In 2006, we left corporate life behind and moved to Town End farm in the Lake District. The decision to breed alpacas started with a throw-away comment by me as I rushed out to work wearing my favourite alpaca cardigan. Although I love natural fibres, I find sheep’s wool usually just too itchy to wear. By the time I returned home, Brian had arranged to visit several breeders. He had decided it wasn’t such a stupid idea, as I’d always knitted for relaxation and he fancied rearing animals. I didn’t know that Brian had helped on his uncle’s farm as a boy and so knew about the basics. However, we’d never had so much as a dog before as I was nervous of animals and we’d both had busy jobs in the City. I had to be sure I could help with handling the alpacas before we bought any, so, when we visited breeders, I went into the pens to examine the alpaca fleeces close-up.
We started with thirteen pregnant alpacas and then imported more females and some top quality stud males from Australia. The herd grew to around a hundred animals and we won several prizes at competitions. Our main focus was on breeding pedigree alpacas for sale. I was still working away from home in the week as the business grew. An Australian shearer came each year and I carefully graded and colour-sorted the fleeces before sending them to a mini-mill to be spun into beautifully soft knitting wools. After a couple of years, I started to buy fleece from other breeders as our own fleece could not keep up with demand for the yarn.
After several years, I was able to stop working away from home and focus on the knitting yarns. I had started with pure, undyed alpaca as the animals’ fleeces are naturally white through to jet black, greys, fawns and browns. I then began to yearn for some colour, so started experimenting with hand-dyeing in a big tea urn. When I realised there was demand for coloured yarns, I started sending yarns to Scotland for dyeing. I find choosing colours hard as I try not to just select colours that I would wear and narrowing down to just a few colours quite difficult.
I produce straightforward knitting patterns from which we also hand knit accessories. I commission and buy-in designer knitwear patterns which are suitable for my yarns. As I’ve always knitted, I can provide advice and support to knitters.
Last year Brian decided it was time to retire from breeding and so I buy my fleeces from other UK breeders. Being close to the Yorkshire Dales, I can also buy Blue-faced Leicester wool directly from farmers. This fine, soft longwool fleece blends beautifully with longer alpaca fibres to produce a soft, silky yarn. I buy exceptionally fine Shetland fleeces from a farm in Lancashire to produce a more woolly alpaca yarn. I also blend the alpaca with silks and Falklands Merino. Not being a breeder anymore means I don’t feel constrained to focus only on pure, naturally coloured alpaca yarn, although my yarns will always contain some alpaca. After selecting only the finest fibres, the yarns are then spun and dyed in the UK.
I sell my yarns at knitting shows around the UK, selected yarn stores and online, through our website www.town-end-alpacas.co.uk
We also have a Facebook page with lots of photos of our products and cute pictures of Alpacas.