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A skein of Lou Lou yarn
Lou Lou knit up
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Yarn Profile: Land O Lace Lou Lou

First Impressions
Land O Lace is a small new Minnesota-based company that offers hand-dyed lace yarns for knitters. The Land O Lace story actually has two parts: color and yarn.

All the yarns are hand-dyed to order. The available colorways are divided into two families. First, the semisolid "Just Abouts," in which one color exists in varying saturations. Second, the "Variegated" yarns, in which a second or even third color is added to a dominant first. The variegated colors are not disharmonious or jarring. In many cases, the color changes are gentle enough to work with most lace without distracting from the pattern.

The second part of the Land O Lace story is the yarns themselves. Currently you'll find nine lace yarns available in weights ranging from lace to fingering, and in compositions ranging from two to four plies. The fiber content is predominantly wool (either lamb's wool, generic wool,or Merino) with a smattering of silk at different percentages.

But one very special blend called Lou Lou caught my eye: 70% baby alpaca, 20% silk, and 10% cashmere. I'd seen the same blend at the Sock Summit in August 2009 at the Wool Candy booth. Those skeins were larger and had rich, moody colorways, but the yarns are otherwise identical. Which makes me giddy, because that means a whole new lace yarn base is slowly making its way into the hand-dyed yarn world.

For this review, I chose a light grassy Just About shade called Gully. On slightly larger-than-called-for needles, I swatched the beginnings of Evelyn Clark's Prairie Rose Shawl from my upcoming book, The Knitter's Book of Wool.

Knitting Up
All lace yarns take a little getting used to because of their extremely fine nature. While a hearty DK wool clings comfortably to your hands and is easily worked by touch alone, lace yarns require more patience and coaxing as they journey from skein to hands to needles. The rewards are, of course, an ethereal gossamer fabric.

Lou Lou behaves in a very smooth, fluid manner—telltale signs of alpaca and silk. There is no real bounce or elasticity going on here, which means maintaining an even tension is a challenge. At first, the yarn couldn't decide if it wanted anything to do with my needles or not. But working on wooden needles (the American holly needles from week) with decisive tips made knitting much easier.

I encountered no knots in my skein, which may not be surprising if you read the Land O Lace policy. "We are absolutely fanatics when it comes to knots—and will eliminate any skeins we find with them. Sometimes, being human, we miss one. Please tell us if you find one and cannot live with it, and we will make it right." A refreshingly helpful policy from someone who has obviously herself been betrayed by knots.

Blocking / Washing
Rather like the beginnings of making a poached egg, my swatch seemed to dissolve completely the minute it hit its warm sudsy bath. But when I dragged my fingers through the water to gather the edges and pull out my swatch, it was still intact and waiting.

Baby alpaca and silk have less bounce and elasticity than Merino, which meant that the yarn withstood a little less stretching during blocking before crying uncle. Meanwhile, as the swatch dried I could see that the cashmere had bloomed during wash, giving the fabric a lovely peach-fuzz halo.

This yarn epitomizes soft and silky. Baby alpaca doesn't necessarily come from a baby alpaca. It's a term used to describe a fine grade of alpaca fiber whose softness is second only to a rare treat called "royal alpaca." Baby alpaca's fineness ranges from 18 to 21 microns—by comparison, quality cashmere averages 16 microns.

Add a sufficient dose of 20% silk to the mix, and a 10% dusting of cashmere, and you have a truly luxurious, soft, and slinky yarn. The silk anchors the fibers and gives the delicate yarn strength, helping your knitted fabric from being too light and flyaway. And the cashmere, with its delicate halo, puts the whole mix right over the top.

Lou Lou is a fitting introduction to Land O Lace, which is—to my knowledge—the first company to focus exclusively on hand-dyed lace yarns. I appreciate the obvious care taken to source an assortment of yarn weights, looks, feels, and thicknesses. Each serves a creative and aesthetic purpose.

In terms of logistics, I mentioned that almost all the Land O Lace yarns are dyed to order. This doesn't mean you have to wait a month for your yarn, either. They claim a five- to seven-day timeframe for turning around orders, and mine shipped within two days. Still, this is a small business. If a delay occurs, be patient.

Ultimately, Lou Lou is just one example of what a skilled hand-dyer can do with a lovely and unusual yarn base. I hope we'll see more hand-dyers try this blend because it has great potential. In fact, I like to consider it the un-brushed, baby alpaca-based love-child of Rowan Kidsilk Haze and Filatura di Crosa Superior.

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