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A skein of Marr Haven yarn
Marr Haven yarn once knitted up
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Yarn Profile: Marr Haven Fine Wool Yarn

First Impressions
Just when I think I've experienced my last yarn-related surprise, a new yarn arrives and hits me over the head like a ton of bricks. In the case of Marr Haven yarn, the surprise came near the end of my tests.

Barbara Marr had approached me about reviewing her yarn a while ago. I had to respect the fact that she volunteered to subject her precious creation to our rigorous analysis.

When the yarn arrived, I was a bit disappointed. Barbara sent two skeins of worsted-weight yarn, one that had been blended with a hint of dyed fibers, and another that was pure and undyed. Although the spin seemed consistent, periodic tiny oatmeal-like pills gave the yarn a used, almost smudged look.

The natural color was deeper than most, almost a muddy butterlike hue. And within the fiber were periodic flecks of vegetable matter. There was no mistaking that this yarn had come directly from the farm.

I put these initial perceptions aside and continued the review. The more I worked with the yarn, the more I fell in love with it. Allow me to explain.

Knitting Up
The dim color and flecks of vegetable matter are the results of extremely minimal processing. The fibers are cleaned naturally through a simple scouring process of soap, water, and salt. While many yarn producers bleach their yarns -- even before dyeing them other colors -- Marr Haven does not. Hence the initially dimmer, just-off-the-sheep color.

And while many yarn companies subject their fibers to a carbonization process, adding acid to the wash to burn up any bits of vegetable matter, Marr Haven does not. That explains the flecks of hay and grass in the spun yarn.

By not being subject to such potentially harsh chemical processes, the fiber remains entirely scratch free and baby soft. It also retains a higher amount of lanolin, giving the fiber that telltale "wool" smell, softer hand, and greater water repellancy.

The yarn is spun on a mule spinning frame, a rare spinning device that closely duplicates a handspinner's motion, producing a loftier yarn with a soft twist. (Bartlett Yarns is one of the few other companies that spins its yarns on a mule.)

The loft is so great, and twist so soft, that many of the fibers don't even make it into the strand. They gently pill up on the surface, producing the tiny oatmeal-like pills mentioned earlier.

Knitting was a breeze, and almost immediately I was able to knit by touch alone. My US 8 needles made such speedy progress that I kept on knitting once my swatches were complete, testing the yarn's performance with cables and different ribbing combinations. (It did beautifully, but I heartily recommend using smaller needles for ribbing because of the yarn's extreme elasticity.)

There was no snagging, the yarn flowed freely through my hands (with the excess lanolin leaving them nice and soft), gripped the needles comfortably, and produced perfectly even stitches.

Blocking / Washing
The swatches dove eagerly into their bath of lukewarm water with just a dab of Ivory soap. Before my very eyes, they transformed like compacted sponges when first introduced to water. Suddenly they looked and felt nothing like the swatches I'd just knit. They could have easily passed for bulky cotton chenille washcloths.

Knowing woollen-spun yarns' tendency to full, I stuck to my business of gently squeezing my swatches and carefully removing them from their bath. Once they were rinsed clean, I rolled them in a towel and applied gentle pressure to remove the excess water. Then I set them out and examined the transformation in amazement. (This picture shows an unwashed swatch on the left and a washed swatch on the right.)

Plush and soft, the finished swatches were significantly lighter in color than their unwashed counterparts. They looked remarkably similar to intentionally pre-felted yarns (such as Rowan's ill-fated Chunky Soft), only significantly softer. The lanolin smell, which had been strong in the beginning, subsided.

The dried swatches relaxed and expanded by a factor of approximately 1/4 stitch per inch

I've said it before, I'll say it again: This is a wonderfully soft yarn with a plush dough-like consistency. I couldn't detect even one ounce of scratchiness in any of my swatches, even when held against my normally sensitive bare neck.

And now for the bad news: The very nature of this yarn will result in more pilling than its longwool counterparts. You'll also need to wash this yarn more carefully than others because of its eagerness to felt.

As for the pills, they're easy enough to remove with the aid of a sweater shaver (these convenient devices are commonly available at most major drugstores).

Chemical-sensitive people will appreciate the yarn's 100% chem-free composition. Those who enjoy more color can easily experiment with dyeing, although this will inevitably reduce the fiber's softness slightly.

Marr Haven yarn is a means to your creative end, but it isn't the end in itself. By this I mean that it will thrive when used as part of a bigger design, whereas some complex "art" yarns can carry a project with very little design help.

Each of the yarn's qualities comes hand in hand with a potential drawback -- for example, the pills and bits of stray vegetable matter are signs of minimal processing that, in turn, leaves the fiber extra soft.

Are you willing to sacrifice a pristine, pill-less surface in exchange for buttery softness? Are you willing to pick out little bits and pieces of hay as you work, in exchange for yet more raw buttery softness?

If your answer is yes, do give Marr Haven yarns another look. Skeins are generous and reasonably priced. The Web site may not be sleek or flashy, but as we know, initial impressions don't always tell the whole story.

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