A few years ago at Interweave Knitting Lab in Manchester, New Hampshire, I ventured into the North Light Fibers booth. I met Sven, who, with his wife, operates a mini-mill that produces their own line of branded yarns in Rhode Island.
We got to talking, and the subject of cashmere came up. (This often happens. I have a weakness for cashmere.)
I have long wanted to see a full-bodied three-ply yarn that combines generous quantities of both Merino (for plumpness, body, and elasticity) and cashmere (for that certain va-va-va-voomquality). Normally we see 10 or 20 percent cashmere, rarely more.
In my mind, the blend would be perfect. Sven said they were actually working on a cashmere blend. Years passed. I didn’t give up hope that he’d make the yarn.
This week he finally sent a box. Inside were skeins of Water Street, the exact blend and ply construction we’d talked about. But it was even better. Instead of using solid dunk-dyed colors, he had blended dyed fibers prior to spinning, producing 20 gorgeous, nuanced heathers.
For the tactile pleasure of getting to know it, I wound my skein by hand. I encountered no knots, only an occasional area where the fibers were thicker in one ply than in the others. Looking closer at the strands, twisting apart the plies, I saw that they had twisted light brown fibers alongside the yellow in the initial ply, where they twisted around and around like a barberpole.
When the plies were subsequently twisted together in the opposite direction, that barberpole straightened into fine lines that ran parallel to the yarn. It was a fascinating optical illusion that made the yarn look almost cable-spun.
The plies were given a relaxed twist that I immediately wanted to tighten. I worried about snagging, but once I got underway with my swatching, I was surprised by the yarn’s general easygoing disposition. I knit by touch alone, in a moving car at dusk, no less. I worked ribbing, seed, and even the beginnings of cable patterns until the sun went down. The yarn rendered all stitches beautifully.
I didn’t want to stop knitting, the yarn felt so pleasant to the touch and was so amenable to my relatively sharp-tipped Chiao Goo bamboo needles.
Blocking / Washing
The label advises tepid water, but I decided to bump the temps up to capital-w Warm and see what happened. The wash water took on the color of lemonade with a splash of iced tea. The first rinse had a hint of of a tea hue, but after that, the water ran clear.
The label also advises against allowing the fabric to soak. The longer you let water saturate these fine fibers, the more vulnerable they become—but I wouldn’t set a stopwatch and panic if anything sat too long.
Immediately out of the water my swatch showed the beginnings of a softening, a loosening of fiber ends that foretold a glorious bloom. My swatch blocked in perfect shape without prodding. Once dry, I detected no change in stitch or row gauge (I had achieved 6 stitches and 8 rows per inch on US 5 [3.75mm] needles), nor was there any change in color saturation.
With the words “super fine Merino” and “cashmere” on the yarn’s label, you already know it’s going to be a high-care yarn. Both fibers have an extremely fine diameter, making them fragile and susceptible to snapping. The fact that the three plies are so loosely twisted was also worrisome.
And yet I was surprised by how strong this yarn is. Tug a strand to break it, and instead of feeling a quick release, the yarn put up a fight. I had to wrap it around my fingers and tug hard to make it snap.
Nevertheless, with a decent amount of vigorous abrasion I was able to produce wisps that began easily pluckable pills. For anything higher-wear, I would definitely stick to the smallest needles and tightest fabric your taste allows.
This is a small-batch yarn spun on mini-mill equipment that is the yarn-making equivalent of a microbrewery. It lacks some of the fiber-preparation features of larger commercial equipment that help render a perfectly smooth, more consistent yarn across thousands of pounds of fiber.
That might be a problem if you needed a reliable number-2 pencil kind of yarn. But here, part of the appeal in Water Street is its clearly handmade nature, from the slightly wobbly stockinette to the little bow-ties provided at each end, with the yarn tails neatly tucked in. Small touches you won’t get from a huge mill.
Obviously a sweater in this yarn would be the epitome of luxury. For succulent cozy scarves and cowls, don’t poo-poo the very simple seed or moss stitch. It brings this yarn’s luxurious constitution into high relief that, while it may be somewhat tedious to work, would be euphoric to wear.
North Light Fibers
60% super fine Merino
5-7 stitches per inch (2.5cm) on US 3-6 (3.75-4.5mm) needle
North Light Fibers
2oz / 165 yards (50g / 190 yards (150m)
Fiber origin unknown. Spun in Block Island, Rhode Island
Hand wash in tepid water with a small amount of gentle soap. Do not allow to soak. Do not wring. Dry flat.
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North Light Fibers