If wool and cotton are the perfect blend for yarn (which they are), why are they so rarely paired together? Are we too set on the notion of cotton being for summer, wool being for winter, and never the twain shall meet?
In reality, these two fibers combined form an ideal ecosystem for the human body. Each compensates for the other’s shortcomings in an almost perfect match of opposites.
With the exception of the gloriously tweedy O-Wool Balance, most wool-cotton blends have been very smooth, worsted-spun, traditionally plied, and not exactly oozing skein appeal. Which may be part of the problem.
When I first saw Katia Cotton-Merino on the shelf, I assumed this fluffy concoction of heathered novelty tubing was synthetic. I reluctantly reached in for a feel, then scanned the label, and a whole new story began to emerge.
Knitting Cotton-Merino was a joyful reminder of the good that can come out of novelty constructions.
A traditionally spun and plied yarn with 70% cotton won’t have much bounce or give to it, unless that other 30% contains something super stretchy like Lycra. But here, Katia has chosen a tube/tape/chainette construction to fabricate crimp and give an airy sense of weightlessness to the otherwise dense, crimpless cotton fibers. And that’s not all. To finish it off, extra fine Merino fibers have been shot within that tube to lend a delicious halo that begs to be squeezed.
The yarn hugged my fingers, making tension on knit and purl rows equally easy. It slid smoothly, gripped the needles, and happily formed whatever stitch I tried. By the third row I was knitting and purling by touch alone. Only a few times did my needle tip snag the wool wisps, but it wasn’t nearly the distraction of, say, a brushed mohair.
There were no knots or irregularities in my skein. My stockinette looked beautiful, and it was hard to stop my mind from imagining which sweater this could become.
The more I knit, the more intrigued I was by the halo. The wool fibers aren’t as obviously shot through the center like they were in Blue Sky Fibers Techno. I couldn’t find any substantial inner core of wool fibers when I un-worked the tube. Rather, they’re delicately held throughout, as if they were blowing about when the tube was being knit and just happened to get caught in the stitches.
While wool becomes weaker when wet, taking on the wispy demeanor of a tissue in the wash, cotton does the opposite: It gets stronger. I could feel it the minute I submerged my swatch. After several dunkings and squeezes, my swatch became fully saturated, taking on a denser, stronger feel. My warm water washed and rinsed clear, leaving no residue.
If I hadn’t known the fabric was 70% cotton, I would’ve thought I’d felted my swatch. The difference in thickness and density is that dramatic.
With blotting and slow, patient drying on a towel, the swatch returned to its pre-wash dimensions. The stitch definition remained clear, but the fabric had gained a smooth cohesion.
My dried swatch had marvelous come-hither appeal.
Here’s where the wool/cotton blend really excels: when being worn. The human body is constantly releasing moisture. What our clothing does with that moisture dictates how happy or uncomfortable we’ll be.
With its evaporative cooling qualities, cotton will prevent you from getting too warm. But the wool, with its absorptive heating qualities, will prevent you from getting too cold. The more dramatic our temperature swings, the more ideal a wool/cotton blend can be.
This particular yarn offers 70% cotton, suggesting the blend will err on the side of warm-weather comfort. But that 30% extra fine Merino is no slouch, especially in a construction where it can trap loads of still air.
I’m tempted to knit a sweater out of this and get back to you. Maybe Joji Locatelli’s Worsted Boxy, or Carrie Bostick Hoge’s Lila, or even Olga Buraya-Kefelian’s Koto, with the gauge of each slightly tweaked?
It’s been a long time since I fell in love with such a refined, novelty-style yarn. In my quest for “true” wools, I’ve totally overlooked what’s happening with the more highly produced yarns. Lesson learned.
Color is another quality of this yarn. Cotton-Merino gets its beautifully uneven, two-tone shading from the fact that the wool fibers have been dyed but the cotton tube has not. The gently colorful halo anchored by a white-mesh underpinning gives glorious depth and visual intrigue. I can’t say enough good things about this yarn.
Ironically, Katia describes its Concept line (of which this is a part) as “beauty without artifice, richness of materials, purity of colour and textures, timeless, a return to simplicity of form.”
While I wouldn’t call the yarn’s construction “simple,” the beauty, simplicity, and richness of the finished fabric are absolutely spot-on.