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A skein of Plymouth Boku
Plymouth Boku knitted up
click each image to enlarge

Yarn Profile: Plymouth Boku

First Impressions
This yarn reminds me of those "Is it live, or is it Memorex?" commercials from the early 1970s. Place it next to a skein of Noro Kureyon, back up about 20 feet, and chances are you won't be able to tell which is which.

Move closer and, depending on how much of a Kureyon fan you are, you'll start to see a difference. Noro purists probably won't give the yarn a second glance since they prefer to stick with the original. But if you're on a budget and need 1215 yards for a Lady Eleanor Entrelac Stole, the $30 difference between Kureyon and Boku could make it possible for you to complete the project.

Yarns get their variegation from one of two ways: the fiber can be spun into yarn and then dyed, which is how most large-scale commercial yarn companies do it. Or, as is the case with Noro, the fibers can be dyed and then fed into the carding machine to produce a large batt of fibers that, when spun into yarn, shift very slowly and naturally from hue to hue without any of the abrupt color changes you can get when dyeing spun fibers.

Some Noro imitators will simply machine-dye a spun yarn into colors that match the Noro colorway. You get a relatively similar effect without any of the wild nuance that makes Noro so visually compelling. But Plymouth Boku is actually spun from fibers that have been dyed and blended before spinning, which preserves some of the nuance and natural progression of colors. It's not as freeform as Noro, but it's a start.

Knitting Up
Knitting with Boku was swift and easy. Earlier production runs had significant problems with yarn integrity—the yarn simply pulled apart in people's hands as they knit with it. But my skein held together just fine, no matter how vigorously I knit with it.

There was no snagging and I encountered no knots in my skein. Single-ply yarns are innately unbalanced and prone to bias—when a knitted fabric tilts in order to release the excess twist—but my stockinette swatches showed no bias.

Kureyon and Noro Silk Garden have a somewhat wild and unpredictable spirit because the twist and thickness can vary, and you occasionally encounter bits of vegetable matter among the fibers. Boku's less artisanal, more mechanized roots are revealed in a steady and consistent twist, even thickness, and predictable color changes. For those knitters who love the Kureyon aesthetic but are bugged by its irregularities, this could actually be a bonus.

Tiny white flecks of noil have been added to the fibers prior to spinning, possibly to mimic the colorful silk fibers and tiny threads you find peppered throughout Noro Silk Garden. While the noils do enhance Boku's earthy look, their whiteness makes them stand out and look more like a laundry mistake than an intentional design effect.

I happened to be knitting my swatch over a piece of white notebook paper, and after several inches I looked down and noticed that the paper was covered with tiny flecks of lint and fiber, which had fallen from the yarn. I also encountered some short white crinkly fibers tucked among the wool. Known as "kemp," these wiry, brittle fibers can produce a definite prickle against your skin.

Blocking / Washing
I was surprised to see no bleeding in my warm-water wash. The swatch relaxed and bloomed beautifully, blocking into a square with no bias. One word of advice: Darn in all your ends before you wash any Boku pieces. Otherwise, the ends will simply dissolve into wisps of fiber during the wash, making darning even harder. My rinse water was full of tiny stray fibers and flecks of lint.

Also be aware that seaming garment pieces together will require a little more care and attention, as with any other similarly spun single-ply yarn. The yarn can only withstand being pulled through a certain length of knitted fabric before it will become too thin and break. Your best course of action is either to seam in short sections (so you can refresh the yarn frequently) or to find a somewhat finer plied yarn in a comparable colorway and use it instead.

Wearing
As with any single-ply yarn, this will not be the strongest, most durable stuff in your knitting basket. Boku will break with a moderate tug.

I can't recommend this yarn for high-wear items such as socks unless you're absolutely in love with the yarn and go into the project knowing the wearability risks. It would, however, make beautiful felted projects.

In terms of touch, I've heard other knitters insist that Boku is softer than Kureyon, but I personally couldn't feel any difference in texture between the two yarns. They're both robust with a wooly disposition. Since skin sensitivity can vary dramatically from person to person, you'll need to touch this yarn for yourself. As for me, I tucked a swatch down my shirt early in the day and completely forgot about it, feeling no scratch or irritation.

Conclusion
I'm not bothered by the fact that this yarn is clearly a Noro knockoff. The colors are identical, the composition strives to be as close as possible, even the arguably evocative name (Boku vs. Noro) and design of the label (Noro labels have Japanese characters, Boku has what appear to be Chinese characters), all indicate that this yarn was designed to look exactly like Noro Kureyon and a little like Noro Silk Garden. [Update! A KR Forum reader just wrote: It's Chinese characters on both brands. Japanese kanji is essentially Chinese hanzi used to write Japanese. Thanks schnitzle!]

While some feel Kureyon is too scratchy, and others insist Silk Garden looks like it was spun from the sweepings off a mill floor, both yarns are phenomenally popular and have huge followings.

Knitters on restricted budgets have told me—usually with a sigh—that Noro is just too far beyond their means. That's where Boku can play a role: It was designed to deliver similar results to Noro but at a much lower cost. While Boku is not Noro, it's a facsimile with good intentions. You can use it to knit any of the gorgeous designs that call for Kureyon. And, unlike that fake Rolex you might buy on the street, you can feel confident that this yarn will perform.

 
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