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Choosing the best yarn for a project can be tough. It can be even harder when choosing to work with a luxury fiber like alpaca yarn. Alpaca yarn comes from the animal of the same name, a relative of the llama and the vicuna, a rare Peruvian animal, both of which also produce fiber that can be turned into yarn. Alpaca yarn comes in virtually all weights of yarn, from a very skinny lace-weight for spectacular gossamer creations to a thick, bulky weight to make sweaters for the depths of winter, as well as everything in between. Yarn produced from the alpaca can be used for knitting, crocheting, weaving or other fiber arts, and the project at hand usually determines how to choose the best alpaca yarn.
Like many other fibers, alpaca yarn can be spun in a variety of ways, which will affect the softness and application of the yarn. Not only is the alpaca fiber spun into yarn, but also it is often plied with other fibers to add strength and resiliency to the finished garment. Alpaca yarn is often compared in softness to that of cashmere, a goat product, and they can even be combined. Overall, the softness of the yarn skein depends upon how the fibers were initially prepared and what, if any, other fibers it is combined with in the process.
Yarn is classified into six general thickness categories as set forth by the Craft Yarn Council of America. The numbering system goes from 0 to 6, with 6 being the thickest category. Many names are applied to the categories. For example a yarn with a thickness or weight rating of 1 might be called “superfine” and would be suitable for socks and heirloom baby items, while a yarn with a thickness rating of 4 would be classified as a “medium weight” yarn and would be suitable for heavy sweaters and afghans. A pattern will usually specify which weight yarn is appropriate for that pattern, as well as what size tools are needed.
When beginning a project with any yarn, a swatch or test strip should be created to figure out how the project will turn out and whether the yarn and tools selected will create the desired results. It is usually easier to swap out tools for larger or smaller ones than it is to choose a different yarn, especially if the yarn has already been purchased. Alpaca yarn can range in price from as little as $5 US Dollars (USD) for 440-yard (402-meter) balls of pure alpaca lace weight yarn, to $2 USD for similar alpaca blends, but it can be as expensive as $20 USD for 120 yards (109.7 meters)of pure alpaca hand-dyed yarn in a medium weight.
If the fiber content of a ball of yarn is questionable, a test called the “burn test” may be used. A piece of the yarn is burnt, and the resulting observations can tell generally what fiber is in the yarn. If a yarn burns briefly and ceases to burn when removed from flames, produces an orange or yellow flame and does not produce smoke, it is generally a natural fiber. The smell of burning hair or feathers and dark ash that turns to dust when handled will tell that the fiber is from an animal that is either a sheep, goat, rabbit or alpaca. When in doubt about which yarn to choose, it is advisable to visit a local yarn specialty shop where the staff is trained to help with proper yarn selection.
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