Baby Beanie

Some friends of ours have a new baby boy so I knitted this hat from my handspun alpaca. The pattern is the Maine Baby Hat – available free on Ravelry. I’ve made it before, but not this version, which has a central knotted pigtail

After the decreases, when there are just a few stitches left, these are knitted into an i-cord. It’s the first time I’ve used this technique and it’s quite easy to do. The i-cord is cast off when it reaches 4 inches long, then you tie a knot in it.

The alpaca yarn makes it lovely and soft and warm.

Do you have a go to pattern that you knit when there’s a new baby among family or friends?

My First Completed Handspun Project: Alpaca Socks and Hat for a New Baby

I’ve been skirting, washing, carding and spinning some of the gorgeous alpaca fibre that was given to me recently. When I took up spinning (I got an Electric Eel Wheel Nano e-spinner for my birthday) I thought it would be wonderful to be able to make something beginning with the raw fleece and taking it right through to the finished garment. With enough yarn spun and a dear friend’s new baby granddaughter to knit for. This was the perfect opportunity.

I started with the socks (Perfect Baby Socks by Hey Sister Yarn Co) The pattern gives a choice of designs, cable or rib: I chose the rib one. Knitted on DPNs I have to say these were fiddly to do and with all the complexities of turned heels and Kitchener stitch toe grafts, they probably took almost as long as adult socks to make, so I probably wouldn’t use this pattern again, but they do look so amazingly cute and feel so soft.

The hat was much simpler to make – the Maine Baby Hat, also from Ravelry. This is such a useful pattern. It gives the cast on stitch numbers for three sizes and several different yarn weights. My handspun alpaca is probably on average somewhere between DK and 4ply so I was able to find the right one. Then it was pretty straightforward to knit up on circular needles with a K1P1 ribbed band and the rest in stocking stitch, only moving on to DPNs for the last of the decreases.

I’ve also learnt a new cast on – the sock pattern recommended the German Twisted cast on to give a nice stretchy edge. I watched a couple of YouTube videos and soon got the hang of it. It really is very stretchy so I’ll be using this on all socks (or anything else that needs a stretchy edge) from now on.

My spinning still lacks consistency in that the thickness of the yarn is rather variable and this certainly shows up in the stocking stitch, Even after a very light press!

The socks and hat feel so soft and warm though – so the baby will be very snug and cosy in them. Daughter was delivering them today. Baby’s mum is a close friend of hers. I hope she likes them!

Amazing Alpaca!

We have a saying here in the North East: “Shy bairns get nowt”, which basically means that sometimes you have to be a bit cheeky and ask for something. When I realised that some dear friends of my brother and his wife have alpacas, I asked if they could perhaps bring me some alpaca fleece next time they visited. Since spinning became my new obsession I’ve been itching to get my hands on some alpaca fibre. It’s so gloriously soft and warm and I love knitting with it so really wanted to have a go at spinning some.

I also thought it would be really interesting to get hold of raw fleece from a known source, prepare it, spin it and knit into a garment, embracing the entire process.

When my brother dropped this large plastic sack full last week I was absolutely over the moon. He said he’d bring some, but I hasn’t imagined it would be so much

When I started to tip the contents out the fibres immediately fluffed up – there must be at least 2 complete blankets or fleeces compressed into that bag – over 6kg of fibre!. He also sent me some photos of the animals that provided the fleece: a pair of alpacas called Wispa and Aero. Aren’t they adorable?

I’ve been reading up how to process the fibre and I’ve partially skirted the first fleece. This involves separating out the soiled fibres and the shorter and coarser parts from the edges and removing second cuts (the shorter tufts where the shearer has gone over the animal a second time). Some of this is perfectly usable – but what is left is the best quality long fine fleece from the back of the animal.

The fleece holds a lot of dust, some of which falls out during the skirting process. The next stage is to wash the fibre. To do this I put the fibre into mesh bags (the sort you use for laundering underwear) . I added some wool wash liquid to hand-hot water and gently immersed the bags. The wet fleece must be handled very carefully or it felts together, so I just left it to soak for 20 minutes, then drained the water and lightly pressed on the bags to remove some of the water. I then added clean water of the same temperature (sudden temperature changes damage the fibres) to rinse the soap away. In some respects alpaca fibre is easier to wash than sheep’s wool ,which is rich in lanolin and takes repeated washing to remove). The water was now clear so I drained it, pressing gently on the bags remove water, then placing the bags between towels and pressing gently again. I then allowed the fleece to dry. It has cleaned up to a beautiful pure white, which offers so many possibilities for experimenting with dyes…..that’s a whole new craft in itself.

I’ve been using pet brushes to comb the fibres (have asked for proper carding combs for Christmas) and have gradually picked through it to remove all the fragments of vegetable matter. The prepared alpaca is the softest fluffiest stuff ever. It’s like a cloud!

Next job – to spin it! I spun a couple of singles and plyed them together to make this 2 ply yarn – 99 yards/49g

There was some left which I plyed with some blue merino to make this little skein (41 yards /15g.

It has been lovely to spin with and I’ve only used part of the fibre I processed there’s still a load more to skirt, wash and card). The project possibilities are endless!

I’m so lucky to have such generous people in my life…..and some of them have alpacas!