a skein of Super Soft 8Ply
Super Soft 8Ply knit up
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Yarn Profile: Pear Tree Supersoft 8-Ply

First Impressions
Australia may be the world's leading supplier of Merino wool, but China is the world's leading processor of it. Which means that much of what you see labeled as "Australian Merino" has actually been shipped to China and back, whether for scouring, treatment for machine-washability, or even spinning and dyeing.

Australia has precious few fiber processors left, and Pear Tree Yarn has committed to bucking the trend and keeping its production local. With two exceptions that have since been discontinued, the company's yarns are all pure Australian creations—everything, from the sheep raising to the scouring, carding, combing, spinning, and dyeing, takes place in Australia. If you're buying this yarn outside of Australia, it will still have some carbon footprint, but not nearly as big as if the fibers had traveled to China and back first.

Pear Tree offers three yarn weights to its Supersoft Merino—4-ply, which is fingering weight; 8-ply, which is DK weight; and 10-ply, which is worsted-weight. (In Australia, New Zealand, and the UK, yarn weights are still sometimes referred to by "ply," which has no connection with the yarn's actual ply structure.) In this review, I focus on Supersoft 8-Ply.

Knitting Up
Fans of soft yarn will find this one irresistible. From the very first touch, your fingers sink into layer upon layer of warmth and softness, with the fibers putting up almost no resistance. A smooth, worsted-spun yarn, Supersoft 8-Ply consists of four plies that are twisted together at a medium angle.

Unlike many other Merino yarns you may have tried, this one has surprisingly high luster, relaxed drape, and subdued bounce that are all rather unusual for Merino. I'm inclined to speculate that the fibers have been stretched using the Optim process, which produces a finer, smoother, and more lustrous Merino fiber. Then again, this may simply be an extraordinary batch of Merino that has been combed to perfection.

Supersoft 8-Ply knits up easily with just a few snags on knit and purl rows, using both my blunt-tipped bamboo needles and Stiletto-tipped Signature needles. When I did snag just one of the strands, it pulled loose rather freely as would silk or Tencel—again making me wonder if the wool has been stretched. Several horizontal and vertical tugs in the fabric pulled everything back together again.

The label suggests a US 7 size, but I found the fabric too open and uneven for my taste. On a US 6, I was able to pull the fabric together into a more even material that still showed off the yarn's fabulous softness and fluidity.

Super Soft 8-Ply loves cables

Stockinette is lovely, but the yarn's roundedness and ply structure invite textured stitchwork. Here you can see how the yarn renders cables in extremely high, almost sculptural relief. (The cable pattern is from The Harmony Guides: 101 Stitches to Knit.)

Blocking / Washing
Merino is a high-crimp fiber that is held under tension during the entire spinning process—and even, to a certain extent, during knitting. Only after the knitting is done and the fabric is dropped into a bath of warm soapy water can those fibers finally relax, stretch their legs, and get to know their neighbors. This relaxing, wandering, and re-settling of the fabric is what we call "blooming."

Some fibers bloom more than others, and some yarns bloom more than others. Because of its crimp, Merino is considered a high-bloom fiber. But, combed and worsted-spun fibers are less likely to bloom because the fiber ends have all been tucked in tight. With its high-bloom Merino and low-bloom worsted spin, I wondered which way Supersoft 8-Ply would go.

My swatch instantly relaxed and plumped up in its bath. I swished vigorously, rinsed, refilled the sink and swished vigorously again. After I gave the swatch a good squeeze and rolled it up in a towel to dry, I set it out to block. It happily returned to its original shape without any tugging or prodding.

The fibers did relax and bloom ever so slightly in the wash, producing a more spongy and elastic yet still tender and fluid piece of fabric that I sorely wished had already been made into a garment, so I could wear it. While wet, the fabric appeared to have stretched dramatically. But once dry, the fibers pulled the stitches back to their original gauge.

My test skein was an undyed natural color, so I'm unable to comment on the yarn's colorfastness in the wash.

Wearing
Its fine fiber diameter makes Merino soft and luxurious. But it also makes Merino more fragile and vulnerable to abrasion than other wools. This yarn's generous staple length comes in handy (I measured an average of 4 inches, or 10cm), as does its combed, worsted construction. It's still vulnerable—a hard tug snapped the yarn—but it's as reinforced as it can be without losing any more softness or fluidity.

I've never met a Merino that didn't, at some point or another, pill. After a moderate amount of friction, the surface of my swatch began to blur. As the fibers enmeshed with one another, they created visible and well-anchored flecks of pills. I'd recommend investing in a good sweater shaver to snip the pills without disturbing their roots.

Conclusion
For many, the decision to try Supersoft 8-Ply may come down to cost. For a medium-sized women's pullover with minimal styling, you'll want approximately 1,600 yards or 8 skeins, which brings the bill just over $200. A gorgeous scarf would be yours in two skeins or even one if you plan properly. Each 215-yard skein retails for $26.

You can surely buy other Australian Merino yarns for far less, but they will most likely come with multiple stamps on their passport. Many of them may also have been chemically processed to remove the scales that line the fiber's cortex. They're machine-washable, which you may or may not want. Although under greater regulation now, mills in China still must battle a reputation of murky environmental practices, especially where machine-washable processing is concerned.

Quality should also be an issue. The fibers in this yarn are extremely fine with a generous staple length, and they have been properly processed and spun to retain the fiber's natural liveliness and beauty. Laugh if you want, but I do believe that fibers hold grudges when they've been abused or mistreated. This yarn holds no grudges.

 
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