Riihivilla is a happy yarn discovery. It comes from a small family business in Finland and is available to a global market thanks to the wonders of the Internet.
Riihivilla is run by Leena Riihelä and her husband. She collects fleeces from a nearby sheep farm, sorts through them herself, and sends the best fibers to a mill where they are spun to her exact specifications. She then dyes the yarns herself using plants and mushrooms to produce quiet, beautiful colors that you’d find in nature—Hobbit hues that evoke thatched roofs, brooding lakes, mossy forest floors, tall hedges, and blooming hollyhocks.
As intriguing as the Riihivilla colors are, they are matched by the beauty of the yarn itself, which is spun from the fibers of the Finnsheep. A distant cousin of the Shetland and Icelandic sheep, the Finnsheep produces a happy and capable fleece: bright, crisp, lustrous, and resilient. It felts in a heartbeat, takes dye beautifully, and deserves at least one test drive on every knitter’s needles.
Leena offers this yarn in two weights. Maahinen is the fingering-weight version, and Aarni is the sport-weight version. This review focuses on Aarni.
Unable to control myself, I ordered samples of several natural and dyed skeins of Aarni. All tempted my fingers equally, but for this review I chose a richly saturated yellow called Apple Tree Leaves (dyed using, let me guess, the leaves of an apple tree). The selection of available colors changes frequently depending on what Leena has bubbling in her dyepots that week. This is a small business, so be patient if stock runs low.
As with many other hand-dyed yarns on the market, all Riihivilla yarns come in large hanks that need to be wound into balls before knitting. Sure, I could’ve popped the hank on a swift and started cranking my ball winder, but I decided to do it the old-fashioned way. This yarn is wool as wool should be. It exudes competence and an eagerness to do the job.
Although it appears to be a worsted-spun yarn, the two-ply Riihivilla Aarni has a slightly fuzzy halo of loose fiber ends. These fibers are happy to accommodate whatever space you give them, and they like holding hands with their neighbors. Even while winding my hanks I occasionally had to pry the fibers away from one another. This halo and handshake are particularly helpful for colorwork because they conceal the stranded yarns being held in back of the work. As an added bonus, dropped stitches don’t go anywhere—they stay put and wait for you to notice them.
Not once did my sharp-tipped needle snag or otherwise split the yarn. Occasionally I encountered a fleck of vegetable matter, a relic from the fiber’s not-to-distant past on the back of a sheep—all easily removed.
Recently I knit with the lighter-weight Maahinen as well (the beginnings of the Willow Herb mitten are pictured here). It is a dream for colorwork, with the blurred surface concealing any strands being carried behind the work.
Blocking / Washing
Naturally dyed yarns can be more moody and quixotic than their synthetically dyed counterparts—which is part of what attracts so many people to the process. Likewise, you never quite know how a naturally dyed yarn is going to behave in the wash. In this case, my swatches survived beautifully. The fibers relaxed and bloomed even more, filling the last remaining gaps and producing a cohesive piece of knitted fabric that blocked into perfect shape. There was no change in gauge or color and no visible bleeding in the water.
A word of caution: Finnsheep wool is an extraordinary felter. If you don’t want felting to occur, try to maintain a gentle touch, keep the agitation to a minimum, and maintain a steady water temperature from wash to rinse.
The wool world seems to be increasingly divided into two camps: Merino and Everything Else. Finnsheep wool is on my short list of Everything Else wool breeds you really should try. It’s a marvelous fiber that combines luster, strength, and bounce. It has a crisp, crunchy character and is extremely knitter-friendly.
My swatches felt decidedly softer after their first wash, possibly because the wash had made the fabric smoother and more cohesive. They endured quite a bit of rough handling (I could swear they even muttered, “Bring it on!”) without showing any signs of fatigue. The fibers in the fabric simply locked arms and wouldn’t budge.
Depending on your skin sensitivity, this yarn may be comfortable for next-to-skin wear as well. To my touch, it feels comparable to Brown Sheep or even a Peruvian Highland wool.
This yarn reminds me of something my grandma would’ve had in her yarn basket. It is simple, honest, subtle, and it embodies everything that I love about knitting.
Riihivilla Aarni is entirely appropriate for any traditionally “wooly” project—which means you may need a different yarn for that slinky shawl or nightgown. Either weight of this yarn longs to become a pair of bright, colorful mittens you don before going outside for a snowball fight. The mere notion of being used for one of Alice Starmore’s Fair Isle designs makes its ears perk up and tail wag. And I suspect it would run to the door and start yelping immediately if you even whispered the word “cable.”
If you can’t decide, Leena also offers an abundance of beautifully packaged mitten kits in different colorways and with varied motifs (with the patterns in English).
For those readers living outside of Finland, international orders are painless—and possible in both English and Finnish (if you don’t speak Finnish, just click on the British flag icon in the top left corner of the site). The software does make you create an account, which is simply a matter of providing your name, email address, mailing address, and a password so you can return later and track your order. This section is not secure, but the payment area—through PayPal—is.
And then, Leena sends your yarn on its merry way. Shipping is via Economy Mail. If you’re in a tremendous hurry, email Leena and ask about expedited shipping. I find that Economy Mail gives you just enough time to forget about your order and then be pleasantly surprised when it does arrive.