7.4.14

Bonnie Children's Bolero Errata

Correction to version 1.0 of the pattern:

Right Cable Edging [12 st panel; 6 row repeat]
Row 1 [RS]: Sl1 Knitwise, p1, k1, p1, k4, p1, k1, p1, k1.
Row 2 [WS]: P1, k1, p1, k1, p4, k1, p1, k1, p1.

A little typo had forced it's way into the Bonnie Children's pattern. Row 2 of Right Cable edging say k2 were it should say k1.

27.3.14

Reporting back from Olympia

This year the Spring Knitting and Stitching show was bigger and better than ever before as they say in the adverts, and this time it was very true! The show was a big success and we enjoyed the large range of beautiful stands, the wonderful and friendly visitors and the glorious weather. We didn't see much of said weather but we have been told it was rather lovely!

We had a large stand this year to make room for the launch of our children's collection and thought the stand look rather good. What did you think?


We also had a few fabulous customers swing by to see us and here are a few showing of their Purl Alpaca Designs finished pieces.


Susan is wearing her version of Esme Jumper in Alpaca Light (ivory) and looks absolutely stunning. In her own blog post she claims her facial expression in this photo is goofy, but we thinks she looks rather fabulous as always! 

This is the rather wonderful Iris Wood showing us her crocheted Flower Necklace. Lovely work, Iris! 

Customers with style

More lovely images have been sent to us and this is from our most recent correspondence:

After knitting Isis, a delighted Agata says:



"I just finished it! It was my first sweater in my whole knitting life! Thank you so much for the update. Your designs are wonderful. The size are perfect fit. Looking forward to knit more of your designs."
 




Whilst Cynthia says:

Please find attached a picture of your Medley design scarf that I have made. I have made the matching hat from a pattern that I have had for many years and my daughter is modelling it for me.



And finally, this is Laura rocking it out on a Green Day concert (hence the green nail varnish) wearing her Hope Wristwarmers in Alpaca Storm. Awesome!



7.3.14

How about a mini-me?

Here at Purl Alpaca Designs we have long been mulling over the idea of a mini-me collection. We get a lot of comments from customers saying they think some of our designs would look adorable for kids. So we've listened (occasionally we are good at this, but not when it comes to things like "you need to do the accounts" or "that pattern just needs to be checked"...)

Having never done a kid's collection or shoot before, we were all a bit nervous, but with the help of some amazing family and friends with kids at the right age, our brilliant photographer Tiffany and hair and make up artist, Carolyn, it all went incredibly well!

We had a fantastic location in Spitalfields evoking rustic charm and French city kids. We brought some fabulous props for the kids to play with, and our favourite balloon company, Bonbon, provided the most popular distraction of the day!

Here are some behind the scenes shots and the full collection is available for sale on our website!











All behind the scenes photos by Nils Petter Nilsen.

2.3.14

Alpacas on Dragons’ Den






 Picture from http://startups.co.uk/dragons-den-series-11-episode-11/

Prelude
Way back in 2010, Tracy wanted to try Dragons’ Den and Kari-Helene didn’t; she changed her mind in 2011 and Tracy applied for the application forms.  Copious amounts of paperwork later, our application was sent to the BBC and we waited.  Another series of the programme was aired and we heard nothing, so we forgot about it.  Eighteen months later, we were asked in for a preliminary audition, screen test and to bring more information.  We were given interview pitching tips, Pre-Audition Q & A sheets and told what to expect.  Quickly writing a pitch to cover all the salient points, it was ‘all systems go’.




Act One
Scene 1 – Getting there
One gloriously snowy morning in January 2013, Tracy loaded Bessie, the van, with everything she could think of which might be needed on the day.  Setting off with hours to spare, she followed the Google Map directions which was great until the last half mile; then they took her to the wrong place.  Frantically phoning the BBC contact, Kari-Helene (who had a seamless journey on public transport), Tracy successfully got completely lost in London and eventually arrived at a BBC location, but it was the wrong one!  Kari-Helene met her and together they travelled the last 300 yards to the right location and proceeded to manoeuvre round the back of the building to the loading bay.  Quickly we set up a display for our patterns, yarn, finished garments and ourselves.

Scene 2 – The Audition
We had to pitch, on camera, to the film crew and pretend they were the Dragons.  We had some rehearsal and Kari-Helene forgot her lines, once she got them right, Tracy stumbled over her words.  Much laughter later, we filmed our pitch until the last take, when we felt we had given the opportunity our best efforts.

Scene 3 – The Competition
Of the thousands of applications received, The BBC had four teams, filming eight applicants a day for 4 weeks.  Of these, they whittled down to those they would like to invite onto the programme.  We were told we would hear.

Scene 4 – Hurray!
In February, we were informed they would like us on the programme, to bring alpacas, and that the filming would be at Manchester in March. 

Scene 5 – Getting ready
Serous preparation now took over, learning all the facts, figures, market share, details, exit strategies, competition and everything we could think of.  We had to make our usual display freestanding as there would be nothing to lean it against.  Whilst Bessie the van was being serviced, Tracy set about mocking up our fence panels with knitted pockets; to join them together, she used our Chunky yarn and a bootlace pattern.




We then had a dress rehearsal thanks to Mick George.  Using his business premises, we said our pitch to John and Neil (two of his directors) and answered questions relating to our business and finances.  This showed us where our arguments were weak and what other points we needed to cover.  They also suggested we pursue the wedding idea more.  We adapted our pitch, learnt more figures and felt we had the information we needed ready to regurgitate to any dragon.

Scene 6 – The Alpacas
Manchester is too far to take the alpacas from Cambridgeshire and it wouldn’t be fair to keep them in a horsebox over night, so Tracy searched the British Alpaca Society website to find a breeder who lived locally and who would be willing to let them borrow two alpacas on the day of filming.  She contacted Shaun Daniel of County Alpacas who recommended Miss Darcey (a brown female described as ‘bomb proof’) and Alfie (a white youngster with a good quality fleece).  As we’d never met before, it was arranged for us to visit Shaun and Julie the day before filming, meet Miss Darcey and Alfie and have a little walk around with them.  Hopefully this idea would give us all confidence. 
We all arranged to meet up,  at The BBC, the following morning a 7.00 a.m.

Photos: Shawn and Julie Daniels

Scene 7 – Setting up
Once we left Shaun and Julie, we drove the last 40 minutes to The Copthorne Hotel which had been arranged by The BBC and we checked in.  After unpacking, we met other contestants in the foyer where we waited for the staff to take us to the venue.  Everyone else got into a mini-bus but we followed behind as our newly constructed display didn’t fit in!
Collectively the contestants were given last minute instructions and we had to stay behind to be given more instructions relating to the alpacas.  We eventually arrived back at the hotel at 9.30 p.m. only to be told the restaurant was closed!  We managed to sweet-talk the staff into giving us something to eat before retiring for the night.
Act Two
Scene 1 – Up and Ready
There we were, bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready for the day.   






We met Shaun, Julie, Miss Darcey and Alfie in the loading dock and decided to have an impromptu rehearsal.  The line up was Kari-Helene leading Miss Darcey, then Tracy leading Alfie (we didn’t realise until afterwards that the height of each went down in uniformed stages). 
We started our pitch.  Every time Kari-Helene spoke, Miss Darcey looked at her, nodded and made a humming noise; this happened every time Tracy spoke too.  Kari-Helene took no notice, but Tracy did... what started as a smile, turned into chuckle and then became a guffaw!  She couldn’t stop laughing, couldn’t speak and then her eyes started watering.  Luckily the makeup lady was able to do a repair job so that it didn’t show in front of the cameras.



Scene 2 – The Set
We had asked for time to show the alpacas the set before we saw the dragons.  This was just to ensure that they weren’t spooked by anything.  Darcey was as beautifully behaved as promised; Alfie followed her and as long as he was in close proximity, he seemed quite content.  We practised walking past the props, then the lift and finally where the filming would take place.  The director checked the lighting, camera angles and once he was happy, we were asked to proceed.  To our right was the freestanding display which needed to be covered when we walked in and then unveiled once we were in front of the dragons.  It was hidden by folding doors that moved on wheels.   


Tracy held the lead reins whilst Kari-Helene moved them.  The director didn’t like the effect and so a production assistant went off to see if he could find something else.  He came running up behind us holding out a big, black cloth.  He looked like a giant bat!  Miss Darcey and Alfie, span round and ran away as fast as they could, going in different directions, behind Tracy’s back.  She didn’t let go and Shaun and Julie ran on to the set to help calm them down.  Miss Darcey was fine, she ate a piece of carrot and settled quickly, Alfie however, lost confidence; as long as he could stand next to Miss Darcey, facing the wrong way round, he felt comfortable.  

Scene 3 – The Pitch
Well we were as ready as we could ever be and entered the den.


Hello, my name is Tracy Birch

And I’m Kari-Helene Rane
Our company is called Purl Alpaca Designs and we are here today to ask for £125,000 investment for 25% equity in our business.

Tracy         We are a 'Field to Fashion' company; these are alpacas, this is their raw fleece which we prepare in-house, take it to a specialist mill and have it spun to our unique specifications. We then create exclusive designs for our yarn and sell knitting kits.

Our Sales are made through our website, a large online retailer, a monthly show on a craft shopping channel and we exhibit at 10 of the larger knitting shows which take place around the country, throughout the year.  A local specialist yarn shop acts as our retail outlet.

K-H            We have started to market and sell finished garments which are hand made by our team of experienced knitters based in the UK. This includes several designs which are ideal complements to any wedding dress. We have also started to develop the wholesale side of our business, both of yarn and readymade garments. These areas of development are where we need investment.

Tracy         Alpaca is one of the most luxurious natural fibres in the world; it is exceptionally lightweight, soft, warm and water repellent. As the most colour diverse animal in the world, alpacas come in 23 registered colours from ice-white to midnight black, with shades of brown, fawn and grey in between.  This is why we have the fleece washed but not dyed and we blend it to make our colours.  Our fibre is locally sourced (some from our own herd).

K-H            Knitting is gaining popularity. In 2010 the craft market contributed £3 billion to the UK economy and this figure is growing. Yarn shops are re-opening and knitters want a quality product. There is a growing trend to support companies producing in the UK which have an ethical attitude towards the fibre-providers and the environment.

Tracy          Our business has reached a plateau. We now need help to grow from being a small business to medium sized one.

Part of the investment is to help us take advantage of ‘economies of scale’. By manufacturing our yarn using the larger mills, we can cut our costs by approximately 28%.  To do this, we need to procure much larger quantities of fleece and have the funds available to have this made into yarn.

K-H            We also need to have the resources to market our two new revenue streams.

Thank you for listening and we look forward to answering your questions.

Tracy          Would anyone like to say “Hello” to the alpacas before they go home.

Scene 4 – The Dragons
Apparently Peter Jones’ face was a picture when we walked in!  Alfie wasn’t sure about this whole idea and kept stopping before walking forward.  Tracy held the reins and Kari-Helene carefully removed the cloth from our display; there were no mishaps this time!

After our pitch, the dragons met the alpacas, asked lots of questions and Tracy realised she was the same height as Peter Jones’ elbow.  The alpacas were led off set and, once reseated with hands washed, the dragons did their thing. 

Deborah Meaden was really enthusiastic about alpacas and their fibre; she owned a mill and we thought we were in with a chance.  Duncan Banatyne however, wasn’t interested.  Very quickly he said that it wasn’t for him and he was out.  He said: “In fact, you’re boring me”, which we found funny!

Peter Jones picked up on the fact that Tracy had said the yarn was water repellent and questioned her about it.  To check what she said, he proceeded to chuck a full glass of water over the Icon Dress which was displayed on the mannequin.

Peter:   It’s soaking
Tracy:    Brush it off
Peter:   (brushes water droplets off) Oh, not that I didn’t believe you or anything!

Piers Linney and Deborah asked lots of questions relating to how alpaca fibre compares to that produced by different breeds of sheep.  This was an area we hadn’t researched; Tracy replied that she didn’t feel she had the right knowledge to make an informed and accurate answer but could easily go away and research it.  However, as a natural fibre, felt sure that alpaca would work favourably as blends for any use of product.

Peter Jones asked Tracy a question and as she took a deep breath, he interrupted her:

Peter:   I like my answers short and sweet
Tracy:    Okay
Peter:   Bit like you
Tracy:    Thanks very much!

Piers asked Kari-Helene about design, production and hand knitters.  

Piers:     My mother is an amazing knitter, she can make a suit in an evening.
Kari-H    Great, does she want a job?

They had a chat and then Piers said: “I can’t believe I’m pitching to you to get my mother a job!”

All in all, the dragons were really lovely to us and we laughed a lot.  Once it was realised how small the UK alpaca fibre producing industry is, they lost interest.  In their final summary, they liked us and our products, but that we were too niche for their investment.

As a parting shot, Deborah said that she thought we were ‘very racy’ to ask for £125,000 based on our current trading figures.

Finale
The show airs on 2nd March 2014 and we shall see how they edit it – either with the hilarity or not!

THE END


27.2.14

Welcome to Burwash Manor (Yes the alpacas have moved)!

You know how there is always a story...?

Tracy wanted to move her alpacas closer to Cambridge so she could take back the task of looking after them.  She found Burwash Manor last year and after signing the grazing licence in January, started to order all the bits and pieces needed to make the girls feel welcome.

After putting up the green mesh and electric fence, she set about making the 'catch enclosure'.  This was achieved with new aluminium sheep hurdles and the gate of a convoluted catch pen.  The other bits she put to one side so that they'd be ready for attaching to the field shelter.


This worked beautifully and she put the feed trays, buckets and hay nets into the enclosure so that the alpacas would get used to it and not see it as a scary place where they are manhandled.

Doesn't the weather look serene?  Then the storms came and, let's face it, it was a bit blowy!  The field shelter didn't survive the onslaught and bits of it were scattered round the fields.  The tree looks dramatic but the shelter disintegrated!


All Tracy's female alpacas were to move in on Valentine's Day.  The horsebox was hired and Tracy was ready to do two trips to bring them to their new home.  It was possibly the wettest day to do this but with the help of Shab from Houghton Hall Alpacas, she successfully created a run from the horsebox into the field so she didn't get stuck!


Three girls were missing, Duchess (who wouldn't be caught), Dusty and Hope who both were a bit under the weather and so stayed in the barn at Houghton Hall until they made a full recovery.  The rest were delivered to their new home.

Now bearing in mind they are not used to people, cars, cyclists, dogs, people walking their dogs, traffic... in fact anything to do with modern life, initially, the new home was a bit stressful for them and they stayed together in a close bunch, constantly on the look out for predators.  Friday 14th February, they didn't eat (so much for love then)!

On Saturday and Sunday, Burwash Manor hosted a fabulous 'Love Food' event.  The car park was full and there was a constant stream of people coming over to look at the alpacas.  Tracy was on hand to answer questions and explain why there was an alarm call coming from the herd every few minutes. 
Eventually the alpacas relaxed enough eat their food and Tracy too relax a bit.

After yet more torrential rain, when everyone was leaving with their bags full of goodies and Tracy was finishing up for the day, a young woman came over to the field and said "Oh wow, alpacas! I haven't seen these since I lived in Australia".  They got chatting, Alison was returning from a cat show where her rescued Persian Blue had won his class in the show.  (She was suitably proud).  It turns out that Alison is a phenomenal artist who specialises in large canvases of horses.  Check out her website: Alison Elliott; we think her work is quite exceptional, in fact, stunning!  What's this to do with alpacas?  Well Tracy and Alison got talking, got on really well and Alison now looks after 'the girls' when Tracy is away with Kari-Helene doing Purl stuff.

The first team (Tracy has to call them this as there were eleven), settled down really well, gained confidence daily and got used to the routine.  Then the reserves arrived!  Liz dropped off Duchess, Dusty, Hope and the hay feeder on the 26th February so that all the girls are together.  Well these three are as insecure as the first eleven were when they arrived and this sets them all off.  So it's back to basics with gentleness and good humour.  Tracy has had the field shelter rebuilt and inserted clear plastic panels in the roof so it's not so dark.  Then the catch enclosure is built out from the field shelter with the easy catch pen already set up.  It's not been used yet; Tracy is waiting for the herd's collective confidence to grow and then she'll start training again.

In the meantime here are some happy photo's:


 - see if you can spot the difference


No, we don't mean panning the camera round to get in more of the shelter - it's Adie's legs! She was scratching in the first photo and looks really odd!

And now about the boys (yes we know you're wishing you made a nice drink before you started reading this missive)!

George as you know is at Woodbine Farm Alpacas and he was joined today by Charlie, Iago and Hero.  Here they are waiting for their transport and, as Liz says, look like the three stooges!


Just a bit of info', the shaved square on Charlie's and Hero's necks, this is where blood was taken to be spun into plasma.  It's a life saving treatment for new born cria - see Gaia's story and you'll get the idea.

And Finally...

Alison's partner Kim is the person who resurrected the field shelter and if anyone needs a handyman, we'd recommend him highly!

24.2.14

Back from Unravel 2014

Unravel continues to be one of our favourite shows. It has a great atmosphere and we always meet so many lovely people. This year it was not so packed as previous years though, we are not sure why. I guess it makes for better browsing space for customers, but for us it would be better if it was busier!
We still enjoyed it massively though and am as always looking forward to next year.

This year we had so many customers turn up wearing what they had bought and made previously, so we though we would dedicate this blog to all of you fabulous people showing off our designs so impeccably! You are all the best advertising we could ask for!

 Elly turned up wearing a fabulous version of the Helene Top. 
She had made hers in a green/blue colour that looked really stunning on her!


This is Fiona. She has made the Balboa Waistcoat in Sand. 
It works really well over her patterned tunic. 
She had several people stopping her at the show because of Balboa!

Janet was very pleased with how her Alexis Gloves had turned out 
and was more than happy to show them off. You looked fabulous, Janet! 

 Katie has spun her own yarn to make this version of our Icon Dress. 
She has a detailed description of the process on her Ravelry page
as well as lots of lovely photos! Take a look!

Linda showed off her amazing Bonnie with long sleeves. 
Linda has done this by working more stitches in the section between 
the cable edging and the sleeve head shaping. It came out great! 

Pam had knitted the Isis Tailcoat for herself and we think she has done a great job of it. 
We love the natural wooden button with the cream yarn!



Susan Crowe looks rather fabulous in her Honesty Cardigan which she has knitted in Dew and Ivory and added antique buttons as a final flourish.

And last, but definitely not least, this is Bronwen wearing her 
Balboa which she finished on the train coming to Farnham. 
Bronwen was helping out on the stand on the Sunday 
and did a great job showing of Balboa!