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Alpaca wear for winter

Gift Guide 2002 feature

ODELL — There are all kinds of places to Christmas shop around the Hood River Valley, but few you’ll have as much fun at as Accent on Alpaca.

This quaint shop is located at Double Dutch Farms, an alpaca farm in Odell, and shopping here is like show-and-tell. Not only are many of the items for sale — which range from scarves to throws to stuffed animals — made from the fleece of Double Dutch Farms alpacas, but you can step outside the shop and see these very animals among the herd of 50 alpacas who live here.

The store is run by Sylvia DeGroot who, along with her husband, David, owns Double Dutch Farms. The couple moved to Hood River in 1990 and began operating an orchard. But their hearts — and background — were in livestock; they’d owned a dairy farm in California before moving to Oregon.

“We missed having animals,” Sylvia said. They bought their first alpacas — 15 of them — in 1994 and never looked back. The couple sells some of their alpacas each year to other breeders, but they maintain a consistent population to show and shear.

Sylvia opened the store in 1999 as a natural extension of the farm.

“It just made sense to offer products,” she said.

“This way, people get an all-around view of the business,” David added. “They see the animals, as well as the products from the animals.”

Sylvia started out stocking her store with products she picked up on buying trips to Peru. But an American alpaca products co-op has sprung out of the rise in popularity of alpacas in this country during the past few years. Sylvia is a member of the co-op and, along with providing the co-op with fleece from her alpacas, she buys products from it for her store.

She also learned to spin alpaca fleece into yarn two years ago. Along with selling the yarn, several local women use it to make products for the store — hats, in particular.

Alpacas are a smaller cousin of llamas and are indigenous to the Peruvian highlands. Their fleece is known for its clean, dry quality.

“Alpaca fleece is more like our hair than anything else,” Sylvia said. It has no grease in it, like sheep’s wool, and is referred to as a “dry wool.” Its soft texture is often compared to cashmere, but is more reasonably priced.

The softest, highest quality alpaca products are made from baby’s fleece, according to Sylvia.

“There’s not a lot of dirt in it, and they’re not breeding yet so there’s no stress on the fiber,” she said. Adult alpaca fleece is coarser; the coarsest alpaca fleece comes from the belly and legs of adults and is often used for rugs.

Sylvia carries a range of alpaca products, including scarves made from baby alpaca fleece, matching baby sweaters and booties, and even furry alpaca Teddy bears. Some of her most popular items are alpaca socks and gloves, and her one-of-a-kind hats sell well, too.

Products that are made from Double Dutch Farms alpacas are labeled, and Sylvia points to their framed pictures on a shelf in the store. There’s Tina, Ramon, Rosevelt and Delilah. Last week, Sylvia was spinning fleece from Siena.

But you don’t have to settle for the picture. You can step outside the shop and see Tina, Ramon, Rosevelt, Delilah and Siena. For unique — and local — gift ideas in a wide range of prices, check out Accent on Alpaca. It just might be the most fun you’ll have on a shopping trip this season.

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Accent on Alpaca is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 to 4, or by appointment. A holiday open house will be held Dec. 6, 7 and 8 from 11 to 4, where you can browse and enjoy coffee, tea and cookies. Double Dutch Farms is located on Lingren Road in Odell. Call 541-354-6262 for more information and directions.

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