Cornish alpaca

We came back from the Cornish wedding last year with spinning treasure – 3 large bags of creamy white alpaca.  My just-married step-daughter, Ellie, had negotiated the sale with a work colleague (and got me a very good deal too).  The car was laden, but we managed to squeeze the bags in somewhere – far too good to leave behind.

I’ve never – in all of my thirty years of spinning – spun alpaca properly before, so I wasn’t sure how to tackle it. First I needed to lay out my treasure (and this is only the first bag) …alpaca on sitting room floorOf course, Poe had to inspect it first …Poe with alpacaNow to consult the experts …Spin Off mags on alpacaWriters in these Spin-off magazines wrote of the difficulty of spinning alpaca – how slippery it is, how heavy and lifeless your yarn will be.  Yes – I have to admit that I don’t terribly like spinning alpaca – everything, everywhere was covered with fluff – far worse than when grooming the cat.  Alpaca was in my mouth, my nose … ugh! And yes, it did break constantly as I tried to spin quite a fine yarn – just slipped through my fingers.

Hmm …. there were all sorts of other suggestions in these Spin-off magazines.  One article strongly recommended that you ply your alpaca with another yarn, so I found an old batt in my spinning stash which I think is synthetic yarn of some sort – can you see the sparkle on it? – and got a nice little hank of mixed fibre yarn.stash yarn and plyed with alpacaHowever, others wrote that you can produce “straight” alpaca. So that is what I did too.   This yarn I produced is very soft and fluffy and has just a bit of lustre. I rather liked the result, – so much so that I got carried away and started knitting without remembering to photograph my pure alpaca hank.

I’d decided to knit Emily Wessel’s Tin Can Knit’s Loch hat with the alpaca.  The Tin Can Knit’s ladies have come up with these lovely lacy patterns which – after initial lacking-confidence struggles – I am now enjoying knitting more and more.IMG_1960Easy peasy – in no time at all, it was finished.  Completed alpaca Loch capThe alpaca knit up like a dream.  It’s softly fluffy as opposed to lustrous, but you can still clearly see the wonderful pattern.  detail of Loch alpaca capThing is – I don’t really see myself wearing an off-white hat – just not a colour I feel comfortable with.  So could I dye it? I’ve always been given to understand that you could dye fleece and dye yarn, but not a finished product because it would felt.  However, perhaps if I dyed it in a microwave oven, which would be a very quick process, with minimum disturbance, I would get away with it …? Time to consult the dyeing books …synthetic dyeing booksFrances and Tony Tompson only cover microwave dyeing very briefly in their excellent book, Synthetic Dyeing, but by very good fortune a friend had attended a workshop they ran and was able to give me the course notes which expanded the information on microwave dyeing considerably.  At the end of them they say:” Finally, the wool will remain soft and springy with no chance of matting.”  Sounds promising.  Gail Callahan also gave excellent clear information on microwave dyeing.

In the end, I came to a rough mix of their times and their temperatures.  I mixed up the colour from Easifix’s AllinOne Acid Milling Dyes: Emerald Green, Golden Yellow, Ultra Blue and a little Black to act as a saddener.  Into the microwave my pot went.  Oh, it does look so very promising!Microwave dyepot of alpaca capAnd what an excellent result!  When wet, of course, it was much darker and I was afraid that the dark colour obscured the pattern definition.  But dry, it was just perfect, and honestly not matted at Loch capCuriously, it has a little darker crown.  I didn’t change yarn, so I can only think that I must have spun a different part of the fleece here which didn’t show up when it was all creamy-white.  I rather like of green Loch hatAnd luckily, the weather is still cold enough to go off for a brisk seaside walk well wrapped up and sporting my new alpaca beanie!K out for walk in new green hat(The camera and light are playing colour tricks – the outside photo is closest to the actual colour.)


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18 thoughts on “Cornish alpaca”

    1. Thank you, Anne – yes, I love the darker crown too, and I just love the Tin Can Knits pattern Now I’ve started to knit their patterns, I am completely addicted to them. Also, nice cold weekend in Northumberland, so every reason to wear my new hat 🙂


  1. Tricks of Camera and Light ? It’s to do with ‘white balance’, which on most smartphones and digital cameras is automatic – but not very accurate. But that’s an aside: the point I wanted to make was about the darker crown. There are a number of ways this can happen during dyeing, but – as you say yourself – the most likely reason is that the yarn used near the crown may have come predominantly from a different part of the animal, as the character of the fibre – and its propensity to ‘take’ the dye – varies. These days we tend to dye with yarn spun from commercially-produced tops or the wool yarn we’ve had commercially spun from our own fleeces (well, our sheep’s fleeces!): these have been blended very very very thoroughly in large quantities so as to ensure uniform ‘take’. That way we can dye either the yarn or the garmet. For something more rustic, we’ll be quite happy to dye washed fleece and then spin, or spin and then dye – but that last is most likely to give a patchy result!


    1. Yes – that’s what I thought about the darker crown. The strange thing is that I have never – in all my years of spinning – got such a marked difference. And remember, I’m working with raw fleeces that I wash, card (perhaps) and spin – I don’t go through the thorough blending process that you’re describing. The alpaca crown also has markedly more lustre than the rest of the hat. The good news is that I love flecks of colour and variegation!

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  2. Wow! What a gorgeous and special project! I love that you’ve made the hat literally from the scratch! This pile of alpaca fleece looks like a soft cloud – I would jump right into it and never get up 🙂


    1. The alpaca is indeed just gorgeous to handle, Alina – you’re right, like a soft cloud! but just a little bit less gorgeous to spin! Despite that, I’m so pleased with the finished result that it’s definitely top of my spinning list for summer spinning.

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  3. Oh that is a really lovely result! The green is particularly flattering. I too like to work with wise print companions. Alpaca is a challenge. The most i have done is hat also. I admire folks who spin nothing else!


    1. Oh, thank you! I definitely wouldn’t want to only spin alpaca, Rebecca – but as I said to Alina above, I am really keen to return to the alpaca spinning because I am so very pleased with the result. The green is gorgeous indeed – so pleased with my dyeing. All a bit of luck, so nice when things work out OK 🙂


  4. I love the hat and the colour and can imagine how difficult the spinning must have been. I’ve come to your website through Instagram and now that I’ve read down this far I feel I should comment. You asked whether the eucalyptus flowers have any smell which I couldn’t answer , but I used to do a lot of wool dyeing with the leaves and I remember so well the beautiful clean eucalyptus smell right through the house! I’m going to enjoy your website!


    1. Thank you, Elizabeth. I particularly love eucalyptus trees – my father was born in Melbourne (though he spent all his adult life in the UK), and always planted an eucalyptus tree (Eucalyptus Gunnii, I think) in his gardens. They would grow tall and willowy, and then often die because at that size they were vulnerable to our winter storms and icy weather. Wish I could grow one here, but our coastal blasts on the north Northumberland coast would probably put paid to that idea immediately 😦 I also love the smell of their leaves – have never dyed with them – I wonder what colours you got? So pleased you like my website 🙂 I love to see your Australian pics – so fascinated by your plants and the wildlife there.


      1. I got colours from eucalyptus leaves varying from pale yellow, greeny yellows, through to deep golden yellows and almost green. It was a long time ago and I’m not sure whether I used a mordant. But if I had it would have been just alum. There is one eucalyptus, known as the silver dollar gum because its leaves are quite round, that gives the most beautiful rusty red without a mordant. Its botanical name is Eucalyptus polyanthemus. India Flint is an Australian artist who has a fascinating website – with a large section on dyeing with leaves. It’s sad that your father lost so many of his trees.


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