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Thursday, August 6

Alpaca Bunny Smackdown...the results!

First, I'm on Etsy! (My handspun yarn is finally available for you to purchase!) Etsy is a wonderful site where people can buy or sell items that have some aspect of handmade to the products. I'm mostly interested in spinning fiber (to buy and to sell), and I have a lot of items to list. Right now I have four items listed, with about 100+ to go! Please visit me at Vtknitboy on Etsy! -->click here.

Smackdown '09
I'm not sure how to start this post. I woke up one morning to see a bunch of tweets on my tweetdeck (a free program that makes following lots of people on Twitter easier) mentioning me, @vtknitboy! It seems that two of my tweeps (twitter friends, ala "peeps" = online friends) were kind of having a little online back and forth about which fiber was softer: alpaca or angora bunny (can be confusing--prior name for mohair goat was angora goat).

I'm like, ut oh! They wanted me to be an objective judge and help them decide which one was softer. Yikes! The pressure! The conflict! The tension mounted.

The participants and their owners:
Kathryn in Colorado (@alpacamundo on twitter) raises alpacas. Lynn in Ohio (@sheepmama on twitter) raises angora bunnies. They decided to send each other, and me, 1/4 oz of fiber from one of their animals. The task was to spin it (and perhaps knit a swatch with it) and come to a conclusion as to which was softer. I noted that Kathryn's blog had a post about the smackdown where she used the term "better". To me, this was beyond what the purpose of the smackdown was, because the term could include everything from fiber strength, usage, wearability, etc. In my mind, I am just judging these two fibers based on softness. And, before I hear rumblings from the "losing" side, the results here are just for these fiber samples--they are not blanket statements about the entire breed of angora bunnies or alpacas!

Lynn (bunny sample) sent a lovely 1/4 oz of Nougat, a gorgeous chocolate agouti. Dark brown tips fade to caramel with a steel stripe and silver roots. Nougat is a Satin angora. Lynn's blog is here -->blog.

Kathryn sent a sample of Kocoa Moon. Kocoa is a lovely medium brown alpaca. Info and pics
are on this blog: click here. Kathryn's blog is here.

Another involved party is @alpacafarmgirl, also known as Katy. Katy raises alpacas in Alabama and I have been lucky to receive some of the finest fleece from her 'pacas. Very nice. She has been involved in this smackdown by organizing little yarn/fiber giveaways all week! You can read about her and enter the contest for a free skein of alpaca yarn here.

So, we have lovely fiber, lovely people. Based on this test, and softness alone, the winner is...

Before I get to that, here are some pics of the fiber, spinning, skeined and a knit swatch.

Alpaca pre-washing. Washed, air dried & lightly carded. Spinning sample.

Bunny precarding (no washing). Lightly carded on handcarder. Spinning sample.

Alpaca spun sample (top), Bunny sample (bottom). Same. One strand of each.

Knit sample 'paca on bottom, bunny top. Close-up of 'paca. Close-up of 'paca w/ bunny halo.

Close-up of bunny. Closer close-up. Sample wraps per inch, showing bunny halo.

Technically, from a micron count perspective, angora bunny wool is softer than alpaca.The alpaca sampled was Huacaya, which runs from 14-27 microns; with Royal alpaca 14-20.9, and Strong being 27.7. Angora bunnies rate a 13. I pulled this info from the Internet, so if you, the reader, has more updated information, please pass it on to me. Now, had the sample been Suri alpaca, things might be different. They rate 10-15.

Micron Count:
Vicuna 6-10, Suri alpaca 10-15, qiviut 11-13, angora bunny 13, Huacaya royal 14-20.9, cashmere 15-19, yak down 15-19, Quanaco 16-18, merino sheep 17-23 (but i saw one reference of 12-20), Baby Huacaya 21-22.9, Strong Huacaya 27.

So, as you see, micron count varies quite a bit in alpaca breeds, but I am under the impression that bunnies are pretty consistent. I am not sure which section of Huacaya this sample was from.

As an aside, I'm not an expert on either of these breeds, so please let me know if any of this information is inaccurate or needs updating.

Bunny wool needs LOTS of twist to it! It's so dang slippery, even a slightly over-plied sample can slide right out of the twist! I highly recommend really overplying the singles, then ply with about 20% more twist than you think you need. Really. I plied this sample maybe 10% overplied and it ended up relaxing to about 20-30% less twist in the ply. I ended up adding more twist to the sample later on.

More twist and the spinning technique will affect how much the angora yarn will halo. My sample has a good 1/2" halo already! Now, I did spin both sample supported longdraw, which means that it's lighter and airier than shortdraw spun, which would be tighter and more fiber ends would be caught up in the twist. I prefer longdraw because I feel for the most part that the yarn is bouncier, lighter and has more character--but that's just one perspective.

Angora yarn ended up at 22-24 WPI (wraps per inch=see the photo of the bunny yarn wrapped around the yarn needle.), the alpaca 22 WPI. The beauty of both of these fibers is that they can be spun even thinner than this without losing softness.

Alpaca is much stronger than angora. Possibly 3-4 times more. So from a usage perspective, blending some angora with alpaca would be lovely, and I'd add in 20% merino or other soft wool to give the resulting yarn more elasticity and stretch.

One aspect of this particular alpaca sample was it had a lot of VM (vegetation matter) in it; ie., lots of pieces of hay, etc. I don't have a drum carder, so it took a lot of effort to remove as much of the VM as I could. This affected the softness factor somewhat.

I did learn through the 'paca grapevine, that breeders are now focusing on getting more elasticity in the fiber through breeding. Sometimes garments made from 100% alpaca yarn can "grow" on you. However, this can be reduced by utilizing stitch patterns that break up the vertical lines. For example, a basketweave stitch, or a ribbed stitch would pull the garment back to the original shape better.

So, the result...

Angora "wins" by a hare! However, both fibers could be worn against the skin if needed. One plus is both fibers are incredibly warm, anywhere from 2-6 times warmer than wool. (But seriously, once you get past twice as warm, I couldn't tell the difference.) Both fibers are absolutely divine! A little angora goes a long way. One would need only 10% to feel the softness of the angora, and would easily contribute more warmth. I would love a garment made from 60% alpaca, 20% angora, and 20% merino. That would be ideal for socks. For me, a sweater would only need 20% angora, 80% soft wool to make it incredibly warmer than a wool sweater, and with either fiber, a lightweight sweater made out of sockweight yarn would be far warmer than a heavy wool sweater.

As far as the sample/smackdown, these are just my observations, feelings, and reaction.

I would like to thank Lynn (@sheepmama) and Kathryn (@alpacamundo) for thinking this up, and Katy (@alpacafarmgirl) for promoting it on her blog, and organizing the giveaway contests!

Cheers to all! And a special thanks to Kocoa Moon and Nougat! You guys (gals) rock!

Vtknitboy (Chris)

Tuesday, July 21

Summer of...spring and deconstruction

It's been just ages since my last blog post! I blame it on Twitter. Really. Once the lampooned fad of the month, Twitter is extremely popular and can be quite useful for developing contacts and connections for inspiring entrepreneurs and small business people. (Hint: I will be opening my Esty shop selling handspun yarn very soon!) And, I am vtknitboy on twitter.

Where is summer?
I'll keep this short. It's been a very cool and rainy summer so far. Only a paltry few days higher than 80 degrees. 'Nuf said.

July finds our household, well, literally, the house itself, under deconstruction! After years of complaining about the cold seeping through the thin 2x6" walls, and cool breezes streaming through the now gas-depleted double-pane windows (in winter, no less), we are having some work done on the house. The house was built in 1973 and all its parts are original.

We are having the roof replaced, all the windows replaced with energy-efficient double-hung windows, insulation and new siding, and insulation placed in the garage. We are also having the screened-in porch converted into a year-around sun/tv room. The room will have windows taking up the majority of the wall space on the north and east sides. And, the old walkway (ick) and decks have been removed, and will be replaced with a smaller deck on the east side, and there are dreams of a stone patio and sitting area on the south side, in the faraway future...

Yes, I am finally doing something about getting my handspun on my etsy site. I have weighed, measured, and reskeined several skeins of handspun. I just have to take pics, and get the info on the site! I have dozens of skeins to list on the site. Just trying to get in gear, while completing tasks needed for the house remodel. My site will be I will do another blog post when it's active!

Not much for pics this post. I'll see if the pics I took on my Blackberry work out on Blogger.

Hope you are all having a nice summer! Enjoy the pics of the raspberry color astilbe and the beebalm.


Friday, May 1

First: A Bit on Twitter....then, about spinning!

J kind of laughs when I go on about Twitter, and tweets from so and so. But, with my updates protected, I am able to accept or decline those who wish to follow me. There are some silly people out there, whose goal, it seems, is to get as many followers as they can get! Some people have hundreds, thousands. Even hundreds of thousands! Then you have celebs with a million plus. Lol. I'm pretty happy with my <200.

On to the crafty stuff!

I haven't been to sleep yet--from last night! I was knitting a clapotis (a French scarf)--click the word clapotis for a link to the first site I found when I googled clapotis. Hmmm. Kind of interesting that this link came up. Kimberly, the author of the blog Knit Whimsies, seems to have disappeared. Last entry was May 2008. This could be a mystery...

I went to bed at 2:30am and couldn't fall asleep, so I just got up and started sorting through all of the fiber (roving and batts to be spun into yarn), and yarn stashed in the closet in the den. I seriously have a lot of yarn and fiber. My goal is to put a lot of the handspun up for sale on my etsy site: vtknitboy at Now, don't go searchin' for stuff now! Nothing's up yet. I'll post to this blog after I get it set up.

I've been playing around with various fibers: mostly alpaca from Maple at in Michigan. She has fabulous fiber available--check out the stuff she has for sale at her etsy site. You can link to her etsy site right from her blog. Other fibers I've been into lately are soy silk, bamboo, and tencel. I'm really concerned about the use of oil for man-made fibers when there are so many natural plant and animal options in the world.

I'm interested in how these fibers can be sustainable and eco-friendly. I'm pretty sure the yarn made from corn is not a good example of this, as it takes lots of energy to convert it into yarn, and also removes it from the food supply. Soy silk is made from the soy by-product/remains of making tofu. There is also milk yarn! I'm not quite sure how it's made--if anyone has info on the yarn making process for these, please leave a comment or e-mail me!

Here are some of the yarn combos I did last week.

Top pics: attenuated bamboo roving (left); spinning the bamboo (right).

Pics directly at right: checking the twist on the single (left pic); bamboo spun onto the bobbin (right).

The bamboo is very shiny, almost like silk. But way cheaper and eco-friendly! It is very nice to spin. The fiber is attenuated by splitting it up lengthwise, then pulling it out about every 4-5 inches (the length of the fiber). This helps start the drafting process by sliding the fibers along each other. This also helps if the fiber is slightly matted, stuck, sticky, or just compacted a bit. ETA: here's a link to bamboo info: bamboo.

The next set of pics is the baby camel. This is very soft! Almost as soft as cashmere, but about 1/3 the price.

In the pics at right, spinning, on the bobbin, and checking the twist. Because the fiber is so short, it requires a lot more twist to keep it together.

In the next group of pics, the one at the left is the Lazy Kate. The three bobbins, left to right are camel, merino, bamboo. The middle pic is plying, and the pic at the right is checking the twist on the two ply yarn.

The final pic is the skeins of yarn, drying on the clothes rack, after being soaked in hot soapy water (I use an eco-friendly dish soap), then soaked in clear water, then drained and rolled in a clean towel. I give it a good whack, then put it on top of the rack.

New Twitter Friend!

I have become friends with a woman in Alabama, Katy, who goes by Alpacafarmgirl on Twitter. She sent me a sample of fiber from two of her alpacas. She asked me to post about it NEXT week, as she is willing to send out samples of fiber to those interested. In the meantime, I just want to say that it's superbly fah.buh.luss! Her blog is here. She's having a

Fiber Arts Friday & Giveaway!

More on knitting in a couple of days!

-Vtknitboy (Chris)

Tuesday, April 28

A Visit to DC. Finally an update...

Just a quick update here, as I will be posting a new entry tomorrow or Thursday with fiber stuff!

April 8-13 J and I were in Washington, DC! The last time either of us visited DC was sometime in the 1980s. We were planning on making our trip this summer, but the University of Vermont (UVM) hockey team made it to the college hockey Frozen Four, and our plans were made a bit earlier than we originally wanted.

It's always fun going south (of Vermont) anytime between March and May. All the plants and flowers and trees are several weeks ahead of us. The farther south you venture, the further ahead the plants. We were hoping to see the cherry blossoms, and we literally got there on the last 2 days of the blossoms, due to a heavy rainstorm on Friday and Saturday.

(click on pics above and at right. The flowers were gorgeous! There was heavy rain on Friday and Saturday, and most of the cherry blossoms fell off--but J managed to get some pics early Thursday.)

Unfortunately, UVM lost a heartbreaker 5-4, after leading with about 8 minutes left in the game. But, the rest of the trip was pretty good!

One benefit to being on Facebook and Twitter (I'm vtknitboy on Twitter) is being able to meet some of the people I've only known online. Another thing is being reconnected with people from college and other ventures in the past. I've been friended on FB by Donna S., a woman I knew at UVM in the early 1980s. She now lives in Alexandria, Virginia, and we met up one morning for breakfast, along with Elizabeth, a friend and knitter I know from FB.

We also were fortunate to meet Brian G. (@Urbanbohemian on Twitter) in person! I met him for dinner Wednesday, and he met up with us for trekking around DC on Friday and Sunday. It was really nice to have a local take us around! This made the trip. Props out to Brian for the time and efforts he put in with us, and put up with me! (pic of Brian and J at right.)

The monuments.
I have wanted to see the Vietnam War Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and The Mall for years. I was really surprised at how beautiful they are up close.

And yes, I did get quite teary-eyed reading the Gettysburg Address in the Lincoln Memorial, and also while slowly walking along the Vietnam Memorial. What really choked me up was that we were there on Easter Sunday, and someone left an Easter Basket and a small basket of flowers. (pic at right.) Very heart wrenching!

The World War II War Memorial was breathtaking! Large, spacious, very well done. The Washington Monument is, well, very tall. It was difficult to get a closeup picture as it wouldn't fit in my viewfinder. It was a very windy day. The flags encircling the monument were being whipped out to the right from our perspective.

I'm not always proud of things our government do, but I felt a bit patriotic trotting around being a tourist. We ate at some fabulous restaurants, including a Burmese one in Chinatown. The Chinatown in DC is really small. Kind of disappointing when compared even to Victoria, BC or Seattle's.

The picture of the statue of the Native American with the bow and arrow was inside the new (and fabulously beautiful AND expensive) Visitors' Center!

We visited the Textile Museum, but we weren't able to take any pictures.


Tuesday, March 31

Meet Lyra!...a two month project

My knitting friend from Houston, Kenny, called me up one day and said, "Let's knit Lyra!" And that's how this started.

I had no idea what Lyra was (I believe it is pronounced "Lie-rah"), so after we talked about knitting this pattern, I tried to find out about Lyra, and the designer, Herbert Niebling. I have been unable to find much about him, but from what I gather, he was German, and designed doilies and tablecloths and the like sometime during the 1920s and 1930s. I am not quite sure of the time period, so if anyone has more information, please let me know.

Click on pics for larger view.

First pic is Lyra right after blocking. Top right pic is on the dining room table. Other pics are closeups of the corner and mid points.

With the advent of the knitters online group, patterns, ideas, and feedback and information about yarn, along with social and political fun, have flourished worldwide, and is shared at the fastest pace ever!

So, I got the pattern, and during January and February spent about 200 hours knitting this lace. While the original patterns are mostly done with size 00, 0 and 1 US size needles (quite small in diameter) and knit with thin cotton thread, I decided to knit Lyra with Grignascu merino/silk (75/25 blend in a pewter gray color) that Kenny bought for me on his visit to Vermont last October (thanks Kenny!). I used size 5 US needles.

The knit piece has been washed and blocked--two hours of stretching it out and pinning it with lots of pins over a blanket topped with a sheet on the living room floor. It was not the most fun I've had in old age, and my butt and calves were very sore for 3 days afterward from squatting and sitting on my heels!

This Lyra is 60x60 inches.

Enjoy! Also, click HERE for pics of Niebling's design mastery!