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the 7 new Shibui yarns

Yarn Overview: ShibuiKnits
The summer 2007 TNNA show was full of new things. One of my most intriguing discoveries was ShibuiKnits, which was just making its debut.

While some new yarn companies might be tempted to pack every corner of their booth with skein after skein of yarn and hand out schmaltzy freebies, ShibuiKnits chose a more minimalist (and yet terribly tempting) approach. They simply displayed one plump, lively hank of each color of each of their yarns, grouped by yarn type, on poles along the walls of their booth.

One look, and the yarn sold itself. I watched people walk by, do a double-take, come into the booth, and start squeezing the yarn uncontrollably, like a Charmin ad gone awry.

The ShibuiKnits Line-up
This Portland, Oregon-based startup has launched with seven yarns total, each very carefully chosen for its fiber content, gauge, ply type, and creative potential. Each yarn serves a purpose, there is no clutter, no overlap.

Through just seven yarns they've managed to cover all the bases, from fingering to bulky, smooth to puffy, flat to bouncy, novelty to classic. Moreover, all the colors were chosen with special consideration for how they would play with one another within the same yarn and among the other yarns as well.

Despite the variation in fibers, thickness, and spin, all the ShibuiKnits yarns share one common element: color. These yarns are hand-dyed to produce a gently flowing semi-solidity that reminded me of the kettle-dyed yarns from Uruguay. There's enough going on to keep you intrigued, even if you just stuck to one color.

To help you see each yarn on its own two feet, independent of the colors, I chose the same semisolid green (Wasabi) for all the sample skeins. The one exception is Highland Wool Alpaca, which is shown in Seaweed. Photography and monitors notwithstanding, you can see slight variations in how each yarn (depending on the spin, ply, and fiber contents) reflects the colors back to the eye.

Let's walk through all the yarns in alphabetical order.

Baby Alpaca DK
Baby Alpaca DK
Pure butter, just as soft as you'd expect from a yarn labeled "100% baby alpaca." People kept gravitating to this yarn in particular, grabbing and petting the skeins and making all sorts of appreciative, covetous noises.

Baby Alpaca DK is a three-ply DK-weight yarn that ships in generous 255-yard (233m) skeins that weigh 3.5 oz (100g). This yarn will knit up at a gauge of 22 sts per 4 inches on US 4 (3.5mm) needles and has an average retail price of $19.50.

Technically speaking, three-ply DK-weight yarns are a staple for a variety of knitting projects—from simple stockinette to colorwork (which it renders well) to textured stitchwork. Keep in mind that alpaca has less elasticity than wool, however, and tends to be a slightly denser fiber. You may not get as consistent elastic form-fitting ribbing with this yarn as you would wool. Also, extensive stitchwork may result in a heavier garment.

Highland Wool Alpaca
Highland Wool Alpaca
Highland wool is perhaps the most common form of wool you'll find in handknitting yarns from Peru. Some call this rugged sheep the South American answer to Merino, but the fibers aren't quite as fine. They are, however, well suited for comfortable outerwear.

Here the ShibuiKnits folks decided to blend 80% Highland wool with 20% "adult" alpaca (no, that's not XXX-rated fiber, it's simply a slightly rougher grade of fiber from the adult animal). This is a true bulky yarn that knits up at 12 stitches per 4 inches on US 13 (9mm) needles. It ships in enormous hanks with a generous 246 yards (233m) of yarn. The retail price averages $29.50.

Highland Wool Alpaca is ideally suited for any sort of bulky sweater you'd want to wear in a place like Maine. The addition of 20% alpaca softens things up a bit and adds a nice hint of luster to the final product. This yarn would also be a very good candidate for felting.

Merino Alpaca
Merino Alpaca
I was especially excited by this true cabled yarn, since most of the multi-strand yarns on the market right now are "faux" cabled.

If you untwist the yarn you'll see that it's made up of five plies. Untwist those plies and you'll discover that each is composed of four very fine plies. The key is in the directions in which the plies were all twisted.

With a true cabled yarn, such as this one, the fine plies that make up each component ply will be twisted in one direction, and then the resulting multiple-ply strands will be plied together in the opposite direction. Many of the popular multi-strand merino yarns on the market right now (such as Berroco Pure Merino or Karabella Aurora 8) contain plies that have all been twisted and plied all in the same direction.

When you reverse the direction of one versus the other, you get much more even, open stitches. Knit up, the fabric surface will have an almost rippled effect because of the inner ply structure moving at an opposite angle to the outer plies. It gives even stockinette a lovely effect and produces a very, very strong fabric in the process.

Merino Alpaca comes in 132-yard (120m) skeins and knits up at a gauge of 16 stitches per 4 inches (10cm) on US 8 (5mm) needles. The price is around $17.25.

Merino Kid
Merino Kid
This one's a nice, quiet classic that knits up at 20 stitches per 4 inches (10cm) on US 7 (4.5mm) needles. Skeins hold a fairly generous 218 yards (195m) of 55% kid mohair (second only to super fine kid mohair in terms of softness) and 45% Merino that have been spun together in a smooth, worsted preparation.

The two-ply format intentionally leaves a shadowy, almost rice-like effect in your stitches, so that even stockinette is somewhat intriguing. The mohair adds a little bit of luster and halo, while the Merino keeps things plump and somewhat elastic.

The yarn will be priced at approximately $19.95.

Silk Cloud
Silk Cloud
Rowan Kidsilk Haze, prepare for some competition. Whereas all the previous yarns I've just mentioned were fairly smooth in nature, Silk Cloud is a lace-weight brushed mohair yarn that has a shimmery silk binder at the core. The precise percentages are 60% kid mohair and 40% silk.

Proof of just how much of a cloud this yarn is: Each 25g skein holds 330 yards (300m) of yarn. Meanwhile, a Merino Kid skein weighs four times that much and only holds 218 yards. The halo effect helps give this yarn some creative flexibility because you can knit it up at all sorts of gauges depending on the visual effect you want to achieve. ShibuiKnits suggests a gauge of 20 stitches per 4 inches (10cm) on US 7 (4.5mm) needle, but I could see this going from US 3 to 8 (3.25-5mm). The retail price averages $17.

Silk Puff
Silk Puff
If you thought novelty yarns only came in synthetic fibers, think again. I define "novelty yarn" broadly as those yarns made using newer spinning technologies that don't always rely on the traditional spin/ply concepts—not just the fluffy stuff now filling landfills.

Silk Puff is composed of two extremely fine and tightly spun silk singles (think sewing thread only tighter) into which "puffs" of silk fibers have been secured at regular intervals. Although the yarn is fundamentally extremely fine (puffs notwithstanding), it really needs to be knit up at a larger gauge to allow the puffs to open up and show their stuff. ShibuiKnits gives a recommended gauge of 12 to 16 stitches per 4 inches (10cm) on US 8-10 (5-6mm) needles.

Silk Puff is also an excellent candidate for stranding with other yarns, especially Silk Cloud. This yarn comes in 140-yard (128m) skeins that weigh 25g each and are priced at approximately $22.50.

Shibui Sock
Sock
And finally, you can't launch a new yarn company these days without offering at least one option for socks. I'll confess I kept tugging at the sample hanks of this yarn in the ShibuiKnits booth because I couldn't get over how bouncy they were. You want elasticity in socks, and this yarn—with its simple 100% Merino—gives you just that.

Sock is a 100% superwash Merino yarn with a tight two-ply structure reminiscent of Louet Gems. Each skein holds 191 yards (175m) and knits up at an average of 30 stitches per 4 inches (10cm) on US 2 (2.75mm) needles. For most sock patterns you'd need two skeins, each of which is priced at approximately $9.75.

Sock knitters aren't content with just six or eight colors, and the ShibuiKnits folks addressed this trend by adding a slew of additional colors to this particular yarn line. They include not only more flickering semisolids but also blatantly variegated blends of pinks, greens, yellows, blues, you name it—all of which work well with the semisolids.

A Good Start
All the yarns you see here will be making their way to a yarn store near you in the not-too-distant future. At that point we'll have a better idea of what each of these yarns is going to cost. I have a wholesale price list and one store's retail prices, but different stores apply a different markup. My guess is that the sock yarn will be the least expensive, priced in the $10 range, while Silk Puff will take the lead at more than $20 per skein. I've put approximate prices in the listing of each yarn.

While it remains to be seen how ShibuiKnits yarns knit up and how they will be accepted by the general knitting market, the initial signs at TNNA were good. I was also impressed with the degree of careful consideration they paid to every single element of their business—from colors all the way down to the inventive and educational pattern support. If what I saw was any indication, they're off to a good start.


Where to Buy:
See the ShibuiKnits list of retailers for details.

Buy Online Now:
See the Knit Purl (operated by the folks who created ShibuiKnits)