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A skein of Soy Silk yarn
Soy Silk once knitted up
click each image to enlarge

Yarn Profile: Soy Silk Phoenix

First Impressions
A yarn made from soy? You betcha.

Think about it. Cotton, linen, and flax are vegetable fibers, and they work beautifully in knitted fabrics. So why not try it with an even more abundant crop, soy?

Although it sounds new and revolutionary, the concept of turning soy fiber into wearable clothing has been with us for years. In fact, on South West Trading Company's Web site you'll find a picture of Henry Ford wearing a Soy Silk suit as far back as the 1940s.

Soy Silk is an environmentally friendly fiber made from tofu manufacturing waste. Soy protein is liquefied and then extruded into long, continuous fibers that are then cut and processed like any other spinning fiber.

Soy Silk Phoenix yarn has a knitted tube composition that lies flat like a piece of linguini. It is available in undyed form, which is a supersoft shade of ivory, as well as several dyed forms, all of which have a somewhat rougher hand as a result of the dying process.

Knitting Up
I was surprised at how easy it was to knit with Phoenix. At the beginning I had my usual tube yarn problems, with the tip of my needle periodically stabbing the guts of the tube by mistake.

Damage was minimal and easily corrected with a tug. And after a few warm-up rows I became accustomed to the yarn's higher volume and able to gather speed. Knitting by touch alone was 99% effective, with a few spots where I had to stop and check my work.

Progress was fast and my stitches appeared even, with good shape and definition. Swatches formed perfect squares.

Blocking / Washing
In a cold-water wash, my swatches tinted the water a musty shade of yellow. I saw no degradation of color in the dried swatches, however, which were perfectly relaxed squares of cohesive fabric. No blocking was necessary.

Even in warm-water washes, my swatches held up beautifully, although they continued to turn the water yellow for several rinsings.

There was very little surface blur or color loss, even when I upped the amount of agitation they had to endure.

Wearing
Phoenix feels like a cross between cotton and linen, with a lofty but cool feel that makes it perfect for warm-weather climates.

The faint roughness in the dyed yarn didn't cause any skin irritation whatsoever, and I probably wouldn't have commented on it if I hadn't had the even softer undyed yarn as a point of comparison.

Although the fine stitches that compose the yarn interrupt any visual flow of fiber on the surface, from afar the yarn still has a relatively cohesive sheen (similar to that of mercerized cotton) and relaxed drape to it.

My sample skeins had perfect dye saturation except for the reds, which appeared somewhat spotty and uneven. Every fiber absorbs dyes differently, so if you choose to buy the basic yarn and dye it yourself, plan for a little extra experimentation.

Conclusion
South West Trading Company has also released a soy wool blend that you can felt—I'm extremely eager to try this yarn next. Spinners, the company is also producing fibers from corn, bamboo, and milk that you can try out on your wheels or spindles.

There is very little pattern support from South West Trading, but you can easily substitute patterns for other comparable worsted- and heavy worsted-weight ribbon yarns (Noro Lily and K1CToo Tartelette are two examples that come to mind).

I see the yarn working perfectly in an airy shawl or a summer top (a stockinette tank or cardigan with some form of textured stitching along the edges). Although it has fine stitch definition, you may want to limit the amount of textured stitches in the body of your sweater unless you intentionally want lots of bulk.

Overall, I admire this intelligent repurposing of an already abundant resource that would otherwise go to waste. Although the yarn is essentially composed of a waste product, the additional processing ups the pricetag (although not to the levels of Himalaya Recycled Silk).

The current pricing is $13 per 200-yard skein, but South West Trading Company is in the process of migrating its skeins to 240 yards. I assume pricing will change accordingly.

In the meantime, if you like experimenting with new materials, or if you like the idea of wearing a conversation piece ("It's made from soy... No really!"), then you should definitely give this a try.

 
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