Robyn Betts is enthusiastic when it comes to having a yarn about yarn. Or fabric or knitwear or sewing or haberdashery or crocheting or just about any crafty pursuit. She’ll even gladly give out alpaca husbandry advice.
If you do want to chat with her, Robyn can be found in Alexandra’s main street at The Alpaca Yarn Lady – Crafty Bits Store. She moved the shop from Violet Town six months ago because she needed a bigger space to showcase her Grace Knitwear products, which embody her passion for high-quality, locally-sourced, ethically-produced fleece. This passion began more than two decades ago when she ventured into breeding suri alpacas. Suri are the rarer of the two types of alpaca. They have a distinctive fleece, which looks a bit like dreadlocks on the animal and has been described as the finer, longer, and more lustrous of the two types.
“I bred suri alpacas for 13 years. I just got into it because it was a hobby, and then as I started to get more alpacas, I started to look at their fleece. No one was doing anything with the suri alpaca fleece, they were just shearing them off and getting rid of the fleece. I thought, ‘This is crazy.’ So I worked hard on understanding the fleece and then negotiating with some processors in Victoria to try to get it processed. I wanted to enable suri to be processed into a product which could be spun into a knitting and weaving yarn by hand spinners or through a commercial mill,” Robyn explains.
“I wanted to enable suri (alpaca fleece) to be processed into a product which could be spun into a knitting and weaving yarn by hand spinners or through a commercial mill.”Robyn Betts, The Alpaca Yarn Lady
“It took me a number of years to finally get some people to process it and spin it, and I did have to blend it with merino. The suri alpaca fleece needs to be blended with another fibre which has elasticity and fibre memory [it returns to its original position after stretching]. Merino is perfect for this blending.”
Robyn says she was the first to process suri fleece commercially in Australia, and that gave rise to Grace Knitwear, allowing her to translate her fleece expertise and desire for a small carbon footprint into beautiful garments.
“I also studied wool classing, so the whole focus is on something that is next to skin softness, of the highest quality, and totally processed in Victoria. With the suri alpaca and merino, you get a beautiful smooth, silky feel, as well as the warmth, that light warmth. People like it because it’s touchable – it’s like touching silk.”
A setback with the equipment used to wash the alpaca fleece has meant that Grace Knitwear is temporarily being manufactured with merino only. But Robyn hopes the machinery will be fixed soon, and she will be able to use her unique fibre blend again this year. In the meantime, she has sourced fine merino fleece from a single farm in Violet Town, Toland Merino, for a new autumn range to keep customers cosy as the cool weather sets in.
“I selected this breeding line because it has the highest ethical accreditation in Australia, the fleece has a silky handle [feel], and it’s rated the eighth best merino stud in Australia,” Robyn says.
“From March, I have a new range of the Grace Knitwear merino coming out, which is really quite special. The new range has some signature outfits, and there will be a limited number of them. There’s unisex jumpers, a roll-neck jumper, there’s a tunic vest for women, and there’s a beautiful cape and scarves. It’s classic styling with unique stitches, and that’s what makes it different.”
“The different colours this year are a highland green, a blood moon, a sage, a pebble colour, and a lighter beige colour. People can mix and match the knitwear, and it all works together.”
Along with the new range of knitwear, Robyn has exciting plans for the coming months, including expanding the available yarn and fibre selection, getting some workshops going, and continuing to collaborate with her sister, Gayle Wilson, to extend the working life of customers’ clothes.
“I’m aiming to have some scrap-booking workshops, and there will be sessions for people to come and try weaving on my loom. I’ll be supportive of the Murrindindi Beanie Festival too, and I’m aiming to support the new local spinners’ group,” Robyn says.
“My sister assists me at times; she’s known as the Mobile Mender, so I offer a mending service as well – mending clothes. We get a lot of fellows who prefer to have their favourite work clothes patched rather than replaced or they need buttons that won’t fall off.”
So customers can add clothes mending to the list of things they might want to chat about with Robyn or get her advice on – her knowledge is just one of the many resources on hand at The Alpaca Yarn Lady – Crafty Bits Store.
“The shop is a great resource for all things creative. It’s a real experience to come in here and have a browse; it’s a shop for browsing and looking, particularly for people wanting to be a bit creative, there’s always something they can find.”
The Alpaca Yarn Lady – Crafty Bits Store is at 75 Grant Street Alexandra. Opening hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 3pm. For more information, go to The Alpaca Yarn Lady Facebook page, go to graceknitwear.com.au, or, call Robyn on 0427 879 998.