Alpaca fibre is sourced from a primarily South American mammal, which is similar to a Llama. As they are smaller than a Llama, they were bred specifically for their fibre and not to be working animals. There are 2 main breeds of alpaca, Suri and Huacaya as well as some wild relatives including the Vicuna (which is the world’s most expensive fibre).
Huacaya is similar to sheep wool in that it is a dense, soft and crimpy. It is also naturally water repellent, warmer, has a smoother scale and has no lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic. Most of the fleeces made into yarn is Huacaya.
Suri behaves more like a silk and is more suited to weaving into cloth. These animals make up approx. 10% of the alpaca population and is thought to be rarer, but that could be because the yarn was only used for royalty which is possibly the reason that Alpaca is known as the “The Fibre of the Gods”.
Alpacas are shorn on an annual basis in the spring. As the fleeces are weighed and graded this allows the farmers to breed with animals with heavier and finer fleeces. There are 16 main solid colours of Alpaca, which numerous different shades in between and that’s before a yarn dyer is let loose.
As Alpaca yarn is so soft and contains no lanolin, it is fantastic for hats and scarves for the winter season.
As Alpacas are such a hardy animal, they can now be found in the United States, New Zealand, Australia and also the UK. If you are lucky you may have an Alpaca farm near you and many offer Alpaca trekking (which I would love to do). You may be able source UK based Alpaca yarn. The British Alpaca Society has some fantastic and more in depth information. www.bas-uk.com
There are numerous bind off techniques each suited to different projects and it can make or break a project. Anyone else knitted a pair of toe up socks and can’t get them on as the cuff was too tight? Just me then!
Cast on Bind off by Leslie Ann Bestor is an amazing book which has over 20 different methods of completing your knitted work and is a great addition to any knitter’s library. I have go to favourites which I will be focusing, but one of my challenges is to incorporate some new bind offs into my projects and designs.
When I first started knitting as a young child I started with the standard bind off which is a nice simple process and gives a neat edge. It works well with different stitches, including ribs, but it can result in a tight edge if you do not cast off loosely enough. Going up a needle size normally resolves the problem (remember you only need to change the working needle).
It is essential that a stretchy bind off is used for garments that need a bit of give, whether socks, gloves or sweater edges. My go to method is Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Bind off. It’s easy to do and gives a lovely finish.
Even though this is a very elastic edge, it doesn’t lose its shape and can be used with any stitch pattern and works well when knitting in the round.
Any fan of Stephen West designs will be familiar with an I-Cord bind off. This method gives a lovely rolled finished edge which has some stretch and looks great from either side, so works well on a shawl where you can see both sides.
The downside is that it is time consuming and does use a considerable amount of yarn, but it’s definitely worth using where there would be more ‘wear’ such as neck lines and the top of pockets or just to give a garment a finished look.
Perfect for top down socks the Kitchener stitch is ideal for finishing off the toes of a sock so that there is no seam by creating an extra row of stitches. You will need a tapestry needle for this one and I must admit I have to refer to video to get started, especially if I haven’t used this method for a while.
I’m always looking for projects with different techniques so that I can expand my knowledge and also utilise for my own project design. There are so many methods that I wasn’t sure where to start. There does seem to be more cast on techniques than bind off so to mix and match the two the possibilities are endless.
Turkish Cast on
The Turkish Cast on is my go to method for toe up socks, thinking about it I’m not sure that it should be classified as a cast on, but it is a simple method to get started. It’s just wrapping yarn around needles. This also means that there isn’t a seam at the toe. It can be a bit fiddly when you come to knit the first row if you haven’t tried this method, but it is very easy to master.
Long Tail Thumb Cast On
This is a fantastic stretchy, quick and robust cast on method. Long Tail Cast on uses a lot of yarn so the hard part is figuring out how much yarn to allow from the ball. I have eventually worked out that if I use 1 inch per stitch I won’t run out of yarn while casting on. However it’s always worth casting on 10 stitches, use stitch markers to mark the ends, unravel it and take measurements so that you can scale up on the number of stitches that you require for your project.
A fun decorative edge is a picot cast on, which is perfect for the edges of shawls or the top of socks, or glove cuffs. Looking like mini bobbles, this cast on is stretchy as well as decorative.
Double Pointed Needles are normally a set of 5 needles approx. 15 -20 cm in length and the 8 – 10 points of the needles may be daunting to new users, but these are perfect for small circumference knitting such as for socks and gloves.
If you use interchangeable circular needles you will know that it is sometimes difficult to find the smaller needles required for knitting socks and these are the circumstances where DPNs come into their own. If you only have a handful of stitches to work, e.g. a thumb, DPNs are a lot easier to use and to keep the tension correct.
The other thing to take into consideration is the material that the DPNs are made from. If you are working with a slippery yarn such as silk using bamboo or wood needles may help minimise dropped stitches. If you are using wool based yarn, or are a tight knitter, metal needles may help stop the stitches sticking on the needle.
In conclusion, it is important to match the type and length of needles to the project that you are making. There are so many choices out there and if you need any help, please ask.
A stitch that is longer than its surrounding stitches. Whether that is via a yarn over between stitches or a number of wraps that are dropped in the following row, these stitches give a lacy finish without too much complicated abbreviations to master. These patterns also tend to work up really quickly.
These stitches work well with hand dyed yarns, showing off the nuances of colours.
One of the easiest and very effective patterns is shown below.
SEAFOAM PATTERN – MULTIPLEs OF 10 PLUS 6
k – knit
sts – stitches
yo – yarn over
Row 1 and 2: knit.
Row 3 (RS): k6, *(yo) twice, k1, (yo) 3 times, k1, (yo) 4 times, k1, (yo) 3 times, k1, (yo) twice, k6: rep from * to end of row.
Row 4: knit across, dropping all yo’s off needle.
Rows 5 and 6: knit.
Row 7: k1, *(yo) twice, k1, (yo) 3 times, k1, (yo) 4 times, k1, (yo) 3 times, k1, (yo) 2 times, k6; rep from * to last 5sts, (yo) twice, k1, (yo) 3 times, k1, (yo) 4 times, k1, (yo) 3 times, k1, (yo) 2 times, k1.
Row 8: rep Row 4.
Repeat these 8 rows for pattern.
Another example is the Stormy Sky Shawl by Life is Cozy. Check out the example in the Gallery here. The elongated stitches both the yarn over stripe and the dropped stitch stripe in this shawl make for a quick and interesting knit and once blocked, showcase both the pattern and the yarn.