moeke_skein_largeIt all began with a picture on Instagram. Someone shared a gorgeous shot of a yarn I’d never seen before. It looked rugged, crunchy, and soulful, and I suspected it had quite a story behind it—so I hunted around online until I found an Etsy shop and ordered some skeins to try.

Not too long afterwards, a package arrived from the Netherlands. Inside, my very own skeins to swatch.

The yarn, called Elena, comes from the year-old Moeke Yarns. While the yarn was shipped from the Netherlands, its country of origin is most distinctly Romania.

Moeke was founded by Ioana van Deurzen and her brother Radu. They grew up in Communist Romania and were cared for by their maternal grandparents in a small country village. They grew up, politics changed, the grandparents passed away, and eventually Ioana moved to the Netherlands to pursue a PhD in Sociology.

But last year she returned to Romania to visit her parents, now living in her grandparents’ home. There she discovered a bag of her grandmother’s handspun yarn. Amidst the flood of memories came a realization: Romania has its own sheep, and it has a few spinning mills. What if she and her brother (who still lives in Romania) started their own line of pure Romanian wool yarns?

That was a year ago. Today, Ioana and Radu’s company is off to a good start. They offer two yarn bases: Elena, made from what they call “traditional” Romanian wool; and Stela, made from a blend of Romanian sheep breeds. For this review, I chose Elena.

moeke_swatch_largeKnitting Up

Elena is most likely made from the fleece of the Tsigai sheep, a long-tailed breed that originated in Southeastern Europe and is common in Romania. Over the years, it’s possible that the breed was crossed with some Merino and British meat breeds to improve its fleece production and carcass size. The fiber is a mediumwool, meaning it’s not your powdery superfine Merino but much more of a hearty whole-grain creation. Instead of snow white, the fibers are a deliciously creamy shade of oatmeal.

Both Elena and Stela are singles yarns consisting of one strand of continuously spun fiber. Singles are the least balanced of all yarns for the simple reason that they have no companion against whom they can release any excess twist. They also can produce a slightly wobbly stockinette because any variation in fiber thickness is immediately visible in the finished fabric. Generally speaking, they’re used for an artisan effect.

Ioana had cleverly preserved space (and postage costs) by shipping the skeins flat and untwisted. The fibers were so crispy and distinct that they didn’t tangle in transit. Winding my skein was a breeze.

So, too, was the knitting of this yarn. I decided to try knitting with a pair of pointy-tipped Addi Turbo Rockets to see how much of a snagger this yarn was. Turns out, the fibers are so happy in their twist that they never snagged—even when I was knitting by touch alone. Elena is an easy, pleasant knit.

moeke_ffan

Occasional thick/thin areas notwithstanding, the yarn’s roundedness produces wonderful knits and purls. Garter was a pleasure, and a modified feather-and-fan motif positively sculptural.

The same crisp, distinct qualities that kept the yarn from tangling in transit also held each stitch firmly in place, even when dropped from the needle.

Blocking / Washing

While I couldn’t smell much in my skein, the Moeke Web site insists that the fibers were only gently scoured (using eco-friendly practices and no chemicals) and contain a good amount of lanolin. I was curious to see how much they’d left in the fibers, so I let my wash water get a little hotter than normal. When I dropped my first swatch in, I could feel the stitches and fibers quickly relax.

I held the wash bowl up to the light and could see a milky tan color, always a good sign. This told me we might be in for a surprise—or at least a pleasant treat—once that swatch was rinsed and had time to dry. With whatever caused that color out of the way, the fabric can be lighter and loftier.

In this case, the swatches never lost their crunchiness, but they did soften and gently bloom into a more cohesive, “finished”-looking fabric.

Wearing

This is not a yarn you’d use to knit underwear. Fortunately, most of us don’t knit our own underwear. We knit things like hats and sweaters and mittens, things that can stand to be a little more rugged and durable (two qualities that go hand in hand in the fiber world).

The touch of Elena is definitely on the crisp, crunchy side. I probably wouldn’t use it for a scarf or a thin sweater meant to be worn with little underneath. Likewise, the singles construction pretty much eliminates it from the sock-yarn category, unless you really know what you’re doing and can modify your stitches to mitigate the risks. (I wrote a whole book about doing this, if you’re curious to learn more.)

I only warn you away from socks because of this yarn’s (relatively vulnerable) single-ply construction. The fibers themselves are as sturdy as they come, and they’re reluctant to slip from one-another’s grasp under friction. It took significant thrashing before my swatches began to show signs of surrender. This yarn is a lovely fighter.

Conclusion

I think you know I have a thing for wool, especially from smaller producers and interesting places. I also believe in the value of trying as many different kinds of wool as you can, with each experience teaching your fingers something new.

Knowing these two things about me, and considering the fact that you can get a skein of Elena for under $10, I think you won’t be surprised when I suggest, quite wholeheartedly, that you give this one a swatch.

Quick Facts

Yarn Name
Elena
Manufacturer
Moeke Yarns
Fiber content
100% Romanian wool
Gauge
20 stitches per 4 inches (10cm) on US4 (3.5mm) needles
Average retail price
$9.32-$10.48/skein depending on size
Where to buy online
Moeke on Etsy or check out one of these retailers
Weight/yardage per skein
Varies. My review skein was 80g / 264 yards (288m)
Country of origin
Romania
Manufacturer’s suggested wash method
Hand wash. Dry flat.
Review date
2/19/2015
Color used in review
Natural
Wholesale distributor in the U.S.
Moeke Yarns
Source of review yarn
Purchased from Moeke on Etsy

 

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