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A skein of Helen's Lace
Helen's Lace once knitted up in a lace pattern

Yarn Profile: Helen's Lace

First Impressions
Few people can produce consistently beautiful hand-dyed yarns in quantities sufficient enough for large-scale distribution. Colinette Sansbury is one such person, and Lorna Miser -- of Lorna's Laces -- is another. (Since this review was published, Lorna's Laces was sold and relocated to Chicago. The company continues to thrive under its new and enthusiastic ownership.)

Her color combinations range from brilliant to bare whispers, with a small line of single colors that still carry subtle variations in hue. Although some catalogs and Web sites manage to represent her color range fairly well, you still don't get the full effect of her multicolored blends until you actually hold the skein in your hands. Opening a package of Lorna's Laces yarns for the first time is always exciting.

Her lace-weight yarn carries the name of her grandmother, Helen, an impassioned lace knitter. It's a shimmery blend of wool and silk that comes in hefty 1250-yard skeins. For this review I used a single-color Sage.

Knitting Up
Helen's Lace has a loose, relaxed spin with only a small amount of elasticity. At some points my two plies were barely twisted together at all. Yet I didn't have any significant snagging problems.

Overall, I didn't encounter any major show-stoppers. Occasional small loose tufts of silk presented themselves along the surface of the yarn. If you like that effect, you could leave them. I don't, so I gently tugged them off.

Blocking / Washing
My swatches relaxed significantly during the wash, adopting the consistency of a wet tissue. There was no bleeding or fading that I could see, although my color wasn't incredibly intense.

The swatches readily took their blocked form, stretching to form a truly fluid, feather-light flat surface. The swatches can only stretch so far, however, so remember to cast on and off extra loose when knitting lace.

As they dried, a faint halo of fuzz emerged along the surface of the swatches. With some yarns, this may not be a desired effect. For lace shawls, however, it adds a marvelous, cozy effect.

Fine knitted lace and rugged wear don't normally go hand in hand, so it felt a bit unfair to subject Helen's Lace to my normal battery of tests. Nevertheless, I was surprised to discover just what a tough cookie Helen's Lace is. The yarn has excellent fiber memory, swatches bouncing back into shape time after time.

With normal friction, the swatches simply bloomed and softened more and more. Eventually a few tiny pills emerged, but the fibers were so short that I could easily pull them off without hurting the yarn beneath. The stitchwork and silk sheen covered up any signs of real wear.

The bigger threat to Helen's Lace shawls are things like errant Velcro or rough spots on wooden chair backs. Particularly rough friction sped the deterioration process.

The main victim appeared to be the silk, which rose to the swatch surface in fuzz and pills. The stitchwork itself remained in perfect form, however, helping conceal the wear.

Lace shawls have the same calming effect on adults as security blankets do on children. Fortunately, not only are lace shawls socially acceptable, but they normally garner the wearer attention and praise.

Helen's Lace varies from the competition for two main reasons. First, it's available in an enormous range of color blends, most of which you won't find anywhere else. And second, it combines wool and silk, whereas other lace-weight yarns tend to be pure wool. The wool gives strength, warmth, and elasticity, while the silk lends a gentle opalescent sheen to the finished fabric.

The $44 per skein price can be hard to swallow. But keep in mind that you'll only need one skein for a sizeable shawl or two scarves. And if you're new to shawls, you can use the easy shawl pattern provided on the label's reverse side.

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