Yarn (and fiber) interlude

I’ve gotten swept away in preparations for the two Shetland-wool-specific retreats that I’ll be facilitating in the San Juan Islands of Washington State during the first two weeks in November. There’s a lot to do: the fact that I enjoy the activities doesn’t shorten the hours required to complete all the related tasks. Fortunately I have help this year with a number of the administrative details, so I can focus on the wools and the plan and the written materials.

Nonetheless, the intervals between my blog posts have gotten stretched out again.

Here’s what I think will be a quick post, about some of the yarns and fibers that I “met” during my recent travels in Iceland and Shetland.

First, it’s generally my practice to acquire natural-colored skeins of representative yarns for sampling and the archives. One of these excursions, however, involves COLOR! Brace yourself. Second, I haven’t swatched up everything that I obtained to sample, and I didn’t get “one of everything,” either. I only packed home things that posed the most intriguing questions or possibilities.


When the participants in the North Atlantic Native Sheep & Wool Conference toured the Ístex factory in Iceland, several of us asked repeatedly whether the Einband, or laceweight yarn, was spun from the same fiber mix as the other all-Icelandic-wool yarns, like Léttlopi, Álafasslopi, Bulkylopi, and the unspun Plötulopi. It feels a good deal coarser. We were equally repeatedly assured that it was spun from identical wool, and that it would soften up when washed.

We all found that a bit hard to believe. So of course I bought a skein and I ran the yarn through my usual series of tests: an approximately 4-inch (10cm) square in stockinette, followed by an approximately 6-inch (15-cm) square in a pattern stitch.


I washed them.

The results, although not extremely soft, were indeed a good deal softer than I had any reason to expect. Veering from my standard practice, I knitted two small stockinette swatches that I left unwashed and attached to the corners of the “real” swatches for ongoing tactile comparison.


Even with the mix of under- and outercoats, and the subsequent slightly hairy surface, stitch definition is quite clear in the comparatively complex Japanese pattern that I decided would be interesting to try out.


(Japanese pattern book, I think the one with 300 patterns, must go look it up. #164.)

I also purchased, but have not yet spun, a carded batt of Icelandic Leadersheep wool. This is because I liked the color, and I like the Leadersheep. A lot. (Here’s a 9-minute video. If that’s not enough, part 2 has another 9 minutes.)



Looking forward to this one.

I’ve already shared the Plötulopi swatches.


No, I didn’t go to Greenland, but the Greenlanders came to Iceland for the conference and brought wool with them. Greenlandic sheep are closely related to Icelandic sheep, because that’s where a lot of their bloodlines originated.


Nice yarn, great texture, lofty, promising durability.

My patterned swatch. . . .


(Barbara Walker 2, German Herringbone Rib, p. 124.)

And then I got my copy of Cat Bordhi’s new Versatildes e-book, and what was handiest was the Greenlandic yarn and appropriate needles, so I made a tiny-tilde swatch from it, too.


I watched this book germinate and grow and am glad to now have a copy on my hard drive to play with further.


Jamieson & Smith in Shetland has a new yarn, which is a worsted-spun aran-weight. They’ve previously had a woolen-spun yarn in this weight. It may be a little confusing for a while that there are two J&S aran yarns, spun from differently prepared fibers, but I’m glad they’re giving us options—especially worsted-spun ones.

I like this new yarn a lot. The colors relate to those in the worsted-spun fingering-weight Heritage yarns.


The introductory swatch, the stockinette one, is in one of the packets I posted back, but not one with fleece in it that needed to be washed so it hasn’t surfaced yet (first things first). But I took a photo of it in transit. I think. I don’t recognize that background. It does match the one below, so . . . even though the color doesn’t quite match, this is it. . . .


Here’s where I played with it in pattern, because I did this after I got home.


(Barbara Walker 1, Twin Leaf Lace, p. 210b.)

Now. Thinking about woolen-spun and worsted-spun, I decided on a demonstration project, replacing color alternations with yarn alternations. I would have worked with woolen- and worsted-spun natural white fingering-weight yarn except that the whites didn’t quite match. Ella Gordon at Jamieson & Smith helped me get two greens that came in the same color and I began my experiment, using Martina Behm’s “Leftie” pattern. (“Leftie” is a fun pattern. I’m knitting it now with color contrasts out of Wensleydale. It’s the right combination of interesting-but-not-too-interesting that’s ideal for travel knitting. Thanks to Sarah Anderson for demonstrating its value in this regard while we were teaching at Fibre-East.)


That photo is why I know this is all Shetland yarn, including the image above of the worsted-spun aran. Of the two green balls, the one with the beige band is the worsted-spun and the one with the white band is woolen.

While it was possible to see the distinctions between the two yarns, I wasn’t getting exactly the effect that I wanted.


So I altered the pattern slightly, making the leaf sections (contrasting color in the original pattern) a similar width to the intermediary sections, and started over. The effect shows up most clearly when the shawl is held up to the light, but in person you can see and feel the subtle differences even without backlighting.


I finished the woolen/worsted shawl while I was in Iceland and took the photo just above with the unblocked fabric held up against the window of the apartment where a group of us stayed in Reykjavik. It’s blocked now, and I’ll post a photo of it some month (or year), but right now it’s probably buried under some of the multi-dozen fleeces I’m sorting, labeling, washing, and preparing to transport to Friday Harbor, Washington.

And it’s time to get back to that work.

But . . . if you haven’t encountered Barb Parry’s book, Adventures in Yarn Farming, it’s delightful. I’ve had it for a while but only read it once I got home.