Friday, March 23, 2012

Alpaca shawl

One of my favorite fibers to work with is alpaca. It comes in beautiful natural colors and can be very soft. You can spin it without washing it first since it doesn't have lanolin to hinder the fibers slipping. I bought my first few alpaca fleeces online (see this post) but I've since been lucky enough to find a local alpaca farm, Ah Sweet Alpacas. I've demonstrated spinning there for National Alpaca Farm Days, and this year I worked with a lovely rose grey fleece from First Tuesday, aka Rosie (see this post).

I spun some lovely two ply lace yarn from Rosie's fleece and set out to make a lace shawl as a surprise gift for her owner. I initially wanted to design my own lace pattern. The design process was slow going and I put the project aside and almost forgot about it until I was asked how it was coming along by Bruce, the owner of Ah Sweet Alpacas. He mentioned Ag Day at the state capitol would be a great time to present the shawl...if it were done in time. That was towards the end of February and I hadn't actually started knitting, so with a deadline a month away, I picked the "Barbara" pattern from Myrna Stahman's Shawls and Scarves book of Faroese style lace shawls started knitting.

Although I make glass knitting needles for sale, I have to admit I use circular needles much more than straight needles (I also rarely use needles over 2.75mm dia but that's another story). This shawl was a great opportunity for me to use (gasp) 4mm needles (US 6) and to work with my own glass needles. I started out with a cute pair of chihuahuas. Part way through my mad knitting dash I went to Monterey for my birthday weekend and got to do my favorite bike ride along the coast into the 17 mile drive where I stopped and knit for a while. Here's a close up of the chihuahua on the needle top:

Frighteningly, the above picture was taken 9 days before the shawl was finished. I was really busy the week after I got back from Monterey between veterinary work and making glass knitting needles for Monarch Knitting & Quilts so didn't get to knit much until the weekend. I stayed up until 3:30 one morning for a marathon spinning session to make up more yarn. I switched knitting needles to try out a different one of my pairs. Here's a photo of the new skein along with the knitting in progress:Detail:
Another late night of knitting until 4am then a bit more in the morning on Tuesday and the shawl was ready to be blocked. I ran to the hardware store for some brass rods to use for blocking. Faroese shawls are supposed to have a butterfly shape with the "wings" extending way up so they can drape over the shawls and stay in place without a shawl pin. I don't have a blocking board, we don't have any carpet and my bed is lofted (about 1.5-3ft from the ceiling) so I blocked on the couch which didn't give me quite enough room but it worked ok.
The finished shawl:

Calpaca had a booth at Ag Day, including alpacas and an exhibit of alpaca fiber, roving, yarn and woven and knitted items. I loved meeting alpaca owners and seeing their handwork. Debbie of Brookfarm demonstrated spinning outside the alpaca pen.Debbie wove the amazing green and brown doubleweave scarf to the right below.
The houndstooth scarf on the left and the blankets on the table are produced by Pendelton Woolen Mills from alpaca grown in the US as part of an exciting project by US alpaca farms to reach a wider market.

Bruce brought three of his alpacas along with First Tuesday and people got to meet them and see how soft they are. Here he is talking alpacas:

We presented the shawl as a surprise gift to First Tuesday's owner, Assemblymember Linda Halderman. First Tuesday sniffed it and wasn't impressed. She's grown since I saw her in September.
It was great to be able to show legislators and the general public what can be made with alpaca and show them the finished item, the fleece and the animal it came from.

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