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A skein of Maine Merino
Maine Merino once knitted up

Yarn Profile: Maine Merino

First Impressions
Please note: The Ahern family has dispersed its flock, and Maine Merino yarn is no longer available. The following review remains online as a testament to what makes a good yarn.

The dented, duct tape-sealed box was on the verge of rupturing by the time it reached me, although its journey was only a few miles. Inside I found two enormous skeins of breathtakingly simple yarn and a letter of introduction. Before even reading the letter, I knew this yarn belonged in the pages of Knitter's Review.

The yarn -- Maine Merino -- is produced by the Ahern family in coastal Maine. They share their 20-acre farm with a milking cow, pigs, chickens, and 25 merino sheep.

Each year, the Aherns send 100 pounds of fiber to the Blackberry Woolen Mill for processing. It returns in jumbo-sized skeins of delicious yarn, which they sell on their Maine Merino Web site.

The Aherns alternate years, offering pure merino one year and a merino blend (with small amounts of alpaca, angora, silk, etc.) in other years. Word about Maine Merino is spreading. Last year alone, it was used for several prize-winning garments at major East Coast fiber festivals. For this review, I focus on the pure two-ply merino yarn, which is available in lace and sport weights.

Knitting Up
Touching this yarn gave me the same creative eagerness I get from facing a blank sheet of writing paper with a fine fountain pen in my hand. Its simple, basic form yearns for enhancement, whether that be from simple stitches, elaborate patterns, or creative dyeing.

Maine Merino knit up like a dream. Its soft, fuzzy, relatively elastic form slid through my fingers effortlessly. It has a subtle variation in thickness that reminded me of its all-natural cousin, Granite State Green.

Stitches appeared fairly smooth, with just a slight unevenness that I happen to find appealing.

Blocking / Washing
You really don't know a yarn's full story until you wash it. After just a brief encounter with warm soapy water, Maine Merino was transformed.

My rather nondescript swatches dried into perfect flat squares of soft, cohesive knit fabric. Even my non-knitting friends, when enlisted to admire yet "another" swatch of yarn, could immediately feel the difference.

The swatches required only a small amount of blocking after I squeezed them dry in a towel. Once dry, they resisted my crooked, tugging temptations and retained their shape perfectly.

As a woolen-spun merino yarn, Maine Merino will be more likely to pill, although its two-ply spin adds some fortification.

After a decent amount of friction, a discreet extra layer of fuzz began to emerge on the already fuzzy surface of the swatches. Gradually this fuzz became a sea of barely discernible pills.

Trying to pull them all would drive even the most patient knitter crazy. A battery-powered sweater shaver quickly did the trick.

You'll need three skeins of the sport-weight yarn to produce an average-sized women's sweater, and possibly four skeins of the lace-weight yarn. This translates into between $50 and $75 for a soft and lightweight garment you'll enjoy wearing for years.

For handwash-friendly parents, I'd also recommend Maine Merino for any children's garments.

If you like sleek, consistent designer yarns in multitudes of colors, Maine Merino probably won't appeal. Its beauty lies in its pure, direct-from-the-farm simplicity, rather like a perfect ear of corn from a roadside farm stand.

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