Year of natural fibres: Camelids

Five years ago, if you had offered me yarn spun from camelhair, I would have said very firmly but politely: “No thanks.” I would have thought, less politely: “Are you KIDDING?” I mean, I like soft yarn! Floofy yarn! Delectably strokable yarn! And camels… well. Not so strokable, right?
More fool me, then, because it turns out, camel yarn is about as delicious as anything I’ve ever touched.

Living in harsh climatic conditions, camels have developed cunning insulation in the form of a downy undercoat. Spun into yarn, that undercoat is To.Die.For. It appears I have misjudged the not-so-humble* camel oh so harshly. Camel yarn? Yes PLEASE!
It costs, of course. The downy winter undercoat is shed in the spring, when it’s gathered by hand and processed for spinning – the processing includes such finicky work as removing the not-so-floofy guard hairs, so this takes time and care. Which costs. I reckon it’s worth it. If you’ve touched it, I reckon you’ll agree.
A close fibre cousin to camel, alpaca yarn is rather better known, and more widely revered. It’s a bit easier to believe these animals will produce yummy fibre because they look the part: cuddly! Floofy! Awww… we all want alpacas in our back yards, don’t we? I hear they make great pets, too.
Alpaca yarn too must be carefully processed – while they can be sheared like sheep, there are a few coarse beard hairs that must be separated from the good stuff. (Compare llamas: like camels, they have two layers of hair, the soft undercoat and the coarser guard hairs. The undercoat produces fibre that’s just as soft and delish as alpaca, but it’s harder to process because of the need to get rid of the guard hairs, which is why you won’t find much llama yarn on the market.)
What’s it good for?
Both camel and alpaca yarns are very good at doing what the animals grew their coats for in the first place: keeping warm! They’ll do as good a job of insulation as the more familiar wool – but premium smooth merino, not scratchy Shetland. (Not knocking the Shetland. It’s a fine thing in its own right. But scratchy.) Unless you have an allergy, there’s no danger of itch with these lovely yarns. Alpaca also resembles wool in its ability to absorb moisture yet still feel dry.
Less like wool is the relative lack of elasticity these fibres display. Admittedly they have more give than, say, cotton, but in pure form, they won’t be the best choice for stretchy fabrics like ribbing; and you’ll need to take care not to let them streeeeetch out once knitted up. You’ll often see these fibres in blends – typically with wool yarns, to improve the bounce and memory; or with silk, to capitalise on that drape and lustre. In a wool blend, they’ll do well for warm, cosy sweaters, even patterns rich in ribs and cables that require a fair bit of sproing (ask me how I know). With silk, they become absolutely divine material for drapey, warm, luxurious lace.
Try them out!
The fun part: treat yourself to a little sample or two with 10% off, using the discount code YONFCAMEL. These yarns are absolutely exquisite, some of our bestsellers (and my personal favourites), so it’s a rare opportunity to get them at a discount.
Camelspin: I am perhaps in danger of banging on too much about this yarn, but it really is incredible. So soft! So richly coloured! So utterly divine in every way!
River: Blended with both merino and silk, this is perhaps the ultimate winter alpaca yarn! Lofty, soft, and gorgeously hued.
Suri Blue: Another wool blend, this is a great value laceweight. I’m dying to make a whole sweater in this — as soon as I find the time…
Newgale: Our most luxurious alpaca yarn, this combines it with silk and cashmere. Oooooooh. Now that’s posh.
* You look a camel in the eye and call him humble. I dare you.

3 thoughts on “Year of natural fibres: Camelids

  1. I don’t agree that camel has no stretch. Granted, I’m basing this on one project knit in Camelspin, my Ishbel. I blocked the hell out of it, it was nice and large and drapey. Then even a couple of days later I noticed it had shrunk in the length by about 10cm and now a month later it’s shrunk another 15cm. I’ll definitely need to block it again. I haven’t had that issue with pure silk so I can only guess that it’s the 30% camel in there that gives it the “bounce”.

  2. I didn’t say “no stretch” – I said *relative* lack of elasticity… compared with wool. It’s true that it doesn’t hold blocking as long as silk, but that’s also not strictly a bounce factor.

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