If you ever decide to drive up the Maine coast to Bar Harbor (and I think you should), your journey will take you past the coastal town of Belfast.
Stay on Route 1 and you’ll see only the commercial outskirts of what is, at the center, a lovely old town. Turn away from the gas stations and fast-food restaurants and you’ll soon see sprawling mansions built by wealthy shipbuilders in the 1800s, and then a small downtown whose brick storefronts march down Main Street to a small harbor.
Those storefronts house hidden gems including a kitchen store that puts Williams Sonoma to shame; Chase’s Daily restaurant, whose chefs have just been nominated for a James Beard award; and, knitters rejoice, a yarn store called Heavenly Socks.
That’s enough to keep anyone busy. But leave the downtown and head inland just a few miles and you’ll discover another treat: Good Karma Farm and Spinning Company. What began as an alpaca farm has since expanded to include fiber processing and spinning. In their spare time, the Good Karma folks also make soap.
Good Karma spins and sells several yarns both online and through yarn stores nationwide. I chose to swatch a plump and nameless blend of 60% wool and 40% alpaca that tells a particularly good story. The wool comes from a flock of sheep that graze on an island not too far from Belfast, while the alpaca comes from Good Karma’s own flock. Everything in this yarn has been sourced, processed, spun, and hand-dyed within a boat ride of Belfast, making this a truly local product.
I started on US6 (4mm) needles and made swift progress without any snags or awkward moments. Still, the fabric felt just a hint too tight for my taste, so I switched to US7 (4.5mm) needles. The knitting and fabric both relaxed and I soon hit a comfortable pace.
The plies appeared to be well balanced and held together, without any untwisting or snagging. Knitting by touch alone was easy on both knit and purl rows.
I only encountered one funky spot midway into my skein (above). A thicker wad of fibers got pulled into the twist too quickly, plied with a finer strand, and incorporated into the yarn. This isn’t too uncommon, but if I were knitting anything important I’d definitely have to snip and rejoin.
Two-ply yarns do not produce as full and even a stockinette as would a yarn that’s been plumped and balanced by a third ply. As full and squishy as this yarn looks on the skein, it still produces a stockinette with a decidedly visible wobble. Garter stitch, on the other hand, had a perky and inviting three-dimensionality enhanced by the yarn’s slowly shifting hand-dyed coloring
Blocking / Washing
My swatch relaxed comfortably into its warm sudsy bath, releasing a faint peach-colored poof of excess dye. Almost immediately I detected a whiff of that wet-dog smell that’s so common with alpaca and a few other protein fibers.
The water ran clear in the first rinse. After blotting my swatch, I could see and feel that some of the pent-up energy had been released and the fabric was now more relaxed and cohesive.
The yarn’s label gives no gauge, but I averaged 4 1/2 stitches and 7 rows per inch. The difference in gauge between the portion knit in US6 and US7 needles was, strangely enough, too close to call.
When my swatch dried, the stitch gauge had tightened closer to 5 stitches per inch, though the row gauge remained constant. The stockinette portion of my swatch had a faint left-leaning bias that disappeared when I reached garter stitch and experimented with other textured stitches.
The yarn label says “wool” but the Web site and promotional materials say “Merino,” and my fingers are inclined to agree—although I can’t imagine Merino doing particularly well on a Maine island. They dislike cold damp conditions. Then again, Eugene Wyatt has a thriving flock of Saxon Merino sheep in New York. If not Merino, the breed that produced the wool in this yarn definitely has Merino genes.
While the wool gives the yarn a splendidly elastic and springy quality, the alpaca is also evident in the form of occasional long pointy fibers protruding from the yarn. They’re easy to pull out, if you’re so inclined. I thought they’d be more irritating than they ended up being. I spent the whole afternoon out and about with a swatch carefully tucked under my sweater, with just an occasional prickle (and odd glance) to remind me it was there.
Structurally speaking, this is a strong yarn. It took quite a hefty tug to snap a strand apart. My swatch withstood a noble amount of abrasion before gradually blurring and forming small, easily removed pills on the surface.
Some yarns stop traffic and drive knitters wild. Others never even have a chance. Within a field defined by those two boundaries, this yarn resides somewhere in the middle. It’s a basic, well-made, reasonably priced, and easy-to-knit yarn. It comes in pretty hand-dyed variegated colors as well as vat-dyed solids. Just be sure to choose stitch patterns that include the occasional purl to balance out any potential bias.
More than the yarn itself, though, is the story behind it. We have a yarn whose entire creation occurred within a limited geographical area, and the funds from whose purchase go directly back into that very same community. Even if I didn’t live in Maine, I’d still want to support it.
None except “60% Merino, 40% Good Karma Farm Alpaca”
Good Karma Farm and Spinning Company
Label: 60% fine wool
Gauge: None given, recommended needle size US 6-7 (4-4.5mm)