Alchemy Yarns Wabi-Sabi
How fitting that the folks at Alchemy Yarns chose that name for their new silk blend, for this yarn embodies many of the underlying concepts of wabi-sabi.
Wabi-Sabi (the yarn) starts with a thick single strand of smooth silk. Around it is gently wrapped a delicate mass of merino fibers that have been distressed to the point of pilling—with the resulting visual effect of raw silk.
The combined yarn is then triple-mordanted to ensure optimal dye absorption, before being hand-painted by Alchemy owner and artist Gina Wilde, washed by hand twice, hung to dry on bamboo poles, twisted into skeins, tagged, and bid adieu as it leaves for a store near you.
Color constitutes only part of the intrigue of this yarn. Silk absorbs dye much more readily than merino, and it reflects colors much more intensely. When the entire skein is exposed to the same dye, each fiber reacts slightly differently, resulting in a very faint yet harmonious striation in the yarn.
For me, the greater intrigue is the pairing of two such stark contrasts: a thick, crisp clean silk and a fine, slub-filled merino—perhaps a manifestation of the wabi-sabi notion of irregular beauty.
In all my years of yarn exploration I've never seen merino presented this way. You'd think it counter-intuitive to present merino as a slubby, pill-filled mass, and yet the results here are captivating.
This yarn was introduced last month at TNNA's winter trade show. Gina is painting her first batches of it for shops this week, which means you'll have to wait until the end of this month to get your hands on it. Until then, let me tell you what to expect.
For this review I used color 88a, Hush.
When knit up, it has the effect of rippled velvet. Best of all, the fabric's innate textured finish means you can be as inconsistent as you like. Ironically it's as close a cousin to Mission Falls 1824 Cotton as I've seen yet—only this is silk with a shimmery, firm velvety hand.
To keep the yarn snug on the needles and avoid snagging, I used a pair of dull-tipped bamboo needles from Plymouth. With perhaps one exception in all my swatches, there was no snagging at all.
After just a few rows I was able to knit by touch alone, making Wabi-Sabi fair game for absent-minded knitting in dark movie theaters—but then you'd miss watching the yarn, which is half the fun.
A word of warning, however: If you're one of those people who must remove any lumps or pills in your yarn, as am I, Wabi-Sabi may drive you nuts—just remember the slubs are intentional. Don't pull them!
Blocking / Washing
I blotted them with a towel and set them out to dry, with no blocking required whatsoever. They were perfect squares. The gauge—I knit a tight 4 stitches per inch on US 9s—was unchanged.
As the friction continued, the surface of my fabric began to blur with a combination of silk and wool fibers. Gradually little clouds of loose fibers covered the surface. After more time, my worn swatches looked organic and earthy, yet this was countered by a discreet silky sheen peeking out from under the blurred surface.
As with La Lana Phat Silk, these little clouds were firmly rooted in the long silk fibers in the fabric, making tugging them off a bad idea. Far better to use a sweater shaver and snip them at the base, leaving the surrounding fibers undisturbed.
Even though it has 34% wool, silk is still the predominant fiber in this yarn—and this shows in the yarn's wear. While the wool does add extra loft to the silk, there's still more shimmer here than elasticity or bounce. Over time I knew my swatches would benefit from reblocking.
Another reason not to rush Wabi-Sabi is cost. The extra time and energy required to create this yarn result in an SRP of between $19 and $24 a skein (we're waiting to see what prices stores set when the yarn reaches them). At that price, you want to savor each yard. A plain medium-sized women's drop-shoulder pullover would require about 1100 yards, or 13 skeins. That's...$280. Gulp.
I see Wabi-Sabi in smaller-ticket items just as well, like a cropped bolero-style top with three-quarter-length or short sleeves, or even a summer tank top in simple stockinette stitch, since the yarn's texture does all the work.
But the more I played with my swatches, the more I grappled with this question. Great care has gone into the development of this yarn. The spin and ply were created just for Alchemy, the dye process is painstakingly slow and methodical, and the price reflects all these factors.
Yet once it's knit up, the end result is actually quite simple and unassuming. Dare I say my swatches even had a serene melancholy, or wabi-sabi.
Some knitters may want a garment that more clearly indicates its high cost. And some will be more comfortable in the quiet, solitary understanding of what they're wearing. Either way, Wabi-Sabi encourages us to transcend the way we look at yarn.
66% Bombyx silk
3.5 stitches per inch on US 9 needles
Average retail price
Where to buy online
Weight/yardage per skein
50 g / 86 yards
Country of origin
Manufacturer's suggested wash method
Gentle handwash in cool water.
Color used in review