How to Design an Alpaca Sweater

by Stuart Cohen on October 25, 2022

The latest wave of Covid hit just as we were planning our annual trip to South America to source new alpaca clothing last winter. In the face of closed workshops and canceled flights, we’ve embarked on our most ambitious development project ever for men’s and women’s alpaca sweaters without leaving home. Read on for a sneak peek at next year’s items, and some insight into how we get there.

Designing alpaca hats, gloves and sweaters depends on understanding each supplier’s strengths and their mode of production. One needs to have a vision, but not so distinct a vision that it doesn’t leave room for the designer’s creativity. For starters, we gave Laura ideas like “Rustic Norwegian Sweater in 3-ply Brushed Baby Alpaca” or “Geometric Women’s Cardigan in 2/28 Baby Alpaca.” These general ideas gave us a place to start.

As one example, we wanted to produce some new alpaca ruanas with Familia Vargas, a supplier who specializes in knitting on computerized looms and then meticulously embroidering and crocheting them.

Laura and I talked about some ideas for a baby alpaca poncho and the subject of Japanese calligraphy came up. Laura developed four options in a sketch with high contrast colors to show the pattern:

Brushstroke Baby Alpaca Ruana 1 Brushstroke Baby Alpaca Poncho

Brushstroke Baby Alpaca Ruana Wrap Brushstroke Baby Alpaca Wool Poncho

We chose Option 1 because we felt it balanced the right amount of negative space on each side, while still allowing for some asymmetry. Next, Laura developed eight colorways, and we chose three of them to make samples of. The sketches below show the garment laid flat. The head would be at the middle:

Baby Alpaca Poncho Brushstroke BlueBaby Alpaca Poncho Brushstroke Black

We decided on the red combination, because it was bold and cheerful:

Baby Alpaca Ruana Brushstroke Red
Here is the final result, the Brushstroke Ruana:
We also wanted to develop a baby alpaca sweater coat in the same silhouette as the Ottoman, but with more complex colors. Laura presented this sketch:
Imperial Baby Alpaca Sweater Coat

Like the Brushstroke Ruana above, the Imperial is knit onStoll knitting machines, and each color adds weight and thickness to the finished item. Would this be too thick for a sweater? We compensated by using four colors in the body andusing embroidery for the highlights,rather than knitted directly into the garment. Once we got the prototype we were able to adjust details like number of buttons and distance between them to get everything just right. You can see the finished product here:

Imperial Baby Alpaca Long Cardigan

Additionally, we worked on alpaca sweaters in hand-painted alpaca yarn, toboggan hats, an alpaca cardigan for women made of thick brushed baby alpaca, and some other pieces. Each of these means a series of photographs, swatches samples sent by courier and modifications carefully detailed, before the finished photo samples are complete. And not everything turns out. Some must wait until next year, while others end up on the ash-heap of invisible World history.

Alpaca alone would be enough to keep us busy, but we have not ignored cashmere sweaters. Our goal this year was to do some stunning cashmere knits with many colors, unlike any being done by other companies. Here’s a schematicof a men’s cashmere sweater in 12 colors that we developed. We were trying to imitate the color gradations of hand-painted yarns:

As it turns out, the computerized machines our Shanghai suppliers use cannot knit such a complex pattern! We quickly scaled it back to six colors:

Even so, the first swatches were terrible. This swatch was done with in-stock yarns, just to work out the pattern, but it came out blocky and unappealing:

Simply explaining what we didn't like about it and their technical problems took many email exchanges.With great persistence on all sides, we made it work, resulting in a classic Norwegian-style sweater in thick super-soft cashmere, the Telemark:

Men's Cashmere Sweater TelemarkWhat's next? We're starting our development cycle this month, and some ideas are a thick brushed baby alpaca cardigan, a new hand-painted pullover and cardigans, and new cashmeresweaters for men and women in both patterned and solid designs. Let us know if you have some thoughts!


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