In American wool yarn, few names evoke as much history as “Germantown.” It refers not only to the Pennsylvania textile hub (chartered in 1683 and the birthplace of the anti-slavery movement in America) but, more specifically, to the well-made, inexpensive worsted-wool yarns made there.


Jump to fast facts about this yarn

The name stuck even after production left Germantown. All the big yarn companies, from Columbia Minerva to Coates, Bernat, and Brunswick, had a worsted wool yarn with Germantown in the name at one point.

There hasn’t been a Germantown yarn in a very long time. Courtney Kelley—cofounder of Kelbourne Woolens and current Board President of TNNA—had long dreamed of bringing it back. When chance connected her with a North Carolina mill owner who was game to try, she sent an old skein from her archives and held her breath: Germantown Yarn has been reborn.

Knitting Up

For my swatching, I chose Kinki Amibari bamboo circular needles. Something told me that the airy crispness of this four-ply yarn might translate into higher potential for snags (which it did, at first). While surgically pointy tips would only make this worse, the KA tips have a precise taper and a delicately blunt tip. The bamboo surface gives the yarn something to cling to while allowing me to slow down and pay more attention to the yarn.

After a few snags while my hands found their optimal position, it was smooth sailing. Within five rows, my mind was already wandering to cables and bobbles and honeycomb stitches, all of which Germantown Yarn would render brilliantly.

This is the perfect Number 2 pencil kind of yarn. It will do anything you need, from stockinette to cables and colorwork, and even felting. It has such splendid compression resistance, you could even knit a swatch, roll it up, and use it as a squeeze toy to relieve stress.

 

Blocking / Washing

Germantown Yarn swatches
Washed (left) and unwashed (right) swatches of Germantown Yarn

Germantown has not been treated for machine washability. What you feel is true unadulterated wool that needs to be washed by hand. However, most front-loading washing machines will handle it beautifully on the handwash/wool setting. (But please don’t sue me if yours doesn’t!)

My swatch behaved like a brave little soldier in its warm sudsy bath, never quite relaxing. Worsted-spun wool has been combed to remove any short, irregular fibers and align the longer ones before spinning. With less jumble going into the yarn, you’ll have less of a surface “bloom” in the wash. But there can still be movement.

Sure enough, my blocked, dried swatch showed an expansion of almost one-third of a stitch per inch. Translation: Absolutely wash your swatch (ahem, you will swatch, right?) and block it as you would your finished garment. Then, and only then, should you settle on your needle size.

I used an undyed skein, so I didn’t expect any bleeding in the wash. However, my dried swatch did seem a touch lighter than the unwashed one, in a very nice, creamy clean sort of way.

Wearing

Germantown uses “Territory” wool, an old term to describe wool from sheep raised in the original western U.S. territories. In the case of Germantown, the wool comes primarily from Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. As Courtney explains far more eloquently on the Kelbourne Woolens blog, you’re likely touching a combination of Rambouillet, Targhee, Columbia, and Polypay.

From a touch perspective, Territory wool tends to be stronger and livelier than the finewools while only sacrificing a few microns in softness. The feel is not in the least itchy or scratchy or prickly to me. I’d describe it more as crisp or robust, like a good loaf of whole-grain bread. There’s a wooly presence, but it works with you, not against.

The four-ply construction adds welcome reinforcement, while the stronger, longer-staple fibers mean great endurance over time. My swatches survived a monthlong endurance test with flying colors, showing almost no signs of distress. When a few wisps eventually appeared on the fabric surface, they were easily plucked.

Conclusion

I see what Courtney was after, both technically and sentimentally, in bringing back Germantown yarn. I’m grateful she succeeded.

On the hard-working, worsted-spun, worsted-weight wool yarn continuum, Germantown adds a valuable new entry. It bridges the gap between the $8/skein Patons Classic Wool Worsted sold at big-box stores and the entry level wool yarns you’ll find at your LYS (I’m thinking Cascade 220 and the likes, at $12 or more per 100g).

Germantown Yarn up close

Conceptually, Germantown’s nearest cousin is Brown Sheep Nature Spun Worsted. Although three plies instead of four, Nature Spun Worsted uses a similar grade of Territory wool sourced from Nebraska and neighboring states.

Like Germantown, Brown Sheep is also scoured, spun, and dyed in the United States. It retails for $2 less per skein, a result of the operational efficiencies Brown Sheep enjoys by operating its own mill and dyehouse.

Germantown is a perfect yarn for the beginner knitter, with the added bonus of introducing wool to her or his fiber diet. And it’s equally good for the experienced knitter who just wants to set the needles on “knit” and go.

Fast Facts

Yarn Name Germantown
Manufacturer Germantown Yarn
Fiber content 100% North American wool
Gauge 16 to 20 stitches with US 6-9 (4-5.5mm) needles
Average retail price $14/skein
Where to buy online Germantown Yarn
Weight/yardage per hank 100g / 220 yards (201m)
Country of origin North American wool, scoured, spun, and dyed in the USA.
Manufacturer’s suggested wash method Hand wash, dry flat, low iron. Do not tumble dry.
Review date 12/27/19
Color used in review 105 Natural
Wholesale distributor Kelbourne Woolens
Source of review yarn Kelbourne Woolens’ Courtney Kelley while at the NY Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck.

Latest comments
  • Congrats Courtney! This is one of your knitting students from the famous Rosie’s. As I told you @ Loop in October I am so proud of you & happy for your success. This is a very interesting & informative article on the history of Germantown Yarn. Thanks for keeping fiber artists abreast of yarn history. Also, keep on being the knitting warrior that you are. 🙂
    .

  • I’m about to try this yarn, on a kick to knit with American grown and processed wool. But I see you haven’t reviewed Shepherd’s Worsted from Stonehedge Fibers (it also now comes in sport weight). I buy mine online through Fairlight Fibers.

  • I was a bit confused by this section:

    “Germantown … bridges the gap between the $8/skein Patons Classic Wool Worsted sold at big-box stores and the entry level wool yarns you’ll find at your LYS (I’m thinking Cascade 220 and the likes, at $12 or more per 100g).”

    I checked a few online shops, including Kelbourne Woolens’ own one, and it seems to be $15 per 100g (or more).

    On another note, may I ask what gauge your swatch ended up at? Would you say this is heavier or the same as Cascade 220?

    Many thanks for the review as I had been wondering about this one!

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