alpaca fibre.
You can check out our alpaca-blend yarns online or come in and feel them for yourself! We are confident it will be love at first stitch.
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