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A skein of Lima yarn
Lima knit up
click each image to enlarge

Yarn Profile: Rowan Lima

First Impressions
When I say "yarn," most people think of fibers twisted together in a continuous thread. The thread may be thick or fine, presented alone or in the company of others, but the same fundamental underpinnings apply.

Novelty yarns changed this, with their highly engineered frills and tassels that usually involved brightly colored synthetic fibers. While the novelty yarn movement has passed, some of the unusual yarn manufacturing techniques still work beautifully for natural fibers as well. And that's where Rowan Lima enters the picture.

Lima is constructed from a single strand of twisted fibers that are knit into an I-cord tube. The finished yarn is, in fact, a knitted tube.

The first thing you'll notice about any knitted tube yarn, especially in natural-fiber blends such as Lima, is that it tends to be much stretchier and loftier than its traditionally twisted counterparts. That's because the underlying fibers do not run parallel to the length of the yarn, nor do they lie flat against one another—they are constantly shifting from parallel to perpendicular as they make their way in and out of each knitted stitch.

This particular yarn is made from a soft and lovely baby alpaca (the finest fibers the animal grows) balanced with 8% Merino wool and 8% nylon, presumably for body and strength.

Adding to the yarn's natural appeal are the colors, which range from natural gray to muted greens, golds, and blues—all of which have slightly heathered effects. For this review, I chose a deep cloudy gray color called Andes (which I've affectionately dubbed Maine Summer 2009).

Knitting Up
Working with knitted yarn is an entirely different experience than knitting with most traditional spun yarns. Because those fibers run in all directions as each stitch is formed in the tube, instead of lying flat against one another, the yarn has extraordinary spring, loft, and stretch to it.

This elasticity makes even tension the first issue you'll need to navigate. After trying everything from loose to tight, I settled on a medium-tight tension and made quick speed. There was a slight difference between my knit and purl rows. I throw the yarn with my left hand, and even tension between knit and purl rows is always a challenge—but it was particularly noticeable with this yarn.

There's another reason to hold the yarn under tension as you knit. The little v-shaped openings that run along the length of the yarn are eager to be visited by the tips of your needles. The looser the tension, the more pronounced and inviting the openings; the tighter the tension, the more likely the yarn is to hold together when your needle tips approach.

I also found that my needles tended to snag on purl rows more than knit rows, finding themselves deeply embedded in the purl bump from the previous row. If this really became a problem, I'd simply choose a project that's knit in the round—perhaps an oversized ribbed cowl.

For this same reason, I urge you to stick with blunt-tipped needles. Yes, you could use your Signature Stilettos but you'd need to keep a close eye on every single stitch. Fortunately, the knitted nature of the yarn makes snags fixable—you just tug the snagged loop back into the knitted tube and keep going.

Blocking / Washing
After barely a minute in its wash, my swatch relaxed, absorbing all the water and taking on the behavior of a lightweight, fuzzy washcloth. I was unable to detect any bleeding or fading because my color was, I'm guessing, un-dyed. But the swatch left no other kind of murky residue in the water.

For the same reasons that you'd want to secure the last stitch in your cast-off row, you'll definitely want to darn in your ends before washing. If you plan on blocking and then seaming up your garment, be sure to tie a knot in the end of your loose strands. Otherwise, they will come un-knit and dissolve into wispy strands of nothingness during washing.

My swatches blocked to perfect shape without any change in stitch or row gauge. Their surface took on a very subtle but pleasant cohesive halo of fibers.

Wearing
From a touch perspective, this yarn is next-to-skin lovely. Some alpaca yarns can have a slight hairy quality to them. Although this yarn does have a few stray hairs poking out here and there, I was unable to detect even a hint of scratch against my skin.

The yarn's knitted-tube construction also makes it vastly warmer than a more dense, traditionally spun counterpart. That's because the yarn has a hollow center and significantly more air trapped throughout. The more still air trapped within fabric, the more insulating it is.

But there is an issue, which Lima shares with almost all knitted tube yarns. Remember when I mentioned how the yarn is constructed from a fine strand of fibers that runs up, sideways, down, sideways, and back up again as it forms each stitch? Even though the underlying fibers in this yarn have good staple length to them, that entire length of each fiber may run its course in less than an inch of actual yarn.

Fibers reinforce the yarn. The shorter the fibers, the less reinforcement you have along the length of your yarn, and the more vulnerable it may be to snapping under tension. The fineness of the yarn's single underlying strand also poses snag concerns, because if the strand snaps, your yarn will unravel mid-sweater.

This is where the 8% nylon was a handy addition. It gives just the right amount of additional strength to the finished yarn. The baby alpaca brings delightful softness and a smooth hand, while the wool gives a hint of body and dimensional stability to the whole mix. Still, it is a tad more vulnerable to splinters and stray nails.

Conclusion
Lima's fuzzy demeanor and heathered coloring makes it look more like a traditional woolen-spun yarn. The stitches are soft and slightly muted, rendering any kind of textured stitchwork in a quiet, almost mossy way. The Lima Collection design booklet from Rowan does justice to this yarn's creative potential.

Cables are usually considered yarn hogs, but in this yarn—with its deceptive loft without bulk—they still leave the fabric lightweight and fluid. This means you can use it for textured stitchwork without worrying that it will drape and sag from the weight of all the extra yarn.

In terms of yardage for a full-sized women's sweater, the yarn does not come cheap. A medium version of the Brea pullover (from the Lima Collection and featuring cables on the chest and arms) requires approximately 1,400 yards, or 13 skeins, which translates to a little over $162. The Alana cardigan has less stitchwork and would only require 10 skeins, lowering the tab to $125.

It's a significant but worthy commitment. If you're unsure, you could always buy a couple of skeins and test the waters with a hat. For me, I can clearly see Lima as a special cozy sweater that you wear whenever you need TLC.

 
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