Know your yarns: Alpaca

Continuing with our occasional look at the different yarns and fibres we can use in our knitting and crochet, we turn to alpaca which is soft, cosy and drapes beautifully.

Where does the yarn come from?

Alpaca yarn comes from the fleeces of alpacas, a South American camelid related to Llamas. The animals originate in the Andes but are increasingly bred and farmed in Europe.

Although, due to selective breeding, the most common colour is white, fleeces come in 22 natural colours including black, browns, fawns, silver-greys, and rose-greys.

huacaya alpaca

There are two types of alpaca – huacaya (pictured) and suri. The huacaya’s fibre grows vertically out of its skin in crimped bundles with what is described as a “teddy bear” look. Suri fibre grows in bundles that twist and hang down on the animal.

The huacaya fibre is more akin to wool and produced in a similar way through carding and spinning. Suri fibre is silkier and is the more likely to be used in woven fabric.


  • Alpaca is softer than sheep’s wool because the fibre has fewer scales.
  • Alpaca has no lanolin which means it is suitable for people who have allergies to sheep’s wool
  • Durable, strong fibre that is very lightweight
  • Huacaya yarn has a natural elasticity making it very suitable for knitting and crochet.
Alpaca yarn

Clockwise from top left: King Cole Baby Alpaca DK (100% alpaca); Juniper Moon Farm Herriot Fine (75% alpaca, 25% polyamide); Subline Fine Alpaca DK (100% alpaca); Stylecraft Alpaca Tweed DK (20% alpaca, 77% acrylic, 3% viscose); Wendy Aspire Chunky ( 80% wool, 20% alpaca); Rico Essentials Alpaca Blend Chunky (50% acrylic, 30% wool, 20% alpaca); James C Brett Aztec Aran ( 90% acrylic, 10% alpaca)

 Tips for working with alpaca yarn

Alpaca will stretch or drop so you may want to work to a tighter tension than you would for wool of the same yarn weight. Alpaca/wool blends will have more memory and keep their shape more.

Choose patterns for items with lots of drape.

Because alpaca is warmer than wool, you can choose a lighter weight yarn and still have a very warm garment.

What is your favourite pattern for alpaca yarn – please tell us in the comments below.




Knitting and health

Last week on our stand at the Knitting and Stitching Show in London, a lot of people told us how much better they felt by coming and knitting or crocheting with us for a while.

cug3rnnxyaa8u3bIt was definitely about more than the reassuring presence of our Yarn Doctor (who only treats knitting and crochet problems) and us having quite comfy seats. Many of our visitors – new learners as well as experienced knitters – told us they felt relaxed or refreshed and ready for more yarn-based retail therapy.

So it seemed a good time to take a look at the impact of knitting and crochet on our health.


No wonder our visitors felt better. According to a study at the Royal United Hospital in Bath the meditative qualities of rhythmic activity aids in serotonin release, which causes feelings of happiness and calm.

This is good for our mental health – soldiers in World War 1 suffering from “shell shock” were taught to knit to help their recovery – and for dealing with chronic pain.

You can read a lot more about these types of benefit at Stitchlinks.


Staving off arthritis

It used to be said that if you started to develop arthritis in your hands you should stop knitting, but now the opposite might also be the case.

Alton Barron, a US orthopedic surgeon and co-author of The Creativity Cure: Building Happiness With Your Own Two Hands says knitting can prevent arthritis and tendinitis by encouraging strength and cartilage development.

Keeping our brains working

It is possible that knitting and crochet could delay the onset of dementia. An American study in 2012 found that older people who took part in craft activities such as knitting were less likely to suffer from “mild cognitive impairment” than their peers who didn’t craft or do similar activities.

So it seems that not only does knitting and crochet make us feel better now – it could help us feel better in the future.


Join our Christmas Appeal and hone your sock skills

Over the past few weeks on the blog we’ve looked at baby knits being a great way to learn new skills with out the commitment of an adult garment.We’ve also had tips on making socks for the first time.

UK Hand KNitting stocking appeal

If those two ideas interested to you, the UK Hand Knitting  Christmas appeal is just the thing for you. We are asking knitters and crocheters across the country to join our Christmas appeal and spread some festive cheer by making mini stockings which will be made into bunting. We want to bring a little Christmas spirit to care homes and lunch clubs by getting as many people involved as possible to make some festive bunting.

Anyone can get involved simply by making a mini Christmas stocking from left over yarn. We have created two special knit patterns and Raveler RhonddaM has kindly donated a crochet pattern, all of which can be found on the UK Hand Knitting website.

One of the patterns, mini Christmas sock, is worked in the round and has all the components of a full adult sock in minature. Perfect for learning sock construction while using up the odds and ends in your stash.

We are keen to make as many metres of bunting as possible. Knitters and crocheters can drop off their bunting at the UK Hand Knitting stand at the Knitting and Stitching Shows at Alexandra Palace and Harrogate, or by sending them to
Christmas Stocking Appeal
60 Bridge Road East
Welwyn Garden City
Herts AL7 1JU
Please join with UK Hand Knitting to spread some cheer this Christmas

Books to help you tackle socks

Sock knitting is one aspect of yarn craft that seems to cause more debate than almost anything else.

There are people who say they will never knit socks, those who say they look too difficult, those who only knit socks. Then there are the mysterious (to non-sock knitters) arguments about magic loop versus double pointed needles and top up versus cuff down.

It can make sock knitting seem like a minefield, so it is no surprise that some people steer clear but to quote some of the best advice I have seen about sock knitting “it is just like any other knitting, you knit one stitch at a time from one needle to the other”.

So how can we demystify sock knitting for people who want to give it a go?


First up is the magic loop method on circular needles or using double pointed needles. Both of these method are often mention with some awe as if some mysterious power was required to tackle them but as said above you are still just knitting a stitch at a time. Both magic loop and dpns are just ways of holding and managing your stitches as you work in the round. Try both out – there is a vvideo tutorial about using dpns here and one on magic loop here – and decide which is most comfortable to you. Whichever method you choose you will be able to knit the same patterns.

For most sock knitters a much more important aspect is understanding the different parts, the “anatomy”, of a sock. When it comes to a knitting a sweater, we tend to have a basic understanding of shaping and the elements. We know the basic shape of a body or a sleeve but when it comes to socks we might not really understand the shape of the heel section or have little idea of what the gusset does or where it is on a sock.

Two things can be of real help here, starting with a plain or beginner’s sock pattern and finding a good sock book with a section that explains the elements of the sock.

A plain stocking stitch sock may not sound exciting but it you pick an variegated or graduated sock yarn you can keep your interest by seeing how the colours come out but not worry about keeping a stitch pattern right when you are learning how a sock is shaped.

There are plenty of sock knitting books out there but here are two we have found useful in terms of explaining sock anatomy and which are full of handy information about sock sizing.

Vogue Knitting’s The Ultimate Sock Book is one of those knitting books that you can return to again and again, as much for the useful information as for the range of patterns.


There is a comprehensive techniques section with advice on the best cast-ons for cuff down and toe-up socks, using dpns, working short rows and joining stitches using Kitchener stitch, among others.

There is also a whole chapter on the anatomy of a sock explaining the different sections and the basic shaping involved as well as how this might differ depending on whether you start with the cuff or the toe. And you can try it all out with one of the simpler sock pattern before moving on to lacy or colourwork versions

Once you become more confident with your sock knitting, there is also a section with advice of designing your own socks complete with basic template patterns and selection of suitable stitches to get you started.


In Sock Innovation, Cookie A sets out to explain her approach to designing sock patterns but in doing so she provides lots of detail on sock anatomy and the options for the different parts of a sock. She explains why you might choose a particular style of heel or toe and what might affect your preference for one type over another.

Even if you don’t plan to design socks, reading the sections on how different stitches will change the stretch and behaviour of your socks and on charts (and charting mistakes) will help you deside what sort of socks patterns you choose. Plus her selection of patterns can show you how much variety and interest there can be in sock knitting.


Solving knitting problems: Cable mistakes

One frustrating thing that can happen with you knitting, is to look down and realise that you have cabled the wrong way.


But if the mistake is only a few rows down, rather than rip out at the rest of your cabling, there is a way of untwisting that one rogue cable.


Arrange your work so that the stitches each side of your cable are on separate needles and pin your work to a foam or cork board. Only drop the stitches that form the top crossing part of the cable off your needles. In this example it is the three right hand stitches of the cable.


Drop those stitches down to just before the last cable cross and pin the ladder of strands created out of the way.


Place the three dropped stitches on a safety pin and slip under the other half of the cable – this will happen very easily.


Use a crochet hook to pick up the stitches one at a time, making sure that you work up the “ladder” strands in the correct order.


When all the stitches have been picked up you will have a correctly aligned cable.

Know your yarn: Bamboo


Continuing with our occasional look at the different yarns and fibres we can use in our knitting and crochet, we are thinking about bamboo sourced viscose which is now turning up in more “winter yarns” as well a lightweight summer ones.

Where does the yarn come from?

Bamboo is a fast growing plant and the fibre is promoted as being more environmentally friendly that other forms of viscose because the plant can be grown in marginal areas unsuitable for some other plants and doesn’t necessarily involve deforestation.

The fibre is extracted in one of two ways. Leaves and the inner pith of woody stems are extracted during a steaming process and then crushed. The second method involves the bamboo being crushed and then broken down by bacteria or natural enzymes in a retting and washing process similar to how linen is produced from flax.

Once the fibres have been extracted they are spun into a viscose thread or yarn.

Note that when you see viscose in the yarn composition information on a label it may mean bamboo or another plant fibre so it is important to check elsewhere on the label to see if bamboo is mentioned.


  • Fabric knitted from bamboo yarn has a shiny appearance and drapes well.
  • Softer than cotton
  • Durable, strong fibre
  • Breathable and cool, with some UV protection.
  • Absorbs dye well
  • Is biodegradable
  • Bamboo has some anti-bacterial properties making it popular for inclusion if sock yarn and baby garments
Sirdar Snuggle Baby Bamboo DK 80% Bamboo sourced viscose, 20% Wool soft with sheen ; King Cole Bamboozle 48% Bamboo, 44% Wool, 8% Acrylic – chunky thick and thin ; Louisa Harding Pitturissimo 75% Fine Merino Wool and 25% Bamboo viscose ; Rico Superba Bamboo 4 Ply 50% Merino Wool, 25% Bamboo, 25% Nylon variegated sock

Clockwise from top left: Sirdar Snuggle Baby Bamboo DK (80% bamboo sourced viscose, 20% wool) is soft with a sheen; King Cole Bamboozle (48% bamboo, 44% wool, 8% acrylic) is a thick and thin chunky yarn; Louisa Harding Pitturissimo (75% fine merino wool, 25% bamboo viscose) has a soft drape; Bamboo is popular in sock yarns such as  Rico Superba Bamboo 4 Ply (50% merino wool, 25% bamboo, 25% nylon)

Tips for working with bamboo yarn

Bamboo yarn can split do you may find wooden or bamboo needles a better choice than very pointed metal ones. The fact it is a slippery yarn may be another reason to avoid metal needles.

Garments knitted with bamboo fibre may drop (this will depend on whether it is blended with other fibres and which these are) so you may want to hang your swatch up with a couple of clothes pegs on the bottom edge to see if it stretches. You can then bear that in mind when looking at the length of your garment.

Choose patterns with drape to benefit from bamboo’s qualities or use yarns where bamboo is blended with other fibres for a firmer fabric.

What is your favourite pattern for bamboo yarn – please tell us in the comments below.

Baby knits – a first step to big knits

When we are out and about at craft shows we often meet people who tell us that they have been knitting for a while but they are nervous about trying to make a whole garment. Of course we also meet people whose first project was a jumper but this blog is for the first group.

There are lots of reasons why newish knitters may be nervous about tackling their first jumper even if they have used quite complex colourwork or patterns for hats and scarves. They include:

  • What if I spend a lot of money on yarn and then can’t finish the sweater?
  • I don’t understand how cardigans go together.
  • I’ve never really done any shaping.
  • I’m worried about sewing up.

One way to help someone get past these worries is to suggest they start with a baby garment.

The great thing about baby garments is that you can find pretty much every style of sweater or cardigan you can think of. So you can find bottom-up and top-down designs, raglan and set-in sleeves, colourwork, lace, cables etc. Have a look at the UK Hand Knitting baby pattern collection here for an example of this.


So by picking a baby sweater in a similar style to something you’d like to make in an adult size you can learn about shaping, sleeves, picking up stitches for a neckband and all the techniques while only using a couple of balls of yarn from your stash. This is a good way to build up confidence with the techniques and you will always find a grateful recipient for a baby cardigan whether that be a friend or relation or a local charity.

And if you don’t believe there is a relationship between these mini knits and a grown up sweater, check out this blog post from Let’s Knit magazine about baby knits and their adult equivalents.