A skein of New Mexico Organic
New Mexico Organic knit up
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Yarn Profile:
Green Mountain Spinnery New Mexico Organic

First Impressions
During my first trip to the Wool Festival at Taos in 2005, I took a day trip to Los Ojos to visit the Tierra Wools cooperative that Melanie Falick wrote about in Knitting in America (later republished as America Knits).

The 90-minute drive takes you west of Taos, across the Rio Grande gorge and along a seemingly endless flat region bordered by mountains. After a while, my car climbed up into one such mountain and headed right into the Carson National Forest.

It was a perfectly clear October day, and the leaves were beginning to change. I had my windows open to enjoy the crisp air when suddenly I thought I heard the "baaaa" of sheep. I slowed, figuring that my active imagination was playing tricks on me. More "baaaa" sounds followed, and then a high-pitched whistle and the sound of a man yelling "yahhhhh!"

I looked to the left and was greeted by a dreamlike vision: a steady stream of white sheep being led down to the valley by two astute sheepdogs and, from behind, two men on horseback. I pulled the car over, opened my windows wide, and took in the sheer perfection of what I was witnessing. I'd come to New Mexico for a sheep and wool festival, but here I was being treated to the real thing. I watched as the leisurely procession made its way past, until the very last little sheep had been rallied by one of the dogs.

When I reached Tierra Wools, I told them what I'd just seen. They eyed one another and said, "That must've been Molly's flock!" They meant Molly and Antonio Manzanares, whose certified organic sheep provide the fiber for the organic yarn at Tierra Wools—mostly used for weaving purposes. It being mid-October, they suggested that the flock was being led down the mountain from its summer pastures. I've seen plenty of sheep at festivals and at farms, but this was different, and I've never forgotten it.

Fast-forward to last week when I opened a package from Green Mountain Spinnery. In it, a gorgeous skein of succulent white yarn called New Mexico Organic. I scanned the press release and my eyes stopped at the words "Molly and Antonio Manzanares." I was holding in my hands a skein of wool from that same flock.

People who don't love yarn may not understand the feelings that swept over me, but I trust you will. I imagine a movie buff would've felt the same way holding, say, the sunglasses Audrey Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany's. I grabbed my camera and quickly took a picture of the skein so I could begin this review.

Knitting Up
Some yarns don't mind being popped on the swift and quickly wound into a ball with a ball winder. This yarn said, "No, my dear, I want you to wind me by hand." And so I did, savoring each twist like sips of my morning tea.

New Mexico Organic is a perfect example of what Green Mountain Spinnery can do. The Vermont-based spinnery excels at doing just enough to produce a clean, ready-to-knit skein of yarn while maintaining the vibrancy and spirit of the original fibers. They don't bleach them to oblivion or douse them in chemicals to mothproof and eliminate all traces of the field—they work the fibers gently, using only non-petroleum soaps and oils. Despite the minimal processing, I couldn't smell any sheepy scent of lanolin in the yarn.

They chose to present Molly and Antonio's fibers in a two-ply, DK-weight yarn. It has been spun woolen-style, which means that the fibers were only minimally aligned before being spun. This results in an incredibly lofty, springy yarn.

My swatching was a tactile pleasure. The yarn readily grabbed the needles and didn't snag once. By the second row, I was knitting by touch alone.

Blocking / Washing
Woolen-spun yarns are my favorite yarns to wash because I know to expect some degree of blooming—I just never know how much. Sure enough, my swatches slowly and patiently absorbed their warm sudsy bath and relaxed in my hands. I swished them around several times to make sure that all the fibers had a chance to dance in the water, then I rinsed my swatches (being careful to use the same temperature as the wash water), blotted them dry on a towel, and studied the results.

Beautiful!

Perhaps too discreet to be visible in this photograph (with an unwashed swatch at left and washed one at right), you'll have to trust me on this. The washed fabric had expanded and relaxed into a beautiful cohesive piece of wool fabric.

My gauge (5 stitches per inch) was one stitch short of the 6 stitches-per-inch gauge listed on the label, and the fabric felt decidedly vulnerable at this looser gauge. I definitely recommend using whatever needle size is necessary to reach 6 stitches per inch with this yarn. The fabric will thank you for it.

Wearing
This yarn is a perfect example of just how soft wool can naturally be—and we're not even talking superfine Merino here. The fibers feel lovely against bare skin, with no real hint of aggressive scratchiness. I would trust this yarn for any next-to-the-skin garments.

In terms of wear and tear, New Mexico Organic did remarkably well considering it's a lofty woolen-spun yarn. After a fairly sustained period of friction, my swatches began to show general signs of surface softening.

It took quite a bit more friction before any visible pills emerged on the surface—and those were only visible upon close examination. The fibers' elasticity helped the swatches bounce back again and again without ever losing shape.

Conclusion
New Mexico Organic's softness and purity make it—both physically and symbolically—an ideal yarn for baby gifts. The only issue there is washability since the yarn cannot be tossed in the washing machine. (Making wool machine-washable often involves coating the fibers with synthetic polymers, which would force them to rename this yarn New Mexico Inorganic.)

Depending on the recipient, you can simply include a card explaining the washability issue and stick to smaller items that can be easily washed by hand. Despite the alluring appeal of a baby blanket in this yarn, I don't think the handwash-only logistics will work for most people.

In terms of stitches, the yarn's two-ply composition gives even simple stockinette a discreet amount of texture and depth. More elaborate stitchwork comes through with the same quiet clarity of a low-relief sculpture.

Those two visual components make it an ideal yarn for the cables and ribbing in Ann Budd's Tyrolean Stockings from the Fall 2007 issue of Interweave Knits (I'd probably reinforce the heels just in case). For a bigger project, I'd love to see this used in a classically styled raglan cardigan. You'd need some 1,700 yards for a medium-sized women's one, which translates into 10 skeins, bringing the bill just over the $100 mark.

Okay, maybe I'll just stick to the socks.

 

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