Yarn Profile: Blue Sky Alpacas Worsted Hand Dyes
Plying also helps give strength to a yarn. The more twist, the more energy holds all the fibers together. When you have many strands of plied fibers being plied together into a yarn—as is the case with S-on-S cabled yarns and traditional cable-spun yarns such as Worsted Hand Dyes—you end up with an extraordinarily strong and vigorous material.
The difference between S-on-S cabled yarns and traditional cable-spun yarns is all in the final ply. S-on-S cabled yarns are usually made from several two-ply strands that are then twisted together in the same direction as the original plying. With all that twist going in the same direction, your fabric can sometimes bias in the direction of the excess twist. S-on-S cabled yarns also tend to produce a tighter, completely vertical left leg in knitted stitches.
Cable-spun yarns are also usually made from several two-ply strands—but then they are plied together in the opposite direction of their original plying. By countering the twist of the original plies, the final plying locks the strands together and produces a strong, voluminous, and extremely well-balanced yarn.
For whatever reason, most of the traditional cable-spun yarns in recent history have contained cotton (Tahki Cotton Classic and Brown Sheep Cotton Fleece are two of the most popular examples). The combined inelastic cotton and interlocking twist have resulted in a pretty dense and unyielding yarn.
Blue Sky Alpacas Worsted Hand Dyes changes things by applying this same strong, rounded yarn construction to lofty, stretchy wool and alpaca. It also ups the cable-spun equation by using five strands of three-ply yarn that are then plied together in the opposite direction. The result is a round, full-bodied yarn that begs to keep you warm on a cold winter day.
Worsted Hand Dyes comes in 20 colors that are hand-dyed (as the name suggests) and appear mostly solid in hue.
As I worked my knit and purl rows, I immediately noticed that the yarn's five plied strands wanted to come untwisted, especially on purl rows. Untwisted strands of plied yarn are like bull's-eye symbols for needle tips. Sure enough, as soon as my attention wandered, I began stabbing the plies by mistake, snagging only half in my stitch and leaving the other half dangling from the fabric.
Worsted Hand Dyes produces an open, comfortable fabric in plain stockinette, but it really sings in ribbing. Even a simple k1/p1 ribbing was perfectly even and fantastically springy. The yarn also renders cables and even garter-stitch in glorious high relief.
Blocking / Washing
I let it linger for a while, letting the warm water reach all the nooks and crannies and help the fibers relax, before I rinsed the swatch and set it out to dry. There was a vague hint of light green in the water, not really enough to call "bleeding."
My swatch required very little blocking. It slowly dried to shape (all those plies do make it dense) without any stretching, shrinking, or visible bias.
Under duress, the yarn slowly softened and bloomed, producing an inviting surface halo. Quite reluctantly, the halo began to coalesce into faint pills, but only after quite a bit of relentless friction.
The yarn's extraordinary roundedness would make Teva Durham's Grecian Cowl Pullover particularly sculptural and three-dimensional. Instead of using two strands of yarn, as suggested in the pattern, you'd simply use one strand of Worsted Hand Dyes. Of course that requires 20 skeins and will cost more than $375. You can knit the cowl only, instead of the whole sweater, and use 7 skeins, lowering the bill to $130.
Guys, the Men's Ribbed Sweater from Blue Sky Alpacas would be scrumptious and feel fantastic, requiring 11 skeins and costing a little over $200.
If you wanted to play with one skein, you could create a springy and luscious version of Sean Riley's Harvard Square Cap.
Those numbers do seem high for a yarn that's been sourced in Peru, a place that tends to produce many of our lower-cost yarns. The cost could be driven by the fact that royal alpaca is one of the finest and most expensive grades of alpaca available, or by the fact that the yarn is dyed by hand.
Bottom line? Yarns are like tools. Each fiber blend and each twist and ply combination gives us a distinct and useful alternative for our creative output. The curiously named Worsted Hand Dyes is a welcome new alternative to the cable-spun yarn market. It is soft and spongy, with gorgeous colors, substantial body, and a stitch definition that lets you tell almost any story you'd like.
Worsted Hand Dyes
Blue Sky Alpacas
50% royal alpaca
4 stitches per inch (2.5cm) on US 9 (5.5mm) needles
Average retail price
Where to buy online
Weight/yardage per skein
100g / 100 yards (91m)
Country of origin
Manufacturer's suggested wash method
Hand wash or dry clean. Wash in tepid water using a mild soap. Do not twist. Shape and dry flat on a towel. Store your little treasure neatly folded, after all, it may be a family heirloom.
Color used in review
Blue Sky Alpacas
Source of review yarn
Blue Sky Alpacas