A skein of Schaeffer Martha
Martha knit up
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Yarn Profile:
Schaefer Yarn Martha

First Impressions
Update: Since this review was published in December 2006, the folks at Scheafer have made some modifications to Martha. The yarn now ships in more manageable 330-yard, 4 oz hanks. Also, the gauge has been tightened up to 5.5 sts per inch on US 7 needles. posted July 2007

If you've read Knitter's Review for a while you'll know that I have a genetic predisposition for any yarn containing cashmere or angora. So when I heard that Schaefer Yarn was coming out with a hand-dyed yarn that contained both fibers, I threw everything else aside for a closer look.

Martha is an 80% lamb's wool, 10% cashmere, 10% angora blend that's composed of six two-ply strands that are plied together at a tight angle. The result is a plush, springy, and durable yarn similar in construction to the ever-popular Karabella Aurora 8.

But the comparison stops there, because Martha is a notable gal in her own right. First, there's her girth: Each skein holds a whopping 750 yards. This is why each skein retails for $98—it's the equivalent of seven and a half 100-yard skeins for $13 apiece. Second, there's her coloring. This yarn purrs under the rich and exuberant Schaefer Yarn hand-dyed variegated tones.

The company offers several Memorable Women series of colorways, all named after an inspiring woman from throughout history. For this review I played with the color Gertrude Ederle, named after the Olympic medal-winning swimmer who crossed the English Channel in record-breaking time—and suffered a severe hearing loss as a result of that swim. The name was thoughtfully paired with a colorway that really does reflect the spirit of moving water.

Knitting Up
My skein had that vinegary, fresh-from-the-dyepot scent and a slightly firmer hand, most likely because of the lamb's wool content (rather than merino) and possibly exacerbated by the hand-dye process. Even in the best of circumstances, dyeing can render fibers slightly rougher than they are in their natural form.

I rushed to wind my skein so I could knit my swatches and wash them to see how much softening and blooming would occur.

Winding a skein of Martha's size into a ball either requires patience or a ball winder. I opted for the latter and ended up with two giant balls of yarn. My skein had three knots total. Any knots are annoying, but let's remember how many knots you'd have in those seven-and-a-half 100-yard equivalent skeins.

I cast on and quickly discovered that Martha is as nice in action as she looks on the skein. The yarn is perfectly blended and balanced—the fibers hold together in a truly cohesive way, with no snagging and very few glossy guard hairs poking out.

When I jabbed the yarn with the tip of my needles, all the fibers stayed firm, tight, and together. I was quickly able to knit by touch alone, only occasionally glancing at my work to make sure all was ok—which it always was. My stitches appeared even and steady, no signs of irregularity whatsoever. Overall, Martha provided an excellent knitting experience.

Blocking / Washing
Despite the intense saturation of colors in my swatches, there was absolutely no bleeding in the wash—even in warm soapy water. The swatches quickly became saturated and relaxed in the wash.

I'd hoped for a bit more blooming than actually occurred, but there was still enough softening to create a cohesive piece of fabric. My swatches retained a perfect square shape and required almost no blocking. Once dry they showed no change in gauge.

Hand-dyers operate at the mercy of their yarn supplier. If they get a lousy yarn, no amount of color will help it. Martha, on the other hand, is a good yarn. As I mentioned before, the fibers are blended and balanced so that what you get is a cohesive material—not a collection of disparate fibers trying to work themselves free of one another.

The multiple-ply construction makes Martha a strong yarn that's able to withstand a significant amount of friction before showing signs of wear. With that friction came a delightful softening and blooming of the fabric. Eventually the bloom pulled together into vague pre-pill clusters that were easily removed.

I confess I was expecting a pillow of supersoft dreamy angora/cashmere fluff right out of the box. Martha was more of a solid gal with softness but structure. But she quickly redeemed herself, proving to be a well-constructed easy-to-use yarn that produces a durable fabric with stretch, softness, and fantastic stitch definition. And with wash and wear, she does soften and bloom.

We have many other multiple-plied yarns on the market, but Martha stands out for a few reasons: her exceptional color options, slightly different fiber combinations (lamb's wool instead of merino, yet still paired with luxury angora and cashmere fibers), and the enormous 750-yard skeins in which she ships.

Such yardage per skein (and the resulting steep price tag) is a bit of a gamble for Scheafer, since it immediately eliminates a large number of yarn buyers who tend to gather just a few skeins at first, then indulge in greater quantities later. The notion of skipping the courtship and immediately paying $98 for a skein—no matter how big that skein may be—is daunting to some.

A sweater would require two or even three skeins depending on the project. But I can see one skein going quite far on its own. A baby hat and booties and a matching hat and scarf for the mother. Or better yet, take advantage of the yarn's strength and use smaller needles to knit a pair of gorgeous socks for around the house. There's enough in one skein for the whole family. In fact, I think I'll use the leftovers for a pair myself!


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