Known for over six thousand years as the 'Fibre of the Gods' alpaca wool is a warm, soft, light-weight and lustrous fibre celebrated for its hypoallergenic qualities and myriad of natural colours. Today alpaca fibre is produced throughout the world, with large national herds in the UK, Australia and the United States. Alpaca's versatility, wide natural colour range and inherent softness make it a very exclusive and much sought after natural material which deservedly holds a unique place on the catwalks of the world stage.
Here in the UK there are now upwards of 30,000 fleece growing alpacas spread out over farms and smallholdings from the tip of Scotland right down to Cornwall. Each year these animals are all sheared, leaving many individuals with a difficult decision about what to do with the alpaca fleece. At Toft we now buy alpaca fleece from breeders across the UK and manufacture the fibre into alpaca wool yarns and knitwear.
HAND SPINNING ALPACA
Alpaca fleece is wonderful to hand spin and it does not need to be washed before spinning. Most hand spinners, when spinning alpaca, do their carding, spinning and plying first and then wash the finished skein of yarn in tepid water. The only real preparation that needs to be done is to shake as much dry dust out as possible and remove any stray pieces of foliage before carding. When buying alpaca fleece from alpaca owners the fleece should be free of foliage. Unfortunately finer alpaca fleeces tend to attract vegetation and so sometimes a bit of contamination is unavoidable. It is advisable to hand pick these bits out before spinning. Toft sells both raw baby alpaca fleece for spinning and carded alpaca fleece that can also be hand spun or felted.
Alpaca can be characterised as:
Luxurious - Soft and Silky to the touch, with no 'itch factor'
Lightweight- Hollow core to the fibre means alpaca is light to wear Warm- Hollow core makes alpaca a fantastic insulator
Durable - less inclined to 'pill' due to long staple length
Washable - alpaca can be handwashed and then dried flat
Colourful- natural alpaca comes a wide range natural colours from cream through to black, but if brighter colours are required it also absorbs dye incredibly well to give radiant colours.
When washing your completed hand spun yarn, please remember that alpaca is a natural fibre that does felt if wet, hot and agitated. Ensure that you fill the sink with tepid water and a mild detergent and allow the yarn to soak for 10 minutes without moving it. Dry the yarn slowly and naturally. Placing alpaca above a radiator or boiler will force dry the fibre and can lead to a change in the handle- drying the fibres out too much resulting in a brittle touch.
KNITTING WITH ALPACA YARN
If you're a newbie to knitting alpaca, and desperate to get some alpaca 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 LACE (2 ply), FINE (3-4 ply), DOUBLE KNIT, ARAN and CHUNKY weight knitting yarns all in 100% British alpaca wool, all of which vary in nature and texture. Be careful to choose a yarn weight appropriate to the project you're knitting.
Obviously your only limitation is your creative ability. If you have plenty of time and skill lace garments, babywear and shawls are amazing and really suit the nature of the yarn. We have seen some amazing knitwear produced by knitters purchasing our alpaca yarn who have used it in ways that we don't. We've seen stunning very intricate traditional aran weight sweaters - amazing pieces of work in a yarn worthy of the hours of time put into the piece.
Toft specialises in designing knitting patterns and knitting kits for beginner knitters. We produce lots of easy chunky knitting patterns where you can teach yourself to knit using our knitting HELP VIDEOS. Learning to knit is very fashionable again and no longer the pastime of the retired. Our chunky knitting patterns mean you can achieve catwalk looks and you only have to spend a couple of evenings on the sofa!
We have tried to cover the basics of knitting and knitting help videos to accompany any of the more unusual stitches used in our patterns. Toft runs an extensive range of KNITTING WORKSHOPS in the Midlands, UK.
Crocheting with alpaca yarn has great results whether are using lace or chunky. Create delicate items with intricate stitches using lace or fine yarn such Solomans Knot, but likewise using chunky yarn with a huge hook will create sculptural pieces with just a double crochet stitch. Newbies learning to crochet might like to use a medium hook and DK yarn for starter projects. Introduction to crochet workshops run throughout the year at Toft and once you’ve mastered the basics why not come back for a master class when you’ll tackle more difficult stitches and interesting techniques.
All of our alpaca yarns are 100% natural and are undyed and unbleached. One of the greatest features of 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 they all come off the same breed of animal, the texture and handle of the different colours can sometimes vary greatly. The cream, oatmeal and silver alpaca yarns are usually the softest due to far more years of selective breeding in South America. However, there are exceptions to this, and at Toft Alpaca Stud we specialise in breeding top quality brown animals (check out our credentials in the BAS National Show Ring). Our lace, fine and double knit yarns are all spun from baby alpaca and are guaranteed to be incredibly soft and slippy. Our aran and chunky yarns only contain the softest fleeces of quality young adult alpacas as all fleeces are ruthlessly graded by hand at Toft 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 change to a smaller needle size than recommended for the weight of yarn. If you are aware that you generally are quite a loose knitter then we would advise doing so. However, 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 uniformed a way as mass produced and computer-spun acrylic. Toft patterns now all state the tension that project is worked to at the top. To ensure professional results with your knitting please check this before casting on. You will find that each ball of Toft yarn has a ‘recommended needle size’. This is not a hard and fast rule as different projects demand a different handle and feel to the knitted fabric. Please follow the needle size written on the pattern- not the ball of yarn. This acts as a guideline to anyone composing their own patterns in Toft yarn.
Our oversized buttons and toggles are made here in the UK too! We have a small team of trusty wood turners who source reclaimed woods to be made into our statement buttons and toggles. Each toggle, button and now bangle has the name of the wood written on the reverse.
Natural material needles such as bamboo, birch, rosewood etc, 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'.
We now stock ‘Knit-Pro’ circular knitting needles. Our team of avid knitters and designers have all converted to using Knit Pro interchangeable needles so we thought it was time we converted you too. These fantastic sets allow you have access to nearly every size of needle you will ever need- so no more waiting to get the needles for a project as you can cast on straight away. Although many of the Toft designs are worked in the round some are not, but you can just use your circular needles to knit everything on by turning your work round as you would normally do at the end of the row.
When knitting with a natural fibre it is important to handwash your knitting after you have finished knitting or crocheting. We would recommend using a delicate/natural detergent, something as easy to get hold of as Woolite or Ecover Delicate (which can be bought at all supermarkets) will work just 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 your knitted items flat to avoid any misshaping. We would also recommend allowing your items to dry slowly- don't attempt to speed dry on top of a radiator, AGA or boiler. The handle of alpaca alters when it is dried out too fast- it almost goes brittle to touch.