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A skein of Silkroad
Silkroad once knitted up
click each image to enlarge

Yarn Profile: Jo Sharp Silkroad

First Impressions
More than two years ago I reviewed Jo Sharp's namesake DK yarn and design collection, Knitting Emporium. At the time, she was all the rage. A few more books followed, but then Sharp grew silent.

Today I'm happy to report that she's back, having shifted her yarn operations to Italy, switched distributors, released two new design collections, and added this succulent new yarn to her line.

Silkroad comes packaged in the same dumpling-like skein format as Debbie Bliss, GGH, and most of the other high-end yarns being produced in Italy today. And yet this little dumpling manages to hold 93 yards of yarn, an impressive feat considering the yarn's unusually high loft.

What price has Sharp paid for her success? By virtue of moving to an Italian manufacturer and switching distributors, her yarn won't be available in New Zealand and Australia -- Sharp's home territory -- until February 2003.

Knitting Up
I can always tell how I feel about a yarn by the size of my swatches. The more I like a yarn, the bigger the swatches become. Suffice it to say my Silkroad swatches were very large.

Knitting with Silkroad was a marvelous experience. The yarn slid through my hands, never snagging or dragging, instead hugging my needles tightly and producing a plush fabric on the other end.

Although Silkroad's two plies lie comfortably side by side, there's no denying their separate existences. Together they produce visually distinct diagonal lines in the yarn that, when knit into fabric, produce an almost rippled surface effect.

In just a few cases, especially while knitting by touch alone, I snagged only one of the two plies by mistake. But generally speaking, the knitting was easy and snag free.

Blocking / Washing
Here's where Silkroad got interesting: While the swatches relaxed and expanded with wash, the previously flat and relaxed loose ends shortened and became puffy and pearl-like (rather like Halcyon Yarn's Botanica). Unless you intend on creating fringe-heavy projects, this should have no real impact on you.

But what will have an impact is that little issue of expansion. My swatches relaxed and expanded by five percent per inch. Definitely take this into account when choosing the specific pattern size for your project.

There was no color bleeding or fading even when I upped the bathwater temperature well beyond a modest lukewarm.

Wearing
I sense that wearing a Silkroad sweater would be like lying on a bank of freshly fallen snow. The yarn's loft would hold in warmth, cradle your body, and buffer you from the elements.

Its pure softness makes Silkroad appropriate -- dare I say mandatory -- for next-to-skin wear. It has the same plumpness and elasticity as Debbie Bliss' Cashmerino Aran (which blends merino, microfiber, and cashmere) but with greater visual sophistication.

To be fair, Silkroad does have a few wearability drawbacks. First, it's not machine washable. This poses most problems for baby garments, children's sweaters, or any other high-wear items that need regular washing. (If you're knitting gifts for non-knitters, make sure they understand just how bad it'd be if their Silkroad sweater had a chance encounter with the washing machine.)

Second, by nature of being a fine wool, it won't handle rugged wear as well as its scratchier counterparts. No, your sweaters won't necessarily wear thin at the elbows, but they will develop an increasingly fuzzy surface texture with wear.

The good news is that the yarn's silk sheen is hardly dulled by the fuzz. From a few feet away, I could hardly distinguish the surface wear at all.

Conclusion
By now it must be obvious that I liked Silkroad. Although Jo Sharp's earlier pattern collections were vibrantly colorful, her Silkroad designs only use color as a muted backdrop for much more textured stitch patterns.

Although I miss the bright colors, I can understand her reasoning. First, the yarn's thickness -- an excellent compromise between fast-knitting bulk and superfine -- would quickly grow overwhelming if you were to carry two or more colors along the back side of your work. And second, the yarn's stitch definition is almost too good to waste hiding behind an elaborate color scheme.

I only have one concern, and it's more about logistics than about the yarn itself. Despite the fact that it was at Sharp's own request, her U.S. distributor was never able to send me samples for this review. I hope that they'll soon settle into a more effective relationship -- it would be a pity if Silkroad languished unnecessarily.

 
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