A skein of Silk Wool Lace
Silk Wool Lace yarn
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Yarn Profile:
Nature's Palette Silk and Wool Lace-Weight

First Impressions
Sometimes the most unusual results can come from the simplest changes.

Darlene Hayes wanted to add a lace-weight silk/wool blend to her line of Hand Jive Nature's Palette naturally dyed yarns. Her mill sent a sample of fine, smooth two-ply wool and silk, but Darlene felt it was too fine for her tastes—so she asked them for something a little heavier.

The mill took the original two-ply strand and tightly plied it with another two-ply strand. It was a simple move that saved them from having to reengineer the core yarn, but the result is a totally different kind of lace-weight yarn than the majority of what's on the market.

It's just a hair thicker than the standard two-ply lace-weights you'll find, but the added plies and tight twist give it a magnificent sense of substance, visual intrigue, and vibrancy that the other yarns lack. I was so smitten with this yarn that I followed Darlene all the way out to her car at the last TNNA so I could get my hands on a skein.

(Read more about Darlene's 100% merino and organic Columbia/mohair yarns.)

Knitting Up
The first things to notice about this yarn are the colors in which it is available—currently just a handful of soft and intriguing hues that did not come from a simple powder in a jar. Darlene hand-dyes all of her yarns using natural dyestuffs, many of which she has harvested herself.

It's a much slower, more quixotic process than standard acid dyeing. The dyepots can take on moods of their own depending on all sorts of things—the mineral content of the water, the barometric pressure that day, or even the amount of attention being paid to them. From purely a business perspective, most people stay away from natural dyeing because of all this extra time and energy required—and Darlene is perhaps the only person who's been willing to try and do this work on such a large wholesale level.

The second thing you'll notice about this yarn is the incredible yardage. Each skein holds 655 yards, which is enough to make a small shawl such as Evelyn Clark's Swallowtail Shawl (available for free download in the Best of Interweave Knits Readers' Choice Awards ebook from Knitting Daily until 5pm MST on May 14, 2008). Two skeins would be enough for pretty much any other larger lace project you'd want to try.

Then there's the yarn itself, 70% wool and 30% silk. The tightly plied construction makes the yarn fairly firm, although it still has a hint of bounce. By touch alone, you'd think the yarn had much more silk in it than it does—it has a pleasant "papery" feel to it.

The yarn's rounded, full-bodied construction helped it behave perfectly during ball-winding and again later when I began swatching. Because this is a lace yarn, I bypassed the normal stockinette swatch and worked up an improvised lace pattern instead. The yarn behaved beautifully, never snagging or refusing to do what I asked. All that extra twist did tend to make the yarn kink up between the ball and my needles, but never to the point of tangling or impeding my progress.

Blocking / Washing
The moment my swatch hit its warm soapy bath, it released clouds of bright pink color into the wash. Three quick rinses later the water ran clear—and there was absolutely no visible difference between the washed swatch and the unwashed one. The excess color ran but the actual dye on the fiber stayed true.

My lace swatch blocked perfectly, allowing itself to be stretched another 50% beyond its original size. Despite the excess twist and the kinking of the yarn during knitting, there was no hint of bias in my finished fabric. Perhaps in pure stockinette we'd see a little, but here it was perfectly balanced.

Wearing
By virtue of being composed of four tightly twisted plies instead of the usual two, this yarn is significantly stronger than your average lace yarn. It takes quite a hearty tug to break a strand, which means that if your lace shawl gets caught on a splinter or a loose nail, you most likely won't hear any dreaded "snap."

In terms of touch, the yarn is comfortably warm without an ounce of scratch to it. Once blocked, my lace swatch had magnificent drape. And with wear, the swatch gradually blossomed with a very faint halo that offset the shimmer of the silk nicely.

Conclusion
I had to double-check my notes because I couldn't quite believe this yarn was only $22 per skein—but it is. And here's the bottom line with this yarn: For 655 yards of quality wool and silk spun in such a lively and unusual manner, and then hand-dyed naturally with such attention and care, that really is a steal.

Darlene is undercharging for this yarn, and we are the lucky beneficiaries.

 

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