A skein of Hand Paints
Hand Paints knit up
click each image to enlarge

Yarn Profile: Hand Paints

First Impressions
I'd been walking around the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival for several hours before I stumbled upon the Uncommon Threads booth. My eyes automatically scanned the colorful, familiar commercial yarns until they fell on something beautiful and distinctly unfamiliar.

The label simply said The Alpaca Yarn Company. Curiosity piqued, I asked the woman behind the cash register if she knew more about the yarn and the company.

As luck would have it, that woman was Beth Lutz, who co-owns Uncommon Threads and has a small alpaca farm in South Central Pennsylvania. When the Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America announced plans to sell its yarn division as part of a major reorganization, Lutz purchased the company and relaunched it earlier this year as The Alpaca Yarn Company. All the products she sells are currently sourced in Peru.

What caught my eye at the festival was this hand-painted DK-weight alpaca. Although there were loads of hand-dyed yarns at the show, very few were of a professional caliber—and this was one of them.

Beth chose some of the most gifted people in the business, but they prefer to remain anonymous.

Knitting Up
The evenly spun, well-balanced four-ply yarn knit up without problems. In all my swatches, I only stalled with one or two snags. I was quickly able to knit by touch alone on both the knit and purl rows.

As with many other alpacas I've reviewed, my stockinette appeared periodically uneven on knit and purl rows. Normally I can just tug my swatches in either direction a few times to get the stitches more even, but this is not an elastic yarn. So my uneven stitches stayed put, no matter how much I fussed.

From a dye perspective, the colors flowed beautifully—again, the sign of someone who knows what she's doing. It's one thing to dye a pretty skein, but quite another to dye a pretty skein that knits up into an attractive piece of fabric.

Blocking / Washing
My swatches didn't bleed in the wash, even when I upped the water temperature from cold to lukewarm and eventually hot. Nor did they fade or change in gauge.

After their first wash, my swatches had a very faint silvery bloom. With each wash, the bloom increased beautifully.

Their faint vinegar smell (a frequent occurrence in some hand-dyed yarns) took several washes to dissipate.

Alpaca is greatly appreciated for its hypoallergenic qualities, allowing it to be comfortably worn by many people who are otherwise allergic to animal fibers. Alpaca is also warm without being oppressive, thanks to the yarn's fluid, relaxed drape.

Although alpaca fiber is reported to be softer than cashmere, this yarn did have a faint brassy overtone when held against my sensitive neck.

From a durability perspective, Hand Paints get my thumbs-up. I gave my swatches an inordinate amount of abuse, and all they did was develop a little surface matting. Some careful plucking and fluffing of loose fibers brought the fabric back to life, and it appeared softer and fuzzier as time progressed.

At $18 per 220-yard hank, this yarn may be a bit more expensive than some of the other alpacas currently imported from Peru. But it's important to remember that each skein has been expertly hand-dyed here in the U.S.

This yarn is currently available in five colorways, and I'd love to see even more. Although the market is rich with alpaca yarn importers, very few include such a skillfully hand-dyed offering.

At the moment, The Alpaca Yarn Company yarns are mostly being sold in small alpaca farm shops, but I suspect this will change as Beth continues to grow the business. If Hand Paints is any indication, she's off to a good start.

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