Most cashmere yarn is good, and some is even really good. But very, very rarely do you encounter extraordinary cashmere. This is the yarn that, when you touch it, causes time to stand still. Your fingers sink effortlessly into the skein, and you are overcome by a sense of otherworldly perfection. It’s like no cashmere you’ve ever touched before. And once you’ve touched an extraordinary cashmere, you’re ruined for anything else.
Get ready to be ruined, because I’m going to introduce you to an extraordinary cashmere I’ve just myself discovered. It’s called Swiss Mountain Cashmere and Silk, and it was spun at a mill in Switzerland that has specialized in making silk and silk blend yarns for 200 years. The mill is powered entirely from turbines that are, themselves, powered by the gushing mountain streams that flow nearby.
The spun yarn (which is a blend of 65% cashmere and 35% silk) is then sent across the Atlantic and across North America to Vancouver, where it is lovingly hand-dyed by maidens. OK, it’s really dyed by Hand Maiden Fine Yarn, which is run by Jana Dempsey, the daughter gifted dyer Kathryn Thomas who brings you Fleece Artist yarns.
Swatching was, as you’d guess, a near religious experience. Cashmere and silk are two different beasts, both literally and figuratively. One is extremely short and delicate with a fine crimp and matte appearance. The other is extremely long and strong, with no crimp whatsoever and a shimmery sheen.
This yarn manages to maintain the distinct qualities of each fiber (with a shimmery silky core beneath a superfine cashmere halo), and, yet, when you touch the yarn and work it on your needles, both fibers are truly one. They have been blended like a triple-sifted cake flour. Along the way, every single guard hair from the cashmere has also been removed. I don’t ever remember working with a cashmere yarn that didn’t have at least some clear, shiny guard hairs poking out here and there. But no, I encountered none.
The sharp tip on my Addi lace needles snagged the yarn two or three times, but it never caused permanent damage. The resin finish on the Addis helped me control the somewhat slippery yarn—if you don’t like any slipping or sliding, stick with wood or bamboo needles and you’ll be fine.
In terms of gauge and tension, I found that the yarn flowed more than it gripped. Other less-elastic yarns behave the same way, and you simply have to adjust the way you hold your yarn so that you have a little more control over the tension.
Blocking / Washing
The label simply says “handwash only,” so I stuck with my standard routine. I washed the swatches in warm water with a dab of gentle soap (my favorite for testing purposes is Ivory dishwashing liquid). They immediately absorbed the water and relaxed, but they did not leave any hint of color behind. I rinsed them in warm water and then blocked them flat on towel.
My simple stockinette swatches did have a very, very faint hint of a left-tilting bias, but it blocked out without a problem. I’d only worry about this if I were knitting giant rectangles of stockinette, which I wouldn’t do with this yarn (unless I were knitting sheets, which is tempting!). The yarn looks especially beautiful in a simple seed stitch, which would also do away with any risk of biasing.
My pre-washed gauge of 8 stitches per inch relaxed to about 7.25 stitches per inch. Once dry, the swatches revealed only a modest halo from the cashmere.
Imagine being given a perfect china cup and then told to shatter it. That was my task with my swatches. It was not fun, but it had to be done.
The first thing I discovered is that this yarn is extremely strong. I needed scissors to break the strand. That’s the silk talking.
The yarn produces a very thin fabric with extraordinary drape, which is the silk talking. The fabric may be thin, but it’s extremely warm—which is the silk and cashmere talking
Only after a substantial amount of friction did the cashmere begin to break free from the silk and come to the surface. First, it was just a lovely halo. And then gradually, after even more friction, the halo developed almost imperceptible pill-like clusters here and there. Staring at the swatches head-on, you couldn’t even see them. Such durability is the hallmark of quality fibers and a truly excellent mill.
When I tugged the pills, some came off effortlessly, others remained rooted in the fabric and made little tearing noises as they were tugged. I’d recommend you use a gentle sweater shaver to remove any pills without compromising the underlying fabric.
The core yarn is, in itself, extraordinary. But the lively and intriguing Hand Maiden colors are what breathe true life into Swiss Mountain Cashmere and Silk. The colors in my sample skein reminded me of a peacock’s feathers. You can find the yarn in both contrasting multicolors and more subdued semisolids, depending on what kind of “noise” you like your colors to make.
Yes, the yarn costs a bit. At $39.95 per 196-yard skein [$42.95 as of 2016], you’d need about 10 skeins to work a medium-sized women’s sweater—putting the bill at the $400 mark. Too much for my budget.
But I don’t think this yarn was designed with such projects in mind. It wants to be close to your skin, it wants to drape, it wants to shimmer. What better way to do this than by making a scarf, cowl, or shawl? If you have my book, for example, two skeins would make a magnificent Buttefly Moebius.
But ultimately, this isn’t just a yarn. It’s an experience. And just like the difference between everyday red wine vinegar and 100-year-old balsamic, one drop is all you need to be transported to paradise.
Swiss Mountain Cashmere and Silk
26 sts per 4 inches (10cm) on US 2 (3mm) needle
50g / 196 yards (180m)
Spun in Switzerland, hand-dyed in Canada
Hand Maiden Fine Yarn