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Denali Vest sewn with Ripstop and Llama Insulation

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The Quilted Vest - Thread Theory Menswear Sewing

When Seamwork came out with their Menswear Issue in October I filed away the Denali vest as a “must make” project and waited until I had a bit of spare time.  As it turned out, one day soon after adding the vest pattern to my sewing plans, an email came into my Thread Theory inbox from Wiphala.  I had never heard of this company before but it turns out that it is a start up run by two best friends that have created an insulation fabric comprised of llama fur- how fitting while insulated quilted vests were on my mind!

Llama fibre - perfect insulation

Thanks to llamas like this one who share their fur with us, we can all be warm and cozy 😛 Image courtesy of Wiphala.

The two friends (Jared and Elias) who developed this insulation with clothing manufacturers and outdoor enthusiasts in mind were curious to know if the DIY/sewing community would be interested in using their creation as a fabric for garment or quilting projects.  Of course, the Denali popped into my my mind as I read the email and I decided to test out the insulation by sewing up this pattern!

Jared and Elias kindly offered to send me some llama fibre insulation to play around with and sent me enough to make a vest and potentially a quilted hammock with Matt.  They did not ask me to write a blog post or publicly endorse their insulation in any way – they were just curious to hear my thoughts on it privately.  Since I can imagine many ways it might be a useful fabric for the sewing community, I chose to blog about it so I can hear your thoughts too!

Wiphala Insulated Vest-11

Before I talk about the sewing process, let’s put things into context a bit by telling more of the back story for this project.

Wiphala

First, here’s a little about Wiphala and the insulation: Jared and Elias are friends who share a passion for adventuring and competitive sports.  During their alpine adventures they often jokingly wished they could use polar bear fur to stay warm – they discovered that the hollow core of polar bear fur is the key to it’s insulating property.  Joking was set aside and they delved into finding an insulation with similar properties and a far better impact on the animal and the environment.  They were thrilled to discover that llama fur contains a hollow core too!  This hollow cores makes it very light and allows it to retain its insulating properties when damp (unlike down).  The harvest of llama fibers has a low environmental impact and a large economic impact for communities in the Andes.

Llama Insulation

The insulation fabric is comprised of matted llama fur. Image courtesy of Wiphala.

And now, a little bit about why I was so excited to sew a project like this: The motive for launching Wiphala really resonated with me because Matt has been very immersed in the hobby of hammock camping and sewing his own camping gear throughout the last year or two.  I obviously have been absorbing the information he has learned about winter camping, insulating a hammock and creating a super light and minimalist camping set up because I have been so thrilled that he has taken an interest in sewing!

FinishedHammock-002

Also, my little sister is an avid adventurer who has created an organization called Rad Girls.  She and her friend/co-founder aim to encourage women and girls to get outside and go on adventures (check them out on Instagram for loads of inspiration)!  She is constantly fulfilling her organization’s mission when she pushes me out the door despite my protests that I don’t have the correct clothing, gear or ability :P.

Rad_Girls_Collective_Pacaya

I may not be an expert on extreme hiking adventures or on light-weight camping but I think my family and my experiences put me in a fairly relevant situation where I am constantly bridging the gap between the DIY/sewing community and the outdoor adventure community so, if I do say so myself, I think my opinion about llama insulation could be quite useful to Wiphala and to any sewers who are interested in creating an insulated or quilted project :P.

Wiphala Insulated Vest

Ok, with the backstory complete, let’s move on to the sewing project itself!

To create my Denali Vest I bought very high quality Ripstop from Ripstop by the Roll.  I’ve wasted a considerable amount of money in the past by purchasing low quality Ripstop for a back pack I tried to make.  The bolt of Ripstop that I found at the fabric store I was shopping in at the time didn’t contain any technical info on the material and I was disappointed to find out that the material simply shredded when I tried to sew it!  The good quality Ripstop material was glorious to work with – it didn’t suck into my sewing machine and seems to be very strong.  The biggest asset of this fabric is that it is sooooo soft and light!Wiphala Insulated Vest-7

I experimented with creating a sandwich of Ripstop, llama fibre and Ripstop while quilting and then tested out removing one Ripstop layer to create an even lighter (and more affordable) garment.  I sewed with the Ripstop on top and the llama fibre against my feed dogs.  I know that it seems crazy to sew with the loose hairs against my feed dogs (what if the feed dogs became packed with hair?  What if they shredded the insulation apart?) but I really wanted to test out just how easy the insulation was to work with – I had no problems with it and it sewed up just like a fleece fabric or synthetic insulation would.  Throughout the entire project I just treated it like a fabric rather than a matted selection of hairs (which is what it really is).  I found it to be very worry free and simple to sew with.

Wiphala Insulated Vest-10

Because the hairs are hollow and the insulation is quite thin, I felt that it wouldn’t lose too much of its insulating properties if I quilted it quite thoroughly (my dad requested square quilting rather than horizontal lines).  When working with down it is necessary to use baffles between the layers of fabric to avoid compressing the down and to stop the down from slipping down the garment until the bottom of your vest is extra puffy and the top of your vest is empty of insulation.  It is not necessary to do this with the llama insulation because it is matted together to create a fabric.

Jared and Elias recommended I use down-proof fabric for my main fabric and lining.  Down-proof fabric is either very dense (think fancy high thread count down filled pillows for instance) or has been treated so that the tiny feathers can not slip through the weave to escape your vest over time.  I ignored this advice purposely because my dad had a certain rip-stop color scheme in mind and I wanted to test the insulation by refusing to treat it special in any sort of way.  It turns out that their recommendation was good advice because my dad has been picking a few hairs from his vest as he wears it.  Matt and I think that it is only the thick and long hairs that will try to escape – once they have found freedom outside of the vest we think the finer and softer hairs will be happy to stay within the quilting.
Wiphala Insulated Vest-2

My dad requested some very particular styling elements for his vest (which is why, of all the people I sew for, my Dad’s projects are always the most fun, challenging and interesting to make!).  He preferred a taller collar so it created a softer look when zipped up.  He also wanted different pockets than the patch ones included in the Denali pattern.

Wiphala Insulated Vest-9

He requested somewhere safe to place his keys and wallet – he suggested zippered pockets on the front but I ended up creating single welt outer pockets so that the zippers wouldn’t rub against his wrists when he put his hands in his pockets.  Instead, I placed the zipper on the inside of the vest, along with a leather accent and Thread Theory tag:

Wiphala Insulated Vest-12

Now that my dad has had a chance to wear the vest in some pretty chilly weather, he reports that it is approximately as warm as his fleece ski vest – translated for those of you who haven’t seen the particular vest my dad is talking about, I would say that this llama insulated vest will make an excellent mid layer to wear underneath a shell style jacket (such as a ski jacket with no insulation) and on top of a merino wool base layer.  It is slightly less bulky than the fleece vest in question but it could have been far less bulky if I hadn’t lined it in cotton (I had debated lining it in Ripstop but chose style over function :P).

Wiphala Insulated Vest-8

The vest also works nicely as a thin and light layer to wear over a long sleeve shirt when feeling chilly inside the house.  It isn’t a puffy and extra warm vest that can be worn as the main layer of warmth in a snow storm, that’s for sure!  It would be easy to make a warmer garment by choosing a less boxy fit (since there is a lot of heat loss potential due to the cold air flowing between the vest and my dad…I probably could have chosen a smaller size).  It would also be much warmer if I had sewn with two layers of insulation and compressed it less with a different quilting style.  As the vest is, though, it is perfectly suited to the way my dad will wear it – as a layer that works for all manner of situations from sitting at the computer in his office to walking the dog.  He doesn’t have to worry about it losing its insulating value if he gets caught in the rain or gets sweaty while skiing some aggressive black diamond moguls.

Wiphala Insulated Vest-6

From the perspective of the creator rather than from the wearer, there are several things I would change next time:  I would learn to insert the zipper with far less rippling (it’s rather embarrassing but I couldn’t re-do it because Ripstop is next to impossible to stitch rip!).  I would select a less bulky zipper – I should have found the perfect zipper online when ordering my fabric but I forgot and had to settle for the small selection of the correct length at my local fabric shop.  I would choose down-proof Ripstop as my main fabric as discussed above.  And, lastly, I would choose a more fitted size.

All in all, I am fairly happy with how the vest turned out and very happy with how easy the insulation was to work with!  The only constructive criticism I had for Jared and Elias was that the narrow width of the fabric (30″) was a bit restricting and unusual.  I imagine this width would be very restricting for quilters who, I think, would otherwise LOVE this insulation for making light quilts composed of all natural fibres. ***Update: Elias replied to my feedback to tell me this good news – the insulation is now being manufactured at a standard 60″ wide!  The 30″ fabric that I received was from an earlier run of the insulation created specifically for the width of sleeping bags.***

Now that I’ve given my two cents, do you have an opinion about this fabric?  If you saw llama fibre insulation in the fabric shop, would you be excited?  What would you use it for?  Active wear? Camping or Ski Gear? Bedding? Quilts?  You are very welcome to add your feedback as sewers and DIY enthusiasts to help Jared and Elias find a market for the fabric they’ve created!

 

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44 thoughts on “Denali Vest sewn with Ripstop and Llama Insulation

  1. Pingback: New patterns! Swim trunks, raglan tee and more | Thread Theory

  2. Were you testing for them so they could see the marketability of their insulation in the sewing community? Because I’d be very interested in trying this but don’t see where one could purchase in sewable form. Thanks! Love your posts BTW. I’m making a Finlayson for the hubs for Xmas which is my first TT pattern!

  3. Amazing vest – your dad is so lucky!

    I would jump at the chance to buy insulation like this; they absolutely should consider selling it to the sewing community. Think of all the warm winter coats we could be making, and Eco-friendly to boot!

  4. Sorry, another question what weight Ripstop did you use for your Dad’s vest?

  5. This sounds so interesting and I would love to use this llama insulation for some winter garments for myself and hubby. Please let us know how we can purchase.

    • The insulation isn’t available to sewers yet since Wiphala is quite a new company and has currently only been working with manufacturers. I am just about to send all of this feedback to them and I hope that everyone’s comments will encourage them to contact fabric stores :). I will keep everyone posted on the blog!

  6. The hairs poking out are called guard hairs and are common in the fleeces of wool-bearing animals (llamas, alpacas, and sheep too, but llamas and alpacas tend to have longer, pokier ones). If you have a ball of alpaca yarn or buy an alpaca sweater you can usually see a few. Often the finer/more expensive the yarn/sweater, the fewer guard hairs you’ll have both because they use a part of the fleece that has less of them and the company making them spent more time removing them.

    I’d love to try out the fleece! I’ve promised to make my husband a Han Solo jacket and have been looking for something nice and warm to interline it with so it gets more than a few weeks of fall/spring wear each year.

    Love,
    Your Friendly Neighborhood Knitter

    • Thank you very much for sharing the correct term and the information about yarn quality! This info makes me even more inclined to think that the hairs poking out will just be a temporary issue until they have all fallen out leaving only the softer hairs (and my dad has reported again since my blog post that they are not very frequent and haven’t bothered him).

  7. I’m interested. I recently chatted with a Canadian fabric store that sold three ply winter fabric, and they had some great ripstop. I don’t think the 30 wide will be an issue for apparel sewers, and if you have a chance: suggest to wiphala that they come up with a ribbon version that can be used to bridges two adjacent pieces (to felt the pieces together) . I would think that felting would work, non?

    I will buy some to try if it comes available.

  8. This is super interesting (and I love the vest you made!). My question is about washing. Can you just throw it in the wash with your other things or is special care involved? It sounds like a cool product. Potential barriers to sewers that I can see would be the narrow width, the necessity of using special barrier fabric to keep it from coming through, and any specialized washing instructions (if there are any). On the other hand, even with these potential concerns, it would be great to have more technical materials available to the home sewer. When winter starts moving in, I always look for warm sewing options and I love trying new things. I guess I am wondering about cost for a product like this, too.

    • Great question about washing! I should have mentioned that in the blog post. Here is what Jared and Elias have told me: They suggest a cold wash (30 degress Celsius) and mentioned to me that the jacket manufacturer who is currently using their insulation has recommended air drying. They also heartily recommended using a scrim (a thin fabric on both sides such as mosquito netting) when working with the fabric as I mentioned in my blog post – I can see that this could be a barrier for home sewers because that means buying three layers of fabric for the insulation rather than one layer. I will try that next time I sew with it to see how it works for me :).

    • I forgot to respond to your comment about price! I don’t have any information about pricing at this time since the insulation isn’t currently available to customers (they have been marketing to garment manufacturers). Hopefully we will find out when they decide to market to fabric shops!

  9. I’d be interested in trying it as an interlining for a winter coat. Sounds awesome! Great vest too!

  10. I think this sounds way cool! I looked into it when you mentioned it a while back. Are they going to sell through the site? I couldn’t seem to find that info when I looked before. The width would be a challenge but workable.

    • They aren’t selling the insulation by the meter (yet) and are currently only working with garment manufacturers. I hope that our feedback will encourage them to get their insulation in fabric stores though! They certainly seem interested :).

  11. This is so exciting! I’ve been looking into making winter gear, and I was recently researching making a quilted down jacket, which can be quite involved as down comes in loose feathers.. This is another great option, I wonder how it compares in terms of insulation. I will read more closely about wiphala and also this Rad Girl project sounds great! thank you for sharing!

    • You might be interested in reading my sister’s comparison of insulation types on the Rad Girls blog: http://radgirlslife.com/highlights/whats-in-your-jacket/
      When Wiphala contacted me I referred them to her as well so that she could test out one of the jackets that feature their insulation (made by Cotopaxi I believe). She’s mentioned to me that she thinks the warmth rating is comparable but that it is important to have a fitted garment or tight seals at the limb openings so that air doesn’t escape. The jacket that she tested was a boxy fit so it was hard for her to compare the warmth super accurately to her down jacket. I look forward to making Matt’s under quilt for his hammock so that we can do a really thorough test of the warmth!

  12. I’m so impressed with your project I hardly know what to say first! I LOVED what you said about lama wool and will keep my eyes open for it for sure – I would certainly use it to insulate a hoodie. I live on the west coast and love my AM walk along the water in the AM but I need something warm but not too bulky too. I also thought your dad’s vest was wonderful! Nice choice of colours and that zipper! It sang 🙂

  13. I would love to try this stuff. I clicked on this article mainly because I’m trying to convince my husband to let me make him one of these vests. This is a great look – he is under the impression that vests are “old man” clothes. I told him it really depends on the fabric you use and how you treat the quilting, etc. This is definitely NOT “old man” looking. I like the sporty look. The insulation would probably be plenty for him to wear this while working in the yard or on days when he needs to keep his core warm, but needs freedom in the arms.

  14. The vest looks great.
    I was already thinking that I should try this pattern, but after seeing this version I think I definitely must. I even have the ripstop for it all ready to start.
    I would love to try the Wiphala insulation at some point if I ever get the chance. It seems like a great product, and I like the ethical and environmental side to it.
    But for the vest I can make now I think I’ll be using windstopper fleece as lining, and maybe making it reversible. I think I just added a new project to my sewing list.

  15. I would love the opportunity to use llama as a batting for quilts and as insulation in winter garments. Having just finished quilting a king-sized quilt of cotton batting on my domestic machine, I would welcome the opportunity to work with lighter materials. However, I would be concerned about the fibres poking through as they do on your Dad’s vest. I am wondering if the llama batting has a scrim or is simply felted together. Do you know?

    • Dad isn’t bothered by the fibres poking through. He says they are fine and don’t bug him. He is picky! Mom

    • Hi Gale,
      The llama batting doesn’t have a scrim and is just felted together but they suggested that I add one when sewing with it depending on what project I chose to make. I didn’t follow their suggestion because I wanted, for my first project with it, to try the most simple approach. I think next time I would use scrim fabric or even mosquito netting as a scrim when working with fabrics that are not down proof.

  16. What a great vest! I like the centred zipper you did – I made the Denali, and then I was so cheesed at the end to find that with snaps, you overlap on of the symmetrical fronts. Leaving you with a non-symmetrical front. Maybe I did something wrong, but I kind of thought it was drafted like that to make it a faster make. Yours look so good!

    • I didn’t look at the instructions in too much detail but I think you might be right about the symmetrical fronts – this sort of design does make it a very fast and easy project. It also made it easy to convert to a zippered front :).

  17. You’ve done an outstanding make! I’ve made 2 denalis and I’d love to do one as you’ve done…how can I get some of this insulation fabric?

    • Thanks! Do you have a blog post or photos of your Denali’s? I’d love to see them! I don’t think the insulation is available by the meter yet (they are a pretty new company who is currently only working with manufacturers). I am just about to send them a link to this blog post so they can see everyone’s comments though – I hope that reading all these excited responses will encourage them to get their fabric in fabric shops :).

      • My blog posting as taken the farthest backseat possible. 😩. Unfortunately. However, I do plan on posting both the Denali’s I’ve made and will definitely link back to Thread Theory when I do, because I’m holding out hope that I too can make a puffer style like you’ve done. I sure hope the guys you’ve gotten the llama insulation from jump on the home sewing customer bandwagon 😃. And soon! Take care! G

  18. I would love to try the fabric. How can I buy some

  19. I was very interested in the llama insulation fro the first moment you mentioned it. However, how does one aquire such a thing? Wiphala does not appear to sell it on their website. Are you thinking of carrying it in your store?

  20. Wiphala sounds wonderful. I would certainly order some if it were available. Thanks for the incredibly interesting article!

  21. Oooo. Interesting! I just made my first foray into quilted garment sewing, and I have to say, I would ABSOLUTELY be interested in using this llama insulation in place of the poy/mylar insulation I just worked with. Thanks for sharing!

  22. Ooh love it. I’ve had my eye on this pattern for a while but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Now I want to make it even more.

    • Go for it! 🙂 It’s a nice base to customize = it’s funny that it is meant to be a quick project (it would be with pre-quilted fabric) because I spent far longer sewing my dad’s vest than any other project I sewed this year! Most of it was just the quilting and playing around with design decisions.

  23. Excellent, thorough post. Yes, I would love to use some of the llama insulation for a vest or jacket. I’m not sure about using it for a quilt because I wouldn’t want to worry about the down coming through.

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