Baby alpaca
Monday August 29th 2011, 11:19 pm
Filed under: History,Knit

Triggered by Stephanie’s very kind post, this is how my baby alpaca fixation got started. (With a half-a-pie photo for Don that I took this morning.)

Years ago, a shop owner showed me some very soft yarn new to her stock that she was quite excited about.

“Baby alpaca” as one of the fiber components was something I had never heard of, but I definitely liked it: all the scratchiness and guard hairs I associated with the word alpaca, gone.

It was about time someone did this. I’d always wondered why there were alpaca rugs that were just the softest fur you could hope to snuggle your toes into, but somehow alpaca yarns and sweaters, alpaca for wearing, were always a weird combination of soft and ick, keep that away from me!

I later read an article by a man who helped change the market. He had flown to Peru to try to convince the local mill owners  that paying alpaca farmers by the pound was resulting in the worst quality fiber going to market, because coarser hairs weighed more, while (he didn’t quite put it this way) the softer-haired animals were being Darwin-ed out by being turned into rugs.

First World knitters would pay a premium to be able to have those softer fibers to work with.

Many didn’t believe him. One mill finally took the leap and gave the idea a chance and did so well that others followed their lead, and in the end, one man and the people who listened to him changed the fiber world.

I must have found some of the very earliest out there. I looked for more over the next year or two and didn’t find it. The one had been a baby alpaca/angora/merino blend; was it possible to find pure baby alpaca? And if I did, how would the fabric I made with it behave?

The younger knitters may not remember when we had a list of web searchers to choose from and had to guess which one would be best at answering a particular type of question. Ask Jeeves?

Google was still new, but we had switched over to it entirely. It didn’t have a lot of pages out there online to search from yet, but my techie husband was sure this one was going to beat the others out totally, he said they’d done their homework with their algorithm.

“Baby alpaca yarn”. Two results. Hard to imagine now. One was not helpful, but the other: a link to a wholesaler who had imported a lot of cones of the stuff in fingering weight and I guess since nobody had heard of it, nobody bought it, and they were selling it on sale, eventually down to at or near cost and closing down their shop altogether.

I bought, I was quite surprised to count up later, over month after month while they sold it at $20, then $15, and even $8 I think on one of the colors PER POUND, three dozen pounds. It was cheaper than any good wool I could find.

As I bought it while I knew I could get it I was also knitting as fast as my needles could fly. I had found the yarn of my dreams. My four tall (or eventually tall) children all got soft afghans knit triple-stranded, long enough to pull up to their chins and curl around their reclining toes and down to the floor, the way my mother says an afghan should be. I made dozens of shawls.

And the light blue baby alpaca, of which there was much and it was cheap, I overdyed into a number of other colors. There’s a picture in my book of a stack of balls of yarn, the original light blue those others all came from at front and center to encourage others to look at the yarns in the closeout bins in a new way: if it’s soft, if it’s animal or silk fiber, if you love the feel but the color, not so much, you can go play with watercolors and do something about it. You will make it all the more uniquely your own in the process.

I was quite surprised to find, while stash diving last week, that I still had a little of that light blue left after all this time. It grabbed my eyes and my memories. I cast on. I’m 2/3 of the way through a lace stole.

I had long forgotten I had gifted Stephanie with some.

7 Comments so far
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It was sooooo cool to read her post yesterday and click on the link, and there you were!

Comment by Lynn 08.30.11 @ 1:54 am

Ask Jeeves!! I remember that. And that IS a perfect, icy blue.

Comment by Channon 08.30.11 @ 7:06 am

I can see why there is only half a pie there.

That light blue yarn is Gorgeous!

Comment by Don Meyer 08.30.11 @ 9:12 am

I love baby alpaca fiber! It makes the best baby sweaters,especially if the baby is sensitive to other fibers!

Comment by Jody 08.30.11 @ 9:37 am

Such a good forecaster you are.

Comment by Sherry in Idaho 08.30.11 @ 11:08 am

I was fond of searching with Archie, Veronica and Jughead :-}

Comment by Diana Troldahl 08.30.11 @ 12:45 pm

I remember Ask Jeeves! and you know, that really wasn’t that long ago — things in the technology world move at the speed of light I think

lovely blue – will we see pictures of the shawl?

Comment by Bev 08.30.11 @ 2:07 pm

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