I first heard about the Exmoor Blueface sheep from John Arbon back in 2010 when I was in London for Knit Nation. This relatively new breed is the result of a cross between Exmoor Horn (a hill breed from north Devon) and Bluefaced Leicester sheep. The UK was getting ready for the first Campaign for Wool, and John had been tasked with spinning a very special British yarn that would be woven into fabric for a suit that the Prince of Wales would wear for an event on Savile Row. He chose Exmoor Blueface for that yarn.
Designer Susan Crawford seized on the breed for her beautifully vintage Excelana yarn. And now, Kettle Yarn Co. is using the fiber in a new blend called Baskerville.
The blend itself intrigued me. Baskerville signifies a shift away from the single-breed “exhibition” skeins and toward more daring blends that combine both national pride and aesthetic intent. Baskerville showcases 65% Exmoor Blueface in a blend with 25% Gotland wool, which adds a stunningly curly crimp, brilliant luster, and natural silver and grey coloring. The final 15% dusting of silk turbocharges the luster and makes Linda’s naturally dyed indigo really glow.
The minute you learn that you’re about to knit with a skein of indigo-dyed yarn, you need to do some prep work. First, pick a pair of needles made from metal. Do not use wood or bamboo or plastic, or, basically, any material onto which color can transfer. Second, don’t be alarmed when your fingers slowly turn a most beautiful shade of blue.
It’s called crocking, and it’s something that will happen with any properly dyed indigo fibers. Kristine Vejar has a really good explanation of what’s happening when indigo transfers onto your hands. (It’s a good story, go ahead and give it a read. I’ll wait.) If the notion of natural dyeing, and dyeing with indigo in particular, interests you, Kristine’s The Modern Natural Dyer is the book you’ll want.
Knowing the color was going to transfer, I chose a pair of slick Addi Turbo Rockets for my swatching. I still sat in my favorite light-colored chair, just making sure that the yarn was safely placed on a windowsill where it wouldn’t rub. (And even if it had, a sponge and warm soapy water would’ve removed any crocking).
The fibers have been combed for smoothness and cohesion, but the yarn still had a pleasant degree of stickiness and “grab” to it. The two plies stayed together, never snagging or untwisting. I moved from a scrumptious garter-stitch to a perky three-dimensional feather and fan before settling on smooth stockinette. Each stitch was a pleasure.
From a touch perspective, Baskerville has a somewhat dry hand and the brisk feel of fibers with spunk and character. I was curious how a warm soapy bath would impact the spunk, dryness, and even the color saturation.
Blocking / Washing
I expected a lot more blue in the wash water than there actually was—another aspect of indigo crocking. There was just one sky-blue poof in the warm soapy water, then each rinse ran clear.
Curious about the color transfer, I rolled up my swatch and blotted it gently with a white paper towel. There was no transfer of color.
The dried swatch showed no change in stitch or row gauge, but it did reveal an exquisite cohesion of the final fabric. The perky young stitches, distinct individuals all, had matured into a community. My swatch went from looking like a doodle to an excerpt from a complete sweater.
The fibers remained brisk in the wash, never quite relaxing. In fact, the relaxation seemed to happen as the fibers dried and the fabric came together. I could definitely wear this next to my skin, but if you’re a Princess and the Pea type, you might want something underneath.
I rubbed the swatch against a piece of white paper and made a little blue smudge. Just like that brand new pair of dark blue jeans, you might not want to wear this on a white couch until the dye has finished its settling. (Same goes for whatever you decide to wear underneath.)
From a durability standpoint, this is one strong, cohesive yarn. It doesn’t want to pill. The fiber ends did seem to migrate slightly while settling, but after that they stayed put. This yarn wants to be a gorgeous cardigan you cuddle up with at home but can also proudly wear when you need to dress up.
I’m so happy to see a unique base being commissioned by a hand-dyer. Most dyers are forced to use the same, or very similar yarn bases because they’re all that’s easily available. While this common canvas makes it easier to compare dye techniques and color style between dyers, it can also get a little homogenous after a while. And really, how much Superwash Merino do we really need?
Here you have a totally original base that makes a statement on its own. Trained studio artist, Kettle Yarn Co. owner and Canadian expat Linda, has taken this unusual base and applied one of the most ancient and mystifying dye techniques, namely natural dyeing with indigo.
What this means, bottom line, is that you’re getting two special experiences in one. A highly unusual blend of noble fibers and a unique color that relies on your hands for the finishing touch.
Kettle Yarn Co.
60% Exmoor Blueface wool
25% Gotland wool
18-26 stitches per 4 inches (10cm) on US1-6 (2.25-4mm) needles
Kettle Yarn Co.
100g / 437 yards (400m)
British Exmoor Blueface and Gotland wool; spun in UK
Hand wash only
Not sure this yarn is available wholesale, contact Kettle Yarn Co. directly
Kettle Yarn Co. while at Pom Pom Christmas party in London, December 2015