Last month I was so excited to be invited to Purl Alpaca Designs to try out one of their unique knitting workshops. After my first visit in 2014, I knew I was in for a treat since the alpaca herd had expanded from 14 to 26!
My knitting skills have been at something of a plateau for years now, so I was looking forward to learning some new techniques and advancing to garments.
Purl Alpaca Designs is set in beautiful Burwash Manor located around 5 miles from Cambridge city centre in Barton. The workshop takes place in Barton Village Hall with a short walk to Burwash to meet the alpacas on the farm. To say this was my perfect Saturday was an understatement.
Kari-Helene and Tracy welcomed us with a room full of beautifully designed garments and patterns to choose from whilst we all chatted and got to know one another. There were around 10 of us at varying levels, but it was a great atmosphere with everyone helping each other to choose which garments suited us best and to decide on which pattern to work on.
The knitting kits offer quick projects such as hats and mittens right up to more involved projects such as full length cardigans and dresses. We learnt that alpaca fleece doesn’t have much lanolin in it, which means it is softer and less scratchy than sheep wool.
Once we had chosen our project and pattern, we chose a shade of yarn. I decided to make the Iago Waistcoat in Ivory. Kari-Helene showed us how to master the long-tail cast on over some delicious home made cake. It gives a nice straight edge for the start of your work.We learnt how important tension squares are for making garments and I was in the minority as I actually like doing them! I think of them as a warm up for knitting and usually always have to go down a needle size as I knit loosely.
After an hour or two of knitting, we tucked into a delicious lunch which was all homemade by Kari-Helene. She had even foraged to make some amazing gorse flower cordial. The lunch and attention to detail for the entire workshop was just beyond any other craft workshop I had ever attended. We were able to ask questions and get one-to-one tuition whenever we wanted throughout the day.
The next part of the day was to feed the alpacas!! Last time I found it a really calming experience so I was looking forward to meeting the new additions and to learning more from Tracy as we quizzed her on the herd and each alpaca.
Alpacas are social herd animals which means they should be kept in groups. Tracy has a special bond with each alpaca in the herd and can identify them all immediately. Some of the alpacas were expecting, so it was exciting to learn that even more will arrive soon (and some are for sale)!
We fed the alpacas some apples which they absolutely loved. Tracy then told us lots about their fleece (they are sheared once a year in the Spring), and told us about their care and her lifestyle maintaining an alpaca farm. Alpacas don’t really like to be touched all that much, so after we fed them, we just enjoyed hanging out with them and observing their behaviour in the sunshine!
Listening to Tracy was really fantastic as she is so passionate about the alpacas and what Purl Alpaca is about. One of the course attendees was planning to buy some alpacas so we all got excited hearing her plans too.
Feeding the alpacas is what sets this knitting workshop apart from any others I have attended. Meeting the animals that provide the fleece you knit with is pretty amazing and it gives you such an insight into the story behind the brand. When you return to your knitting you have a special feeling about the garment.
One thing that stood out to me is how each garment is constructed. The Iago Waistcoat is particularly simple in that it is two rectangular pieces joined together, but the other garments are clearly designed by someone who has trained in fashion design. Kari-Helene is passionate about garment construction and knows exactly how to get the perfect drape and fit so that each cardigan or shawl adapts to different people’s shapes as they wear it.
I can totally understand why Purl Alpaca has so many loyal customers who buy into the story and passion Kari-Helene and Tracy bring. Having attended a workshop (with some amazing women by the way!) I will definitely be looking out for new collections when they launch. The designs are feminine and pretty and will challenge me on my knitting journey as I progress through each one. I also purchased the pattern for the Darcy Chunky Snood which I look forward to making!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post today – I really did have the best time and I can’t wait to share my finished waistcoat with you soon!
A big thanks to Tracy and Kari-Helene for the lovely welcome and for inviting me along to the workshop.