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A skein of Silk Wool
Silk Wool swatch
click each image to enlarge

Yarn Profile: SMC Select Silk Wool

First Impressions
When Leonhardt Schachenmayr married the oldest daughter of Johann Gottfried Kolb in 1817, he got far more than a bride—he also joined her father's yarn company. His impact was so significant that, a little over 40 years later, the company's name was changed to Schachenmayr, Mann and Company. In 2009, all those syllables got chopped off and the company adopted the SMC acronym on its knitting labels.

SMC Select is one of the company's newest yarn lines. It takes the best of Gedifra as its springboard. The company's marketing materials are very heavy on words like "European fashion trends" and "natural fiber-rich" and "global premium yarn." Even the yarn itself is described as an "elegant, exclusive fashion yarn with high-quality silk for delightful knits, both classic and trendy..."

But none of that came to mind when I first spotted this yarn. Quite honestly, I thought, "Hey, this is nice." Which it is.

Knitting Up
Silk Wool is a knitted tube yarn, sometimes called "chain" or "tape" but essentially a very fine I-cord. This type of construction gives volume and bounce to a yarn without adding the density you'd get from those same fibers if they were held together and spun into one thicker strand of yarn. Silk Wool falls high on the squeezability scale.

From a knitting perspective, the opennness of tube yarns can sometimes cause snagging problems. I began with some dull-tipped bamboo needles, which worked like a charm. No snagging, no struggling, just a quick and steady stockinette. Then I switched to a sharper pair of Sam Bolton's sublime Montana Mountain needles—again, no snagging. Even then I was quickly able to knit by touch alone, making this a perfect yarn for bedtime knitting.

The next morning I decided to test the über-pointy Knitter's Pride needles, and that's when the yarn finally began to complain. Not only did the sharp tips frequently snag the yarn, but the high varnish on these needles made the silk squeak a little as it passed along the needle surface. I actually like it when my yarn talks to me, but not everybody will.

In terms of stitch definition, Silk Wool has a lot of it. The roundedness of the I-cord construction results in fully detailed three-dimensional stitches. Stockinette, ribbing, seed stitch, cables, they all looked gorgeous.

Blocking / Washing
My swatch relaxed instantly in its warm soapy bath. With relaxation came stretching, which is another quality of tube yarns. It's the same reason all those I-cord bag handles inevitably give way and cause your bag to drag on the ground.

My swatch didn't seem to be shrinking back to its original size. While I waited for it to dry, I studied the wash water left behind and marveled at its distinctly blue color. Not dark or disturbingly intense, but blue nonetheless.

Ultimately there was no change in gauge or color saturation with washing.

Wearing
Contrary to what its name may suggest, Silk Wool actually has three fibers in it: silk (27%), wool (64%), and Polyamid (9%). The wool content is labeled as "new" or "virgin" wool, which isn't really apt in the handknitting yarn world. It's not Merino, but it's definitely on the finer end of the touch spectrum. Even against my neck the yarn had very little prickle factor to it.

You'll immediately recognize the dry, somewhat powdery feel of the silk in this yarn. It also shows up as a glossy sheen in sunlight, made even glossier by the fact that it doesn't appear to have taken any of the dye of the wool. As for the Polyamid, it not only helps keep the price low, but it also adds some welcome strength to the mix.

Gauge can impact durability, and here I do have an observation. The yarn's gauge is listed at 4 stitches per inch. At that gauge, however, the fabric felt quite uneasy in its loose openness and lack of structure. It was springy, yes—but loose in a way that made me worry about abrasion.

I bumped down my needle size to a US 9 and then a US 8. Not until I got down to 5 stitches per inch (on US 8 needles) did the fabric begin to come together and feel more cohesive. I definitely recommend that you swatch and see for yourself which gauge feels more sturdy to you.

For some things, such as blankets or scarves, an open fabric is fine. For anything that will have more weight—the shoulders of a full-sized sweater, for example—I would consider a slightly tighter gauge. Otherwise, be sure and wear a nice shirt underneath the sweater because people are going to see it through those stitches.

By default, this yarn has less strength and structure than would the same fibers spun in a traditional way. By virtue of working their way in and out of each stitch as they wander up the tube, the fibers in Silk Wool span a shorter distance within the actual yarn. The shorter distance the fibers span, the greater their vulnerability to abrasion. Again, that's where the Polyamid comes in handy.

Conclusion
This is a nice, simple yarn. It has an inviting plushness to it that will remind you of Rowan Lima, but at a finer gauge. Its knitted tube construction is reminiscent of some of the most unforgettable, now-deceased yarns of the last decade, including Jaeger Chamonix and Cashair. A touch of silk adds shimmer. And, at $9.95 per 131-yard skein, the price is right. For me, those qualities transcend any notion of "exclusive fashion yarn."

 
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