Our quest for the perfect skein has led to many stashes whose size exceeds the potential lifetime output of any knitter. This doesn't stop us from always seeking, acquiring, and swatching new yarns. The joy is in the adventure, right?
I found three particularly lovely skeins of yarn this year, each from equally enchanting small companies.
The yarns have three things in common. First, they were all dyed by hand in small batches. Second, they all come from the West Coast. And third, they all contain between 70% and 85% fibers from the Merino sheep or its descendants. How they were blended, twisted, and plied makes all the difference.
The Sincere Sheep: Luminous
The Sincere Sheep was launched by Brooke Sinnes earlier this year. Based in Northern California, Brooke focuses on carefully sourced natural fibers—in both yarn and roving form—to which she applies color using only natural dyes.
Her taste in fibers is exquisite, a case in point being the blend called Luminous. This yarn combines 85% Polwarth wool and 15% Tussah silk in a thoroughly plump and well-rounded four-ply yarn.
One of the lesser-known finewools, Polwarth was developed in Australia in the 1880s by crossing Saxon Merino with Lincoln to produce a hardier, more adaptable dual-purpose breed. The fiber shares all the tender, spongy characteristics of Merino—but with a little more staple length, strength, and luster.
Meanwhile, Tussah is the silk variety produced from cocoons in which the silkworm is allowed to fully metamorphose into a moth and emerge. When blended with the Polwarth, the results give Brooke's colors a gem-like richness and clarity.
Luminous ships in 320-yard skeins that currently retail for $31 apiece from The Sincere Sheep.
Hazel Knits: Entice
This was the year for blending Merino and cashmere. Why? Because we like it soft but we're also on a budget. A fine Merino with a dusting of cashmere can satisfy that urge for luxury without breaking the bank.
Weights and percentages vary, but the most common base is a fingering-weight mix of 70% Merino, 20% cashmere, and 10% nylon. By the end of the year, pretty much every major hand-dyer in the country offered some variant of this mix. How do hand-dyers, this blend, and this weight come together?
The magic word is "socks." Hand-dyers and sock yarns have always gone hand in hand. Small-scale hand-dyers tend to create small batches of un-repeatable colorways. If you only can get one skein of a particular color, what do you do with it? Knit a pair of socks.
Many hand-dyers started out with a springy two-ply base similar to Louet Gems. But socks like more strength and more plies—and our hand-dyers began migrating to multiple-ply Merino bases that included nylon for reinforcement. For a little something extra, a handful of dyers started experimenting with cashmere—and soon the 70/20/10 blend was born.
Based in Seattle, Washington, Hazel Knits began as an Etsy shop before becoming a separate, full-scale enterprise.
Whereas The Sincere Sheep yarns get their color from natural dyes, Hazel Knits' yarns are all acid-dyed in a mouth-puckering buffet of ripe, fruity hues. The colors are not flat but rather "layered solids," in which a base color peeks through a gentle haze of another color. The effect is at once lively and uniform.
And yes, Hazel Knits has a 70/20/10 Merino/cashmere/nylon blend. It's called Entice, and it comes in 400-yard skeins that retail for $29 apiece. The yarn has that perfect mix of softness and strength, tight twist and fluidity.
You'll find Hazel Knits yarn on the company Web site but also from retailers in the U.S., U.K., and New Zealand.A Verb for Keeping Warm: High Twist
Finally, there's a yarn company I love as much for its name as for its colors, A Verb for Keeping Warm. (The name is inspired by those verbs that have kept us warm over the centuries: "spin," "knit," and "weave" being just three examples.)
Owner Kristine Vejar learned her trade in India on a Fulbright scholarship to study with a group of nomadic camel herders. While there, she befriended a family of natural dyers and discovered her own deep and instinctive passion for natural dyeing.
A Verb for Keeping Warm is both a yarn/fiber company as well as a retail store that also carries an exquisite selection of other yarns—Imperial Stock Ranch, Jamieson's, Pear Tree, Isager, Green Mountain Spinnery, and Dream in Color are just a few of the yarns they carry.
But the Verb yarns stand solidly on their own two feet, and one of the most notable examples is High Twist. This lace-weight yarn contains 70% superfine Merino and 30% Tussah silk. Such a Merino/silk blend for lace is nothing new, but the twist is.
Two two-ply strands are plied together at a near perpendicular angle, giving the yarn great roundedness and spring. The unusual ply structure gives stitches an intriguing wobble that makes lace even more distinct and attractive.
The colors—all rendered with organic vegetable dyes—are made even more earthy and luminous by the presence of such a high percentage of silk.
Now you have some more options for enhancing and enriching your stash. Which will you choose?Comments
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