Yarn Profile: Alchemy Juniper
Gina Wilde is the creative spark behind Alchemy Yarns of Transformation. A musician, sculptor, dancer, and performance artist, she is also an extraordinarily gifted colorist who is very exacting about her canvas. She spares no expense in seeking the right yarn, sometimes working years with a hand-picked mill until the twist and ply and fiber blend are just right. Which may explain why this is not your average sock yarn.
For starters, it's spun differently. Most commercial superwash Merino sock yarns on the market are either made from two tightly twisted plies, creating a textured strand that looks like a string of pearls; or they're composed of three or four smooth, loosely plied strands that create a smooth, steady yarn.
When spun for high-abrasion items like socks, Merino wool likes a little nyon reinforcement. If the reinforcement can't come from nylon, it needs to come from the construction of the yarn itself. Plies add strength, so you could conceivably just add more plies and have a stronger yarn.
But a more intriguing and subtle way to add strength is to group these plies into finer strands of plied yarn that are, then, plied together into the final yarn. When everything is plied in the same direction, the construction is called multi-strand or S-on-S cabled yarn (I cheat and just call it "cabled"). As I explained in my book, cabled yarns are incredibly strong and stable, making them an ideal choice for socks.
We see this kind of construction in heavier yarns—Karabella's Aurora 8 is the most famous example, although Alchemy also has one called Temple—but we rarely see it in fingering-weight yarns. Which is a pity, since all those plies give you a perfectly strong, bouncy, and full-bodied sock yarn.
The yarn knit up quickly and easily, with nary a snag in sight. Snagging can be a problem with this kind of yarn construction, so I pulled out my hypodermic Knit Picks DPNs to see what it took to bring down poor Juniper.
About an hour and one bleeding fingertip later, I had succeeded in making the yarn snag several times—usually when I glanced away from my work. Once there's a snag, you need to be very careful that you recapture all the plies and work them in the correct stitch. I don't know about you, but the sight of a loose ply or two several inches down in my work drives me nuts. Use blunt-tipped needles or take care to check your work routinely.
Blocking / Washing
Which means that Juniper is just as soft, if not softer, than a lot of the mainstream mass-produced cashmere yarn out there. The softer a fiber is, the more vulnerable it is to abrasion. Spun as a simple two- or three-ply yarn, I'd worry about Juniper. But in its mulitple-ply format—with three two-ply strands spun together—Juniper keeps these delicate fibers close and tight.
Having revealed my weakness for all things Alchemy, I do have a beef with Juniper. Each skein only holds 232 yards. An unspoken rule in the hand-dyed sock yarn world is that each skein holds enough yarn for a basic pair of socks (usually anywhere from 350 to 400 yards).
The only time you'll see a yarn company break the 50g skein rule is with sock yarn, when the skein is usually bumped up to 100g or more so that you'll have sufficient yardage for socks. There's a functional reason for this generous skein put-up, too. Hand-dyed yarns can differ slightly from skein to skein, even when done as professionally as Gina dyes hers. Having your entire project in one skein ensures you won't have any strange surprises halfway through that second sock. As currently packaged, you'll need two skeins of Juniper to complete a basic pair of socks.
Otherwise this is an excellent sock yarn. I should note that Juniper would also render lace beautifully and produce stunning shawls.
And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to calm my hoarder within and feed my own Alchemy stash.
Alchemy Yarns of Transformation
100% superfine Merino wool
8 stitches per inch on US 2 (2.75mm) needles
Average retail price
Where to buy online
Weight/yardage per skein
232 yards (212m)/50g
Country of origin
Hand-painted in the USA
Manufacturer's suggested wash method
Machine wash in cold water. Tumble dry lightly.
Color used in review
San Francisco Sky
Alchemy Yarns of Transformation