It’s no secret that winter in New England can be harsh. October marks the month that we begin thinking about how we are going to beat the cold bite of snow, and navigate through the slush and snow banks that pile up in our neighborhoods. Frosty temperatures and icy conditions make it difficult to leave the warmth of our homes, and certainly not without a proper scarf, gloves and socks. Erica Jansons of Hampden, Massachusetts has a comfortable, toasty solution to beating the cold: Alpaca yarn.
Erica is a weaver and fiber artist, and is the owner of Hampden Hills Alpacas and Artisan Yarns, located in a quaint building just off of Glendale Road in Hampden. Each product in the open room that she has built into a shop is hand made with care and precision by Erica.
Erica’s passion for bringing the benefits of Alpaca yarn to Western Massachusetts began almost twenty years ago in 2000, when she and her family moved to Hampden from West Springfield. As Erica explains, “About 2-3 years later, we opened the farm shop, just as a way to introduce people to alpaca and how good it is in the winter. It supports alpacas in the meantime. We have to buy them feed and hay, and selling the alpaca products makes them self-sufficient.”
You may be familiar with the phrase “Farm to Table,” which describes the movement of locally grown and produced foods. Many consumers are moving in this direction, with the satisfaction of knowing their purchases are locally sourced and made from high quality materials. Erica likes to think of her business as “Farm to Fashion.” Consumers are always aware of the source of their product, through every step of the process. All products are from alpaca to storefront.
The process of creating the yarn used in the range of alpaca products ensures only the highest quality items are sold in the shop. While some of the yarn is imported from Peru, much of what Erica utilizes comes from her own alpacas. The animals are sheared once a year. Per animal, anywhere from 10 to 12 pounds of alpaca fleece can be produced. The next step is to take the blanket (considered the best part of the fleece), and to pick out any vegetation or undesirable elements. The fleece is then brought to Steel River Fiber Mill in Connecticut, where it will be washed, cleaned and spun into yarn. When the process is complete, Erica gets the yarn back on cones. She then uses this to create the numerous items she offers for sale. “I try to use what we have, from animal to sales.”
The dyed yarns featured in the Hampden Hills Alpacas storefront are hand dyed by Erica herself, collaborating with a local alpaca farm. The yarns are hand dyed in small batches and numerous different designs including solid, tonal and hand painted. The yarn is also available in an array of different weights, including lace, DK, and heavy worsted. For crafters who like to knit their own creations, the original shades and quality of the Artisan Yarns will make a perfect and soft final product. She has also taught knitting classes within her shop, and hopes to continue to do so in the future, for those with the crafting bug.
It is always a great experience to stop in and physically handle each handmade item, but there are shopping options for those who can’t make it to the shop. Hampden Hills Alpacas products are also for sale at fiber shows, on the business website and Amazon.com. The types of items sold range from scarves, shawls and hand-dyed yarn to socks and more.
While many people are allergic to wool, another popular material in the making of winter wear, alpacas are considered fiber animals. There is coarseness often associated with wool yarn, as well as the presence of lanolin, an allergen that causes a skin sensitivity for those who wear it. Alpaca is soft and not an irritant. It does not contain lanolin. Erica shared, “Different fibers will have different coarseness. It’s not an allergen, but a sensitivity. There’s nothing in alpaca to be allergic to, especially after it is washed and spun into yarn. Most people who can’t wear wool can wear alpaca. Anything you can make out of wool, you can make out of alpaca.”
Erica’s co-workers are not your usual colleagues. Alpacas and sheep call a barn just outside the doors of the shop their home. “They are a unique pet. I don’t know if I’d classify them as a pet, more like a hobby. They are standoffish. You can’t grab them by the neck and hug them like the sheep. I’d say the sheep are more pettish than the alpacas.” Whether or not they are as outgoing as their sheep brothers and sisters, the alpacas of the business help to create a number of wonderful products, and an enjoyable lifestyle. “It’s a really good fiber and they’re just nice animals. They’re easy keepers, they’re clean. They don’t eat a lot, and you can raise an alpaca for the same cost as a large dog.”
Hampden Hills Alpacas and Artisan Yarns are the definition of what it means to be local and heartfelt. Erica often describes her business as “raised in Hampden, made in Hampden.” As she stated, “I think it’s important to support your local farmers and local artists. And keep in mind that there’s good stuff here, you don’t have to go to Walmart, you don’t have to be focused on disposable. There’s some really good stuff here that’s going to last you a lot longer. People are getting back to a more grassroots sort of thing and trying to keep it simple.” And that’s just what the business is about. Products made with care, durability and from sources that you can see.
Shopping at the Hampden Hills Alpacas shop is an experience you can’t get in a big box store. They are located in a quiet area, surrounded by trees and the peacefulness of nature. You can meet the animals that the one-of-a kind products come from, and meet the business owner behind the high quality work. Erica is always happy to educate on the benefits of alpaca and to help find the right item for your style. It’s a caring that is harder to find in a department store, making a trip to Hampden Hills Alpacas worth every mile.
The Hampden Hills Alpacas storefront will re-open for the season on October 6th, packed with brand new creations and quality yarns for the ideal shopping experience. Erica invites the community to stop by, and see what the business is all about. “Come see, see the animals, and see what we have to offer.”
For more information on Hampden Hills Alpacas, visit hampdenhillsalpacas.biz.
For more information on Artisan Yarns, visit artisanyarns.biz.
Hampden Hills Alpacas is located at 487 Glendale Rd, Hampden, Massachusetts
or can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Artisan Yarns will be at the New England Fiber Festival, Big E Fairgrounds,
West Springfield on November 3rd & 4th.