I love this combo of Zephyrette skeins. Our Zephyrette is a blend of baby alpaca, silk and cashmere and is heavenly to knit with. This Strisce pattern is really car or TV knitting. It is mostly a garter stitch shawl with some lace at the bottom edge. It is an asymmetrical triangle shawl and can be worn is a variety of ways. This kit comes with the pattern and 4 skeins of yarn, all you need to do is add needles. You can get the kit here.
Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again,
this time more intelligently.
It was brought to my attention that one of our patterns had a couple of flaws in it. Thanks Anja! That pattern has been out in the world for a couple of years. I wonder why I’m only hearing about it now. I hope people have it in the knitting queue, rather than in their trash heap. I’m so glad that I was able to find out about the error and fix it.
I left out a stitch in 2 rows. An incorrect number of stitches is a fatal error. The cowl would get smaller and smaller. Not a great design for a cowl, right? Now it has been fixed. And it is ready to be released out into the world.
Click here for revised pattern for Rivulet Cowl. Yes, even if you don’t already own that pattern, you can click too and get a fun cowl pattern to knit. Think of it as a great Valentine’s gift!
Click here to buy Zephyrette, our exclusive luscious blend of alpaca, silk and cashmere, for this pattern.
How do I get alpaca fiber? Alpaca is available as a commercial top for spinning or you can go to your local alpaca farm and buy fleeces. Fleeces are sheared from the animals once a year. They are usually graded at the time of shearing into 3 to 7 grades. The prized fleece is called the “blanket”. This is the fleece that is on the body of the animal. In the best animals, this blanket fleece is even with very little medulated fiber. The seconds and even the thirds come from the neck, legs and bellies of the animal. This fleece has more medulated* fiber and it is also of more variable lengths. This fiber can be harder to spin, but it can be blended with wool to make a lovely, more elastic yarn. Be sure to ask the fiber farmer about their grading practices and know what you are getting. If you are buying at a festival fleece sale, you cannot usually lay out the fleeces to look at it. In that case, put your hand in a different parts of the fleece and feel. You can take a small pinch of the fleece to see what the staple length is. Do this sparingly, no one wants a fleece that is all torn apart. There is an etiquette to this at a fiber show. You can ask the fleece show volunteers to help you determine a good fleece if you are new to alpaca fleece buying.
How do you clean and prepare an alpaca fleece? Alpaca does not have any lanolin or grease in their fleeces. But the animals do like to give themselves dust baths. So there is dirt and dust in the fleeces, generally. You can wash the fiber before or after you make it into yarn. I would test a small amount of the fleece to find out the level of dirt. If it is very dirty, then wash it before you spin it. If it isn’t very dirty, then you can spin it first and then wash the yarn. Care must be taken to wash the fleece carefully so that you don’t felt or just knot up the fleece. Fill a basin with moderately hot water (180 degrees) with some mild detergent like Orvis paste or Synthropol. Leave undisturbed for about 45 minutes to an hour in a place that will keep the fiber relatively warm. Gently lift the fleece out of the water and dispose of the dirty water. Refill the basin with warm water for a rinse. Leave again for 30-45 minutes. Lift out. Look at the water, is it dirty? Feel the fleece does it feel soapy? If yes to one or both of these questions, then repeat the rinsing step until the fleece is clean and does not feel soapy. Depending on the amount of the fleece you are washing, you can spin out the water in a washing machine or a salad spinner. Leave to dry. When it is dry you can prepare the fleece for spinning. For Huacaya you can card the fiber into rolags or batts and then spin. For suri, you may need to flick the locks to open the fibers. Then you can card the fiber or you can comb the fiber to prepare it.
How do you design a yarn to take advantage of the best characteristics of alpaca while minimizing it’s foibles? As I wrote in a previous post here, alpaca fiber is very warm and insulating. This is because of the way that it is formed in the folicles. The medulla or inner portion of the fiber has small air sacs. Judith Mackenzie in her book, The Intentional Spinner, says these are a little like bubble wrap. The sacs hold in the warmth of the wearer. This hollowness contributes to its tendency to static electricity and clinginess of the fiber. Alpaca itself is also more slippery than wool is, so you will need to adjust your tension on you wheel to achieve a good twist and take-up. When spinning the fiber, you need to add more twist than when using wool to make the same yarn. But you also need to take care that the yarn is not overspun and therefore stiff and dense. Yarn made from Huacaya will bloom when you wash it and it will give you a halo effect. Most of the alpaca top or roving that you will find commercially are made from Huacaya, since it is more prevalent than Suri. Suri fiber has no crimp and no elasticity. It does have great sheen though and you can find fleeces from local alpaca farms to use for yarn. Suri is much more difficult to spin according to Deb Robson in her book The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook. Yarn spun from Suri may look even and balanced while you are spinning it. However when it hits water, any imperfections will become evident. This is because it tends to resist being adequately spun. When this yarn is knit or woven you will see the imperfections and you may see some curling. You will need to practice with this fiber to get the results that you want in your final fabric.
Flying Goat Farm Superfine Alpaca top is made in Peru from 100% Huacaya. It has a micron range of 24-26 microns . I hand dye the top to make colors that will inspire and thrill you. You can see some of them here.
*Medulated fibers are ones that are a little more coarse. They tend to not take dye well and can feel prickly.
photo of handspun
What about alpaca yarn?
Remember I said it was really warm. When you consider making a garment with alpaca, consider the warmth requirements of the wearer. Don’t make a sweater for someone with hot flashes, just sayin’. But that same lovely person, may have cold feet, perhaps a nice pair of alpaca socks would be a better choice.
Alpaca yarn, when knitted, produces a drapey, dense, relaxed fabric. This is amazing with the right garment, but this characteristic can be challenging as well. Drapey and relaxed fabric can also stretch out of shape and a dense fabric can be too warm or too heavy.
What kind of stitches work with 100% alpaca yarn? In stockinette, it will show off any variability in your knitting. So if you are not a consistent knitter (I can be very inconsistent), you should consider paring this yarn up with textured stitches like moss or seed stitch. Because the fiber tends to be very heavy and dense, a pattern with cables is going to be too heavy and the garment may pull out of shape from the shear weight of itself. A lace pattern might be a better choice. Still because alpaca is not elastic and is not resilient, a garment made with 100% alpaca should have enough stitch structure to hold the fiber in shape. You are probably saying to yourself, I’ve seen lovely alpaca sweaters. Yes it can be done. You just might want to consider a yarn that is a blend of alpaca and loftier, more elastic wool. A blend like that will allow you to make your cables and reduce the density of the sweater in the end. And an alpaca wool blend yarn can help your lace stay in it’s original size and shape.
Finally washing, when you wash an alpaca garment, take care not to pull it out of shape. Support the weight of the wet garment, so that it doesn’t stretch. And block carefully. The fiber itself won’t spring back like wool will.
Flying Goat Farm has a 100% alpaca yarn called Nimbus. It is 2-ply, sport weight yarn. We sell skeins of 200 yards. It is made with superfine alpaca fiber grown and milled in Peru. This yarn is next to the skin soft. It has a slight halo to the yarn. It is perfect for a cowl, shawl or scarf yet strong enough for hand warmers, socks or a hat. It would look great as a luxurious shawl to wear to the symphony. It is light weight enough to provide just enough warmth on a chilly spring or summer evening outing. It is perfect for a complicated lace pattern, yet will look fabulous in a seed stitch cowl that you can wear on the ski slope. It is soft enough for a newborn baby sweater too.
Just one look in those eyes with their long, long lashes and everyone falls in love with an alpaca. Of course that is right before they spit on you. I have been smitten as well. I do not personally own any alpacas. They have been offered to me, and I have just always said no. Why? I love the fiber. I love the animals. Because it is just the two of us, I didn’t want to add another species that would require a different knowledge base and time schedule to care for.
Alpaca descended from Vicunas that were domesticated by the Inca in ancient Peru. The largest flocks and alpaca fiber mills continue to be in Peru. In the early 80’s, some Americans started to bring alpaca into the states. They became a rage and the value of the animals went sky high, some even attaining the price in the tens of thousands for a single animal. Not all alpaca owners had the knowledge base to work with the fiber in the states. So much of it is being sent back to Peru for processing. In the last few years, some alpaca owners have started their own fiber mills to make yarn from alpaca here in the states.
There are 2 different types of alpaca. The Huacaya (wa-ki-ah) which is the most numerous has a fine crimpy fiber that is 4-6 inches long. The fiber can be extremely fine or not. It can be highly crimped or not. The crimp is not the same as the crimp of wool. It doesn’t provide memory or the ability to “spring back” into shape. The crimp of alpaca probably does contribute to the overall feeling of softness. The other alpaca type is the Suri, which grows really long straight, silky fiber. It looks a little bit like Cousin It. But there isn’t yet a lot of yarn or spinning fiber yet available commercially made from the Suri, it is a boutique item. The fiber is reallly too long to be put through a mill. So it needs to be cut into shorter bits, like silk does.
Huacaya fiber is very strong. It can be very fine as well (18-26 microns). It is a hollow fiber. This hollowness gives it the property of being lightweight but very insulating. The fiber pulls heat from you giving the impression that it is cool when you touch it. Although it is cool to the touch, alpaca is many times warmer than wool. Like wool, it is water loving and will absorb water and wick it away from your body. There are several grades of alpaca. The saddle area is the prime fleece of an animal. The leg and neck fleece is considered 2nd or 3rds, because it has more diverse staple length and crimp. The fleeces do not have luster, they have a more matte finish. The fleece comes in 22 different colors from bright white to cinnamon brown and deep, dark black and many different patterns, such as belted and spotted. There is no lanolin on this animal. They do like to take dust baths, though. So you need to wash out the dirt from your fleeces. The fiber itself is very smooth with a low number of scales. It does not felt readily, but will felt with extra agitation.
With all these properties, spinners of alpaca can counteract the lack of elasticity by spinning it in a worsted way. That will give your resulting fabric more structure and less stretching out of shape. You may want to spin it in a woolen manner. That yarn will be extra insulating and soft. The resulting fabric will show less stitch definition. Pick a stitch that has more structure if you don’t want your knitting to stretch.
Flying Goat Farm carries superfine alpaca roving to spin or felt. The fiber is an average of 26 microns and will make next-to-the-skin soft yarn. Each 4ounce portion is $15 plus applicable taxes and shipping. Click here to see some of our colorways.
Tune in next week to learn about alpaca yarn and how to use it. Do you have alpaca questions? Leave a comment or contact me firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll answer it next week.
After reading all the previous wool posts, I hope I’ve convinced you that wool is a great all purpose fiber that can be used for all kinds of finished products from hearty rugs to lacy, delicate shawls. Wool blends are designed to combine all the fantastic characteristics of wool with those of other fibers. Designers combine fibers together to make a yarn that solves a problem or serves a niche.
Wool-Mohair Blends: Mohair adds luster to the more matte finish wool. Wool provides the mohair with memory so that your garment will bounce back to it’s original shape. My Fernham yarn is 75% wool and 25% kid mohair. The mohair adds just a touch of light and softness. Mohair dyes vibrantly and gives the blend rich tones.
Mohair can also add strength. I designed our Perendale (wool) and adult Mohair sock yarn blend. The mohair takes the place of nylon in other sock yarns. The Perendale wool gives the sock structure and spring and memory.
Wool-Cashmere Blends: Cashmere gives that incredible softness to the wool blend. It also provides a lot of warmth without adding a lot of weight to the yarn. Cashmere is almost always a shorter staple length than the wool. So it will add a halo to the yarn. It may also migrate out the the yarn and provide a pill factor.
Wool-Silk Blends: Silk lends incredible luster and strength to the wool fibers. Silk is stronger than steel. And there is an undeniable luxury factor when silk is added to wool. Silk also dyes vibrantly with rich tones.
Wool-Alpaca Blends: There are many alpaca wool yarn blends on the market. Many of them are also “baby alpaca” or cria. Just like any baby animal, cria fleeces are very fine and soft, so yarns made with it are also incredibly soft. Alpaca is also very warm and can be heavy. Wool in the blend provides the structure and memory to the yarn, so the yarns will bounce back into shape and not keep “growing”. Alpaca dyes in softer saturation than either silk or mohair.
Wool-Angora Blends: I am just not all that familiar with Angora rabbits and I don’t want to mislead you. I do know that it is incredibly soft and warm. Every angora yarn I’ve seen has almost a brushed appearance. So I wonder if angora is a bit like cashmere, in that, it will migrate out of the yarn and shed. In these blends, wool is definitely adding the structure and stability to the yarn. If you, dear reader, have more info about this add it to a comment and share your knowledge.
I am asked all the time about making yarn from the fleeces of our animals. It all begins with the animals. A fiber farmer chooses what animals they will raise. Some are looking purely at fleeces, others research the general health or thriftiness of the breed itself. You can read about my choice of breeds: Blue Faced Leicester, Cormo and Angora Goats here.
Growth and maintenance of fleeces is a year round task. Many fiber farmers cover their sheep year-round to minimize the dirt and hay that can end up in fleeces. Some long wool breeds and angora goats don’t tolerate the covers as the fleeces felt under the covers. Covers themselves can be tricky when the animals are in between sizes, like my yearlings are right now. The covers are either too small and restrictive or too loose so they fall off. So we need to also look at how we feed hay so that the sheep and goats don’t pull hay on top of themselves.
Shearing can be done once or twice a year. It is important to shear carefully so that their aren’t second cuts. These are small usually less than 1/2 inch staple length pieces that result from the shearer making a second pass on the fleece. I am so lucky to have the services of an excellent professional shearer, Emily Chamelin. She shears quickly so the animals are not traumatized and with very few second cuts.
photo by Kelsey
After shearing, we need to skirt the fleece. This means that the nasty and really dirty bits are removed from the prime fleece. At this point, I make the decision about the fate of each fleece. Is it clean enough to be sold to a handspinner? Is the character of the fleece consistent throughout the fleece? If so that fleece can be set aside for our prime yarn. Or are there neck and leg parts that are not the same quality? If this is the case, I take off those pieces and collect them from all the fleeces to be made into a different kind of yarn or roving.
When I have a sufficient quantity of prime Cormo or Blue Faced Leicester, I can then make my design decisions about the yarn. What weight? Blended with what? What kind of ply? Which mill to use for which processes? Collaborate with another fiber farmer to increase the quantity?
I choose to use a mill because I have limited time available to do the rest of the processing myself. The mill will wash, pick, card, comb, spin, ply and skein the yarn for me. Each process adds a cost to the end product. Whether it is the machinery, the operator or both, I have found that each mill has adds character to the yarn as well. My understanding of what the mill adds is part of my yarn design process. One spins and plies more tightly, another has a looser ply resulting in a less structured yarn.
My newest custom farm yarn is Cirrus. It is a 3 ply Fingering weight blend of wool and alpaca all locally grown and custom mill spun. Each skein is 600 yards. The wool and alpaca are fine with a lot of crimp. The alpaca does not take the dye to the same saturation as wool, so there is a heathery or tweedy appearance. There is enough yarn in each skein to make a beautiful shawl that will be soft, warm and lightweight. To buy this yarn now, click on the photo and you will find it in our webstore.
So next time you look at a yarn from a fiber farm, you will understand all the individual tasks and decisions made by that shepherd: breed, feed, shearing, skirting, processing all goes into making that yarn that you will use to make a beautifully crafted item that will be cherished for years to come.
Here are some great gifts that I would love to have.
1. Muck or Bogs boots–These are not only necessary when it is rainy, muddy and snowy, but you will be in STYLE while farming!!
2. Hand knit hat– If you don’t knit, then ask a friend to make one for you. This one is made from my Puck’s Choice yarn which is naturally charcoal yarn made from Puck’s fleece (border leicester), Stripes (Angora Goat) and a black alpaca fleece from VA. Each skein has 200 yards, enough for a hat. We sell it for $22 per skein.
3. Carthart overalls and jacket– This is absolutely necessary in the winter. These are so thick that you stay warm and dry in the worst weather.
4. Handwarmer packs– Cold hands make working outside really hard. And there is always outside work to do in the winter.
5. Premier feeder–I really need a bunch of these so that I stop getting “in the way” when feeding really hungry sheep and goats. Premier1 sells plans for these.
6. Rocky coats–These coats are durable and colorful. Rocky makes coats in a number of sizes that just fit sheep better. Our Cormos are covered year round so that we have the whitest, cleanest fleeces. See Demi in the back? She is sporting a wonder Rocky Sheep Cover.
7. Field Guide to Fiber–This is a small field guide that you can use when you are dreaming about your future flock. There is great information about so many breeds, their history, fiber types and great pictures.
8. Heated water buckets–an absolute must have in the winter here in the East. This is about the limit of what I can carry.
9. Lambing Supply Bucket–This is a great starter kit for your first lambing or kidding season. It is available from Sheepmen Supply here in Frederick, MD but they do ship all over the country.
10. Animal Care Class at FGF–We do offer sheep and goat care classes here at the farm. Our next session is January 25th in the afternoon. If you take some time to learn, you will be prepared to have your own flock.
Wishing you a fantastic holiday season from all of us at Flying Goat Farm!