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Ribbons in the Sky:
Lana Grossa India and Artfibers Houdini

a skein of Lana Grossa India
Lana Grossa India
A hank of Artfibers Houdini
Artfibers Houdini
Click each image to enlarge

When I knit gifts for others, I always keep a little extra yarn to use as ribbon on the finished packaging. Although I enjoy my little tradition, the yarn can sometimes look a little sad and out of place against the bright paper.

Allow me to introduce two nearly identical yarns that look just as fitting on the needles as they do against giftwrap. If you've ever fantasized about knitting with ribbon, read on!

Lana Grossa India Up Closea close-up of Houdini
India's exceptional shimmer and perfect coloring drew my eye immediately. Sold in ball form, this ribbon yarn doesn't truly come alive until you unleash it on your needles.

Made of 100% polyamid, India is produced in Italy for Lana Grossa and ships in 60-yard balls that retail for $13.25 apiece. You can find it online at ImagiKnit in San Francisco.

As you unravel the ball, you'll discover that the yarn was folded in half during processing. When laid flat, it is approximately 3/4-inches wide, although it will do everything in its power to fold back up again.

Feather-thin strands of shimmery fiber run the width of the yarn, held in place by six evenly spaced binder threads.

It's hard to tell if the yarn is produced on a loom, knitting machine, or a combination of both, but the end result is a semi-transparent ribbon with six fine "stripes" that run up the length of the yarn.

For this review, I used the color Lake, a stunning blend of blue, green, and gold.

Artfibers Houdini Up Closea close-up of Houdini
From San Francisco's Artfibers, Houdini is nearly identical to India, and I'd venture to guess the two came from the very same mill. It is slightly wider than India, lies perfectly flat, and ships in 100-yard hanks that retail for $15 apiece.

From a consumer standpoint, the differences between Houdini and India boil down to two things: price (Houdini averages $.15 per yard, while India is $.22 per yard) and color (Houdini was hand-painted by humans at Artfibers, while India was most likely machine-dyed at the mill).

You'll only find Houdini through Artfibers.com.

Both India and Houdini are not of a uniform color. India is dyed in short bursts of different colors, while Houdini has slower blends of color that follows one master shade. I used the Moulin Rouge shade of Houdini, a flickering blend of red and pink and purple.

Knitting Up
India knit up
  A swatch of Lana Grossa India
The first rule of thumb when working with any sheer ribbon such as these: use smooth needles! I began my swatches using a pair of seemingly smooth, vintage Boye wooden needles.

By the second row, faint irregularities in the needle tips had shredded my ribbon beyond repair. A tug here and there did nothing to restore the ribbon to its original pristine state.
I then switched to Denise Interchangeable Needles and discovered the second rule for wide ribbons: use needles with a blunt tip. The sharp, pointed tip on the Denise needles routinely stabbed the ribbon, creating awkward large holes that could only be partially fixed.

Both of these yarns had a tendency to twist up on themselves. Trying to keep the ribbon perfectly flat as you knit is a futile quest that will only drive you crazy.

But likewise, you don't want to knit with ribbon that has totally twisted on itself—you want the ribbon to unfold and bloom into place when knit, and if it's twisted, it won't do this. My advice is to stop every few rows and dangle your work to let the twist work itself out.

By compressing wide ribbon into narrow stitches, you end up with thick, plush fabric that feels almost sponge-like in its elasticity. Although stitches are visible, any complicated stitchwork would engulf your fabric and detract from the natural beauty of the ribbon.

I'd recommend a simple stockinette or stockinette/garter combo instead.

Houdini knit up
  A swatch of Artfibers Houdini

Lana Grossa recommends handwashing for India. Although Artfibers omits any washing instructions, I'd also advise a handwashing of Houdini items in lukewarm water with mild soap.

In both cases, because the yarns are prone to snagging against any even faintly rough surface, be careful with agitation during wash and rinse. I blotted my swatches dry, gave them a quick shake, and they returned to their earlier bouncy thickness.

Unless you want a ribbon pancake on your ironing board, do not let a hot iron come anywhere near either India or Houdini.

Possible Incarnations
Although we're essentially using huge needles to knit ribbon, I was surprised at the beauty and elegance of the resulting fabric. It was thick and textured, looking almost like velvet from afar.

Both ribbon yarns would make stunning sweaters or summer shawls, snags notwithstanding. They would also serve as striking embellishments to sweaters, accessories, felted items, and yes, giftwrap!

Where to Buy Online
Lana Grossa India: arrow ImagiKnit.com
Artfibers Houdini: arrow Artfibers.com

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