A skein of Rowan Alpaca Chunky
Alpaca Chunky swatched
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Yarn Profile: Rowan Alpaca Chunky

First Impressions
Family members come in all shapes and sizes, whether we're talking people, furniture, or yarn. In that spirit, many are calling Rowan Alpaca Chunky the chunky sibling to Lima. From a distance you can see a family resemblance. They're both constructed from a single strand of twisted fibers that are knit into an I-cord tube—it's sometimes called a chain or knitted tube construction. They both feature a predominance of alpaca. And they both come in slightly heathered natural colors. Case closed, we don't really need to talk more about this yarn, right?

Yes and no. They're more like distant cousins, raised on different continents and with subtly different personalities. Lima is manufactured in Peru, and Alpaca Chunky comes to us from Italy. Both yarns share "alpaca" on the label, but be sure to read the fine print. Lima is constructed from 84% baby alpaca, 8% Merino, and 8% nylon, fine fibers all. Alpaca Chunky? It contains 98% alpaca—no age or grade given, so we can assume it's a longer-staple slightly thicker adult grade—mixed with 2% polyamide, which is basically nylon.

Provenance and fiber contents notwithstanding, the bigger difference is also the simplest. No chunky yarn should be considered only as a shortcut to a skinnier yarn. Knitting is about more than gauge, it's fundamentally about fabric. A chunky yarn creates one kind of fabric, a worsted-weight yarn creates another.

Knitting Up
I began swatching with the label's suggested needle size of US 15 (10mm), which you may not have used since your Fun Fur scarf days. It's a huge needle, and in this yarn it renders an equally huge fabric. Plush and spongy, but definitely huge. Tug it a little to either side and you'll quickly see sunlight streaming in between those stitches.

Alpaca Chunky shows itself off best in simple cables and ribbing, seed and moss stitch, and, of course, the acres and acres of stockinette that will quickly flow from your needles. Alpaca Chunky's generous girth makes larger motifs difficult since they'd need such large real estate to reveal themselves. (Imagine trying to reproduce a Georges Seurat painting with a standard house-painter's brush.)

Knitting was swift, as is most yarns of this gauge. Snags were my only real trouble. The pointy tips of my Denise Interchangeables kept finding their way into the little V-shaped nooks and crannies all along the yarn's surface.

The construction gives fantastic elasticity (think of that I-cord purse handle that kept stretching and stretching). But when you're pulling the yarn taut under normal tension, you aren't always pulling all the fibers taut. The end effect is almost like a boucle whose loops are never fully freed from the yarn. When working Alpaca Chunky in stockinette, this effect actually minimized the size of each stitch and gave the fabric a pleasantly lumpy, earthy look.

The snagging had another interesting quality to it that suggested a longer-staple alpaca fiber was in use. As I worked, my tip occasionally snagged a loop that wasn't a loop at all. It was a long, loose strand of fiber protruding from the yarn, rather like the halo in brushed mohair yarns can sometimes snag. I adjusted my hands to make larger, more conscious movements with each stitch and that particular snagging slowed.

Blocking / Washing
My swatch quickly surrendered to its bath, releasing a light brown cloud in the wash water as if I'd poured in the remains of my morning coffee. The swatch rinsed clear and blocked to perfection. An added benefit of all that air? Faster drying time.

Once dry, my swatch showed no signs of change—the gauge remained constant in stitch and in row. But the dried swatch felt much softer and airier, as if perhaps that brown substance had been weighing it down.

Wearing
The same structural reasons that make knitted tube yarns so puffy and stretchy also render them susceptible to abrasion. In a knitted tube yarn, even the longest fibers rarely span more than an inch of actual yarn because they're so busy going up, sideways, down, sideways, and back up again just to form the stitches in the tube.

Sure enough, a brief period of vigorous abrasion in my swatches caused wispy, jagged little clumps of fiber to appear on the swatch surface. More abrasion quickly produced more clumps.

But guess what? I knit a backup swatch using US 11 (8mm) needles to see how the yarn liked being a little more cramped in its fabric. (It liked it a lot.) That swatch required much more abrasion before it began pilling. If you're using this yarn for a high-wear garment, do consider smaller needles—but keep in mind that your gauge will change.

Conclusion
Standard grades of alpaca like the one used here tend to be quite dense and warm. If you were to make a traditional spun, plied alpaca yarn at this chunky weight, you'd end up with something far too heavy and hot for most people's comfort. Rowan chose a lovely compromise, a knitted tube construction that provides the loft of a chunky weight but without any of the accompanying density and bulk.

A nice side-effect of the tube construction is more stretchiness for the alpaca, which makes for much easier knitting. Working with an inelastic yarn can be as stressful on the hands as walking all day on a hard concrete floor. I still miss the Merino in Lima, though. It gave the yarn just a hint more sponginess and compression resistance.

I particularly appreciate Rowan's pattern support on this one. Martin Storey's Winter Warmers collection makes the most charming and varied use of a chunky yarn that I've seen in a long, long time. My only peeve would be the House Socks, which go against pretty much everything I believe about socks. It's just too bulky and knit too loosely for long-wearing, reasonably comfortable socks—even house socks and even with that 2% polyamide.

Bottom line? If you love alpaca or warm, wooly-feeling chunky yarns, put Alpaca Chunky on your short list. It's also a good "teaching" yarn because it demonstrates so well how a knitted tube construction works and behaves. And yarn bought for educational purposes doesn't count as stash. Right?

 
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