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a skein of Wellspring Woolens Poppi's Worsted Icelandic wool
Wellspring Woolens Poppi's Worsted Icelandic wool knit up
click each image to enlarge
Yarn Profile:
Wellspring Woolens Poppi's Worsted

First Impressions
"We have this yarn from a local farm, and we think it's really wonderful stuff," said Shelly from The Yarnery when we met earlier this summer. "Would you ever consider playing with some and letting us know what you think?" I nodded, always eager to see new yarn—and soon a package arrived in the mail.

I fell in love immediately. Shelly hadn't told me that the yarn in question came from Icelandic sheep, an ancient breed that grows a fine undercoat (called thel) and a coarse, rough outercoat (called tog). Unlike other dual-coated breeds that require you separate the two coats, Icelandic yarn can benefit from having a bit of both fibers. The tog reinforces the yarn, holding open space for the softer fibers to relax and bloom. And it allows the yarn to be loosely twisted into a single ply—the traditional Lopi style.

Melinda Kjarum raises her small flock of Icelandic sheep on the banks of the Minnesota River at her farm, Wellspring Woolens. "Our little flock of sheep give us fertilizer, fiber, and fun," she notes on her yarn labels. "In exchange, we give them lots of love and the best care we can, so they may live long and peaceful lives."

Melinda sends her fibers to the Taos Valley Wool Mill for spinning, and then she hand-dyes the yarn using Lanaset acid dye with citric acid and vinegar as the mordants. One day, if and when she has a "real" studio, she'll experiment more with natural dyes and possibly even solar dyes. For now, she creates nine beautiful semisolid colorways. She leaves some of her skeins undyed, offering them in the natural shades exactly as they came off the sheep.

Shelly sent me two skeins to play with—a hand-dyed one and a natural-colored undyed one. The undyed one was a gorgeous blend of light grey and an occasional dark fiber—the gene for color has not been bred out of Icelandics as it has in the more improved breeds. Having not been exposed to any dye process, it felt a hint softer and loftier than the dyed skein, whose fibers had compressed a little in their dyebath. The dyed skeins also have the occasional dark fiber, which adds an attractive and faintly heathered dual-toned effect to the overall yarn color.

Knitting Up
Icelandic yarns such as this one have pretty much no bounce to them, which means a little adjusting as you first wrap the yarn around your fingers to maintain an even tension. I optimistically began swatching with sharp-tipped needles but soon switched to wooden ones with slightly duller, more forgiving tips. There's something about the combination of long fibers and short fluff that invites snags that don't easily snap back into shape.

The other thing you'll notice is the suggested needle size—US 9—which is a bit larger than you'd expect for a yarn of this thickness. The reason is, again, all about the Icelandic fiber. You want extra space for that finer undercoat to relax and bloom into the fabric.

Once I switched needles and got comfortable with the yarn, I was knitting swiftly and snaglessly from row to row. Every once in a while I'd come across a small clump of fibers—they call them "neps" in the spinning world—that I gently removed from the yarn. I'm guessing these neps were introduced during processing as the finer undercoat fibers may have been a little chewed up while the machine was dealing with the longer, rougher coat.

Blocking / Washing
Before washing a yarn like this, be sure to darn in any loose ends. Otherwise, the loosely twisted strands will simply fade away in wash.

Also note that Icelandic fiber felts extremely easily, so you'll want to watch the agitation and any dramatic changes in water temperature between wash and rinse.

I washed and rinsed my swatch in warm soapy water and it performed beautifully. No bleeding, no felting, no shrinking or stretching, no surprises.

Wearing
I think you'll agree that this isn't a yarn for, say, socks. Not just because of the gauge and lack of elasticity, but also because it's a single ply made of short and long fibers combined, and it likes to be knit rather loosely.

If not socks, then what? Hats and mittens, definitely, as well as vests and sweaters. Over time, a garment made from this yarn will be susceptible to abrasion. How much time? That depends on how rough you are on your sweaters. My grandma wore her handknit Icelandic cardigans every day for the last 20 or so years of her life, and they grew thin but never gave way completely.

From a touch perspective, this is softer than many other Icelandic wool yarns, including Reynolds Lopi. I'd probably still want to wear a long-sleeved shirt or turtleneck under any sweater made from it, just as I would a sweater made from a brushed mohair. One thing is certain, though: Anything knit from this will be warm.

Conclusion
Wherever you are at this moment, Melinda Kjarum, I thank you for caring about Icelandic sheep and for putting so much of your heart and soul into this yarn. I suspect that, at $24.25 per 200-yard skein, you still aren't getting back nearly as much as you've put into this product.

And to the rest of the knitters out there, take note. There isn't a whole lot of this yarn to go around, but what there is is well worth it.

 

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