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) …Of course, Poe had to inspect it first …Now to consult the experts …Writers 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.However, 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.Easy peasy – in no time at all, it was finished. The alpaca knit up like a dream. It’s softly fluffy as opposed to lustrous, but you can still clearly see the wonderful pattern. Thing 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 …Frances 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!And 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 all.Curiously, 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 it.And luckily, the weather is still cold enough to go off for a brisk seaside walk well wrapped up and sporting my new alpaca beanie!(The camera and light are playing colour tricks – the outside photo is closest to the actual colour.)