Something for me.. made from the ‘ground up’!

I learnt to knit and crochet when I was a kid. It was one of many things we looked forward to when staying at Grandmas over a weekend. I don’t remember being particularly good at it, but I could do the basics.

I decided in my early 30s to have another go, after years of not picking up the needles, and made a couple of nice (but basic) scarves before storing the needles (and my quickly accumulated stash of wool) away in the cupboard once again. I was disappointed to find that knitting made me feel really tense.. and it just wasn’t enjoyable.

Luckily for me, I was presented with one last opportunity to find joy in knitting. Life takes some strange turns sometimes.. I never would have thought I would end up being the owner of 3 alpacas, but that’s exactly what happened to get me motivated and knitting once again.

Less than one year ago, I bought my first ever spinning wheel (second hand) and used YouTube videos to teach myself to spin yarn. It seemed inevitable that someone crafty like me, who had just taken leave from work, would end up spinning fibre after accumulating 3 years of fleeces from our pets in my garage.

On top of that, I had a neighbour gift me the fleece from her grey alpaca on the day our shearing was done, as she didn’t have a use for it herself. As much as I love our fawn and chocolate coloured girls, this grey fleece was just beautiful.

So, I had taught myself how to spin, then joined the local spinners group where I further developed my skills. I had more fleece than I knew what to do with, and now I was making some pretty nice yarn. Naturally, I had to have another go at knitting. I don’t know if it is my age, my lack of work stress, the quality of my ‘tools’, the patterns I chose or (most likely) the beautiful properties of hand spun alpaca – but my new world of knitting was next level enjoyable.

So that brings us back to the grey alpaca fleece…

I found the ‘Petit Knit – Ankers Summer Shirt’ pattern on Ravelry. I had a quick read through and found that the pattern would challenge me, but there was nothing in the instructions that I didn’t understand. I got some great advice from the lovely people from spinners group around blending the fibre and how to manage the colour. Alpaca tends to stretch without bouncing back like sheeps wool. I was advised that making a jumper from 100% alpaca fibre may look nice on the first day – but could end up looking like a dress once I start wearing it!

I had a bag of combed merino (merino that has been processed in a mill so that the fibre is all clean, smooth and ready to spin) that came with the second hand spinning wheel I bought. It was a natural cream colour, so I had to dye it grey in a pot on my stovetop. I somehow managed to make it a perfect match with the grey alpaca. I didn’t want the finished yarn to look to dull and boring, so I also added a little bit of commercially coloured merino/silk blend that I bought from the shop at spinning group. This added a tiny bit of shine and highlights of blue that complimented the greys perfectly.

The finished yarn was made up of 2 single strands of spun fibre, twisted together to get a ‘2 ply’ finished yarn (although in this case, just to confuse those that have used wool before, 2 ply doesn’t relate to the thickness) One of these strands was made of the grey alpaca, and the other was a mix of the dyed grey merino, and a little bit of the pretty blue/silver merino/silk mix fibre that I bought from the club shop. When plied together, they result in a 50/50ish % alpaca/merino blend. In theory, this should make it super warm, super soft, but a bit ‘elastic’ so it doesn’t all just drop out of shape.

It took what felt like forever to make enough yarn for this top (I needed about 500g) but got there eventually. I really wanted to get this right after investing so much time into making the yarn, so for the first time ever, I actually knitted swatches to make sure the pattern would knit up to the correct size. I always thought that swatches sounded like a hassle, but it really didn’t take much time at all when you look at the overall project.

I had everything ready to go just in time for a trip interstate (yes, I do take knitting with me everywhere I go now) and I must say that this pattern was a pleasure to knit. I can highly recommend this for new knitters. My discovery that knitting no longer makes me tense – in fact it makes me feel incredibly relaxed – was pretty convenient as I had to deal with some unexpected Covid related challenges during my trip. Every delay, and every moment waiting in a long line was just another chance to do some knitting.

One of the best things about ‘top down’ patterns like this, was the way you could literally try it on at any stage during production. I am not exactly a standard size, so being able to check sizing throughout was so comforting. I also had complete control over the finished sleeve and body length, as each part is finished at the bottom band.

To say that this make was satisfying would be a massive understatement. This is real life ‘from the ground up’ slow fashion! I don’t think I could ever make any money out of this (in production time alone this would be worth a small fortune) but I sure will be happy every time I wear it. I just hope that it gets cool enough for a few days over winter so I can!

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