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A skein of Masham Worsted
Masham Worsted knitted up
click each image to enlarge

Yarn Profile: Lorna's Laces Masham Worsted

First Impressions
When I was little, I had a knitted blankie I carried around with me everywhere. I suspect you had one too.

We grow up, and our blankies inevitably get abandoned. Or do they?

Folded along the back of my couch is the best Christmas present I've ever received. It's a simple grey woven blanket made of robust, crunchy wool fibers that weigh nearly nothing and produce immediate warmth. Every time I curl up under this blanket, I fall sound asleep. Every time.

I'm a firm believer in the power of both the blankie and the hearty, good old wools of the world. Which is why I was so excited to hear that Lorna's Laces was toying with a pure British yarn. It wouldn't be your average spongy soft Merino, it wouldn't have an ounce of silk in it, and nothing would be machine-washable. No, this would be a good old-fashioned British farmhouse kind of yarn. Its name: Masham Worsted.

Masham (pronounced "massem") is a British sheep breed that originated in the hills of northern England. It's a gorgeous longwool with high luster and exquisite drape. On its own, it might behave like adult Mohair. But here, it's been blended with 70% of what the label calls "English wool." It's got good crimp and loads of character.

Masham up close

Up close you'll notice something unusual: The Masham has been kept separate from the other British wool. Untwist a strand and you'll notice a smoother, silk-like band of fibers making its way, barberpole-style, around the other ones. This is the Masham. It absorbs dye more intensely than the other fibers, enhancing this tweedy effect.

The yarn itself is unusual, but what really makes Masham Worsted shine (if you'll pardon the pun) are the hand-dyed Lorna's Laces colorways. For this review I chose one of the lightest, least-dyed shades (Dobson) just so we could see the yarn's fiber underpinnings more clearly.

Knitting Up
Masham Worsted has a recommended needle size of anywhere between a US 7 and 8. I chose a slick US 7 Addi Turbo Rockets, figuring the slippery surface would compensate for the smaller needle diameter and give me something closer to an 8. In my zeal to cast on and build a body of fabric, I managed to snag a single strand a few times by mistake. Once I forced myself to slow down and pay attention, the snagging stopped—and eventually I was able to speed up again, snag free.

Masham in ribbing

The yarn produces a happy, hearty fabric with a delicate halo and loads of bounce. I quickly veered from stockinette and into various forms of ribbing, all of which hummed in Masham Worsted's capable hands.

The difference in dye saturation along the Masham stripe definitely gave the yarn an element of depth, a heathered three-dimensionality that offset the otherwise solid colorway. In one of the Lorna's Laces variegated hues, that depth would become more complex.

Every once in a while I encountered a white, chalky fiber in the mix. Consider it a postcard from the British Isles. This is kemp, a type of fiber that sheep can grow in cold, wet climates. We often see it in British breeds, and it's easily removed, not that much of a bother. (The only time kemp worried me was when I found it in a skein of what was supposed to be Cormo, which rarely has kemp. It turned out to be contamination from a batch of British wool they'd run through the cards right beforehand.)

Masham after washing

Blocking / Washing
Here, my choice of unobtrusive colorway backfired in that I can't really speak to bleeding or fading. But I can tell you that the fabric smoothed out and became even more plump and cohesive than it was before.

There was no change in stitch or row gauge, no visible funk or crud in the wash or rinse water. This yarn has so much air in it, the fabric dried almost immediately. All wobble was gone, my knitting looked, dare I say, rather perfect.

Wearing
"Wearing" has two sides: touch and durability. In terms of touch, we reach that inevitable question: "Is it itchy?" If you knit an undershirt out of Masham then yes, you'd likely feel a bit of a prickle against your skin. Not cruel and abrasive, just a persistent perkiness, like a puppy that can't help but yip by the door. But this isn't an undershirt yarn. It longs to go over your favorite turtleneck and keep you warm and dry all winter long.

From a durability standpoint, Masham Worsted scored top marks. The generous staple length of these fibers made the yarn almost impossible to tug apart by hand. Abrasion? My swatch barely blinked.

Conclusion
Bristol Ivy's Wainwright is a gorgeous, asymmetric cardigan that showcases Masham beautifully. The pattern calls for between 7 and 12 skeins, putting the tab between $129 and $222.

If that breaks the bank, you could always scale back and make a lovely hat and mittens. Either way, I have a sneaking suspicion that the minute you don your garment, you'll fall sound asleep. Or maybe that's just me?