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A skein of Classic Elite Kumara
Classic Elite Kumaraknit up
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Yarn Profile: Classic Elite Yarns Kumara

First Impressions
When I think of camel hair, I think of those classic, double-breasted polo coats that the Duke of Windsor helped popularize in the 1930s. But the word "hair" is a misnomer because the delicate, soft fibers that made those coats so luxurious were actually from the animal's undercoat and had been painstakingly separated from the rough, outer hairs.

Camel belongs to the same family of fibers as cashmere, qiviut, yak, and American bison, in that the fibers are grown in a down undercoat that keeps the animal warm during harsh winters. Those fibers exist within a protective coat of long, wiry outer hairs that are suitable for rope or paintbrushes, not clothing.

In the spring, the animal naturally sheds its undercoat—usually just a few precious ounces of fiber, although larger animals can produce more. Ideally, the undercoat is pulled off the animal by combing, resulting in a collection of the longest down fibers and the fewest wiry outer hairs. But sometimes all the fibers are clipped or shorn off the animal together, requiring that someone then painstakingly separate the soft from the wiry—picture thousands of needles in a very delicate haystack.

The time-intensive production and small fiber quantities per animal help make down fibers some of the most expensive on the market. Which is why, in turn, yarn manufacturers often blend them with a comparably soft but less expensive foundation fiber such as Merino. Which is exactly what Classic Elite Yarns did with Kumara.

Price isn't the only reason you'll see down fibers blended with wool. Down fibers provide a significant boost in warmth and softness without giving undue bulk or weight to the finished fabric. In return, the longer, stronger wool fibers help protect the shorter, more delicate down fibers from wear and tear. It's a happy marriage.

The grades of fiber used in this yarn are all very fine. The 85% extra fine Merino should have an average micron count of around 19.5 microns (one micron is one millionth of a meter, and it's used to express the circumference of the fiber's diameter—the lower the number, the finer and softer the fiber), and the 15% baby camel ideally has a micron count of around 19 microns. These numbers are almost—but not quite—on par with cashmere.

Knitting Up
Kumara is a traditional cable-spun yarn composed of three loosely twisted two-ply strands of fiber whose final twist is in the opposite direction of the initial ply. If that makes your head spin, just know that the tiny plies were twisted in one direction and the final yarn was twisted in the other.

This kind of production tends to produce a strong, well-balanced yarn with an open, even face to its stockinette stitches. Normally it's used for sturdy cotton-based blends, the most famous of which would be Tahki Cotton Classic and Brown Sheep Cotton Fleece.

But in this case, the cabled spinning technique was applied to soft, delicate fibers to which only a small amount of twist had been applied. While the multiple ply composition strengthens the fibers and the loose twist helps keep the yarn as lofty as possible, it also invited snags almost immediately.

I switched to the WEBS interchangeable needle set, with its extremely blunt needle tips, and still got slowed by snags. Even among completed stitches, one strand occasionally still ended up getting stretched looser than the others and puffing out of the fabric. I was able to carefully tug the puff back into the fabric with a darning needle, but that would become tedious on a large-scale project.

Knitting to the ball band's 4 1/2 sts per inch gauge was also a bit of an issue. I began with a US 9 but migrated to a US 8, and, eventually, a US 7 to achieve a fabric that felt sufficiently cohesive and that I knew would better protect the finer strands from snagging. Bottom line: Don't be afraid to play with your needle sizes until you get a fabric that feels good to you.

Blocking / Washing
The label says to wash in cold water, but I used both cold and warm (but not hot, mind you) with equal results. The fabric immediately relaxed in the wash, especially in width. There was no bleeding or change in color as a result of the wash.

I expected the baby camel fiber—with its shorter length and fuzzy demeanor—to produce far more of a bloom than it actually did. I blotted my swatches and easily prodded them back into tidy squares, where they dried into shape.

My washed swatch had expanded in gauge by approximately 1/4 stitch per two inches. Though not devastating, I would keep an eye on this.

When knit at a looser gauge of 4 1/4-4 1/2 stitches per inch, Kumara fabric has a very pleasant hand to it, combining a squishy softness with nary a hint of scratch. But as I've already mentioned, that looser gauge may not give your fabric sufficient cohesion to hold a full-sized garment together, especially if that garment contains a lot of heavy cables. The easiest solution is to tighten your gauge to 4 3/4 or even 5 stitches per inch. (Yet another reason to swatch—and remember to wash your swatch and double-check your gauge after the swatch has dried.)

Considering the fine, delicate fibers it contains, Kumara is a strong yarn—thanks, in most part, to the cable-spun construction. You'll have to give it a hefty tug to pull the yarn apart. But I'm more concerned about the back-and-forth abrasion kind of wear that garments are more likely to receive. With the gentler twist within each ply, there's less energy keeping these fibers from sliding apart under friction.

After a sustained period of friction, my swatches softened and the bloom increased until small puffs of fiber began accumulating on the fabric surface. Some of the pills could be easily removed, others tugged too deeply into the fabric and pulled neighboring fibers out with them—which is when I bring in a sweater shaver.

On the skein, Kumara has incredible appeal. It's a plush and refined yarn that feels fantastic against your skin. And who can argue with the exoticism of camel?

The yarn seems happiest in simple stockinette and knit/purl stitch combinations. It also behaved when I started playing around with cables, although they weren't quite as three-dimensional as I would've liked.

In terms of the snagging issue, I should point out that no two knitters knit exactly alike. Which means you might not have the snagging problems I did. But you should always swatch and see for yourself.

Snags aside, a happy way you can enjoy this yarn and sidestep the durability issues is to use it for scarves, cowls, and neckerchiefs—basically any project that puts the soft, warm fibers right where you want them without exposing them to extreme wear and tear. As an added bonus, those projects tend to have low yardage, leaving you a little extra funds to knit a matching hat.

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