A skein of Habu Cashmere
Habu Cashmere knit up
click each image to enlarge
Yarn Profile:
Habu Cashmere

First Impressions
Habu Cashmere represents all the things I love about yarn. On the skein, it looks and feels like one thing. But if you have faith, cast on, and walk through your project, you'll gradually witness the yarn come alive and transform into something totally different.

Habu Textiles is a New York-based weaving studio, gallery, and importer of Japanese and Asian yarns. Habu focuses on quality materials, unusual textures, and subtle, often monochromatic coloring. It's all about the quality and experience of the materials themselves, not about flashy packaging or marketing hype.

This may be part of why Habu has such a cult following. The other reason would be the yarns themselves, whether they are cashmere, wool, bamboo, paper, silk, ramie, guanaco, stainless steel, or one of the hundreds of other items in their catalog.

The skeins look deceptively small but hold generous yardage. A single dumpling-sized skein of Habu Cashmere contains 182 yards of yarn, yet it fits comfortably in the palm of your hand. Here's a picture of a skein and a darning needle to give you some perspective.

Knitting Up
This is a fine lace-weight yarn that is rendered even lighter and more ethereal by the presence of cashmere, an exceptionally lightweight fiber. You can't quite tell how soft or lightweight the yarn is at first because the fibers still have some of the oil that was used to control static during spinning.

You don't actually feel or smell oil, mind you, but it does give the yarn a somewhat controlled, weighted-down feel. While some would suggest simply washing the skeins before knitting, I'd actually advise that you work with the yarn right off the skein. The yarn is far more manageable in its oiled state than it becomes once washed. Plus this lets you anticipate, as you work each stitch, just how soft and marvelous your project will become after you drop it in that sink of warm, sudsy water. I know I did.

As with any comparably spun lace-weight two-ply cashmere, Habu Cashmere has very little bounce or elasticity. It's a tender, delicate yarn but it doesn't grip your hands or your needles. I swatched on several needles and found that wood or bamboo gave me the best control over my yarn, especially when swatching lace patterns that called for far larger needles. I tried several metal needles, and the yarn was fairly slippery on all but the new Addi Lace needles.

In all cases the yarn behaved beautifully, didn't snag or split, and didn't twist in odd ways that made knitting difficult. The yarn's lightness and lack of body made it necessary to re-tension the yarn in my hand every row. Even then, stockinette was fluid and even. I can only imagine working stockinette with multiple strands held together unless you happen to enjoy working at such an extremely fine gauge.

Blocking / Washing
While the label lists dryclean as an option, you'll do fine with handwashing as long as you're gentle and careful, use lukewarm water and a mild soap, and support your wet garment when lifting it from the water. My swatches were so fine and delicate that they behaved like wet tissue in the sink. Only where tissue would dissolve completely, these swatches emerged intact, free of its oil, and in perfect form.

The magic of lace is in the blocking. This is when the wet fabric is placed on a flat surface and stretched to near superhuman proportions, revealing the detailed lace pattern in what previously just looked like a jumbled mess of stitches. Here's the gauge swatch from the Lotus Blossom Shawl (from Fiddlesticks Knitting) after it was blocked. The fabric allowed for significant blocking, and the fibers—free of their oil at last—bloomed and became more fluid and supple.

The two plies and relatively tight spin make Habu Cashmere a well-wearing cashmere, but it is a cashmere. It's perhaps best suited for lace scarves and shawls that benefit from its tremendous softness and bulk-free warmth but don't endure heavy and sustained amounts of friction.

You could sidestep the durability issue by knitting with two or more strands of yarn held together. It would cost more, and you'd lose the ethereal quality of the single strand, but you'd get a thicker fabric with a bit more strength and dimensional stability.

I should note that Habu Cashmere has very little weight, shimmer or drape—so if your notion of a lace shawl includes any of those elements, you may want to stick with a yarn that has some silk, Tencel, or even alpaca in it.

I so enjoyed working with Habu Cashmere that I ordered more for myself and have already begun a lace shawl with it (hence the gauge swatch). But I should note that its weightless, cloudlike behavior isn't for everyone.

If you prefer weight and drape around your shoulders, you may be better served with yarns that include silk, Tencel, or other shimmer- and drape-intensive fibers.

Also, because Habu is a boutique yarn company, its yarns aren't always that easy to get. Depending on the color you want, you may have to wait a few weeks for a special order.

And finally, Habu Cashmere doesn't come in the kinds of vibrant multicolored hand-dyed hues you'll find from Handmaiden or Jade Sapphire.

But this is a marvelous product. It's reasonably priced at $14.50 per 182-yard skein. Two or three skeins would make a beautiful scarf with a price tag ranging from $29 to $43.50. Or you could knit a larger, more substantial lace shawl with approximately six skeins, keeping the tab at $87. Not bad for a cashmere heirloom, I say.


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