Friday, 22 January 2016

Spinning Alpaca Tops and Knitting Socks

Yarn marketed as sock wool generally contains nylon.  I believe the nylon is added to increase durability and never mind its sweaty side effects.  Madness. Of all life's little luxuries, warm, dry, comfy feet rank very highly with me and having lived in Wellies for months, I'd say nothing beats 100% wool, except, of course, 100% alpaca.  I met some alpaca lately and noticed their fleece seemed to be standing up ok to the wet and muddy conditions.  
In my grand January exacavation of stashed fibres, I rediscovered these black and white alpaca tops from John Arbon.  Spun worsted straight off the end of the strip with a decent amount of twist, even pure alpaca yarn ought to be reasonably durable.  John Arbon sells fantastic socks and though the ones without nylon are marketed as bedsocks, my husband had a pair he wore all day. They haven't worn out, but since an accidental hot machine wash, I now wear them.
Feeling guilty about this, I knitted him another pair, taking care to be generous with the size, in case of future shrinkage.  After all the coarse, bulky stuff I've been churning out lately, it was a great pleasure to be spinning double knitting weight with luxury fibre, though of course, knitting the finer yarn into socks has been comparatively time consuming.
My companion, Elinor Gotland, gave himself John Arbon alpaca socks for Christmas. When I came in to the kitchen after a long cold morning out on a friend's farm, finding her giving both pairs a hoof wash in the sink was disquieting on a number of counts. 
"Steve said that my hand knit socks felt amazingly light and warm."
"After seeing you fiddle about turning heels, missing all the subtitles on your French telly series, he's hardly going to point out they're a bit loose, Beaut.  Actually, they feel quite flimsy to me.  I don't suppose they'll last."
I sat down heavily and eased off my Wellington boots.
"I suppose you think I should have bought some nylon riddled sock yarn?"
"Keep your hair on.  There's tea in
the pot.  How did scanning the Speckled Face Beulahs go?"  
"Oh excellent, only three were empty out of 95 ewes, mostly they are expecting twins with 14 sets of triplets."
"I'll bet Mary was pleased with that, especially after the trouble they had with those two new rams escaping.  Must have had plenty of energy left."  Elinor laughed her raunchiest laugh.
She made quite a play of stripping off her rubber gloves while I drank my tea. Still, credit where it's due, she's being remarkably helpful.  I hate hand washing.
"Thanks for doing those socks.  I might knit myself a pair, ready for lambing in March."
"I'd think about blending in some long wool if you must use alpaca.  Strong, fine wool fibres might be as tough as nylon and less cheesey feet."
"Adding in some Gotland fleece, you mean?"
"Or Wensleydale.  Better still, knit yourself some proper sheepswool boot socks."
"Oo, I know I've got some woolen spun Beulah stashed somewhere.  If only I could remember where I put it."


  1. can I borrow your helpful friend for a bit of hand washing?:) not one of my favourite jobs either... I haven't spun alpaca for socks yet - or wensleydale (teeswater would work as well I'd say, or mohair?)- but have you tried adding ramie fibres to your mix? I know that a separate thread of ramie is no good, because it cuts through the wool ply and doesn't last well so, but I have dyed and knitted a mix made from wool and ramie (german company) and this works extremely well! hard to blend in at home maybe, but I am sure that WoW would make a custom blend? and I started to knit my own socks with afterthought heels, easy to rip out and knit again for someone, who always ends up with holey heels:) the rest of the sock would last for ages, but not the heel...
    happy (sock) knitting!
    Bettina (from ireland, where it's the same temp inside and out right now, around 14 deg. C!)

    1. I am deep into an attempt to knit toe up socks, think I finally got two toes about right tonight. I had a look at WoW custom blending, which set me thinking about adding linen - would that work? Plus it would dye differently (presumably much less), which could be interesting. Shsme I have pledged to use up my stash - which may take a lifetime.

    2. yes, I'd say linen would work as well, but ramie is a bit softer and very smooth. I love spinning ramie on its own, but it's more like "thread", not so great for knitting, rather for weaving (good warp, too!) or summer crochet. and yes, ramie doesn't take dye as well as wool, but linen even less so, at least with the normal mordants for wool! you'd need acetate or more complicated mordants for the veggie fibres in general, when naturally dyeing - but if it's blended with wool it would give a nice tweedy effect instead? I know all about too much stash, but there's no point in putting a lot of time and effort into making something, if there are better materials to be had?

    3. Mmm, this is true. I downloaded a free pattern for a ramie summer hat ages ago, tried to make it in wool - not a success. Perhaps I should allow myself to buy ramie at Wonderwool. For the meantime, I do have quite a range of fibre options ...