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A skein of White Buffalo Unspun
White Buffalo once knitted up in a lace pattern
click each image to enlarge

Yarn Profile: White Buffalo Unspun

First Impressions
Editor's Note: Since this review was published in 2002, availability of White Buffalo Unspun has become an issue. If you're looking for a substitute, you may want to consider Briggs and Little Country Roving.

There are big skeins and there are big skeins... but then there's White Buffalo. This Canadian treasure could easily double as a travel pillow during your next flight.

It's primarily intended for Cowichan-style sweaters, those bulky jacket-like sweaters with geometric patterns and symbols that originated with the Cowichan people in western Canada. White Buffalo yarn has never been marketed significantly in other countries.

It's a pity, because it deserves a second look. The yarn currently comes in 16 colors, including six shades of blue, two heathered shades of oatmeal, and a cheerful goldenrod.

Knitting Up
You'll notice that White Buffalo doesn't come in a standard skein form. Instead, it is wound horizontally into a flat cake that, forgive me, resembles a giant cow pie.

White Buffalo is composed of six thin strands of fiber that are as flat and uniform as linguini. Before you can knit, you need to start a slight spin to keep the strands together and give them some strength. Simply find the ends (which will be somewhere on either flat side of the skein) and, holding them all together, unravel and twist a few feet. Your other option is to rewind the yarn into a ball, which will introduce a natural twist to the yarn.

The knitting process feels very much like knitting with a huge wad of cotton candy. It took a few rows to get the hang of the yarn (mostly remembering to accentuate my movements so that the fibers wouldn't snag), after which knitting was smooth sailing.

My stitches appeared extremely clean and even, almost as if I were knitting with large strands of clay.

Blocking / Washing
White Buffalo embodies one of the most marvelous elements of wool: moisture-resistance. It was quite a battle before my swatches finally absorbed water and sank.

The swatches did bleed slightly during wash, but they rinsed clear and, once dry, did not appear significantly lighter than their unwashed counterparts. The gauge remained true and the fiber softened somewhat.

Because this is pure, unspun fiber, it will felt if you agitate it too much during the wash. It's best to drop the garment into lukewarm soapy water, slowly tap it down until the water has been absorbed, squeeze a few times to get the soap into the fibers, and then drain the water.

Be careful lifting your garment from the wash. It is very heavy and will want to stretch out of shape, rather like a large wad of bread dough.

Tip: Weave in any loose ends before washing your White Buffalo garment. Otherwise, they will disintegrate in the wash.

Although White Buffalo is significantly softer than its Icelandic counterpart Reynolds Bulky Lopi, it's still a "wooly" wool that you won't want directly against your skin. This is fine since most patterns for White Buffalo or similar superbulky yarns tend to be outerwear.

This yarn is most vulnerable before and while it is being knit up. If you tug a strand that hasn't been twisted slightly, it'll come apart. The good thing is that, by virtue of the yarn's unspun nature, you can simply splice and rub the two ends back together again.

But once it's knit up, White Buffalo relaxes and forms a dense, strong, and extremely warm fabric. I'm pondering making a winter coat out of it for myself.

Tip: When piecing a White Buffalo garment together, give an extra amount of twist to your thread. Otherwise, the constant friction and tugging will quickly pull it apart.

Your other option is to find a tigher-spun, smaller-gauge yarn in a matching color and use that instead.

Despite its relatively clunky bulk, White Buffalo has many possibilities. Its thick and sturdy nature makes it perfect for any type of winter coat or hat (in a Cowichan or contemporary design, you decide). You could also use it for household items such as Christmas stockings, pot holders, or tea cozies.

Knit on even larger needles and then fulled, White Buffalo would make a toasty pair of booties. And I also envision a wonderfully warm blanket of White Buffalo squares that have been pieced together.

Spinners may wish to take matters even further by separating the six strands and spinning each one individually, then plying them together for a stronger yarn with greater stitch definition.

Then there's the price. While Reynolds Bulky Lopi averages $.09 per yard, and Brown Sheep Burly Spun almost $.10 per yard, White Buffalo retails for $.07 per yard or less (elann.com currently offers it for $4.25 per skein, or $.03 per yard).

And finally, there's the instant gratification of knitting with a superbulky yarn. You won't have fine detail and subtle nuances, but at the end of a weekend you'll be wearing a finished sweater.

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