“Textures are the new speckles.” With those words, Malia Mae Joseph and Stephen West, of the Amsterdam yarn store Stephen & Penelope, kick off their new joint venture: West Wool.
How fitting that Stephen West, the same designer who led us into the speckled realm so many years ago, takes the lead in moving us beyond it. If the West Wool website is any hint about this new direction, I personally couldn’t be happier: “We aim to stretch your imagination and invigorate your senses with the wonders of wool.”
The Initial Offerings
West Wool launches with two bases. Both are named after bicycles, in honor of Amsterdam’s bike-friendly reputation. Both are 100% wool and both are spun and dyed in the UK. West Wool is currently available only from Stephen & Penelope.
The finer of the two is Bicycle, a two-ply fingering-weight yarn that’s ideal for lace but will also render fine stockinette beautifully. It comes in 100g skeins with 350m/390 yards and retails for €20,00 per skein (currently approx $22 US).
The second yarn, called Tandem, was created simply by adding one more ply to the two in Bicycle. The result is a plump yet perfectly balanced three-ply DK-weight yarn. It comes in 100g skeins with 230m/250 yards and also retails for €20,00 per skein.
Color Me Beautiful
While speckles thrive in jumble and chaos and require a smooth surface off which to pop, both of these yarns are rooted in full color saturation and a soft, matte surface.
They’re available in 24 colors, only a handful of which have a touch of heather (as you’ll see in a minute). The rest are pure solids whose saturation is so total, it makes the color cards look like a box of Crayons.
Under the Hood
As pretty as the colors are, it’s the fiber composition that makes these two yarns truly special. Instead of the usual superwash Merino from Australia, which is lovely don’t get me wrong, Bicycle and Tandem are based on a foundation of Falkland Islands Merino.
The Merino “breed” on the Falkland Islands can often have a Polwarth uncle or two inadvertently tossed into the breeding mix. But otherwise, the fibers represent everything that’s good about Merino and other finewools of its class: fine, decently strong, and with a long staple and generous crimp. By virtue of the island’s unique climate, the wool is spectacularly bright, the fibers clean, and the entire operation essentially organic.
I’m not sure why we don’t see more Falkland Islands wool in our stashes. It’s the wool equivalent of a really fine white flour. Plus, it provides vital economic support to an island economy.
As we know, a loaf of white bread may be delicious and fun but it can be a little too unidimensional. It isn’t exactly packed with dietary fibers. Or, in knitting terms, any kind of nuance.
And so, to this 90% base of fine white doughy softness has been added 10% rye flour, by which I mean Texel, the wonderfully charismatic wool from a breed that originated in the Netherlands.
So yes, Bicycle and Tandem are soft and delicious. They knit up beautifully. They also have some actual nutrition in them. A little kick.
A Welcome Addition
How refreshing to see a new yarn line that wasn’t simply ordered off the shelf or created to replicate another popular yarn but at a different price point.
Each part of Bicycle and Tandem have been thoughtfully conceived. The foundation fibers are a distinct variant of Merino, from a place where mulesing is not practiced and the animals are raised organically.
But it’s the thoughtful dusting of home–namely Texel fibers, from a breed that originated in the Netherlands–that wins me over. Not only does the Texel tell a story, but it adds an element of textured nuance, a touch of grit, to the fabric these yarns create.
If textures are the new speckles, sign me up.
This post was not sponsored or in any way requested or expected by West Wool. I did consult as a final set of eyes on their wool and yarn language before launch. Which a) lowered the chances of me writing anything about them here because of the risk of perceived bias, but at the same time, b) only made me appreciate Malia and Stephen more, because they cared enough to get it right.