At Toft we purchase alpaca fleeces from owners and breeders of alpacas around the UK. Before any alpaca fleeces are sent to the mills we painstakingly sort each animal's fleece individually into different grades dependent on their quality which can vary dramatically dependent on a number of factors. The fleeces are also grouped into colours to enable us to create the dozen distinctive natural colour blends we retail. As we do not use dyes or bleach when processing our yarns, the range is named as follows:
SEE COLOUR CHART
CREAM: a rich natural white from unbleached alpaca fleeces
OATMEAL: a peachy soft yarn from the 'light fawn' alpacas
STONE: a gorgeous warm light grey from mixed fleeces of white, black and fawn alpacas
CAMEL: a warm cookie dough colour from the 'fawn' alpacas
FUDGE: a rich ginger true colour from the 'dark fawn' alpacas
CHESTNUT: a stunning polished red brown from only the richest 'medium brown' alpacas
MUSHROOM: an intriguing and flattering shade of brown mixed from white, black and brown alpacas
SILVER: a soft and sophisticated light grey from mixed fleeces of black and white alpacas
STEEL: a bold defined mid grey with almost blue undertones
CHARCOAL: a deep grey softer alternative to true black often a blend of black fleeces with white
In addition to these colours we do every now and again create other colours due to natural occurances such as a year of high sunshine hours (turn all black fleeces dark brown). This makes colour blends such as SILVER grey very hard to produce, and in such a year STONE will prevail. All of our blends are subject to availability and it is unusual to have all weights in all colours in stock- if you see the yarn you want then get it then to avoid disappointment.
At Toft our fibre is spun locally to produce our Lace, Fine, Double Knit, Aran and Chunky weight knitting yarns through a mid-size mill spinning in a woollen process. The Lace, Fine and Double knit yarns, are from the finest of the best and youngest animals fleeces that we sort and are all graded as BABY ALPACA. This is alpaca at its softest and finest, is only available in limited quantities and is the most difficult to spin- thus it commands a high premium deserved of the quality. Our Aran alpaca yarn is from the fleeces of young adult alpacas and our Chunky is from fleeces of young to standard adults. Although the animals producing the fleeces that contribute to these yarns are a few years older than BABY, we guarantee these fleeces are still of a high quality and the yarn is still very soft, especially with washing and wear.
We made the decision several years ago to keep all of our yarns 100% natural in colour, making the most of the rich creams, deep browns and soft fawns clearly visible in our fields. When buying our knitting yarns you can be certain that the yarn has not been dyed, and thus has undergone as little artificial and chemical processing as possible. Occasionally we will use small batches of colour by hand dying yarn or fleece on-farm. We have in the past experimented with the full range of dyes, from natural onion skins and blueberries to the vibrant reds and blue achieved by acid dyes. 'Natural' versus 'Chemical' dying is very much a contentious issue as the process to achieve guaranteed colour fastness very often has to involve chemical fixing. The all in one acid dyes that we now occasionally use are fully absorbed into the fibre, leaving the discarded water entering the system pure and chemical free. Alpaca absorbs dye readily and as it is a lustrous fibre it reflects the light off the dyed fabric, thus producing very vibrant colours. If you would like to experiment with dyeing alpaca yarn come on one of our workshops.
We now have a team of handknitters working within Warwickshire, Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire, who all love knitting with our wonderful natural yarns. Well sorted and spun alpaca is wonderful to work with, producing perfectly even finishing on both patterned and plain knits. In our opinion alpaca garments should use simplicity to allow the 'alpaca' to be shown at its best. Our best designs emphasise the uniqueness of this exclusive luxury fibre over the 'ethnic' origins of the animal. We have been breeding alpacas in the UK for around 15 years at Toft Alpacas, and our animals and designs are thoroughly British. Most of our range is knitted, as alpaca is very suited to handknitting when spun using the woollen process. Alpaca is a natural fibre and consequently must be gently handwashed in tepid water. After draining the majority of water from the fabric garments and accessories should be slowly dried flat in a cool place. Have patience with drying the item as forcing rapid drying of alpaca will dry the fibres and affect the soft handle of the fabric. If alpaca is well cared for it is renowned for its longevity in wardrobes, and many a person speaks fondly of garments inherited from parents.
See ABOUT ALPACA
In the past we have sold woven scarves, shawls and blankets which were outsourced to craftsmen and women in the UK- very often to those cities and regions traditionally associated with British textiles. We have manufactured blankets woven at 'Melin-Teifi' national woollen mill in West Wales in small batches of different sizes. Halifax was home to the creator of some fine alpaca and silk woven scarves and shawls that we sold several years ago, they were then handfinished and pressed in Huddersfield. We also used to have a few hand-weavers producing the occasional one-off exclusive pieces. Within Lincolnshire and West Sussex handspinners can still be found pouring hours of time and skill into weaving exquisite heirloom pieces admired by all. We do not currently hold any woven lines. Our yarns are suitable for weaving. If you would like more information then please don’t hesitate to CONTACT US.
Felting with alpaca is something we have been doing at Toft for a few years now, it creates exciting, different textures and new design possibilities for our range, and we now using three different felting processes to produce our handbag and homewear range.
KNITTED FELT: Knitting and then felting the fabric is used in the making of our BULB BAGS and is achieved by loosely knitting with our yarn and then washing it in the machine to solidify and shrink the fibres together and create a strong fabric. As a result of this felting process the Bulb Bags hold their shape with years of wear. Bulb Bags are strong and water resistant and they can be cool washed again once felted. This process totally changes the nature of the knitted product and often gives a 'fluffy' finish which we smooth down by gently shaving the excess off.
WET FELTING: The second process is wet felting, arguably the most labour intensive of the three processes. Carded fibres are arranged horizontally and then vertically across each other and then compacted and agitated with water and detergent to produce a solid fabric around a mould or resist. This is a fantastic activity to do with children and can produce great 3D results.
NEEDLE FELTING: This third type of felt processing involves repeatedly stabbing the fibre with needles to sculpt them into a solid structure. It can be also used to create brilliantly intricate designs onto flat fabrics. Currently we use needle felting for decorating our Toft Christmas Baubles and we also teach it as a technique within our felt workshops.
FIBRE WORKSHOPS After years of working with alpaca we are able to offer alpaca fleece and fibre workshops ranging from our Field to Fashion workshops and various felting and knitting workshops, all of which run throughout the year. Just check our workshop pages and book your place for a wonderfully crafty day out at Toft! See WORKSHOP DIARY
EXPERIMENTING? If you are using alpaca in an unusual way then please let us know and we will feature it in the news on our Facebook, Twitter and Ravelry pages. Looking for experience? If you would like to intern with Toft whether for a couple of days or a long stretch please CONTACT US.