Updated: Mar 15, 2021
This is a story about playing with two yarns, each with different fibers; a journey of curiosity and exploration.
It began several years ago. My girlfriend and I had taken a special road trip to visit some yarn shops. While visiting one we both fell in love with a shawl pattern. We decided to each knit the shawl and support one another along the way. Onto the yarn … The pattern was shown in a Targhee-Columbia blend. It was quite lovely. However, we found ourselves in the luxury yarns and our fingers – our sense of touch, were talking to us. Neither of us had knit with cashmere, and so we also decided to give this blended yarn a try. The yarn was 80% superwash merino, 10% cashmere, 10% nylon.
As I began knitting our project, I noticed how soft and slippery the yarn was. I switched to bamboo needles because in the early stages the yarn slipped right off my metal needles. I loved the way it was knitting up; the drape was lovely. And yet, as I knit, I couldn’t get the image of the shawl on the pattern page out of my head. What was it that was drawing me to that other yarn? I would look at the pattern and see the shawl on the model and then look at my shawl developing on my needles. I liked the smooth, silky look of my shawl too. Although somehow as my shawl grew, it looked heavier than the one in the photo. The drape seemed to be weighty, maybe stretching the lace a bit.
The Targhee-Columbia blend kept calling me somehow. (Note: This was before I had begun spinning wool and didn’t have the experience of running hundreds of yards of different fibers through my fingers – next article. With that spinning experience, I may have made a different initial yarn choice, but no regrets.) As I continued to knit, I couldn’t seem to shake the way the shawl, photographed on the pattern looked. Before the shawl was completed, I ended up ordering the Targhee-Columbia yarn. (Percentage of each breed not provided.) As soon as I finished the first shawl I cast on the new yarn. It was soft. Not the same as the cashmere blend, but I liked the Targhee blend too. And I didn’t have to switch needles. As I knit, I noticed the pattern popped a little more – ridges were more defined. The drape was different, it held shape. It felt lighter, but when I weighed them, they were less than .5 ounces different.
Currently, the superwash/cashmere/nylon blend has begun to pill, but still lovely. The Targhee-Columbia doesn’t appear to show as much wear as the first shawl. The usage is about the same. So, what makes the shawls different? The different yarns?
When I looked up the fibers in the brands, I learned that superwash is a process that uses chemicals and strips away the scales of the wool – the parts that naturally like to grab. A chemical coating is then used so that you can throw your knitted garments into the washing machine and they won’t felt. However, the processed yarn loses some of the natural characteristics and weakens the structure of the wool. Therefore, I won’t list specifics about Merino sheep other than they are a softer, finer wool. Cashmere comes from goats, its physical properties include: cylindrical, soft, silky, smooth, resilient, moisture-absorbing and very warm. Nylon is a synthetic polymer, which adds strength. The Targhee-Columbia blend had not gone through the superwash process so washing should be in cold water, by hand – no machine agitation or drying. According to Northwest Yarns, “Targhee is classified as a fine wool. It is a resilient, elastic wool with a softness that can rival Merino.” Columbia, as described in The Field Guide to Fleece, is “lofty”, “somewhat crisp”, “without much luster”.
I cannot say I now knit with only natural fibers, but I can say I love to keep trying new ones. As Kate wrote about finding her joy and peace in her projects by having a strong sense of a yarn’s origin, I too am developing that sense of connection and origin in the yarns I choose. So how about you? When you next choose a project, how will you determine the yarn you will use? Experimenting with different fibers is not only fun and educational, the results may amaze you as well.
Merino/Cashmere left – Targhee/Columbia right
Targhee/Columbia left – Merino/Cashmere right