Nature's Palette Organic Worsted-Weight Columbia Yarn
She takes fleeces from a certified organic herd of Columbia sheep being raised in Montana. She carefully grades each one, saving the best for spinning. And then she sends the yarn to Canada to be spun following organic standards.
At this point Judith has to make a choice. She can easily sell her yarn to someone who will create gorgeous colors using synthetic chemical dyes. Or, she can spend more time finding a person who will continue to treat the yarn in environmentally conscious ways—which is where Darlene Hayes enters the picture.
Darlene Hayes left successful careers as both a lawyer and a biochemist to found Hand Jive Knits, a yarn company that specializes in naturally dyed, environmentally friendly yarns. Hayes studied with Luisa Gelenter, the founder of La Lana Wools and the godmother of natural dyeing.
Hayes uses natural dyestuffs (madder, cochineal, logwood, etc.), many of which she has harvested herself or sourced, whenever possible, from organic suppliers. Having been a biochemist, she has been especially mindful of the mordants she uses to set the colors in her yarn and has found little or no toxicity associated with those mordants, either to humans or the environment.
Natural dyeing is a slower, more quixotic process that doesn't always lend itself to the fast-paced demands of large-scale production. Hayes and Gelenter are among the few who've endeavored to do it on a wholesale level. The results, however, are extraordinary colors made even more special by the knowledge that they come straight from nature.
I hold the yarn in my left hand and use the right needle to "pick" my stitches, and I noticed that the yarn tended to come un-twisted and appear as two parallel plies on my needle. Even then, the stitches were easy to navigate without much snagging. After a few rows I was knitting by touch alone, although I did need to periodically glance at my stitches to make sure I was on the right track.
The two plies give the stockinette a faintly uneven, pebbly texture. Meanwhile the colors all seem to have slightly wavering hues that reflect beautifully in large pools of simple stockinette. I know the yarn would render cables and stitchwork beautifully, but I'd almost be more inclined to stick with stockinette and let the colors and natural fibers tell the story.
Blocking / Washing
They required very little blocking except for the slightly curling edges. While there was no dramatic bloom, the fibers did relax and the fabric became pleasantly cohesive. Once dry, I measured the swatches and found no change in gauge.
The long staple length and overall excellent fiber quality translate into low-pill durability for any knitted fabric made from this yarn. The fabric itself has a thick and warm feel while being lofty and lightweight. You may want to wear a turtleneck or long-sleeved T-shirt underneath any sweater made from this yarn simply to act as a barrier if you're at all sensitive to these types of wools.
An oversized women's cardigan would require approximately 1400 yards, or just about six skeins, with a bill of $120. If your budget is tight, you can use a single $20 skein to make a lovely hat or pair of mittens.
If the notion of a traditional wool appeals but you don't really care about the whole organic, natural dyed thing (or about wearing a fiber chosen by MacKenzie-McCuin herself), you have many less-expensive options out there. The same cardigan in Peace Fleece, for example, would only cost you $45.50—and you'd be using a yarn based on sociopolitical principles rather than environmental ones.
But if you like yarns that tell a story, if you have any curiosity about what different sheep breeds besides Merino feel like, or if you're intrigued by the notion of using a yarn made from organically raised and processed fibers and that was dyed using only natural processes, there couldn't be a better yarn out there for you to try.
Nature's Palette Organic Worsted-Weight Columbia
Hand Jive Knits
90% organic Columbia wool
3-5 sts per inch on US 8-9 needles
Average retail price
Where to buy online
Weight/yardage per skein
230 yards / 4 oz
Country of origin
Manufacturer's suggested wash method
Hand wash with cold water, air dry flat.
Color used in review
Indian Paintbrush (NP 105)
Hand Jive Knits