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A skein of Alpaca Fiber Exchange yarn
Alpaca Fiber Exchange yarn knit up
click each image to enlarge

Yarn Profile:
Alpaca Fiber Exchange Yarn

First Impressions
Although Peru pretty much owns the alpaca yarn market, an increasing number of alpaca breeders are making headway here in the United States. But early collective attempts to pool their fiber—specifically by the Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America (AFCNA)—proved unsuccessful.

From too many second cuts to an inadequate array of colors in the collection, the AFCNA finally chose to sell members' fiber into the world market for credit against yarns and products they'd purchase from Peru. And last fall, the AFCNA sold off its yarn division completely.

Fortunately others are taking up the lead and trying again. Based in Maine, the Alpaca Fiber Exchange works to promote North American grown alpaca fiber through the collection, design, manufacturing, and marketing of beautiful products.

Their signature yarn is a delicate blend of 70% baby alpaca and 30% merino. It is composed of two strands of yarn that are tightly plied together to form a pearl-necklace effect. Knit up, it produces a far more vivid surface texture than the standard loosely spun three-ply yarn.

For this review I chose a gorgeous heathered shade of lavender aptly called Lavender Fields.

Knitting Up
The yarn label gives a varied range of gauges and needle sizes, from US 5 to US 7 needles and from 16 to 20 stitches per four inches. I started with US 5 Swallow Casein needles and immediately encountered problems. Whether it was because of the needle's blunt tip, smaller gauge, or flexible material, I don't know, but knitting was not fun. I repeatedly snagged only one strand instead of two and had to stop and patiently redo my work.

I decided to switch to a pair of size US 7 Noble Nickels and the clouds immediately lifted. In no time I was making fast progress on knit and purl rows, even by touch alone without peeking. Snags recurred rarely and were entirely manageable.

The knitted fabric from the larger needles was much more fluid and relaxed than the fabric from its US 5 counterpart. The tightly spun fibers were happy with the extra space.

Every once in a while I encountered a little fleck of vegetable matter, which was easily removed.

Blocking / Washing
Alpaca and merino are a perfect pairing. The merino provides loft and bloom to an alpaca that otherwise would prefer to stay fluid and smooth.

My swatches relaxed instantly when they hit the warm water. As I rinsed them, their bloom was already apparent. In fact, it almost looked like the swatches had angora in them.

There was no bleeding, fading, or gauge change—even when I goofed and used a hot wash and cold rinse. (Don't try that one at home, folks!)

Given more room and ample agitation, this yarn would felt beautifully.

Wearing
When I first picked up this yarn and observed the tight, compact spin, I thought it was handspun. Yet it is the steady and consistent result of a machine.

Here's why I mention this. Large-scale mills are costly to operate. When yarn is being spun, the machine requires extra energy for each rotation it adds to the yarn.

Partly for this reason, many commercially spun yarns tend to have fewer rotations per inch than handspun, where energy is more an issue of muscle strength than economy.

When alpaca is blended with other fibers, it can be tricky because alpaca doesn't have much crimp to hold the blend together. When blended and loosely spun, the fibers often separate as you begin to work with them, and it gets more noticeable as they wear.

But with this yarn's tight spin, the merino and alpaca stayed together beautifully, even when subject to undue amounts of friction. And although my swatches continued to bloom and soften with wear, their underlying fibers remained firmly in place, without any fabric degradation whatsoever.

Conclusion
The Alpaca Fiber Exchange is embarking on a noble effort that, if successful, will help ensure the long-term viability of alpaca breeding in this country.

I'm not suggesting they will replace the Peruvian alpaca industry, or that you should avoid Peruvian alpaca in favor of this yarn—but it does give us more options when choosing our yarns. Which is always good.

The Alpaca Fiber Exchange still doesn't process as much fiber as the "big guys," which means they don't get the same price breaks from the mills. With this in mind, $14 per 100-yard hank is a reasonable price to ask.

The tight two-ply spin is unlike any other alpaca I've seen on the market, and the color selection—from vivid to delicate and earthy—is simply exquisite. If you're in the mood to try something new with alpaca, do consider this yarn.

 
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