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A skein of Symphony Lace
Symphony Lace knit up
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Yarn Profile: Tilli Tomas Symphony Lace

First Impressions
Some yarns have blatant skein appeal, drawing you in before you ever cast on that first stitch. Others are more shy and reserved, holding back their true selves until you've proven yourself worthy with your needles.

Symphony Lace sits squarely in the first category: It presents a stunning skein that you can't help but covet. But is this numinous beauty only skein deep?

First the facts. Symphony Lace is made of three components: silk, brushed mohair, and gold. Not the real stuff (wouldn't that be something?) but the fine, shiny kind of gold we see woven into Indian fabrics that are used for scarves and saris. Which is no coincidence because Symphony Lace is an Indian creation.

Each component enters the picture separately. A strand of brushed mohair is loosely plied with a fine strand of gold metallic material (wrapped around what I presume is nylon). Because the gold is wrapped perpendicular to the direction of the yarn, instead of running smoothly along it, you'll feel something—not exactly a scratchiness, but a rough resistance of sorts—when you rub your fingers up and down the gold strand. When I pinched that strand tightly with my fingernail and pulled, some of the gold began to come off. (I'm assuming that some colorways will have a silver-colored strand instead of gold.)

The gold-laced mohair is then stranded alongside a two-ply strand of smooth lustrous silk onto which coordinating seed beads have been fed at irregular intervals. Sometimes they were about 12 inches apart, other times they were more than 24 inches apart; sometimes I'd find one bead, sometimes two, and a few times three. The beads are, in fact, quite innocuous when spread across a large portion of fabric. Just enough for a little bling without being ostentatious.

All of this is then wound into a 345-yard skein that retails for $39.

Knitting Up
Winding Symphony Lace is a musical experience. Each time a bead touched the metal eye of my ball winder as it passed through, it made a bright "tink" sound. The faster I wound, the more rhythmic the tinking became. Just when I managed to match it to music, the rhythm changed.

But then I started to worry about the beads. They'd been fed onto a silk strand that was barely twisted with the gold mohair—which meant that they were quite willing to migrate elsewhere. As the strand slipped through my fingers (which I held out to tension the yarn before it fed onto the ball winder), I could feel the bead slipping slightly. And I imagined it slipping yet again when it hit the metal on my ball winder and made that charming tink sound.

I let it go. If the beads are intended to appear at random intervals—and they truly do—then who cares if I've nudged each bead down by a few inches?

Then I noticed another issue: The silk strand had come apart. A little later, I encountered a tiny knot in the metallic thread. And further on, a spot where two knots had been tied in another strand.

The actual knitting was comparable to knitting with any brushed mohair (such as Kidsilk Haze or Haiku), except that the silk and metallic thread helped anchor the mohair and make it more reasonable to manage. The halo from the brushed mohair fibers actually encloses the other strands in such a way that snagging just one or two strands by mistake was not an issue.

Although the stranding process was very minimal, it does result in a touch of extra twist in the yarn. When knitting, my working yarn regularly became kinked and curled up on itself. Mohair usually makes a mess of this, but the kinks came undone fairly easily.

The resulting fabric was so beautiful that I decided to knit a second swatch in a Feather and Fan pattern. And—despite those minor blips I mentioned—I had so much fun that the swatch kept going. Some day, when my skein runs out, that second swatch will become a scarf.

Blocking / Washing
The label says dry clean only, something I avoid whenever possible. But silk can be tricky. Most times you can wash it by hand with no problems, but some dye processes can bleed, lose their colorfastness, or even change colors when exposed to warm soapy water.

I saw no real changes in color from the unwashed and washed swatches, but you will want to knit a swatch and wash it for yourself before washing a full project. (If this seems wasteful, why not make two swatches, sew each one together into a tube, and make yourself a lovely pair of wrist warmers?)

Remember that slight roughness that I felt in the gold strand? The good news is that the mohair really does enfold the gold in a protective halo. I only felt a hint of irritation against my skin, and only when I'd tucked the swatch (oh so artfully) under my shirt. Against my hands and arms, I couldn't feel it.

I'd really only use this yarn for open lace, which would accentuate the gold and silk while giving the mohair halo room to breathe. Even Feather and Fan is stunning, and I suspect other stitches would be even more beautiful. Try to stick with patterns that have relatively simple repeats so that the stitches don't compete with the yarn. Consider a pattern that incorporates purl stitches, too, since beads often find their way onto the purl side of stitches.

In terms of wearability, most stunning lace projects rarely see any kind of vigorous wear. You probably don't need to worry about the fact that the gold-colored strand in this yarn may separate from its core, if divided from the pack, cruelly pinched and pulled.

Despite the occasional knots, the gold that could be stripped if pinched hard enough, and the yarn's kinking up as I worked, I still have to give Symphony Lace a thumbs-up. It earns the praise both on its own merits (the halo and glitz conceal the knots, which may have just been an anomaly in my skein) and because of the business environment in which it was created. Tilli Tomas has worked hard in recent years to reduce the company's carbon footprint. Where fibers and yarns once crisscrossed the globe multiple times before reaching your hands, this particular yarn has been sourced entirely in India.

That itself may not be so remarkable at a time when everything seems to have been outsourced. Tracy Robinson (the owner of Tilli Tomas) explained that her yarns are created in small villages. The women do the beading, the men do the dyeing, and then the yarn is air-dried. The plying process is also done by hand.

But here's what makes the story more compelling. "We originally set up self-help centers for women where they could be gainfully employed and earn a living wage regardless of production," Tracy told me. "These centers have grown and now make a difference in combating poverty in impoverished areas."

Poverty exists around the world, and you could also argue the importance of investing closer to home. But in a global sense, helping people gain advancement and self-sufficiency is a good thing, yes? And in that regard, Symphony Lace is as beautiful on the outside as it is inside—proving that beauty isn't always skein deep.

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