At Arrow Acres Farm, owner Dee Sherman and daughter Liz inspect an alpaca’s fleece that will eventually be spun into yarn.
“Oh, I love my yarn. I love my animals. They are my pride and joy,” Dee said.
As the alpacas play outside, inside, their fan club of sorts, a group of passionate fiber arts lovers, gathers to knit with alpaca yarn. Most of it came from the animals on the Wall Township farm.
“I think knitting was popular a long time ago and it was known as an old lady hobby. And then with the introduction of the internet, it became very accessible and it started to gather interest in younger people,” said Leanne Coppola, a knitting instructor at Arrow Acres Farm.
Dee’s three daughters work on the farm. Leanne Coppola is the knitting instructor.
“Two sticks, a ball of yarn, your hands, that’s all you need,” said Coppola.
The alpacas are sheared every May — think of it as a haircut. Once they’re sheared, the farm workers combine the fleeces and send it to a fiber mill where’s it spun into yarn.
“Or we will keep some of the fleeces and hand-process them ourselves. When we hand process them, the first step is to wash them, then card it — which is brushing it in one direction. Then we use our spinning wheels and spin it into yarn,” said Andee Fagan, owner of Andee Fagan Fiber Arts.
Dee and her daughters study samples of different fleeces and decide to combine the fibers based on length, fineness and color.
“Alpaca is extremely soft, wool can be scratchier. There is soft wool, but alpaca is much finer and it drapes beautifully,” said Coppola. “Most people that allergic to sheep wool are allergic to lanolin, not the yarn itself. Alpaca doesn’t have lanolin in it, so that’s why most people that are allergic to wool can wear alpaca.”
Brick Township resident Debbie Ferguson says knitting is fulfilling — and additive.
“I’ve made 42 hats, I keep track. A lot of scarves, a lot of cowls,” she said. “When you’re knitting you know which alpaca your yarn came from and it’s just so cool.”
This knitting group has become a sisterhood for these women.
“I will say the Shermans here, It’s like coming home. It’s so nice and sweet,” said Long Branch resident Joan Bryson.
“I honestly think it’s about community,” said Robin Barraud of Bayville. “There’s a huge online knitting community that brings everyone from all over the world.”
Farm Manager Liz Alvino is the only sister who doesn’t knit.
“So with alpaca yarn I love to weave. I love to felt, I make felt slippers with it. I crochet with it,” Alvino said. “Anything you want touching your skin is a great thing to use alpaca fiber for.”
Arrow Acres Farm breeds the alpacas for their fleece. Their most popular yarns are the natural gray colors. The yarn is typically available for purchase the first week of November. The grays usually sell out within the first two weeks.
The ladies say their knitting skills have made them quite popular.
“Once you learn to knit, people always ask me, ‘can you knit this for me?'” said Fagan. “I say, ‘no, take a lesson, learn to knit!”