Superior has long been one of my favorite yarns. It’s an airy confection of cashmere fibers that are held together by a luminous silk core and then brushed to produce a soft, ethereal yarn with a gossamer halo.
That same heavenly lightness keeps Superior from having its feet firmly planted on the ground. Everything you make out of Superior wants to float midair. But the introduction of Nirvana changes the game.
Nirvana is a delicate, lace-weight two-ply yarn made of extra fine Merino. I don’t know anybody who tosses a lace shawl in the washing machine, but Nirvana is a superwash wool. That means the fibers have been treated to remove the outer edges of the scales that line the cortex. Without the edges, the fiber is smoother and more lustrous, and it will not felt or shrink in the washing machine.
The label then introduces a strange concept: It indicates that the wool is mercerized. Mercerization is a process of soaking cotton fibers in a caustic soda solution. It causes the cotton to swell and become smooth, shiny, and strong.
If you placed wool in that same highly alkaline bath, it would likely dissolve—making the notion of so-called “mercerized wool” as logical as, say, unleaded chicken or dehydrated water. China appears to be the only country creating and marketing mercerized wool, and China is also the main processor of machine-washable wool.
Many Chinese sources also describe mercerized wool as shrink-proof, which is a quality of machine-washable wool—leading me to suspect that mercerized wool is simply a mis-translation of “machine-washable” and nothing more. I’ll let you know if I learn more.
Labeling issues aside, let’s get swatching.
Superior and Nirvana are a perfect match, sharing a similar delicate fineness. Because they go into your knitting side by side instead of being tightly twisted together, the cashmere halo can breathe and embrace the willing Merino in its arms. The two strands hold together beautifully.
Still, I didn’t quite trust myself to snag both strands with each stitch—even with blunt-tipped needles. Unless you’re extremely confident (or not concerned by a dangling loop here and there), you’ll want to keep your eyes on your knitting when working with the two yarns together.
I chose far larger needles than I’d normally use for either yarn. This larger gauge allowed the halo of the cashmere to fill out the surrounding fabric. The swatch shown here was worked on US 7 (4.5mm) needles. If you’d like, you can use that needle size as a baseline for your own swatching, going up and down in needle sizes until you reach a fabric that pleases you.
Nirvana and Superior are also rather slippery, even with the welcome added elasticity of the Merino. For this reason, I used bamboo needles to give the fibers something to hold.
Nirvana has a good deal more bounce than the Superior, so I was also careful to smooth out the yarn as I went along. I ran gently pinched fingers down the joined strand to smooth out the next few feet of yarn before I knit with it. This is an issue whenever you knit two yarns stranded together, but was especially important here because one yarn was so much more elastic than the other.
Blocking / Washing
The second my swatch hit its warm sudsy bath, it went limp like a wet tissue. All the water was instantly absorbed.
Even though the Nirvana is machine-washable wool, you’ll want to be gentle while washing a Nirvana/Superior fabric. The cashmere fibers are extremely delicate, and the silk fibers have little elasticity—they can stretch, mind you, but they won’t bounce back.
When removing the fabric from the bath, I was careful to gather it up in both hands, squeeze gently, and lift. Whatever you do, do not pull out the fabric by one end only. Depending on how cruelly you do this, the fabric may stretch beyond repair.
In terms of surviving its gentle wash, my swatch emerged unscathed. Brushed yarns always look a little sad when they’ve been washed. Do not despair. Gently lay the fabric flat on a towel and smooth it into the desired shape, then walk away and let it dry. The fabric is so thin that the drying takes almost no time at all. Then it’s just a matter of lifting the dry fabric and giving it a gentle fluff and shake. The halo will (and did) come right back.
Superior itself creates an almost unbearably soft and luxurious fabric with no real weight at all, and very little body. The addition of Nirvana—made from one of the finest grades of Merino fiber—adds spongy plushness and greater density to the mix. Together, these two yarns beg for next-to-skin contact. Don a shawl, scarf, or cowl made from this combination and you’d instantly be in your happy place. In terms of stitch patterns, keep in mind that you do lose some definition with the halo. Broader lace motifs would still be visible, and even simple garter stitch is beautiful.
In terms of strength and wearability, Nirvana and Superior are still rather delicate—even when fortified by one another’s presence. A swift tug pulled both strands apart. Which means that a Nirvana/Superior blend may not be the best candidate for anything that has elbows or areas that get lots of wear and abrasion.
At the same time, I’m still sorely tempted to take out tiny DPNs and see what a sock would be like in these two yarns. Not for regular everyday wear, mind you, but for those times when you need something truly special.
This is a lovely case in which two good but different yarns—one smooth, the other blurry—are combined to make something even better. If you look closely at the fabric, you can occasionally see the lustrous silk thread from the Superior peeking out from beneath the soft blur of the cashmere. Like music, their notes combine to form a perfect chord.
Filatura di Crosa
30% shappe silk
None given. This yarn can range dramatically in gauge depending on the effect you want, from lace to worsted. I’m guessing 18 to 25 stitches and 23 to 34 rows per 4-inch (10cm) square using US 3-8 (3.25-5mm) needles.
$24.95 [As of 2016, the price is now $29.95]
25g / 330 yards
No label yet. I had no troubles with a lukewarm bath using mild soap, rinsing in lukewarm water and blotting out excess moisture with a towel before laying flat, reshaping, and letting dry.