A skein of Cashmere Queen
Cashmere Queen swatched
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Yarn Profile: Schoppel Wolle Cashmere Queen

First Impressions
Fibers are living, breathing things. You just don't know how they're going to settle down and make themselves at home in your fabric until you give them a warm sudsy bath. Some yarns have to be swatched and washed to be believed.

I was in Wisconsin last weekend teaching at The Sow's Ear when my eye caught just such a yarn. There was a whole shelf of firm, rather muted little dumplings that looked like they'd been hand-wound. You wouldn't have given them a second glance were it not for the Susie Rogers' Reading Mitts hanging to one side of the display. Where the yarn seemed stringy and listless, the mitts were plump and tender with an ethereal halo. Surely they didn't come from that yarn?

But they did. What makes this yarn so odd and special? It's all in the twist—rather, in the fact that it has none. Instead, a thin strand of blended fibers has been vigorously rubbed to the point where the fibers have been partially fulled together.

The assumption is that the fulling will give the fibers sufficient adhesion to compensate for their total lack of twist. Cashmere Queen is a skinny, super-soft cousin to Schoppel Wolle's Baby Alpaka Naturbelassen, which is also manufactured using the same technique of drafting thin strips and fulling them into yarn instead of applying twist.

Knitting Up
The yarn's label gives a pretty generous leeway in terms of which needle size you can use, ranging from a US 4 to a US 7 (3.5-4.5mm). I began with the largest, a US 7, but it produced far too loose a fabric for my comfort level. (I could hear my internal pilling alarm go off.) After I bumped down to a US 4, and even a US 5, the fabric pulled together in a much more cohesive and appropriate way.

Even though the fibers in Cashmere Queen have been fulled together, they can still be split by a stray pointy tip. I moved to a set of Crystal Palace bamboo DPNs with a medium tip and everything improved. After a few rows I was able to knit and purl by touch alone, although I still took care with each stitch. If you don't watch where you're going, you can still snag a wispy corner of the yarn and render an unhappy stitch.

Despite the presence of Merino, this yarn has no real bounce to it. In fact, it's an excellent example of what twist and ply do to a yarn. Without either, the fibers in Cashmere Queen lie rather quietly in the strand.

That lack of bounce made my tension more of an issue. Occasionally I'd glance at my swatch and see a rogue stitch sticking out like a loose tooth. Normally a little tugging to and fro will pull things back in place, but this required selective stitch pulling on the back side of the fabric. It happened more than once. It's more of an issue with any garment that features a sea of stockinette without any contrasting stitches.

Blocking / Washing
My hope was that washing would produce a halo and even out the stitches a little. Those rogue spots bugged me.

I dropped my swatch into warm soapy water and felt it relax immediately. I squeezed and moved it about, being careful not to go overboard but still giving the swatch a realistic swishing. I blotted my swatch and let it dry flat.

The stitches had evened out quite nicely without any change in stitch or row gauge. But I was surprised to see no significant halo. I was expecting a full bloom and all I got was a subtle poof.

Wouldn't you know it, all those cashmere fibers needed was a little coaxing. After a brief period of sustained friction, the halo started to emerge. All those short, fine cashmere fiber ends that had been so well buried in the yarn? They poked out their little heads as if to smile and say, "Hello there! Won't you put me on?"

Normally when a cashmere begins to bloom, you know that pills lurk in the background. But in this case my swatch withstood an astonishing amount of friction before the pilling began. I should note that the looser-knit fabric (from the US 6 and 7) did pill much more quickly. For anything that'll see high abrasion, you'll definitely want to use small needles. I've heard some people even go down to a US 2.

The only other thing to note is that you won't want to frog this yarn too many times. Before the fabric is knit and washed, the yarn still has a willingness to soften—and the more you frog, the more you risk undoing that felt-like cohesion along the yarn's surface.

In other words, no everyday socks for this yarn (bed socks, on the other hand, would be splendid), and try to avoid knitting a full-sized sweater with lots of elaborate stitchwork and then frogging the whole thing multiple times.

I appreciate the "novelty yarn" approach being taken to fine natural fibers. Just when you thought there wasn't another way for a yarn to be spun, Schoppel Wolle comes out with this clever fulling process. Rubbing fibers in yarn together isn't actually that uncommon, a mill in Wisconsin does this to its pencil roving. But there's something about Cashmere Queen, a refined intensity and uniformity, that makes the yarn stand out.

The fulling process makes the yarn stable and dense enough for truly three-dimensional cables and ribbing and garter stitch, making their textures really pop from the fabric. There isn't enough depth or bounce for reliably even stranded colorwork, although stripes and mosaic knitting could still be beautiful.

At $20 per 153-yard skein, Cashmere Queen is actually a few dollars short of where I thought it'd be priced considering the fibers and European parentage. I see it thriving squarely in the luxury accessory category. One skein will make you a pair of Churchmouse Welted Fingerless Gloves. Add a second skein to be safe, and you'll have a decadent pair of Susie Rogers' Reading Mitts. I see endless hat and scarf and cowl possibilities, each upping the price by another $20. A medium-sized women's cardigan would take between 10 and 11 skeins, setting you back $200 to $220.

But even if you can only invest in one skein for, say, a pair of mitts, you'll gain some helpful knitting experience in the process. Plus you'll have a pleasant knit, and you'll end up with something guaranteed to keep your hands happy.

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