The UK has a vibrant textiles history. Most argue that the fortunes of the British empire were, in fact, based on the wool trade. Somewhere along the line, between globalization and our quest for softness, this trade faltered.
Today, Britain’s wool manufacturing industry is hurting, as it is in the United States and elsewhere. Too many masters of the trade are twiddling their thumbs, their mills dismantled, equipment sold for scrap metal.
Any attempt to revitalize this trade, to replenish our ecosystem from farmer to mill to LYS to our hands, is worthy of attention—but especially when those attempts result in a really good product. Which is where Titus enters the picture.
Titus is a blend of two distinctly British longwools: 50% Wensleydale and 20% Bluefaced Leicester. Both are known for their strength and generous staple, silky hand and bright luster, Wensleydale especially. To this has been added a surprise: 30% alpaca, also sourced in the UK. Which is where the yarn gets its name.
Sir Walter Titus was a 19th century Yorkshire manufacturer and philanthropist. At one point in his lengthy and varied career, he discovered several bales of alpaca in a warehouse. He began playing with it—he wasn’t the first—and developed a cloth called “alpaca” that became hugely popular. While alpaca seems to be added to yarns rather indiscriminately these days, the alpaca in Titus was put there very much on purpose.
The fibers have been intimately blended, twisted into three strands, and then plied together at a relaxed angle. The resulting fingering-weight yarn is smooth and relaxed, with the drape and softness of a sleeping cat.
This yarn is true to its fibers—which is to say it has loads of slink, very little squeeze or bounce. I used pointy-tipped wooden needles to add drag and control to my knitting. I had no snagging problem and found no knots or oddities in my skein.
The yarn’s smooth, worsted spin and somewhat dense structure means that you’ll have to knit fine if you’re planning a garment that conceals a body underneath. While there is a slight halo to Titus, it’s not enough to fill in open spaces between stitches in a significant way.
Likewise, Titus was reluctant to forgive my occasional tension irregularity. My stockinette looked mostly even, but once in a while an odd “V” stood out. I hoped blocking would help.
Soon my hands were eager to go off-road, so I switched from stockinette to seed stitch. The yarn held on and enjoyed the ride, the alternating knits and purls adding some bounce and dimension to the fabric. I then switched to a more open feather-and-fan, which performed equally well.
Overall, Titus was a pleasant, meditative knit. My swatch puckered a bit, so I was eager to get to the blocking.
Blocking / Washing
The label gave no washing instructions beyond “hand wash,” so I did my usual. I filled a clear glass bowl with warm water and added a squeeze of gentle soap (the clear glass is so I can see the water more clearly). I swished the water until everything was dispersed, and then I dropped in my swatch.
Immediately I could feel the swatch saturate and its fibers relax. I gave it several squeezes and then let it rest for a few minutes. By now the wash water had a tinge of tan in it, which corresponded with the lovely lanolin fragrance I smelled on the skein.
I rinsed the swatch, set it out on a towel, tugged and prodded it into shape, gave it a good blotting, and then let it dry.
Blocked swatch? Smooth, fluid, gorgeous.
I’ve knit with yarns spun at John Arbon before, and they’re always well-balanced and cohesive. So is this one. Its three plies will give stability and durability to anything you knit.
Friction did nothing but raise the nap on the fabric surface. A light halo grew, and an occasional long alpaca fiber revealed itself, but no actual pills formed.
Such durability makes me think of socks. While Titus may be a bit too slinky for them, you could knit some socks very tightly and use a pattern with tons of springy ribbing. You’d just need to be careful when washing and removing the socks so they don’t stretch too far out of shape.
Every yarn tells a story—and Titus has a particularly rich one. The fact that the yarn only comes in one color? I see that as a thinly veiled opportunity. The naturally tan color, a latte tinged with silver, would overdye beautifully into rich, moody, multi-toned hues. [Note: Since this review was published in 2012, Titus has also been made available in more than 15 gorgeous colors.]
Baa Ram Ewe suggests it for Stephen West’s Clockwork or Daybreak. I agree, a textured shawl would be gorgeous. If you don’t want to wind off half of a skein and play with Kool Aid, any of the Brooklyn Tweed textured patterns for Loft would also be phenomenal—say, the Ferrous Wrap or, oh my, even Winnowing. Titus will give you clearer, brighter stitch definition than the Brooklyn Tweed yarns, but still with earthy overtones, and the drape will be simply phenomenal.
The only drawback to the deal? If you’re not lucky enough to live in the UK, shipping will add a chunk of change. But keep in mind the generous yardage (three skeins will be more than enough for Winnowing or the small version of Ferrous) in each skein, and that your money is going toward a revitalization of local wool production—helping preserve skills and ensure a genetic diversity in the wool pool that, ultimately, will benefit us all.
Baa Ram Ewe
50% Wensleydale wool
20% Bluefaced Leicester wool
30% UK alpaca
None given, but this yarn best knits up at a fingering weight on US 2 (2.75) to 3 (3.25mm) needles
Baa Ram Ewe
100g / 350 yards (320m)
Spun in Devon of UK fiber
This yarn comes in one color—natural. Like the sheep.
Baa Ram Ewe is a UK yarn store, but plans are underway to offer wholesale.
Baa Ram Ewe