A skein of Foxfire Fiber Cormo Alpaca Classic
Cormo Alpaca Classic knit up
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Yarn Profile:
Foxfire Fiber Cormo Alpaca Classic

First Impressions
The world of wool goes far beyond "scratchy" and "soft." Each sheep breed has subtle nuances in its fiber. Choosing a breed for yarn can be as intricate as choosing a grape for wine.

In the realm of "soft," most people focus on the regal Merino sheep. But this ancient breed is just one of several that produce tender, delicate fibers. While I have great fondness for the Merino, my heart really goes pitter patter for the Cormo, which is a cross between Corriedale and Saxon Merino. The fibers have a similar bounce and softness to Merino, but where Merino can have a somewhat powdery hand, Cormo tends to retain its succulence even after processing and dyeing.

Most of the Cormo yarn in the U.S. comes from individual farms—which is precisely where this succulent yarn comes from. I don't use the word "succulent" lightly. Rather like those rolls of Charmin in the commercials, these giant 210-yard hanks demand to be squeezed.

Foxfire Fiber & Designs is the yarn label for Springdelle Farm, a 220-acre farm in the Berkshire foothills that Barbara Parry and her husband have run since 1997. Barbara regularly chronicles farm life in her blog Sheep Gal.

If you see the Foxfire Fiber booth at any of the major east coast festivals, you'll notice that the yarns tend to be blends instead of 100% Cormo. This is partly an aesthetic decision, but it's also a practical one—Barabara has found that demand for her Cormo could easily outpace her supply. By blending her precious fibers with well-chosen counterparts—such as silk and alpaca—she enhances the results and makes each year's clip go even further.

Foxfire Fiber yarns are a bit challenging to get—ordering involves email and/or telephone instead of simply clicking and waiting for the mail to come. When each year's batch is gone, it's gone. There's no going back to the sheep and asking them to quickly grow more fleece to fill orders. But whatever yarn you can get will be well worth the effort.

Knitting Up
This thick and cohesive yarn knits itself. It is so lofty and perfectly balanced that it requires almost no effort to work. Each stitch is a pleasure, and maintaining tension is as easy as letting the yarn run through your fingers. There was no snagging, even with sharp-tipped needles. The three plies held together well.

Periodically I noticed tiny neps of fiber that were easy to remove. I've had the same problem when processing Cormo fleece by hand—even two trips through a fine carder will produce neps if you aren't careful.

I also noticed that, from time to time, the yarn's thickness would vary ever so slightly. This is a natural by-product of Cormo, whose incredible crimp makes even drafting very difficult to regulate on large machines. This same crimp helps the fibers and fabric adjust to any variations in thickness so that the finished result appears even.

The hand-dyed color has faint variations in saturation, lending a faintly rippling effect to the finished fabric. It's not blatant enough to be stripes or blotches, but more like the effect of dappled sunlight through trees.

Blocking / Washing
Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! I realize I'm probably sounding like a paid infomercial, but I honestly can't help it.

Where the un-washed swatch had a sense of tense anticipation to it, each stitch sitting upright with its own distinct personality, everything changed in the wash. The fibers—which had been held under tension for so long—finally got a chance to relax, unwind, make friends, get to know the neighborhood. What came out of the wash wasn't a swatch at all, it was fabric. Fluid, fuzzy, soft, delicious.

With the relaxation came an expansion in gauge of approximately a quarter stitch per inch. My 4 stitches-per-inch gauge in the unwashed swatches relaxed to 3 1/2 stitches per inch after wash. Because no two knitters work at the same tension, I'd definitely swatch—and wash your swatch—before beginning any project.

My swatch released a faint hint of color in its first warm sudsy bath. Two rinses later the water was completely clear.

Wearing
In terms of succulent next-to-skin softness, this yarn reminds me of Margaret Klein-Wilson's Mostly Merino. It has an essence of "farm" to it, and yet it's soft and cozy enough to slip over your pajamas on a chilly Sunday morning. I could not detect any hint of scratch, even against my chest or neck.

But alas, one of the great tragedies of our knitting world is that the softer and more delicious the fibers in a yarn, especially yarns spun in a lofty style, the more quickly those fiber ends will rub against one another and form pills.

Barbara made a few smart choices to combat this. First, she added longer, more durable alpaca fibers to the mix. And second, she gave the yarn not one, not two, but three plies. Still, a sweater made with this yarn will show its age over time.

Conclusion
Part of what's so appealing about this yarn is the simple fact that it won't always be available, and that each year's batch will be slightly different. It took near-superhuman restraint for me not to email Barbara before publishing this review and snag a sweater-sized supply of Cormo Alpaca Classic for myself.

Materially speaking, the yarn has vibrancy and life that I'd want around my body. It knits itself, requiring no effort on your part. You could use it for straightforward stockinette, or you could go wild and add cables and ribbing galore. The yarn looks lofty but it's actually very lightweight. And the elasticity in the Cormo fibers will bring your garment back to shape time and time again.

What's there not to like? First, it's not machine-washable. If machine-washability is important to you, this isn't your yarn. Second, it's currently only available in three colors. If you don't like those three colors, well, you're out of luck. And third, you can't just walk to your corner LYS and buy a few skeins. You have to work a little harder, all the while keeping your fingers crossed that Barbara hasn't sold out her stock for the year.

 

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