A skein of TDF
TDF once knitted up
click each image to enlarge

Yarn Profile: Mango Moon TDF (To Die For)

First Impressions
Some yarns are that perennially useful Number 2 pencil we pull out again and again for our knitterly jottings. Others serve as the simple ballpoint for more distinct and fluid markings, or perhaps the fountain pen we save for those special occasions.

Then we have the eccentric and silly yarns, like that enormous pen that takes up half your drawer with its liquid-filled tube of sparkles, protruding feathers, and jangling bells. Being a little difficult to write with, it's not something you use every day. But whenever you do pull it out, people notice—and they tend to smile.

TDF, which stands for To Die For, belongs solidly in that last category. It's technically a "fashion" yarn, which is just the renovated term for what used to be called "novelty" yarn. Unlike its earlier shiny, squeaky synthetic counterparts, TDF is actually made from 75% wool and 18% silk with just 7% nylon for the binder thread that holds it all together.

TDF is composed rather like a railroad yarn, with two strands of colorful singles fiber waving their way back and forth between two fine black "rails." It's not a spun yarn. Rather, those singles waving their way back and forth are captured by the rails. Tug the loose end of that fine black thread and it'll quickly unravel.

Unlike most other Mango Moon yarns, this is not manufactured in Nepal or Indonesia. In fact, it comes from an Italian spinning mill. The colors are rich and bright, aided by the loose twist of those wavy singles and the 18% shimmery silk.

Knitting Up
You may recall a time when boucle yarns were all the rage. They look like fun, with all those happy loops protruding from the yarn—and they knit up into a wildly three-dimensional fuzzy fabrics that do all the work for you.

But knitting them was a challenge. Each loop was like a fisherman's net, your needle playing the role of hapless fish that keeps getting caught. Snag, snag, snag.

While not technically a boucle, TDF does have loops aplenty. Small ones run along one edge of the binder thread, and every 12 inches or so they're joined by even larger loops of fiber on the other edge.

The recommended needle size is US 17 (12mm). I didn't have one handy, so I downsized to a US 13 (9mm). Knowing how troublesome those loops might be, I made sure to use blunt-tipped bamboo needles—to no avail. It felt like I was knitting with a live octopus, the loops wrapping themselves again and again around my needles.

Despite muttering "this is ridiculous" more than once, I kept going. Soon my hands grew used to their wiggling obstacles and settled into the new pace, which felt like a full-contact sport. My arms made wider motions while all my fingers jumped into the game, pushing those loopy tentacles out of the way again and again. The snagging still happened, but not quite as frequently.

Normally I'd throw the knitting down and choose something else, but here's the thing: TDF is a really pretty, fun yarn. It's like that huge sparkly feathered pen you don't use all that often. It is so bulky that I actually appreciated the loops for slowing my progress and keeping me engaged. With a smooth but similarly bulky yarn you could turn off your brain and knit away, like a runaway typewriter, until, "ding," you're all out of yarn. In this case, there's nuance to keep you engaged in every stitch.

The purl side of stockinette in TDF

Don't ask why, but I stuck to stockinette for my swatch. With such a wildly textured yarn it really doesn't matter, but I wanted to see if the larger loops fell on the purl side—and they did. If you wanted an evenly loopy, textured effect, you'd work garter stitch; if you wanted one side to be especially loopy, say, you were making a textured collar for a jacket, then you'd work stockinette and let the purl side become your front-facing side.

Blocking / Washing

My wet swatch
I filled a bowl with warm water and added a splash of soap. My swatch relaxed and was immediately saturated with water. It felt funny, as if I'd tossed a sponge into the water and then topped it with a wad of tissue.

The water had a vivid turquoise hue in the first rinse, but by the third rinse it ran clear. My blotted-dry swatch had the dejected look of a wet cat, with all the previously perky loops lying flat against the fabric. Fluffy three-dimensional yarns always look a little matted down when they're wet, but they usually perk back up again. What did worry me were the wisps of fiber that had come loose from the loops.

Fortunately, the yarn's generous wool content helped pull everything back together so that by the time my swatch dried it looked nearly as good as the unwashed one. The only change was in the big loops, which lost a touch of their smoothness.

Just as those sparkly feathered pens aren't really intended for heavy use—mine usually stay in the pen jar at home—TDF isn't really the kind of yarn you'd use for a high-wear garment.

Not that the yarn is innately weak or poorly constructed, mind you. But the protruding loops are all formed from loosely twisted singles that, by their very nature, don't have much energy holding the fibers together. (The fact that the loops began to fray in the first wash backs up this assumption.) Should you inadvertently rub up against a rough piece of wood, say, a splintered arm of a chair, the loops will quickly wear.

Unless you have infinite patience and funds, TDF is best used as an accent yarn. Because each skein holds just 33 yards, you'll require several skeins to make a simple fluffy scarf—which is what most people think of when they see a novelty yarn like this.

I propose greater adventure. If you knit loosely on the US 17 or even US 19 needles, you'd have enough yarn to adorn the cuffs of hat and a matching pair of mittens. Or even better, consider making a very simple felted bag with a smooth, superbulky wool. Add just a touch of TDF for accent, and watch the 75% wool try to felt while the silk and nylon resist.

TDF would also make a wonderfully poofy, colorful, retro-styled collar on a sweater or coat. Still have leftovers? Use them to tie a pretty bow on your next gift.

Bottom line? TDF is not something you'd likely use every day, and it certainly won't last a long time. But despite the snagging, this is a fun, super-fast yarn that creates an equally fun fabric out of mostly natural fibers. It brings a welcome bit of whimsy to our stitches.