A skein of Merino Frappe
Merino Frappe once knitted up
click each image to enlarge

Yarn Profile: Merino Frappe

First Impressions
Crystal Palace Yarns is the wholesale division of Straw Into Gold, a Berkeley fixture since 1971 until escalating rents forced them to close their doors in 2001. The company resurfaced in Richmond, California, as a wholesale-only supplier.

Many of you may already know Crystal Palace as the supplier of bamboo knitting needles. Crystal Palace's yarns aren't as widely distributed, having focused mainly on cotton chenille, mercerized cottons, and shimmery ribbons, tapes, and eyelash yarns.

In 2002, the company ventured into the wool market with four new wool blends. This review focuses on Merino Frappe, a soft, felt-like brushed merino that comes in 33 heathered colors. The heathered effect is produced by blending different-colored fibers prior to spinning.

Merino Frappe is made up of three multi-stranded strands of merino and stronger nylon binder fibers. All are loosely spun together, then the total surface is brushed to produce the fuzzy surface texture.

Because of the binder fibers, Merino Frappe feels strong and sturdy despite its loose, felted look.

Knitting Up
The yarn's strong core and relatively consistent thickness made knitting easy. The loose brushed fibers tend to be short, which reduces the risk of snags.

When I tried to knit by touch alone, I wasn't entirely proud of the results. You benefit from being able to keep an eye on the fibers as you work.

The firm core helped keep tension even, eliminating any problematic elasticity in the yarn. The fuzz doesn't conceal your stitches completely, although it adds an attractive blurred effect.

Blocking / Washing
Despite their intense purple color, my swatches didn't bleed a bit in their warm wash. They quickly absorbed the water and became as relaxed and limp as wet tissue.

After being rinsed and blotted dry, the swatches required just a little fussing to return to their original perfect squares. They quickly dried into a smooth, cohesive fabric with subtle drape.

Immediately I could tell that the fiber had relaxed and bloomed during wash, making the already felted surface look even softer and fuzzier. Any expansion was mild to the point of not being a concern.

Here's where I had the biggest worries about Merino Frappe. Other felted yarns tend to die quickly, taking on a matted and overall dejected look. My swatches were smooth, soft, fuzzy, and beautiful -- but how would they withstand normal abuse?

At first, I couldn't detect any change in the surface texture. Not even a pill could be found.

Gradually, however, the surface started to lose its cohesive smoothness and take on a lumpy, uneven look. With more abuse, the fabric began to flatten and grow tired, with occasional lumpy spots appearing.

Up close, the lumps were actually areas where the stitches were thinning. In some cases, I could even see the binder fibers. Not good, but not a surprise either -- I've seen this with other felted yarns.

Several years ago, Rowan came out with a wonderful felted yarn called Chunky Soft. Unfortunately, it didn't last long, both in terms of availability and wearability.

Over time, my beautiful sweater looked more and more like an old, matted horse blanket. Just as quickly as the yarn appeared on the market, it was gone.

Merino Frappe takes up where Chunky Soft left off. Yes, it will take only a certain level of abuse before you'll throw up your hands in despair. But it's softer, available in far more colors than Rowan ever provided, and significantly less expensive.

Each $6.90 skein holds a generous 140 yards. A basic women's medium-sized pullover will require between 6 and 7 skeins, keeping the total for a super-soft and cuddly merino sweater well under $50. Just one skein will also make a scarf, or so Crystal Palace claims, which would be a good way to test the yarn for yourself before making a bigger investment.

From a design perspective, Merino Frappe's felted surface isn't particularly suited to elaborate stitchwork, although plain ribbing works well. The yarn is better suited for simple patterns involving stockinette and ribbing.

I also encourage you to take advantage of the deep color selection and mix and match different shades in your work. I know I will.

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