A skein of the Irish Ewe Aran
Irish Ewe Aran knit up
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Yarn Profile:
The Irish Ewe Aran

First Impressions
You'd think that with a name like Deb Woolley the co-founder of The Irish Ewe would've been in the yarn business forever instead of just under a year. But our story begins more than 10 years ago when Deb first traveled to Ireland and fell in love with the sheep-dotted countryside around Kerry.

She and her husband soon bought a cottage in the region, and they were gifted with several warm blankets from the local wool mill in Kerry. Curiosity piqued, Deb visited the wool mill and struck up a friendship with its owner, Andrew.

He showed her an enormous stockpile of yarn spun from Kerry sheep. He told her how, because of Ireland's recent economic boom, people no longer needed to knit to live—and how he was phasing out his yarns as a result. He said that the sheep were mostly raised for meat now, and that their shorn fleeces ended up (are you sitting down?) being piled up and burned.

Deb was so enchanted by the yarn and horrified by its fate that she began the Irish Ewe, then and there.

Knitting Up
This rugged three-ply, woollen-spun yarn knit up quickly and easily. Stitches were even, and the fabric felt firm and substantial.

I throw the yarn with my left hand, and I found that the plies tended to come unspun within the first three or so inches of my working yarn. It produced a loftier, more open fabric surface, which was fine by me. Only once did I snag the plies, and that was after I'd finished my "official" swatching and was playing with cables.

Blocking / Washing
My firm swatches relaxed a little in their soapy warm bath. There was a faint hint of red in the water, but not enough to even describe as bleeding.

The swatches dried into perfect shape without any blocking necessary. I could immediately see that the yarn bloomed with wash, resulting in a more cohesive knitted fabric with softer stitch definition. There was no change in gauge.

This yarn is made from the fleece of Jacob and Jacob cross sheep. These rugged horned, spotted little animals are an ancient breed that's still considered rare here in the U.S.

After being shorn, each fleece is picked by hand, washed with soap, carded, and spun. Color is added to the base natural shade (a light tan called Bainin) using vegetable-based environmentally safe non-toxic and non-caustic dyes. With the exception of standard inoculations, the sheep (and their resulting fiber) are otherwise organic.

The fiber is light and open, takes twist beautifully, and is extremely warm to wear. But it is not a notoriously soft fiber.

I'm hesitant to flatly dismiss it as "scratchy," but it is a bit crunchy and rough—more or less depending on how sensitive you are. I found it comparable to, but slightly softer than, Bartlett and Peace Fleece yarns. It has a marvelous scent of lanolin, while the fiber itself feels dry and lanolin free.

From a durability perspective, this yarn gets an A+. Pills were very slow coming, and after they arrived the yarn's mottled surface concealed them from view. It would be years before an elbow wore through.

I may go weak at the knees for cashmere and angora, but I also like this yarn. It's rugged and honest and begs for cables and stitchwork.

I'm not the only one to think so. Since introducing it to the U.S. market, The Irish Ewe has had a difficult time keeping it in stock. Prepare to wait a week or two, but it'll be worth it.

A medium-sized women's pullover will require approximately 980 yards of yarn, which translates to three skeins—with enough leftovers for a child's hat. The whole ensemble would run you less than $35.

Yes, you read that right.


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