A skein of Super Yak
Super Yak knit up
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Yarn Profile:
Karabella Super Yak

First Impressions
Until now my experience of cabled yarn has mostly been in smooth, worsted form, with Karabella Aurora 8 as perhaps the best example.

Now the same folks at Karabella have taken three strands of woolen-spun two-ply yarn and plied them together into an incredibly lofty yet strong cabled yarn. What could be more intriguing than a woolen-spun cable yarn, you ask? A woolen-spun cable yarn made of 50% yak, 50% merino.

Enter Super Yak.

The yak down was so well dehaired that there was no hint of the rough guard hairs that usually find their way into sloppier blends. This is pure rare buttery softness with the same warmth that lets these enormous animals survive outdoors in subzero temperatures.

The yarn ships in an abbreviated hank (like Plymouth Yarn's Royal Cashmere) that has been tied extremely tightly in four spots. Too tightly, in my opinion. When I snipped the dental floss-like string, the yarn beneath was severely crimped and without any loft—and it remained so as I worked with it.

The yarn is available in a modest selection of tans, browns, and greys, plus several slightly muted classics. For this review I chose a simple undyed white.

Knitting Up
Super Yak was extremely easy to work with. The yarn slid effortlessly through my fingers and behaved itself on the needles without so much as a single snag or slip. I was able to knit and purl by touch alone without problem.

My stitches appeared smooth and even, with a lovely feltlike surface fuzz. While this gentle halo doesn't completely conceal the yarn's ply definition, it does leave you guessing whether it's a traditional three-ply, cable, or even knitted tube.

I knit my first swatch using the recommended US 10.5 needle but felt the fabric too open and listless for my taste. Bringing the needle down to a US 9 gave my fabric far more cohesion and body. You may want to experiment with this yourself, since everybody knits up at (and prefers) different tensions.

Blocking / Washing
Because my swatches were white, I wasn't able to test for colorfastness. But I was curious to see how the yarn would behave in the water.

Normally a woolen-spun yarn blooms beautifully with wash. But in cabled form—where all those lofty ends have three or four times more spin holding them in—I didn't know what to expect.

Sure enough, instead of a plumper, firmer, nearly felted swatch, I got a more open and relaxed swatch with only a delicate surface halo. Gauge was unchanged, and the swatch was otherwise in perfect condition.

Wearing
Like cashmere and qiviut, yak down is an extremely warm but short, delicate fiber. By blending it with merino, Karabella has given the yarn loft, crimp, and greater durability. Making it a cable spin adds even more strength and body, which you want with such a short fiber.

Also like cashmere and qiviut, yak down has very little elasticity or fiber memory to it. Although merino does, I still occasionally felt the two fibers were battling it out for supremacy. Would the yak have its way and stay in the odd shapes I'd tugged it, or would the merino persevere and bring the swatches back to their original shape?

Eventually I declared merino the victor, although you'll still need to re-block your Super Yak garments from time to time.

From a friction standpoint, my swatches survived a decent amount of abuse before starting to pill. The tiny cloudlike forms were well concealed by the yarn's fuzzy surface, however.

Conclusion
At $20 per 125-yard skein, this yarn definitely isn't cheap. But nor are yak down or merino. A yak can produce on average two to three pounds of down fibers per year, and they are normally combed—rather than clipped—from the animal. While not as fine as cashmere, the fiber is remarkably soft and warm.

But thanks to the yarn's bulk, a medium-sized women's pullover would require approximately 940 yards, rounding the total up to eight skeins, or $160. Believe it or not, that's less than a lot of luxury yarns out there.

If that's beyond your comfort level—which it is for many of us—don't despair. I actually envision the yarn doing best as a capelet (I saw one at the Knitter's Review Retreat last weekend) or scarf. And depending on the size of your head, you could even make a short, simple, and extremely warm hat from just one skein.

Best of all, not only will you have a warm and special treat, you'll also be wearing an item with a story attached. How fun to be able to reply, every time someone admires your scarf, "Why thank you. It's yak!"

 
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