Thursday, 31 January 2008
Wednesday, 30 January 2008
Desperate to produce a natural grey Double Knit yarn I have mixed some white and some black fleeces in order to achieve the 35kg quantity essential for the mill. I have mixed the colours in equal quantities in the hope of producing a solid grey after it’s spun. Due to the nature of the natural black, the tips of most of the fleeces were bleached brown by the sun. I hope that this will create a ‘rose grey’ effect in the yarn as it will be producing a ‘red-ish’ hue.
In an attempt to create a ‘dark brown’, not chestnut brown or black, I have blended some of my brown fleeces with a few black ones. Hopefully I will create a brown double knit with warmth to the colour and the sheen of the black fleece.
I have dropped off a further 50kg of ‘light fawn’, fondly referred to by knitters as OATMEAL. This colour cold out almost immediately in 2007, and so I have doubled the numbers for 2008 and we will have 25kg of Double Knit and 25kg of Aran. This yarn will hopefully be back to us before the end of February as it is being processed towards the end of this week.
As soon as stock comes in it will go onto the website. For a sample card of our natural colour range please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
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Monday, 28 January 2008
Yesterday saw the return of the ‘Large fur Ted’ to the Toft Shop.
Wednesday, 23 January 2008
‘Alpaca’ is becoming a common word, the majority now starting to recognise that soapy softness of quality alpaca fibre whether it be knitted baby wear or fine spun shawls.
Alpaca is undoubtedly a magnificent natural material to work with and to wear, the warmth provided by the hollow core of the fibre being second to none.
This fine, lustrous and crimpy fleece grows on the back of these South American camelids and is sheared off once a year. One animal can yield up to seven kilos of fleece- but this doesn’t necessarily translate into seventy balls of quality knitting yarns: Alpacas are sheared from head to toe, with a decrease in the quality of the fibre down the legs.
It’s fantastic that alpaca is moving to the forefront of fashion, demand for luxury fibre knitting yarns is higher than it has ever been, but designers and consumers alike crave the ‘good stuff’. Until recently alpaca breeders and textile workers scratched their heads to discover a use for the waste fibre left after the ‘blanket’ fleece is removed. These fibers tend to be harsher, less crimpy and when worn next to the skin are itchy. Obviously including the leg fibre in a spin batch would downgrade the rest of your soft fibre- so it is piled separately at the back of the shearing shed. Over the course of shearing a whole herd this waste fibre can amount to a significant amount of fleece.
Some use it as insulation- that hollow core working as well at keeping a home warm as keeping your toes warm. Others use it to stuff pet bedding- lucky pooch! The third alterative is to accept it as a lower-grade fibre, lacking the softness and lustre of the back fibre, but still use it within textiles. This coarse fibre can be felted, wet felted or needle felted, or alternately spun up into a heavier knitting yarn and then knitted and felted. The result is a much heavier and hairier fabric, it has greater structure and is consequently more hard wearing. This can be used for the likes of handbags, slippers, Wellington-boot insoles or even teddy bears and jewellery. Alpaca is a versatile fibre and when treated in various different ways can become unrecognisable as the same fibre. Whether knitted, felted or woven, alpaca gives you exceptional results, bringing to your product warmth, texture, and creating a desire in people to touch it. This type of alpaca can be bought at much lower prices than fine alpaca, and anyone interested in textiles will love the challenge of a different type of material.
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. We sell 2ply, 4ply, Double Knit and Aran weight knitting yarns, all of which very in nature and texture. Be careful to choose a yarn weight appropriate to the object you’re knitting. As some rough guidelines we would recommend:
2ply (Baby Alpaca)
Fine Lace Knit Scarves
4ply (Baby Alpaca)
Scarves- lace and rib knit
Cardigans, Sweaters, Baby wear
Obviously just because we choose to do it this way doesn’t mean that it’s the right way. 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).
All of our yarns are 100% natural. 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. 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 at Toft Alpacas we specialise in breeding top quality brown animals (check out our credentials in the BAS National Show Ring 2006/2007). Our ‘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.
In Toft Alpacas knitting Kits we provide wooden needles. The give in the natural needle, in comparison to the steel 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 the Toft Alpacas knitters 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- alpaca made easy!
Saturday, 19 January 2008
With over one hundred and seventy alpacas and thirty knitters the 'office' erupts into daily confusion. Is it Snowdrop or SnowWhite due a pre-birth bootser, was that Margaret in Coventry, Margaret in Brackley or Margaret at Lime Tree, are Doris and Doria growing the fibre on their back or across their needles??