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A skein of Plymouth Royal Llama Silk
Plymouth Royal Llama Silk knit up
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Yarn Profile:
Plymouth Yarn Royal Llama Silk

First Impressions
The poor llama can't get any respect. Instead of being honored and valued for its own fibers, it's usually just a bodyguard that protects its more glamorous cousin, the alpaca.

The truth is that the finest llama fiber rivals alpaca in softness. We only have a few llama yarns in the mainstream market. Cascade Pastaza and Classic Elite Montera are two that come to mind, both smooth durable single-ply yarns that blend llama with wool.

But Royal Llama Silk changes the llama yarn landscape considerably. New from Plymouth Yarn for fall 2007, this yarn has a super-smooth silky softness you'd expect from a good synthetic—you know, the kind that's too soft to be true? But if the label is to be believed, there isn't an ounce of synthetic in here. It's 60% fine llama, and 40% silk.

Knitting Up
The first thing I noticed about Royal Llama Silk is that it's a true cable-spun yarn, which you don't see that often. It is composed of four two-ply strands that are plied back onto one another in the opposite direction of the original ply. This technique produces a stable, sturdy yarn that can look, as the term suggests, like a cable. Knit up, it produces a rounded and somewhat cobblestoned surface. In this case, the surface is made even more intriguing because you have slubby bits of raw silk and the halo of fine llama fibers.

I opened my hank and began to wind the yarn into a ball. The yarn had the flat, lifeless feel of a yarn that was stuffed too tightly in a warm shipping crate, and then jostled for several weeks in transit. The yarn stuck to itself as if it'd been on the verge of felting—though not enough to cause any true annoyance or problem. I wanted to believe that this would resolve itself with the first wash.

Knitting was fast and easy. The sharp tips of my Denise Interchangeables did snag the yarn a few times, but I was basically able to knit by touch alone. The yarn held my fingers and allowed me to keep an even tension on both knit and purl rows.

Blocking / Washing
Sure enough, all the yarn needed was a little warm soapy water. After squeezing my swatch several times to make sure it was fully saturated with water, I let it sit in its bath for a few more minutes. When I came back, it had totally softened and relaxed. Even in the water I could feel the yarn's increased fullness.

Another trick with yarns that have so many plies is to make sure all the twists have been balanced. If not, your knitted fabric may tilt (or "bias") in the direction of the excess twist. My swatches did not show any hint of bias at any stage in the process.

I won't say my swatches bloomed necessarily, but the stitches did relax into one another and become more cohesive. I couldn't detect any bleeding in the wash water.

Despite its multiple-ply cabled construction, which adds strength and durability to any fiber that crosses its path, Royal Llama Silk remains a delicate yarn. A mild tug—stronger than the force you'd use when knitting, mind you—pulled a strand apart in my hands. Pinch the fuzz on the surface of a knitted fabric and you'll pull fibers out.

After just a modest amount of friction, those loose fibers clumped together into vague clouds of llama and silk on the fabric surface. They came off with no difficulty whatsoever. More friction just resulted in more clouds. I don't know if this is more a factor of the fiber prep or the fibers themselves (perhaps uncharacteristically short?). But I'd be tempted to knit this yarn using smaller needles to tighten up the fabric and lessen the pilling.

In terms of comfort, however, Royal Llama Silk is lovely—just a faint hint of scratch on extra sensitive skin. It drapes beautifully and feels quite warm.

Royal Llama Silk works beautifully for cabled stitchwork, but the yarn's bulk and worsted weight may make it a little clumsy and overpowering as a full-sized garment. Because of the warmth and the drape, this yarn would make a splendid, truly splendid wrap. You could work cables and ribbing to your heart's content, thoroughly enjoying the fluid drape without worrying about it wearing thin at the elbows or quickly pilling at the underarms.

Considering those wearability issues, I'm pleased to see that Plymouth Yarn kept the price to a reasonable $9 per 102-yard skein. I wouldn't invest in 15 skeins for a sweater, but I would make a plush and cozy Just One More Row Chevron Shawl (which would require only 4 skeins) for $36. For these fibers, that's a good deal.


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