A skein of Elsa Cormo
Elsa Cormo knit up
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Yarn Profile:
Elsa Wool Company Worsted-Spun Cormo Wool

First Impressions
I first set eyes on this yarn during a visit to La Lana Wools, the famous fiber shop in Taos, New Mexico. La Lana has the visual overwhelm of a Mexican market, only instead of heaping vats of colorful spices and grains you have mounds of colorful yarns and fibers.

Against this vibrant backdrop, the crisp, creamy evenness of this yarn stood out like white rice. I immediately snagged a skein to review.

The next day I went to the Wool Festival at Taos and discovered an entire booth dedicated to this lovely yarn from Elsa Hallowell's Bayfield, Colorado, farm. So I snagged more, plus a pair of machine-knit socks, and vowed to covet that yarn until the perfect project presented itself.

But this yarn is too tempting to keep waiting. Finally this weekend I popped the cork on that crisp perfect white skein, snipping the tag and starting to swatch.

And swatch. And swatch some more. Curiosity and pleasure got the best of me. I flipped through my Barbara Walker stitch books, testing pattern after pattern and letting the yarn show me what it wanted to be.

I went from stockinette to ribbing to cables to openwork lace to stockinette-based openwork. By the time the swatch reached three feet in length, I knew it was time to write my review.

Knitting Up
This is yarn stripped to its very basic essence: Pure fibers minimally processed and spun into a graceful, dignified yet delicate yarn that begs to be touched. On the skein, on the needles, on your body, at each point in the process this yarn is fluidity, vibrancy, and life.

The yarn has two plies of worsted-spun Cormo, a springy wool fiber comparable to merino in softness but with more of a succulent feel, even after processing. (Cormo is the result of cross-breeding Corriedale and Merino sheep, hence the similarity with Merino.) The fibers have been combed and somewhat subdued in their worsted preparation, producing a stronger, smoother, more shimmery yarn.

Yet by plying the yarn with a moderately high degree of twist (an average of 11 twists per inch), Elsa kept the yarn springy.

From a knitting perspective, this yarn was extremely easy to work with. It gripped my hands and the needles with the perfect degree of tension, and not once did it snag on my needles. I was quickly able to knit by touch alone.

In stockinette, the yarn has the visual surface look of rice. When I tried ribbing, this texture made things look a little uneven. So I tightened it up by knitting and purling my ribbing through the back loops rather than the front, and the additional texture pulled the ribbing together.

Knit and purl stitches tended to get lost. When I introduced cables, things started to look up. And when I got to stockinette-based openwork, such as Feather and Fan, the yarn really began to purr. This yarn wants to be made into something, not just stockinette stitch.

Blocking / Washing
This yarn comes with perhaps the longest, most elaborate washing instructions I've ever seen on a skein tag. In fact they cover both sides of two business card-sized tags. Elsa cares about her yarn and wants it to have a long, happy life in your arms.

The major point she makes has to do with felting: Don't agitate your garment, and don't rapidly shift from hot water to cold. To preserve the yarn's natural, succulent hand, she also urges you not to use alkaline substances such as bleach, which will strip the fibers bare.

The yarn doesn't bloom much after washing because of the smooth worsted preparation. But my swatches clearly relaxed into a velvety cohesive fabric without one bit of blocking. I just blotted them dry and let them relax on a towel. There was no change in gauge. (Since this review I've played with the woolen-spun yarn and cannot praise its glorious bloom highly enough.)

Wearing
Cormo is one of my favorite fibers. It has all the tenderness of merino but with a little more character and succulence. Plus there isn't an ounce of scratch to this yarn, even when I held it up to my neck.

The worsted preparation means you'll get many more miles out of this yarn before it begins to pill or show its age. In fact, I'd even recommend it for socks as long as you use a smaller needle to tighten up the fabric. (In fact, the Guernsey Socks in my book are made from two skeins of this yarn.) You may also want to use nylon reinforcement for the heels and toes.

Note that this review speaks about the worsted version of Elsa's Cormo yarn. The worsted spinning preparation gives the fibers more strength and durability because they're all combed, tightly aligned, and the ends tucked in prior to spinning. I wouldn't suggest socks if you're using Elsa's woolen-spun version of this yarn—methinks it wouldn't hold up quite as well. Consider a hat, mittens, or sweater instead.

Conclusion
Do I regret having popped the cork on this skein instead of letting it age gracefully in my stash? No. But I do have a new problem: I already want more.

This is a no-frills yarn. Elsa only offers it in three colors, all of which are straight off the sheep. I find great beauty and potential in this simplicity. She also offers it in two spinning preparations: worsted (reviewed here) and woolen. The woolen-spun yarn has a decidedly more lofty, plush feel, and it blooms exquisitely with wash. It won't wear as well as the worsted-spun version, but it'll give you a warmer fabric with much greater forgiveness for irregular stitch tension. (Not that any of us would have irregular tension. Cough.)

For a medium-sized women's long-sleeved sweater with no real detail, you'd want about 2100 yards of yarn. To be safe, that'd calculate to 10 skeins of yarn, bringing the bill to a little over $100. I would live in such a sweater.

Socks would only run you 300 to 400 yards, depending on what you do. Ditto for a hat. In both cases, the tab would stay under $25.

But I think I'd skip all those options in favor of a simple, nurturing lace shawl—the kind you instinctively reach for when the temperature drops or your spirits lag. Angelika's Yarn Store has an extensive list of lace shawl patterns available, including many that would be well suited to this sport-weight yarn. And if you want color in your project, you can always add to the fun by dyeing your yarn first.

 

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