Sheila Woerdemann creates knitwear from the fleece of Andean alpacas
by Kumari Campbell
What does Prince Edward Island have in common with the Andes Mountains of South America? Beats me. But the question did come to mind at the sight of a pair of amiable alpacas ruminating in the fields at Spit’n Image, just outside Murray River.
Spit’n Image is owned and operated by Sheila Woerdemann, whose specialty is creating knitwear from alpaca yarn. Alpacas are South American cousins of the camel, sans the humps, and are very similar to llamas. They also sport much shorter necks and legs (than camels), and have an abundance of soft but shaggy fleece. And they do spit. Woerdemann explains that, “Alpacas are native to the Andes, and live at an altitude of around 18,000 ft. The cold temperatures of their environment cause them to grow an extremely warm but lightweight fleece.” She adds that, “These animals have been raised in North America for the past twenty years and are now acclimatized to our environment. The two I own were born right here on PEI.”
“They are just here for show,” says their owner, “so my customers can see what the fleece looks like in its natural state.” Woerdemann imports all her yarn from the Andes. She stresses the fact that the animals the yarn comes from are allowed to roam free (with no fences) on land that is certified organic. They are sheared annually by the natives of the region, who are then able to sell the fleece for a fair price.
It was this organic aspect of the yarn that first attracted Woerdemann to alpaca fleece. But she also points out that alpaca fleece is much finer and softer (it has an almost silky feel) than sheep’s wool, and yet it produces a stronger yarn, which of course gives more durability to the knitwear. Another advantage is that alpaca fleece has no lanolin, which enables people with allergies to that substance to be able to tolerate alpaca knitwear.
Woerdemann has lived on the Island for four years, and has been producing her line of knitwear for almost as long. All the yarns she uses are the natural colours of the alpacas—creams and browns, with some black—with no interference from dyes or chemicals. Hence the double entendre of the name Spit’n Image.
Partly because of the limited range of natural colours, and partly because of the high cost of importing this uncommon yarn, Woerdemann ensures that her garments (sweaters, cardigans, shawls, hats, and scarves) are designed with classic lines. Unlike trendy items that may go out-of-style by the next season, she wants her knitwear to afford their owners durability and -serviceability for many years to come. Spit’n Image knitwear is available at Woerdemann’s shop on her farm. She exhibited for her first time at the PEI Craft Council’s Christmas Craft Show at the Confederation Centre in November.