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A skein of Alpaka
Alpaka knitted up and washed
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Yarn Profile: Schoppel Wolle Baby Alpaka Naturbelassen

First Impressions
I love it when people have fun making yarn—and especially when their fun involves taking a quality that's already in their raw materials and making it do something you didn't quite expect. That's the story behind Schoppel Wolle's Baby Alpaka Naturbelassen.

The yarn is made from 50% wool and 50% baby alpaca. Under the right conditions, both fibers have a natural tendency to felt, though alpaca takes a little longer.

A lot of yarn companies go to great lengths to cosset their fibers and keep them from felting. But here the fibers have been drafted and then intentionally abraded to make the fibers adhere to one another without ever needing to be twisted.

Unspun yarn isn't a novelty. Schoolhouse Press has been selling an unspun Icelandic yarn for years, and I still get emails asking about the legendary but now-discontinued White Buffalo Unspun yarn.

But felted yarn is more unusual. Naturbelassen is German for "natural," which is how this yarn comes. No bright pinks or blues here, you choose from seven colors total, each of which is a heathered blend of natural colors. Picture a slightly finer, smoother version of Reynolds Lite Lopi, but with the added softness of 50% baby alpaca.

Knitting Up
Unspun yarn usually requires a bit of babying until it's been stabilized in fabric. Tug a strand too hard while you're winding or knitting and it'll pull apart. Baby Alpaka Naturbelassen stays together remarkably well, not just because of the felting but also because the underlying fibers have a generous staple length. My hank was wound into a ball and ready to knit in no time.

Unspun yarn also tends to split on the needles more readily than a conventionally spun and plied yarn. Here, again, Baby Alpaka Naturbelassen veers from convention. The fibers adhere to one another so well that the yarn never split, not on knit rows or purl rows, beginning stitches or end stitches, in ribbing or seed stitch or even cables. It's an easy, easy knit.

One thing Baby Alpaka Naturbelassen isn't, however, is elastic. On the skein and as it's being worked, the yarn lies flat and feels almost listless. The occasional wonky stitch was quite evident in the unwashed swatch.

Also, probably because alpaca tends to take longer to felt than wool, I frequently encountered long alpaca fiber ends trying to break free from the yarn. They gave a slight hairiness to the fabric surface, though the loose fibers are far finer than actual hair.

Blocking / Washing
Turns out all my swatch needed was a warm soapy bath to calm down the listlessness. Warm water helped rejuvenate the natural crimp and elasticity in both the wool and alpaca (though especially the wool) to even out the most egregious irregular stitches. Once dry, my swatch had simultaneously plumped and relaxed into a much more cohesive piece of fabric.

Everyone's gauge is different, but mine fell on the tight side, at 4.25 stitches per inch on US 8 (5mm) needles. The difference in gauge between unwashed and washed was barely 1/4 of a stitch per 4 inches.

Most of my concerns involved wearability, because this yarn violates the cardinal law of yarn physics: Twist is energy. With no twist, there's no energy holding the yarn together, right?

Well, not quite. As anybody will attest after inadvertently machine-washing a wool sweater and trying to undo the damage, felting is a pretty strong energy. Combine semi-felted fibers and a generous staple length (the longer the fiber, the deeper it's anchored in your fabric) and you have, even on the skein, a surprisingly strong yarn.

With friction my swatches softened and their surface blurred. As I increased the intensity of the abrasion, the fabric surface began to loosen and gather in vague clouds that were only visible up close. Gradually those clouds became the beginnings of pills that were deeply anchored in the fabric and better snipped or shaved than plucked.

Baby Alpaka Naturbelassen is one of those yarns that is worth trying just for the experience. But it's also a nice yarn in and of itself.

The yarn's unique unspun-but-felted composition makes substituting a little more challenging, but not by much. Just know that without a ply structure your stitches will appear relatively bright and smooth.

The 50% baby alpaca gives just a touch of luster that you'll notice when knitting in bright sunlight. Without the added weight and body of multiple plies twisted together, you'll be able to work more textured stitches and enjoy clean, sculptural definition without the traditional heft and bulk.

The price of $22.50 per 217-yard skein falls slightly on the high side, but you can still do plenty with just a few skeins. For example, you could create a splendid Brambles beret with one skein, or Annie Modesitt's Backyard Leaves scarf with two skeins.

On the sweater end, you could go bulky/abstract, holding two strands together to make Mona's Jacket by Mags Kandis (a medium would require approximately 7 skeins, or $158) or go for Rosemary Hill's more form-fitting Leyfi, the medium size of which would set you back about 6 skeins or $135.

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