I’ve heard people say that blending alpaca and wool is essential to having an alpaca yarn that will keep its shape in a garment. This is because alpaca has no “memory” and the knitting will sag, causing the garment to stretch up to a few sizes larger. Nobody wants that!
But is it truth or myth that alpaca must be blended with wool?
I wanted to test some alpaca wool blends to see what the difference is for knitting. So, I did an experiment where I carded four batts using my Brother drum carder. Each batt contains different amounts of alpaca and wool: 100% alpaca, 90% alpaca/10% wool, 75% alpaca/25% wool, and 50% alpaca/50% wool. Then, I spun each batt and knitted a swatch to see how the different amounts of wool affect the alpaca.
Watch the full video of this sampling project on YouTube or keep reading below for the results.
This was a huge sampling project, so let’s get spinning!
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The Drum Carder for This Project
For this project, I used my deluxe manual carder by Brother. I used a 90 TPI carding cloth. I found that it worked great for working with alpaca and it made a nice smooth batt.
I recommend using a 72 TPI carding cloth if you want to create a more textured batt, a 90 TPI carding cloth for a smoother, more consistent batt, or a 120 TPI carding cloth if you only want to card fine wools and low micron count fibers.
Plying the Fibers
I split each batt in half, plied it onto two separate bobbins, and then plied them together as I would any standard 2-ply yarn. I decided not to ply from a center pull ball after my recent experiment about how a center pull ball affects twist. Plying from a center pull ball isn’t right or wrong, I just decided not to use that method for this project because of how it affects the finished yarn.
I spun the yarn in a ‘Z’ direction (clockwise) for all of my singles and then I plied the singles together in an ‘S’ direction (counterclockwise). I decided to go with a thicker worsted weight so it would be easier to see what kind of bounce each sample has in the end.
This shouldn’t be surprising, but the 100% alpaca yarn was very characteristic of alpaca. It had a lovely drape and was a very nice yarn. However, it was not springy or stretchy at all.
This fabric was very soft, with a silky feel to it. I think it had a little bit of a halo from the alpaca. When I stretched the swatch, the fabric did come back together but only a little bit. I think this is what people are referring to when they say it has “no memory,” because it doesn’t bounce back when you stretch it. This is a lovely fabric that is perfect for certain applications, but probably not fitted garments.
90% alpaca/10% wool blend
This blend resulted in a yarn with a tiny bit more bounce and stretch than the 100% alpaca yarn. Adding 10% wool is not a lot, but it was enough to make a significant difference. This yarn still had a lot of drape and alpaca characteristics.
This swatch had a bit more bounce to it when I pulled from top to bottom against the stitches. So, it bounced back into place a little better than the 100%, but there were still some gaps between the stitches. This fabric still had that characteristic drape and silky quality from the alpaca.
75% alpaca/25% wool blend
This blend resulted in a yarn that had a lot more springiness, stretch, and bounce to it. It also felt airier and loftier, and not as dense. The wraps per inch were consistent across the yarns, so I think that extra bounce factor and the difference in the way the yarn itself behaves was from the wool.
The swatch also had more bounce to it, and it snapped back into shape a little easier after I pulled it. It did still have a bit of a silky drapey feel to it, but it also started to feel more like a woolen yarn with more loftiness. So, this blend resulted in a fabric with some wool characteristics, but it still had the overall feel of alpaca. This was a really nice result and I like this blend a lot!
50% alpaca/50% wool blend
With this blend, I started to feel like the wool characteristics were taking over. The yarn did not have as much drape, but it was extremely springy and bouncy, and overall was a livelier yarn. Again, this wasn’t because of the twist — it was because of the crimp.
This swatch definitely had more of the wool characteristic overpowering the alpaca. This swatch had a tone of definition and it snapped right back into shape when I tugged on it in either direction.
So, does that mean you shouldn’t create a 100% alpaca garment? I don’t think that’s what this experiment means! I hope that this doesn’t deter you from pursuing projects with alpaca. The goal of the experiment was just to examine how the alpaca worked with my own spinning style and blending techniques. There are so many things that can affect the yarn, from the amount of twist, the grist, the quality of the alpaca, and more. That’s why sampling and swatching are essential.
I am so glad that I did this sampling testing project with alpaca and wool! Even with the experience I have working with alpaca before, this intentional observational exercise taught me so much. I encourage anyone working with alpaca to do some samples and make some swatches. While I hope that you gained a lot of information from my experiment here, there’s really nothing like having it in your own hands to touch and feel how the fabric behaves and how the fibers come together.
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