Shepherd Worsted has all the elements of a perfect comfort food. It’s soft and easy, comes in large servings, and always satisfies.
The Shepherd label actually spans four weights: Shepherd Bulky, Shepherd Worsted (reviewed here), Shepherd Sport, and Shepherd Sock. All contain 100% superwash Merino except sock, which has 20% nylon for durability.
While all the Shepherds have their place, I’m particularly fond of the worsted. There’s something extra satisfying about a soft, nicely rounded worsted-weight Merino—it has heft for speedy progress while still being fine enough for stitch nuance. The fact that it’s been treated for machine washability makes it ideal for gift-knitting and especially perfect for baby knits.
Or maybe it isn’t the yarn I enjoy as much as the colors. You can get Shepherd Worsted in 54 different solid shades or a whopping 119 different multicolored offerings, all hand-dyed by Lorna’s Laces in Chicago. For this review I chose a denim-hued multicolor called Jeans.
Easy is the word. Shepherd Worsted contains three plies that have been twisted together at a somewhat relaxed angle. Lacking the bouncy perpendicular ply structure of Ewe Ewe, Shepherd Worsted has a more languid construction that lends greater smoothness and fluidity to the yarn. The Merino fibers are still bouncy, because that’s what Merino is, they just haven’t had their bounce enhanced by extra twist.
I did experience a snag here and there, usually when I was looking away and trying to go faster. Otherwise, the yarn was quite willing to do whatever I asked, from knits and purls to ribbing and cables. The stitches looked smooth and mostly even, although the visible ply lines within each stitch did seem to totter at times.
Blocking / Washing
Here I need to confess that I totally disregarded the recommended wash instructions (machine-wash cold), instead dropping my swatch in warm soapy water. It relaxed instantly, releasing a beautiful blue into the water. Two rinses later, the water ran clear.
The slight bleeding didn’t concern me because the finished fabric showed no change in color intensity. If anything, I was more excited to see that the wobble had stabilized in the wash. The fabric had become far smoother and more cohesive.
Stretching was a concern, though, since these fibers have been rendered machine-washable and only gently twisted together. Scales cause felting. If you do away with the scales, your fibers will not enmesh in the wash—but this also means they can slip from one-another’s grasp. My row gauge remained pretty much unchanged from unwashed to washed, but my stitch gauge stretched from an even 5 stitches per inch to approximately 4.75 stitches per inch. Another reason to use this yarn for babies, which also have a tendency to grow.
As with almost everything good in life, comfort food has its drawbacks: It usually doesn’t contain the same nutritional value as, say, a bowl of raw grain. But that’s not the point of comfort food.
Likewise, comfort yarns don’t always have lasting nutritional value. The softer they are and the gentler their twist, the more quickly they will show signs of wear. They aren’t intended to accompany you on a trek up Mount Everest—they’re far better suited to keep you company back at the lodge.
The more friction I applied to my swatches, the more blurred the fabric surface became. At first it looked cozy and inviting, but after a fairly decent amount of friction, the blur began to organize into collective wisps. More friction thickened the wisps into broader clumps of loose fiber. They were deeply rooted in the fabric and would best be removed with a fabric shaver. Tugging them only disrupted the neighboring fibers.
I should clarify that I view “comfort food” and “junk food” as two very different things. This is not a junk-food yarn. It’s made from top materials and has been hand-dyed by actual humans in Chicago.
The price, around $21 per skein (as of 2016 the price is now $23/skein), reflects what has gone into it. The yarn itself, that’s the comfort part: soft and smooth, like a big bowl of perfectly seasoned polenta. For those days when you just don’t feel like another salad, this does the trick.