We all have that wool sweater in the closet, that while great looking, is scratchy, itchy and just no fun to wear. Most knitters want to knit with cashmere to create that drapey, soft garment that feels great against the skin. But when compared to other yarns, cashmere is still quite expensive and is often approached as an investment not suitable for the casual knitter. Along with the cost, cashmere, made from Kashmir goats, is no longer sustainable. The high demand for low cost cashmere has led to overgrazing of western areas of China, leading to the loss of large portions of the necessary pasture lands.
A great alternative to cashmere is alpaca yarn. Alpaca fiber can be as soft as cashmere, several times warmer and much stronger than wool. The cuticle, or outer layer of the alpaca fiber, is smoother than either wool or cashmere fibers which allows it to feel smoother against your skin. The interior cells of the alpaca fiber have more air space in them than wool, thus trapping more air and making the resulting garment warmer.
The softest of all alpaca fiber is baby alpaca. Initially, alpaca fiber spun into yarn was graded as baby alpaca if it was shorn on the first shearing when the animal was about 6 – 9 months old. But the current standard of grading is no longer determined by the age of the animal, and rather by diameter of the fiber. The following chart represents the current grading standards:
Grade 1 Ultra Fine (Royal baby) < 20 microns
Grade 2 Superfine (Baby) 20-22.9 microns
Grade 3 Fine 23-25.9 microns
Grade 4 Medium 26-28.9 microns
Grade 5 Intermediate ( Adult) 29-32 microns
Grade 6 Robust 32.1-35 microns
Most baby alpaca grade fiber comes from the belly of the animal. As can be expected, only a small portion of the fibers from an alpaca animal are suitable to be graded as baby alpaca. We at pickoftheknitter.com have direct contact with the alpaca growers of Peru to provide you with baby alpaca yarn at the best price. Make your next project from baby alpaca and see for yourself how comfortable it will be.