If butter could be spun into yarn, that yarn would be Malabrigo.
As a company, Malabrigo actually offers several different kinds of yarn—including a perky new sock yarn, a decadent silk/Merino blend, and the chunky Merino reviewed here. But when people say “Malabrigo” they usually mean the worsted-weight, single-ply Merino yarn that got the company started.
The primary appeal of Malabrigo—all of the Malabrigo yarns—is the bright, often candylike colors that flicker in subtle variegation. These colors are achieved through a technique the Malabrigo folks call “kettle dyeing.” The kettle is really just a large pot into which dye is added but not fully blended. I do not know if more dye is added after the yarn has been suspended into the kettle, but I’d guess so—at least for some colorways. A subtle variegation is achieved by not thoroughly mixing all the dye together. It can also cause significant color differences within the same dyelot, depending on where the skein sat in the dye pot.
If the colors lure knitters to Malabrigo, the soft fibers reel them in. Malabrigo uses extremely soft Merino fibers for most of its yarns. The fibers are spun loosely enough to keep a marvelous halo and decadent softness that really does feel like you’re knitting with butter.
But just as butter melts if you work it too much, Malabrigo will pill if you wear it a lot. That’s just a fact of life, and the sooner we surrender to this fact, the sooner we can move on and enjoy the yarn for what it is.
Having said that, there are some things that a yarn company can do to fortify its yarn—and adding multiple plies is one. I was curious to see if this is really true, and Malabrigo Chunky gives me a perfect chance to test this theory. It is composed of three plies, each of which is essentially a finer version of Malabrigo worsted. Would the plying really make it more durable? And would it simultaneously introduce any drawbacks that make this yarn less appealing than the single?
While I’ve heard a few people complain about knots in their skeins, I encountered none. Likewise, earlier skeins of Malabrigo Chunky had different yardage than they do now. Mine had 104 yards and weighed 3.4 ounces, which seems to be the new standard. (This is only an issue if you’re following a pattern that specifies this yarn in skeins and doesn’t list yardage.)
Even on my cast-on row I could tell that this is a happy yarn. It likes to be held in your hands, and it enjoys being manipulated on the needles. The yarn quickly produced a plump, even, and equally happy fabric. Within two rows I was knitting by touch alone, the well-defined tips of my Denise Interchangeables making swift and snagless work of each stitch.
Malabrigo lists two possible needle sizes on the label: US 10 or 11. I urge you to swatch both and decide which fabric feels best to you. The tighter fabric will wear longer, but it will also be much firmer. The looser fabric has more flow and fluidity, but at the expense of wearability. Play with needle sizes as you swatch and find a happy medium that feels good to you—and only then find a pattern to match. If you cram this yarn into too small of a needle, you’ll end up with a bulletproof sweater that stands up on its own.
Blocking / Washing
My swatch bobbed along on the top of the wash water like a happy little life boat (that is, until I promptly sank it). With a few taps, my swatch absorbed the warm soapy water and sank to the bottom of the bowl. While I could feel the fabric relaxing in my hands, I never felt it get dense or heavy. There was only a discreet bleeding of peach in the wash.
There was no change in stitch or row gauge, or in color. My swatch blocked back to perfect shape, drying to reveal a slight halo over the fabric surface.
A universal fact among natural fibers is that softness is a factor of fiber diameter. The finer the fiber diameter, the softer the fiber and the resulting yarn will be. At the very same time, however, that finer fiber is more fragile—which means your fabric will more quickly show signs of wear. Which means that pills will happen. Period. If you love Malabrigo, buy a sweater shaver and be done with it.
In terms of these notorious pills, they began after quite a reasonable amount of sustained friction—more than with the single-ply Malabrigo, and I credit the plies here. Those pills began as very fine flecks that were, thanks to an ever-increasing surface halo, barely distinguishable except from up close. Even as the pills spread, they stayed low and firmly rooted in the fabric.
The reward for your suffering is an extraordinarily soft, plush, and spongy material without one iota of prickle to it. This yarn creates the very definition of “next to the skin” fabric.
This yarn has all the qualities we love about the original single-ply worsted-weight Malabrigo, only in a much thicker three-ply form. The different ply structure really does change how it looks, though. If you’re most attracted to Malabrigo because of the smooth knitted face it presents back to you, this yarn—with its flickering ply shadows—will be different. And if you’re most attracted to Malabrigo because of the lightweight fabric it creates, be aware that this yarn is much denser.
A full sweater in Malabrigo Chunky will be exquisite as long as you exercise a little prudent planning. Because of the weight and potential density of the fabric, I’d recommend keeping your sweater relatively form-fitting. Stick with stockinette and ribbing, and avoid too many yarn-hogging cables. A large textured coat out of this yarn will weigh a ton, and the weight may cause the fabric to do funky things along the shoulder seams. On the other side of the coin, you could use this yarn for things you want to be heavy—for example, a decadent cabled throw.
Malabrigo Chunky renders ribbing beautifully, with the Merino keeping the ribbing very snug and bouncy while the well-rounded fullness of the three plies enhances the contrasting knit and purl rib rows. But you can also use this yarn for smaller lace projects that have been scaled to accommodate the larger gauge. One great example is Emilee Mooney’s Foliage hat, which only requires one skein of Malabrigo Chunky to complete.