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How-to

Sewing Tips for Alpaca Knits

Stitch smooth, accurate seams for comfy luxurious sweaters and more
Threads #216, Winter 2021
Article Image
Knit fabrics in alpaca and alpaca blends may be sewn into cozy garments. Some helpful sewing tools and tips make the process easier. Photo: Anney Lier for iStock.

Once you learn sewing tips for alpaca knits, you’ll be able to create your own comfy garments in this wonderful luxury fiber.

Alpacas, llamas, and camels are cousins, and their wool is a close relative to cashmere in its softness and luxury. It is also  warm to wear without being bulky. Sew with alpaca knits and create a sweater, cardigan, clingy dress, or gored skirt.

Alpaca herd in a field
Alpacas, shown on a New Zealand ranch, are often mistaken for llamas, a close relative. Alpaca fleece is soft, warm, and creates luxurious knit and woven fabrics. Photo: gracethang for iStock.

Since knitted alpaca is costly and ripped-out stitches weaken alpaca knit fabric, pretest the pattern by making a sample garment in a less expensive knit fabric. That way, you’ll be sure the fit and style are right for you.

Woven alpaca makes beautiful jackets or coats and luxurious throws. You’ll find tool suggestions and recommended techniques for working with alpaca woven fabrics here.

Sewing supplies and settings

Sewing machine needle: Use a 75/11 stretch type. To better understand sewing-machine needle design, check out our guide.

75/11 stretch sewing machine needles
Install a 75/11 stretch needle in your sewing machine for sewing alpaca knit fabrics.

Stitch type and parameters: Apply a narrow zigzag, 0.5 mm wide, and 2.0 mm long.

Narrow zigzag stitched seam on knit fabric
Sew alpaca knit seams with a narrow zigzag stitch, which enables the knit fabric to stretch.

Presser foot: Use a walking foot. This type of presser foot moves the fabric by applying pressure from above, mimicking the action of the feed dogs below the sewing machine’s bed. A walking foot helps ensure fabric moves smoothly and evenly through the sewing machine.

Sewing machine walking foot
Use a walking foot to move alpaca knit fabric steadily and evenly through the sewing machine.

Seam finish: After sewing the seam with a narrow zigzag stitch, serge the seam allowances separately or together. The choice depends on whether you need to press the seam allowances open or to one side. Apply a two- or three-thread overlock stitch.

Sewing garments with alpaca knits

Facings: You may want to face knit alpaca garment openings with a lightweight fabric such as wool jersey. This provides a nice finish while keeping bulk to a minimum and saving the alpaca fabric.

Buttonholes: To make buttonholes in alpaca knits, switch to a 70/10 universal sewing machine needle for fine fabrics, and use extra-fine thread.

Serged hems or edges: Serge the hem edge of an alpaca knit garment with differential feed, adjusting the feed setting to prevent stretching the knit. If sewing on the regular machine, press the fabric with your finger behind the presser foot to keep the knit from stretching.

Double-topstitched stretch hems: Use a stretch twin needle, a walking foot, and hand-wrapped woolly nylon thread in the bobbin. Loosen the tension on the needle thread until the stitches lie flat.

Reinforce alpaca knit edges

Try this technique for strengthening the center-front edges on knit alpaca cardigans.

1. Press 1/4 inch of the alpaca knit to the wrong side along the center-front edges.

Folded under knit fabric edge
Fold under a small amount of fabric along the center-front edges of an alpaca knit garment.

 

2. Cover the raw edge on the wrong side with grosgrain ribbon.

Apply grosgrain ribbon over knit fabric's raw edge on the wrong side.
Apply grosgrain ribbon over the alpaca knit fabric’s folded-under raw edge on the wrong side.

 

3. Then sew the long sides of the grosgrain with the ribbon on top and the knit fabric against the feed dogs.

On the sewing machine, grosgrain ribbon being stitched to edge.
Place the work with the grosgrain ribbon on top. Stitch close to each long edge of the grosgrain ribbon, securing it along the center-front edge and concealing the folded-under raw edge.

The resulting reinforced edge is stable and secure. You can proceed with buttonholes, or snaps, or hooks and eyes, knowing that you may stitch them into the strong foundation of the ribbon-stabilized edge.

Knit edge reinforced by grosgrain ribbon
Reinforce and stabilize the edge of an alpaca knit garment project with grosgrain ribbon.

These sewing tips for alpaca knits were adapted from sewing expert Sandra Betzina’s book, All-New Fabric Savvy: How to Choose and Use Fabrics (Taunton, 2017).

Photos: Sarah McFarland, except where noted.

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