Yarn Profile: Foxfire Fibre Upland Wool and Alpaca
Barbara sells her yarns primarily at sheep and wool festivals in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York, and she also makes them available to the general public through her Web site. Foxfire Fiber is perhaps best known for its luxurious Cormo wool blends, but Barbara also offers some intriguing blends based on her Border Leicester fibers—and that's what I review here.
Upland Wool and Alpaca is a single-ply blend of Border Leicester and Cormo/Leicester/Rambouillet cross wool fibers, mixed with 20% prime alpaca fibers that Barbara selects by hand from the clip of a local alpaca herd. It is an ideal harder-wearing counterpoint to Barbara's delicate Cormo.
The different fibers absorb and reflect dye at varying degrees, giving the yarn a beautiful heathered quality with a remarkable swirling sheen throughout.
I was quickly able to knit by touch alone, gazing out the window while my stitches flew past quickly and snaglessly on the needles. My stitches looked mostly even, with just a hint of irregularity here or there that I suspected would even out in the wash.
Blocking / Washing
I did have to pin down the top and edges of my swatch to keep them from curling as they dried. The dried swatch showed no change in stitches or in rows per inch—the gauge was perfectly steady.
The presence of the Border Leicester fibers makes this an innately stronger, more durable yarn than a comparably spun finewool. The Border Leicester also gives the yarn spunk and character. No, it's not nearly as wear-it-to-bed soft as Cormo or Merino, but Upland Wool and Alpaca is not prohibitively scratchy either.
And its qualities cannot be overlooked: it has a crisp feel, superior durability, and can trap lots of still air within its fibers to keep you toasty warm. This is an ideal yarn for any of those warm, comfy sweaters you'd wear over a turtleneck.
You'll need about 1200 yards of Upland Wool and Alpaca for an unadorned, medium-sized women's pullover, which translates to 9 skeins at a bill of $135. Once you read Barbara's blog and get an idea of how much time, love, and soul go into these fibers—from lambing season to shearing day and dyeing—you'll realize how fair a price this is.
Even so, I know that $135 will be out of some people's reach, especially in the current economy. In this case, don't be afraid to think smaller. The yarn may not be quite soft enough for scarves, but it begs to become a cabled hat or a pair of mittens. Two skeins will get you a hat, and three will guarantee you a great pair of mittens. In fact, Barbara sells this yarn as a kit for Kate Gilbert's Bird in Hand mittens for $50. (The yarn also renders exquisite cables—scroll down on this page to see some examples.)
And if $50 is still beyond your budget, how's this for a deal: One skein will make a perfect and long-lasting pair of my Maine Morning Mitts using a special yarn that comes straight from the hands of the shepherd. The pattern's free, bringing your total bill to $15.
Upland Wool and Alpaca
Foxfire Fiber and Designs
20% prime alpaca
5 stitches per inch on US 5-6 (3.75-4mm) needles
Average retail price
Where to buy online
Foxfire Fiber and Designs
Weight/yardage per skein
2.2oz / 135 yards (123m)
Country of origin
Manufacturer's suggested wash method
None given. I recommend hand wash in cold to lukewarm water with mild soap. Lay flat and let dry away from direct heat or sunlight.
Color used in review
Foxfire Fiber and Designs (to my knowledge, Barbara Parry does not yet offer yarns wholesale)